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FOOD & DRINK

Six Restaurants Where You Can Experience a Modern Interpretation of New Zealand Cuisine

Our food story doesn't end with pavlova, fish 'n' chips, and pineapple-flavoured lumps — head here for a taste of Aotearoa.
By Stephen Heard
May 26, 2020
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Six Restaurants Where You Can Experience a Modern Interpretation of New Zealand Cuisine

Our food story doesn't end with pavlova, fish 'n' chips, and pineapple-flavoured lumps — head here for a taste of Aotearoa.
By Stephen Heard
May 26, 2020
  shares

New Zealand's food story is typically layered around mentions of pavlova, fish 'n' chips, and pineapple-flavoured lumps. While all of the above certainly have their place, they're only a small bite of the (mince and cheese) pie. There's an endless number of restaurants across the country showcasing the best of what's local and in season — we really are spoiled for choice. But then, there's a handful of establishments which go the extra mile by championing traditional slow-cooking techniques and hyperlocal ingredients to present a quintessential taste of their region and Aotearoa. Across the below six restaurants that includes a focus on Māori and Polynesian ingredients, the use of underrated parts of produce, and a celebration of vegetables in their own right.

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HIAKAI, WELLINGTON

You may have seen Hiakai pop up at Wellington On a Plate, or perhaps chef/owner Monique Fiso representing New Zealand in Netflix series Final Table. The bricks-and-mortar version of Hiakai landed in Wellington in 2018 and has since been named one of TIME Magazine's 100 Greatest Places.

Meaning 'hungry' or to 'have a craving for food' in te reo Māori, Hiakai is a world-class restaurant devoted to the exploration and development of Māori cooking techniques and ingredients. Fiso has taken the often referenced style of earth cooking (hāngi) and transformed it into a refined dining experience for the people of Aotearoa. The sophisticated menus created by Fiso set out to challenge the status quo of Māori food in New Zealand, while playing a leading role in keeping our indigenous food culture alive. The permanent restaurant in Mount Cook uses flavours foraged from the land and sea with a special focus on Māori and Polynesian ingredients.

That dedication to true Aotearoa ingredients has so far seen the kitchen whip up delights like pipis roasted under a bed of flaming pine needles, Kaipara oysters with horopito mignonette granita and koromiko flowers, and wood-fired kareao with asparagus, salted buffalo curd, and pine needle vinaigrette.

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AMISFIELD, QUEENSTOWN

Amisfield executive chef Vaughan Mabee enlists expert foragers and charcutiers to ensure he's only using the freshest seasonal produce in his three-hatted restaurant. That dedication to champion Central Otago has seen the restaurant use endemic ingredients and produce from its backyard to no further than 250 kilometres from its dramatic stonework bistro. Previous hyperlocal creations have included everything from paua salami to kawakawa parfait and manuka smoked blue cod pie.

Diners are invited to build their own degustation from a selection of dishes. For lunch, that might mean an enhanced starter of eel on toast, smoked raw wild deer with local chocolate, wild dandelion and smoked duck egg, or a wild apple and kawakawa tart. And a feast at the Queenstown restaurant should always be complemented by the vineyard's guzzle-able wines.

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GATHERINGS, CHRISTCHURCH

After working on an organic vegetable farm in North Canterbury, chef Alex Davies launched the 'Gatherings' pop-up concept where the food he cooked represented a taste of the region, the time and place. The concept has since evolved into a permanent restaurant and living wine bar focusing on sustainable, local and seasonal cuisine. The overarching theme is to highlight the connection of what we eat and the planet that we live on.

From its original plant-based tasting menu, Gatherings has pivoted towards family-style eating — and introduced sustainably-caught fish in the process. The takeaway 'Fish Supper' was introduced post-COVID-19 lockdown as a way to keep the wheels in motion. The concept has now become the restaurant's main offering, as a more affordable option for the community in trying times and to allow diners to feast as a family or friend unit. Southland's Gravity Fishing supplies the catch to order (and nothing more), which means that repeat diners will likely have an entirely different experience every visit. Diners have the option to order a whole fish for the table and buy smaller Canterbury-centric dishes around it.

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PASTURE, AUCKLAND

This Auckland offering is one for those who really want to see where their food has come from — and the slicing, smoking and steaming that gets it to the plate. There's only room for six diners at Auckland's Pasture. A seat at the chef's counter lets diners experience the kiss from an open wood fire as well as owner Ed Verner's philosophy of preservation, baking and cheesemaking. No stone has been left unturned; pickled goods line the walls celebrating last season's harvest, the kitchen team grinds its own flour, shaves its own toasted hay, and distills its own beverages.

The restaurant serves one set menu that is designed for the season and driven by produce. That could look something like beetroot cooked over fire and served with preserved roses and lovage; Jersey Cow cheese set just ten minutes before serving; and short rib doughnut nigiri using parts of our cow which don't quite make it onto the fire. The drink pairings — both alcoholic and non-alcoholic — are just as intriguing. Wash your meal down with anything from grilled tomato to smoked nashi pear or fermented strawberry.

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FOREST, AUCKLAND

Forest is the creation of chef Plabita Florence. The philosophy of the eatery is to highlight wild plants that are literally overgrown throughout the city and to utilise underrated parts of produce that are normally destined for the bin. After two years popping up with authentic Mexican tacos and breakfast sammies, the restaurant has found a permanent home on Auckland's Symonds Street.

The team forages what they can from around the city and sources the rest of the ingredients from urban farms and growers — all as local as possible. Previous tasting menus have featured intriguing ingredients like bitter weeds, seaweed mayo, acorn coffee, and cider made with apples found on the streets of Western Springs. Expect to encounter things that you haven't tried or even heard of before.

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HILLSIDE KITCHEN, WELLINGTON

Thornton favourite Hillside Kitchen went totally meat-free in 2018, with head chef Asher Boote turning to plants for ethical reasons. The 24-seater restaurant — whether you label it plant-based, vegan or meatless — aims to push the boundaries of modern New Zealand dining and celebrate plant-based ingredients in their own right, rather than as a substitute for meat.

Where possible, ingredients are sourced from growers within a 150-kilometre radius. Elsewhere they're grown in the restaurant garden, or foraged nearby. Diners can choose between two, three and four-course tasting menus, with dishes only listed by the main vegetable. The restaurant's range of non-alcoholic drinks are also brewed, fermented, infused and distilled in-house.

Top image: Hiakai.

Published on May 26, 2020 by Stephen Heard

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