Enjoy local and sustainable ingredients in Ti Kouka Cafe’s barbecue brisket burger with eggplant. // © 2016 Tovin Lapan
Feature image (above): Flight Coffee offers a variety of roasts and a modern ambiance. // © 2016 Tovin Lapan
New Zealand has its staples, and if you spend enough time in the small island nation, you’ll get your fill of fish and chips, mince pies and British-style pub grub.
But Wellington, New Zealand’s capital — a city of approximately 400,000 people — punches well above its weight when it comes to food. The country’s culinary epicenter features a wide variety of cuisines, top-notch cafes and modern, innovative restaurants.
Local craft producers are celebrated, and there is a constant sense of discovery. Around every corner there seems to be a boutique chocolatier, soda maker, baker or cute cafe squeezed into a modified shipping container. Many of the gourmet delights can be sampled while strolling around Wellington’s pleasant and very walkable city center.
Several tour companies offer guided walks, including stops to see demonstrations from chefs and artisan-food makers.
To start, Zest Food Tours serves as a good introduction to Wellington. Guides include historical, architectural and cultural information about the city in between gastronomical stops. Typical tour itineraries include a visit to a coffee roaster, a craft chocolate maker, a gourmet food market and other artisanal producers. Some of the Zest tours include a two-course lunch at the much-lauded Logan Brown restaurant.
Food & Spice Odyssey, also a great introduction to the city’s culinary scene, focuses on fine ingredients.
“I've always found people are often interested but too afraid to enter a fine spice shop or foreign grocery store, simply because they aren't familiar with the ingredients and have no idea what to buy or try,” said Jon Salter, founder of Food & Spice Odyssey.
Salter offers several different options, including a seven-hour tour of the city featuring visits to spice purveyors, coffee roasters, butchers and cheese mongers, followed by a lunch with wine pairings and a side trip to the suburb of Petone. Petone is known for its diverse array of restaurants and cafes.
Meanwhile, popular food festival Wellington on a Plate is held every August and is great way to experience many of the top talents and their creations.
For those who would like to discover the city’s culinary stars on their own, here are nine places to try right now.
WHERE TO DRINK
Kiwis love their coffee — and are locked in a bitter dispute with Australia over who invented the flat white. But one thing is for sure: Wellington is a hot bed of gourmet roasters and talented baristas. While the majority of New Zealand cafes only offer espresso drinks, Flight’s award-winning “coffee nerds” love experimenting with various methods for brewing and offer a range of roasts.
The easy-to-miss stairwell entrance and thick velvet curtains give this second-floor cocktail lounge an intimate, living room-meets-speakeasy feel. Welcoming and knowledgeable staff walk you through a creative cocktail menu that includes seasonal selections, classics and a rotating spirit-focused section.
Six Barrel Soda
Many restaurants in the city feature these refreshing, small-batch sodas that hold your taste buds hostage until you pony up for a six-pack or the take-home syrup bottles. The soda shop anchors one end of Eva Street, a gourmet alley that includes other worthy stops, such as Wellington Chocolate Factory, Red Rabbit Coffee Co. and the small-batch peanut butter maker Fix and Fogg.
The Garage Project
New Zealand has a strong craft beer culture, and the country’s Motueka Hops are coveted by brewers around the world. This craft brewery opened in the bones of an abandoned gas station in 2011 and has since expanded to include a nearby taproom. Along with robust porters and uber-hoppy ales, the brewers create exciting combinations such as the annual beer tribute to the year’s grape harvest.
WHERE TO EAT
This refined but unpretentious restaurant specializes in Italian-influenced pasta and seafood dishes. With an additional focus on New Zealand wines, beers and ingredients, combined with excellent service, Capitol provides an inviting and well-rounded dining experience. Most entrees come in two sizes, so there is no excuse for not leaving room for the life-changing molten chocolate pudding with creme fraiche.
Sitting toward the south end of the Cuba Street foodie corridor, Fidel’s is one of Wellington’s top breakfast spots. Served in a colorful and energetic atmosphere, the fresh juices and excellent breakfast items — from Spanish baked eggs to pancakes topped with mascarpone and berry compote — are the perfect way to start a busy day of touring.
Harbourside is the city’s oldest market, offering an international array of sweet and savory treats, as well as fruits, vegetables and other farm-made goods for home cooks. Don’t miss the Dutch doughnuts with dipping sauces from Montfoort or the Nepalese-spiced lamb dumpling from House of Dumplings.
Ti Kouka Cafe
This breakfast and lunch spot is known for using local and sustainable ingredients in its food allergy- and diet-friendly menu. The hearty egg and meat dishes, such as the barbecue brisket burger with eggplant, are flavorful without being overly complex. The brothers behind the award-winning cafe collaborated with the Garage Project on its menu and also run Leed Street Bakery on Eva Street.
Named best new restaurant in the 2015 New Zealand Good Food Awards, this dockside dining room focuses on straightforward, modern preparations of local seafood and meats. Well-balanced dishes include salmon with lentils and pumpkin puree and the Josper-oven roasted lamb with braised greens, all served with the housemade Wellington sourdough.