New Zealand chefs are going to extraordinary lengths to source and cook ultra-fresh, unusual produce to create a new wave of exciting dining experiences.
Throughout the country, New Zealand’s best chefs source seasonal ingredients that are fresher and have more taste and flavour than food found anywhere else on the planet. But these five fine restaurants have passionate chefs who choose to go a step further, taking pains to hunt down local specialties and forage for unusual ingredients. They closely guard some of their secret suppliers, who assist them in finding the very best of the country’s coastal fishing grounds, rocky shores and verdant pastures and gardens.
Minimalist, modern and restrained in decor, Pasture is the most exciting recent arrival to Auckland’s restaurant scene. Ed and Laura Verner have taken inspiration from culinary adventures overseas, returning to cook over a smoky fire in their tiny 20-seat restaurant. Focusing on exceptional produce from farmers on the city’s edge to drive their menu, they seek seasonal ingredients such as heirloom tomatoes from the Waitakere Ranges and, further afield, cucumbers, sorrel and unfiltered olive oil from the Coromandel Peninsula, as well as free-range lamb from Wairarapa. Organic rye and wheat grains from Timaru in the South Island are milled in-house daily for Pasture’s signature chewy sourdough loaves. Nothing is wasted and an extensive pantry of preserved and fermented foods enhances the array of flavours. Dairy products are from a tiny artisan producer and endless hours are spent sourcing pork, lamb and ducklings. The wine list features rare labels, organic and natural wines, while other beverages include unconventional juices and ferments produced in Pasture’s kitchen to match the menu. Pasture’s delicious bread can be purchased at the restaurant door from 1pm Thursday to Sunday.
235 Parnell Rd, Auckland (+64 9 300 5077)
Bistronomy, Hawke’s Bay
Hawke’s Bay is known as the food bowl of New Zealand and in Napier, Bistronomy’s chef-owner James Beck creates a continuously evolving menu that reflects the bounty of the region. Beck’s menu features stellar dishes such as lamb with fennel, wild-harvested fennel pollen and house-made lamb and fennel sausage. The lamb is milk-fed and sourced from the backblocks of the bay with every part of the animal used; the fennel is from a local grower, and the pollen is foraged by the chefs, along with kawakawa berries and seeds. Local growers call by with baskets of unique specialties and the kitchen will preserve or air-dry wild persimmons, stone fruits and summer vegetables for the pantry. With an eye to the importance of the sustainable and fragile nature of the ocean’s gifts, the fish on Bistronomy’s menu is the result of a partnership with a local fishing couple who exclusively deliver fresh gurnard and flounder to the restaurant.
40 Hastings St, Napier (+64 6 834 4309)
Arbour’s chef Bradley Hornby is lucky enough to have access to the vineyard gardens of four nearby organic wine producers. Vegetables, oils, fruits and garnishes are picked for his eclectic and carefully considered menu at this rural restaurant just outside of Blenheim at the top of the South Island. Other ingredients are loyally sourced from the region’s artisans and growers. The restaurant employs a dedicated forager who also tends the gardens and preserves excess produce for the winter months. Hornby works with undervalued fish such as little blue mussels that are a by-catch of the mussel industry, and accepts mixed boxes of locally caught fish to turn into stunning dishes. He also showcases local sea-farmed king salmon, a variety of clams gathered from the shores of Cloudy Bay and Greenshell mussels. His plates are as pretty as can be, always garnished with the flowers, herbs and leaves brought in by the forager. To complement the deliciously styled food, partner Elizabeth Buttimore sources a fine selection of wine, including the very best of the region.
36 Godfrey Rd, Blenheim (+64 3 572 7989)
Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Roots Restaurant, Christchurch
If you’re looking for Roots chef Giulio Sturla during the day, you’re likely to find him in the Cashmere Hills on the edge of Christchurch, picking out the best produce in the fields of his vegetable grower. Or maybe out on his paddleboard on a mission to harvest wild silverbeet on a small island in the Lyttelton Harbour. Sturla arrived in New Zealand from South America six years ago and discovered local suppliers and fishermen who share his vision – many of them text him daily with special finds. He’s obsessed with foraging for ingredients found around his coastal home and plans his daily changing menu around specialties such as local samphire, shore celery and kawakawa berries. At the back of Roots there’s a small garden where the kitchen sources walnuts, garlic, grapes for verjuice, leaves, herbs and flowers. Each night, the Lyttelton eatery offers diners a choice of a five-, eight- or 12-course menu that’s filled with flavour and surprising elements, accompanied by Canterbury wines. His tiny restaurant won Cuisine magazine’s coveted Best Restaurant in New Zealand awarded in 2015 and received three hats in 2016.
8 London St, Lyttelton (+64 3 328 7658)
Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday; lunch, Friday and Saturday
Amisfield Bistro, Queenstown
Chef Vaughan Mabee has brought a new direction to the menu at this stylish winery restaurant, a mecca for visitors to the pinot noir capital of the country, Central Otago. There’s a small kitchen garden where the large team of chefs pick garnishes such as pea and nasturtium flowers, herbs and seasonal greens daily. As a hunter, Mabee loves nothing more than to source and preserve wild game and bounty from the district, hanging his charcuterie in the cellar among the ageing wines. His food has a simplicity as its core, but with added layers of texture, taste and style. His paua pie, made with carefully sourced native abalone, may be one of the best dishes you will eat this decade. The five-course Trust the Chef menu changes daily and is designed to match the excellent array of Amisfield wines. Don’t miss the signature dish, Cardrona lamb, a traditional New Zealand favourite. The locally sourced, sweet shoulder meat may be brined, smoked and roasted, and served with accompaniments including home-made preserves and pickles.
10 Arrowtown-Lake Hayes Rd, Queenstown (+64 3 442 0556)
Daily, 12pm-4pm and 5pm-8pm