The Best Café, Dunedin
Fish and chips are part of New Zealand’s food culture. It’s our nostalgia food, what we eat on a family Sunday after a day at the beach. Everyone has their local favourite fish and chip shop, but few towns still have venues that you can dine in.
The Best Café in Dunedin, New Zealand’s fourth city near the bottom of the South Island, is one. Blaring neon lights and fluoro green linoleum floor, this is the real deal. It’s not a relic; it’s part of our narrative, and they serve some of the best fish and chips I have ever had after years of being a fried fish junkie.
The chefs here really know what they are doing: to turn such basic fare into something memorable. That’s magic. The menu offered a choice of many types of local fish, and Zoe, the lovely server, was well informed on even what the fish ate: did you know that elephant fish eats other fish and shellfish?
I had batter fried blue cod with hand-cut chips and white bread with butter (and yes, I put hot chips into the bread and slurped it all down before the butter all melted in what is surely a nutritionist’s nightmare), all with a bracing cup of tea. A personal plea to The Best Café in Dunedin: please don’t ever modernise, in fact, don’t ever change at all!
Botswana Butchery, Queenstown
Everyone knows about Queenstown. It’s the lake and mountain region most served up in New Zealand’s tourism imagery. Oddly, I, a New Zealander, had never been here. It’s clear why its iconic vistas have been so bandied: Queenstown is awe-inspiringly beautiful.
Botswana Butchery is housed in a colourful cottage on the lake and serves up great hearty food with big flavours. Meals are shared and generous, and the emphasis is on meats. Like cave men, we ripped apart a silkily tender slow-roasted leg of lamb, served on the bone. I loved the summer pea risotto with local wild rabbit and heirloom carrots, and Southland lambs fry (liver) with bacon, potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, mustard and port wine glaze. Botswana Butchery serves up the “roast dinner” that you wished you had at home! Big portions fittingly in proportion to the big views of Queenstown right outside.
Mamak? Why would I include a Malaysian restaurant in a New Zealand restaurant round up? Simply put, Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, has grown up. Newcomers from Asia - China, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, and more -- have put their colourful stamp on this beautiful city and the restaurant life reflects this. And what a dazzling change it has bought to town. All manner of Asian eateries abound, with the whole neighbourhood of Balmoral housing a restaurant row that runs from Cambodia to Shanghai.
Jeffrey Sing, a name that goes well with his gorgeously sing-song Malaysian accent, is the owner and personality at Mamak in the central city area. It’s my first stop when I come to town: inexpensive, authentic Malaysian fare in a cobbled courtyard right downtown. Terrific, freshly homemade roti canai, roti tissue, satays, mamak mee goreng, laksas all bounce with flavours, and Jeffrey’s personal warmth makes the world feel good.
Federal and Wolfe, Auckland
Auckland’s CBD, formerly forlorn, is bursting with restaurant life. I love the big breakfast at Federal and Wolfe, on a quiet corner about two blocks back from the waterfront. It’s a funky, urban cafe with a wooden communal table and a staff who clearly are good friends, and that camaraderie extends to customers. The coffee is great, as is the whole menu. Corn fritters with haloumi and arugula, and organic beef burger with beet relish are good picks for lunch, but don’t miss breakfast here -- really great eggs dishes and brioche with New Zealand Pohutukawa honey and buffalo ricotta. I love that the menu proudly lists the names of the farmers that supply them.
None of these restaurants are out to impress, rather they focus on delivering good food, really good food. What all of these have in common is that they are all overtly connected to the point of supply. Profoundly good ingredients, as we can now softly say, are leading New Zealand cuisine. Potatoes that give you new rounds of flavour with each bite, spinach that sings, old fashioned apple varietals that make you think you’ve never eaten apples before.
My father was recently on a cruise and he lamented being away from home and the “ingredients that speak for themselves”. Flavour is the asset, not food intellect. When I visit home, my mother only buys mushrooms from the mushroom farmer, and he only farms mushrooms, so he has the best mushrooms. This detail, this type of excellence, is at the core of New Zealand cuisine. Even the service reflected these same values. Zoe at The Best Café, Jeffrey at Mamak and Kate at Federal and Wolfe all served with warmth and humour, rather than with impersonal slickness and style. The unfussed loveliness of New Zealanders is what you get here. I felt like I was visiting them in their homes.
Getting there and away
Looking to samples some of New Zealand’s mouth-watering dishes? Check out Fiji Airways special offers on flights to Auckland and flights to Wellington
Organise your New Zealand Foodie Holiday
- Flights to Auckland - Fiji Airways operates flights to Auckland regularly from many domestic and international ports including flights from Nadi to Auckland, flights from Suva to Auckland, flights from Apia to Auckland, flights from Los Angeles to Auckland and flights from Hong Kong to Auckland.
- Flights to Wellington - Fiji Airways operates flights to Samoa regularly from many international ports including flights from Nadi to Wellington, flights from Suva to Wellington, flights from Apia to Wellington, flights from Los Angeles to Wellington and flights from Hong Kong to Wellington.