Wining and Dining in Wellington
New Zealand’s capital has all the ingredients for a gourmet escape: brimming ocean on one side, verdant farmland on the other, a multicultural persuasion and a cosmopolitan city centre. Much of Wellington’s food scene is focussed on craft and creativity, with cafes, restaurants, delicatessens and bars proudly spruiking their support of local producers and regional flavours. You will soon discover the best places for a nibble and a tipple are often squirreled away down corridors, in basements or above nondescript shopfronts around this caffeine-fuelled city.
Highlights in the culinary capital
The epicentre of good coffee
So fiercely proud are Wellingtonians of their independent coffee producers, they have forced mainstream franchises to scale down their operations in the capital city. Not only are there countless places to get your caffeine fix at hole-in-the-wall espresso joints and convivial sit-down cafes, there are also a number of roasteries calling the city home, such as Caffe L’affare, Flight Coffee, Mojo and Coffee Supreme. A double shot flat white is the right way to start your day in Wellington.
Wellington restaurants constantly rank in the annual Cuisine NZ Good Food Awards, with many more earning a mention in the prestigious Good Food Guide itself. Buzzing bistros (Capitol), lush Euro-centric eateries (Hippopotamus), minimalist seafood specialists (Martin Bosley’s), suburban home-style havens (The Larder) and innovative cookeries with distinct Kiwi flair (Logan Brown) are currently some of the big hitters when it comes to eating out and eating well in Wellington.
Major epicurean events
When you have a flourishing food scene, it only makes sense that you would want to celebrate it and share it with the wider world! Enter Visa Wellington On a Plate, New Zealand’s premier culinary festival revelling in all things tempting and tasty that the capital produces. The focal point of the August-held festival is DINE Wellington, which sees more than 100 top restaurants from Wellington and surrounds plating up their best for special lunches and dinners.
Craft beer and crowned wines
Happy hour has never been so hearty, with almost half of all craft beer in New Zealand is enjoyed in Wellington. Brewers based in the area include Tuatara, Garage Project, ParrotDog, Yeastie Boys and Funk Estate, with dozens of dedicated bars showing off the best local brews. Beer not your preferred bevvy? The Wairarapa wine growing region is just at Wellington’s doorstep, producing its fair share of the country’s finest drops.
Dedicated foodie districts
One of the best things about Wellington is you don’t have to scratch beneath the surface to find a tantalising feed. The city’s dining precincts are well known and well loved, from the always in-vogue Cuba Street and party hub Courtenay Place, to suburban haunts like Miramar – better known for its film-making but quickly gaining a reputation as a gourmet hot spot. The waterfront is no stranger to hungry Wellingtonians either, with plenty of restaurants wrapped around the harbour, while the Left Bank Night Market satisfies street food cravings.
Keeping things casual
With reputedly more cafes per capita than in the Big Apple itself, there’s arguably nowhere better to sample New Zealand’s booming cafe culture than in Welly. These are among the top spots for a cup of Joe, a leisurely brunch or an afternoon pick-me-up.
The Flight Coffee family know a thing or two about the bean and their flagship cafe Hangar sees Flight’s in-house blends brewed close to home. Rare specialty blends, cold-drip coffee, an eco-conscious edge, roasting on site and a cabinet chockfull of delicious treats add to Flight Hangar’s charm, not to mention having New Zealand’s Best Barista (2013) in residence.
Address: 171 - 177 Willis Street, Wellington (entrance through Dixon Street)
“Retro” doesn’t begin to describe the beachfront Maranui Cafe, which takes residence in a century-old surf lifesaving clubhouse. Boasting sweeping views across Lyall Bay, the open and colourful Maranui Cafe is the perfect pre or post-beach hangout. Sister establishment Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli, a short walk up the road, is also worth a visit for their homemade dips, pies, cakes and salads.
Address: Maranui Surf Life Saving Club, Lyall Parade, Wellington
Housing the Southern Hemisphere’s longest espresso bar is no easy feat, but Prefab takes it in her stride. This no-frills eatery is bathed in natural light, perfect for a belated breakfast or long lunch in New Zealand’s creative capital. The seasonal menu includes plenty of pastries, sandwiches and pizzas, plus bottomless filter coffee, roasted on site.
Address: 14 Jessie Street, Wellington
Sharing is caring when it comes to dining at Ombra. The cosy space presents a menu of close to 50 tapas-style dishes, each offering a little taste of Italy in the heart of the South Pacific. The wine list isn’t shy either, which is fitting as Ombra is a Venetian term for a small glass of wine. Salute!
Address: 199 Cuba Street, Wellington
Asian dining lounge Dragonfly takes rustic South East Asian cuisine, gives it a contemporary shake-up and serves it with a cocktail to complement – try a Japanese Lawn Mower, China Girl or Oriental Tea House. Another player on the shared dining scene, Dragonfly’s menu moves from dumplings and octopus balls, to curries and sticky rice puddings.
Address: 70 Courtenay Place, Wellington
The Crab Shack
What better location to enjoy a catch of the day than along the Wellington waterfront? The brainchild of New Zealand celebrity chef Simon Gault, the Crab Shack is all about big smiles and a big feed. There’s more to the Crab Shack than a succulent crustacean, however. Enjoy sliders, burgers, mussels or a classic shrimp cocktail.
Address: Queens Wharf, Wellington
Enjoying the finer things
Fine dining has become entrenched in the fabric of Wellington city. If you like your napkins starched and ornately folded, your service professional and your menus to include shavings of truffle and lashings of caviar, make a reservation at any of the following awarded Wellington restaurants.
Holed up in an old bank, Logan Brown exists on the precipice of casual and formal with a laissez-faire atmosphere and top-shelf price tag. Logan Brown has been a mainstay on the Wellington gourmet circuit for more than 15 years, with a well balanced menu revolving around fresh regional produce served with a twist. A strong local favourite, Logan Brown earned a spot (and two hats) in the NZ Good Food Awards 2013.
Address: 192 Cuba Street, Wellington
Infused with French flair to match its exquisite decor, Hippopotamus is a veritable treat for the senses. Located on level three of the Museum Art Hotel opposite Te Papa, Hippopotamus offers sumptuous pre-show palate pleasers, degustation dining, high tea, buffet breakfast and a la carte lunch complemented by stunning views of Wellington Harbour. Come happy hour, Hippo’s sommelier team have selected no less than 380 wines for your choosing.
Address: 90 Cable Street, Wellington
The White House Restaurant
With more than two decades of service – winning a slew of awards along the way – the White House has remained a constant favourite with Wellington’s discerning diners. Specialising in local seafood, prime meat and game, the White House also incorporates organic ingredients plucked straight from their rooftop garden. The Degustation menu provides a broad sampling of their superb fare, while a multi-course lunch or dinner is not complete without trying the legendary Crab Raviolo.
Address: 232 Oriental Parade (upstairs), Wellington
Martin Bosley’s Restaurant
Trundle down to the water’s edge and pull up a seat at Martin Bosley’s Yacht Club Restaurant to savour a decadent “coastal cuisine” degustation experience – make sure you save room for dessert though, with tempting dishes like warm poached cherry consomme. Martin Bosley’s wine list places special emphasis on regional varietals, including drops from Martinborough and Marlborough, as well as a “Hen’s Teeth” cellar list boasting rare blends to the delight of wine connoisseurs.
Address: 103 Oriental Parade, Wellington