Talented Kiwi chefs, innovative cuisine, top wines, and a growing list of high-end destinations and food events are helping New Zealand develop a reputation in the world of fine cuisine.
The creative individuals inspiring this food revolution include not only internationally and locally renowned chefs, but also dedicated producers of award-winning New Zealand wines and foods, and passionate consumers who’ll go anywhere to sample trend-setting cuisine.
New Zealand’s food evolution has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of Kiwi wines which over the past 30 years have developed into a significant export industry.
And, when it comes to state of the art cuisine, New Zealand’s hospitality industry is in the forefront with hotels, lodges and enthusiastic local hosts pushing the culinary boundaries for their guests.
International Kiwi chefs
Kiwi chefs with an international reputation include Gordon Ramsay’s right-hand man Josh Emett, Peter Gordon - credited with the creation of fusion cuisine, and Fleur Sullivan whose little South Island seafood restaurant received high praise from none other than Rick Stein.
Emett's restaurants in Queenstown and Auckland have glowing reputations, and Peter Gordon divides his time between his up-market restaurants in London and Auckland, while Sullivan has stayed home in rural New Zealand to become a Kiwi cuisine icon.
NZ celebrity chefs
New Zealand’s home-grown celebrity chefs include Master Chef judge Simon Gault, wild food specialist Al Brown, and Annabel Langbein whose television series screened on UK television.
Entrepreneurial Simon Gault, who has worked for a string of top European and NZ restaurants, attaches his name to five well-known restaurants and cafés - Euro, and Jervois Steak House (Auckland), Pravda, and Shed 5 (Wellington), and Bistro Lago in the new Hilton Taupo.
Al Brown’s Hunger for the Wild television programme has made him a household name in New Zealand as an outdoors hunting, shooting, fishing chef - but before that he was one half of Wellington’s award-winning Logan Brown restaurant. Brown's Auckland restaurant Depot has just won the 2015 Metro Restaurant of the Year and right next door is his hugely successful take on a New York deli, Federal Delicatessen. It's not unusual for diners to see Brown hard at work shucking oysters at Depot's raw bar or just making sure his customers are comfortable.
Annabel Langbein’s The Free Range Cook, which has just launched on UKTV’s Good Food Channel, is New Zealand’s answer to the ‘domestic goddess’. Her stylish family-friendly cuisine is based on fresh local produce and ingredients she gathers from her Wanaka kitchen garden.
Fine cuisine is an essential part of the experience offered by luxury lodges throughout New Zealand.
And, while a small group of uber-lodges have built their international reputations on their outstanding hospitality, there are also many smaller, lesser known high-end lodges with in-house chefs who produce memorable food and wine experiences.
Over the southern hemisphere autumn / winter season, weekends for high-end foodies are a regular feature on the calendar for luxury destinations Huka Lodge (Taupo), Kauri Cliffs (Northland), The Farm (Hawke’s Bay), Matakauri and Blanket Bay (Queenstown).
Hunting lodge Poronui (near Lake Taupo) and Rotorua’s Treetops offer a wilder spin on cuisine. Al Brown features at Poronui’s ‘wild’ weekend events, and Treetops offers an authentic Maori food trail - collecting and sampling indigenous New Zealand ingredients.
In Auckland, top Kiwi chefs get to rub shoulders with some of world’s best at Auckland’s Dining with a Difference - an annual charity event in aid of the NZ Leukaemia & Blood Foundation - which brings a bunch of top chefs together for a glittering gala dinner.
North Island gastro destinations
Visitors to Auckland can sample Peter Gordon’s cuisine in The Sugar Club at the top of the SkyTower, or have a casual meal just around the corner in Gordon’s tapas style Bellota bar. Also in the Sky City complex on Federal St is Al Brown's Depot and Federal Delicatessen, The Grill by Sean Connolly and Nic Watt's Masu.
The Britomart Precinct in downtown Auckland is home to a number of great eateries. Ortolana is a chic bistro that concentrates on garden-to-table style dining. Josh Emett's Ostro is a New Zealand take on the brasserie and offers beautiful views of the City and its harbour. For those with a sweet tooth Milse is a must go. A dedicated dessert restaurant serving exquisite cakes, pastries and decadent degustation menus.
Top Auckland restaurants include the likes of Clooney, Merediths and The French Café but some of the city’s top hotels are also renowned for their cuisine.
The Langham Auckland has just added eight new restaurants offering a culinary journey of world cuisine, while The Heritage Auckland has an ethical take on dining with a new vegetarian / vegan eco-gastronomy menu designed for sustainability and health.
International traveller awards often recognise Wharekauhau Country Estate - on a 5,000-acre working sheep station in the Martinborough wine-growing region - for its warm country hospitality and cuisine that features produce from the kitchen garden and home-produced texel lamb.
Wellington’s vibrant dining scene includes award-winning restaurants and cafes. The city also hosts the annual Visa Wellington On a Plate, the biggest foodie festival in New Zealand.
South Island gastro destinations
Christchurch’s Pescatore - overlooking Hagley Park from The George Hotel - is an iconic southern gastro destination with a wine list described as ‘outstanding’ by Wine Spectator magazine. Under head chef Reon Hobson, Pescatore offers contemporary dining that marries classical cuisine with the latest food techniques.
A couple of hours south of Christchurch, Fleur’s Place is a little restaurant on the jetty in Moeraki Bay - a beach that’s otherwise famed for its curious rock formations, and which also supplies the fish for Fleur Sullivan’s celebrated kitchen. Like the menu, the restaurant is a simple rustic construction built with taste.
In nearby Oamaru, gourmets should also check out Riverstone Kitchen - winner of the Cuisine magazine 2010 NZ Restaurant of the Year.
Among Queenstown’s plethora of fine and casual dining options, luxury hotel The Rees under the direction of young British chef Ben Batterbury offers an exceptional regional dining experience. Batterbury - who developed his talents at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxford - has created the 'True South' menu based on premium local produce matched to an enormous private wine cellar.