There is an abundance of fine food being grown, harvested, made, prepared and served in New Zealand. Although the country doesn’t quite shout a distinctive local dish, the secret to good food in New Zealand is in the quality of its produce. The country is awash with the freshest ingredients; grass fed beef, succulent lamb, fresh-off-the-sea oysters and paua, organic veggies from local farmers markets and rich dairy products like cheese.
With ingredients like this, how could the restaurants not be good? The best places to eat in New Zealand are casual and unpretentious. They are often nestled within small towns. Service is friendly rather than formal. Most importantly, they know where the ingredients come from and they treat them well – and that makes a winning combination.
Here are my selections of great eats and I’m sure there are joints that I haven’t pounced on yet. Maybe on my next visit there. Unfortunately I don’t have photos to go with all of them. Admittedly, I was too hungry and wolfed down my meal before my Iphone camera had a go at it.
In Auckland – Occidental Belgian Bar
Not the perfect location to dine with a baby, but I couldn’t resist the rave on the steamed green-lipped mussels at this place! We (hubs and I) were served a massive bowl of fleshy, succulent mussels steamed in a white wine sauce. It felt like a never ending attempt to reach the bottom of the bowl, but we eventually did and nearly passed out on a mussel-coma!
If you like history and dated architecture, you’d love the interior décor at Occidental. It was once the finest hotel in Auckland. Its vintage interior decor of wooden floors, wooden walls, leather-clad booths with warm lighting is a reminder of its rich history. Located on the character-rich pedestrian Vulcan Lane, between Queen Street and High Street, the bar is easy to get to and makes for a great stroll around after a meal.
In Christchurch – Dimitris Greek Food
What’s good here? The souvlaki. Packed with just chicken or lamb or both, the thick pita bread wraps like a cone and is stuffed with juicy, well-spiced meat along with tomatoes, lettuce, tomato and chilli sauce and awesome Greek yoghurt. Eating the souvlaki is a messy affair if you choose to wallop it whole. That’s why they give you a fork to pick out the filling.
In Queenstown – Johnny Barr’s Sandwich Place
Healthy, filling and very tasty! Johnny Barr serves gourmet sandwiches, wraps, salads and soups and a great selection of smoothies. In busy and thriving Queenstown, finding affordable and healthy food is quite a challenge. We ordered the Thai Beef Salad, a hearty salad packed with greens and a good portion of thinly sliced beef drizzled with spicy sweet Thai dressing and the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich came loaded with grilled beef, onions, mushroom and capsicum and sealed with a layer of cheese at the top. The casual setting at the restaurant is great for catch ups and I also saw customers ordering take away – obviously not a bad idea to sit by the waterfront just round the corner while enjoying delicious sandwiches. We ended up sitting in since there was free wifi!
In Dunedin – Rob Roy Ice Cream
A happy place not just for children! We first spotted people walking pass us with scoops of ice cream heaped on tiny cone. It was a cold and blustery summer evening, but we just had to have it. The old-fashioned dairy shares a shoplot with convenience store and it’s a local favourite serving rich, creamy and delicious ice cream, milk shakes and frozen yoghurt. Its walls are plastered with ‘flower power’ wallpaper from the 60s and the floors are covered with black and white checkered vinyl. The dairy also seemed to have kept its prices as is. We paid $2.80 for a single serve and it came heaping with two massive scoops of ice cream in two flavours.
In Dunedin – Cadbury Factory
Every chocolate lover’s dream-come-true! The smell of sweet cocoa wharfs over you the minute you walk pass its sliding doors and linger in the fabric of your clothes. For $22, you get to immerse yourself in everything chocolate and see the labour of love that goes into making the world’s most consumed dessert. Plus, you get freebies along the way. The best part is watching 1-tonne of liquid chocolate gushing down five stories into a metal cauldron. The experience is jaw-dropping and better still, we were served a cup of rich glossy, thick liquid chocolate at the end of the tour. If only Cadbury sold the liquid gold on the shelves…
All around New Zealand – Lone Star
American Red Indian inspired, Lone Star (LS) is a chain of restaurants across NZ. They are famed for their Redneck campfire stacked ribs and the dish is not for the faint hearted. The menu writes “Porky pigs’ ribs blanched in honey & spices, blasted in the Lone Star fire, piled high then smothered in our famous hoisin, orange & sesame seed sauce, served with buffalo chips & coleslaw”. Seriously… who can resist that? The waiters at LS are super attentive and friendly and the experience of dining at LS is like eating at a local diner, even though it’s a chain.
Freebie tip: Go to their website and Grab a Meal. Free stuff, mostly starters at selected outlets.
In Oamaru – Whitestone Cheese
Oh my, I love cheese! Whitestone produces award winning artisan cheeses made with 100% natural ingredients. The factory at the back has a viewing platform where you can watch barrels of cheese doing its work – maturing. The café is known for its tasting platter that’s priced at $5 and $10 and they have a selection of deli favourites. We ordered the cheese scone served with Whitestone’s creamy butter and a tasting platter for lunch and was satisfied to the brim.
Whitestone derived its name from the natural ancient limestone in Oamaru and the same limestone is seen in the Victorian buildings around the town.
In Hampden, onward to Moeraki Boulders from Oamaru– Lockies Fish and Chips
Apparently the best fish and chips in New Zealand, so said some locals… Lockies Fish and Chips is located just outside of Oamaru, towards the famous Moeraki Boulders. The purple fencing around the building is hard to miss. The fish is fresh and the batter is light and be sure to order the blue cod as it makes all the difference. The location makes for a perfect stopover for a picnic lunch takeaway and enjoy it on the beach.