New Zealand chef: Fleur Sullivan

Fleur Sullivan has never strayed far from her rural New Zealand upbringing, but serious foodies travel the world to dine at her rustic portside restaurant in a little South Island village.

Diners don’t have to be rich and famous to eat at Fleur’s Place, they just need to be there in time to find a table in the tiny restaurant / café / bar on the Moeraki Wharf that has earned iconic status in New Zealand’s cuisine heritage.

They’ll also need an appreciation of seafood - the bounty of New Zealand’s southern ocean delivered as fresh as it gets to the restaurant doorstep - because that’s what always inspires this menu.

Simple seafood menu

Fleur’s menu is simple and based on whatever is available on the day - the selection of seafood caught by the Moeraki Bay fishing boats that unload their daily catch on the wharf beside the restaurant.

Wednesday to Sunday, the blackboard menu lists the day’s catch which could include blue cod, John Dory, moki, blue nose, gurnard, sole, flounder, groper, crayfish / lobster. Titi or muttonbird - another local delicacy - also frequently features on the menu.

Aside from that, regional organic growers supply most of the other ingredients, including heritage and unique New Zealand vegetable varieties.

And the wine list includes a good selection of local vintages from nearby Central Otago - world-renowned for pinot noir and fruity white varietals - and the local Waitaki Valley wine region.

Lifestyle change

After years in hospitality - including 20 years as owner / host of the award-winning Central Otago establishment Oliver’s restaurant and lodge at Clyde - Fleur Sullivan moved to seaside Moeraki for a lifestyle change.

But - having "followed the dream to live in Moeraki by the sea" ostensibly to retire and recuperate from cancer - Sullivan was driven back into culinary action by the beckoning new mix of ingredients such as discarded fish heads and skeletons, seaweed washed up on the shore, and wild native spinach.

It was too much for Sullivan - who credits her hunter / gatherer / producer instincts to growing up on a farm - because she could never resist turning a good ingredient into a tasty dish or preserve.

She opened a small caravan selling soup and fish on the edge of the road, and then the temptation to open a small restaurant became too great.

Restoration and recycling

Surrounded by sea on three sides, Sullivan found the perfect location on the old jetty to indulge her love of "restoration, recycling and restauranting".

The old shed was renovated, expanded and furnished with bits and pieces that Sullivan had collected over the years, including a magnificent old wooden staircase - but it is shabby-chic and time-worn charm that best defines the decor.

From the upper deck, diners can watch fishing boats pass basking seals, pull up to the slipway, and move fish directly from the boat to the restaurant or smokehouse.

International accolades

Moeraki - famous for its unique coastal boulder formations - was already a popular tourist stop, but Fleur’s Place soon turned it into a gourmet destination for locals and overseas guests alike.

British chef Rick Stein visited New Zealand to write about Fleur’s Place because it was "one of those places that keep cropping up in conversations whenever there was a gathering of foodies".

Fleur Sullivan has received numerous awards for her restaurants and contribution to tourism, and is a member of the NZ Restaurant Association’s prestigious Hall of Fame.

New Zealand’s foodie bible Cuisine magazine rates Fleur’s Place as one of the ‘100 best things about New Zealand’.

Background: Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki is a small sleepy fishing village on the Otago coast - 70km north of Dunedin and 30km south of Oamaru - and means "a place to rest by day".

Long before Fleur Sullivan installed her seafood restaurant, tourists visited Moeraki to view the curious boulder formations - spherical rocks shaped by ancient natural forces - strewn along a stretch of nearby Koekohe Beach.

Best seen at low tide, the boulders - some up to four-metres in circumference - can be seen emerging from the cliffs, and disappearing into the sand and the sea.

According to Māori tradition, the boulders are the remains of food baskets that washed ashore after the legendary canoe ‘Araiteuru’ was wrecked at nearby Matakaea / Shag Point.

The area has a rich Māori, whaling and sealing history. Other attractions include the yellow-eye and blue penguin sanctuaries, and a seal colony.