help! long stay in wellington. where's the food?
My partner and I arrived Friday to Wellington for a 5 month stay. We really need some food help. We had heard from people that NZ is "very slow food" but we are having difficulty
finding it. The internet postings on this topic seem to be from 2006 & 7. Other than some high-end restaurants, we haven't found any current tips.
We visited the "farmers market" next to Te Papa museum, but it
doesn't seem like the sellers are actually farmers. It looks like
they're just resellers. We met one avocado farmer and a lamb farmer,
but the others' vegetables look to be commercial. We visited an organics
store called commonsense on wakefield street. Very nice healthfood store, but is that
it? We aren't so interested in gluten-free... We're looking for
artisanal bread, cheese, cured meat, and, of course, LOCAL vegetables.
One person who we asked said "well the thing about local artisanal
food is that everybody does that here, so we don't really talk about
it much". But when we asked about the seafood at Sweet Mothers they
said it was frozen and not local. What questions should we be asking
and where should we be looking for high quality local foodstuffs?
We won't be able to travel much, as my partner is working 6 days a
week, so we are not looking for food tourism, just places to buy food
Thank you so much for your help!
Here's a list of favourites from our five years in Wellington (we're now back in DC):
Cafes: Nikau (in City Museum at Civic Square), great for coffee/sweets, lunch and weekend brunch, with a very seasonal menu -- high end food for the cafe crowd; Maranui (Lyall Bay on the beach), great for brekky, casual lunch, coffee and a view of the South Coast; Astoria (Lambton Quay), best latte in town, especially if Shane's on the machines (but middling food other than the fries and an occasional soup); Kalamata (Karori on Gipps St), good sweets and a very good Saturday brunch (try the currant buns and the excellent eggs benedict).
Restaurants: Matterhorn (Cuba St), excellent seasonal menu, terrific wine list, good mixed drinks/bar scene, surprisingly good weekend brunch for a good restaurant; Logan Brown (higher up Cuba St), beautiful building, terrific (but overpriced) wine list, food prepared to a very high standard but menu changes too infrequently for my tastes; Martin Bosley's (Oriental Parade), beautiful view, usually very good food (but occasional unevenness -- tough to take at that price point), good (but even more overpriced) wine list, I had the best fried oysters of my life here; Ambeli (Majoribanks St), smaller menu of very well-prepared Mediterranean food, with an indiosyncratic but very interesting wine list.
Moore Wilson: deserves its own category. Excellent fresh food, including beautiful local produce; good cheese selection; various products from good NZ producers (must try the Piako passionfruit yogurt!). Wine selection represents the best NZ wines (and some reliable Aussies) at prices typically better than each winery's cellar door, with sale prices often much below cellar door prices. Dried goods section has reliably good baking ingredients, including Caillebaut chocolate chips (a requirement for recreating chocolate chip cookies).
Purveyors: La Bella Italia (Petone) for excellent Italian meats (including culatello -- which I rarely see in the US); The French Baker (Greytown in the Wairarapa, but also inside at the Sunday Market near Te Papa) for the best breads we found in NZ, excellent brown sugar brioche, and expensive but delicious granola (especially with the aforementioned Piako passionfruit yogurt); Kaffee Eis (Oriental Parade, Frank Kitts Park and Courtenay Place) for excellent gelato (especially the cinnamon, lemon and passionfruit) plus well made Mojo coffee; Le Moulin (upper Willis St) for reliably good baguette on days when the French Baker isn't in town; Gipps St Butcher (Karori on Gipps St) for the best meat in town (including ham they cure themselves), an always-friendly reception, and whatever custom cuts you want (if you call ahead); Island Bay Butcher (Island Bay) for a huge variety of very good sausages (a few varieties of which are also carried at Moore Wilson); Le Marche (Thorndon Quay and also inside at the Sunday Market) for excellent French cheeses including excellent Epoisses and Reblochon (they do their own affinage); Regional Wines (Basin Reserve) for slightly better wine selection than Moore Wilson (esp for non-NZ wines), but much higher pricing.
Notable NZ producers to try in Wellington: Emerson's Beer (from Dunedin -- available various locations including Regional Wines) is truly world class; many many wineries including Neudorf (Nelson), Seresin (Marlborough), Ata Rangi (Martinborough), Craggy Range (Hawkes Bay) and many more; Zany Zeus cheeses (from Petone), especially for the feta; Te Mata cheeses (from Hawkes Bay -- available at Moore Wilsons and New World).
I could write more ... but this has already gone on long enough. Bon apetit.
Pizza Pomodoro is up there for good take away pizza- there are a couple of tables but its not really a restaurant, unless things have changed. Its up an alleyway off courtenay st, near dixon st deli if you havent found it yet.
Its not really a gourmet recommendation but if you want to do something different but not energetic get the ferry over to eastbourne for lunch on your day off. or petone, if the ferry stops there at the moment. 9as well as the places already mentioned, there are lots of good brunchy places on the main drag, also theres a museum on the foreshore and just off that, there a spring, where people go and fill up their water containers. its not like a big tourist attraction, just a pump in the middle of the road.
Also not sure of the name but theres a group of mums who started a veg box delivery service (you just get whats in seasons). You might find it on google.
Aside from food, for drinks the wine shop which is on the basin reserve is a good find. You can get NZ beers on tap which you decant into flagons and then refill as necessary- very green. And I like the whiskey choice there, theres one that a lagavullin which smells of peat and wood and its just gorgeous- its not labelled lagavuillin but it is- I think its called macleods, and the blue label one not the green.
My personal favourites for drinks out if i'm feeling a little bit cocktails and dean martin-ey is Motel. Also for novelty, Alice, and when I'm a little squiffy, Mighty Mighty always seems like a good idea. I always end up leaving something there. I try not to mind, as long as I leave with my dignity.
Ps. I guess you'll have already seen floridita's on cuba- i didnt eat whole meals here much but love the teeny tiny olives they serve- always left the big uns. G&T and olives after work- i'm a happy girl. also sometimes we'd go for 'end of the night' fruit cake and pedro ximenez sherry. Its hard to find christmas in nz if you're from the northern hemisphere so for me this was a little bit of christmas on a plate for me.
a tad offbeat, there's a comfy cosy happy place for drinks (and cards, or board games...) on tory, called the hawthorn lounge. not a big foodie place, unless you're in the mood for a baked bean toasted sandwich though.
There's the mediterranean food warehouse in newtown, also good for ice cream and pizza, and they do cooking class (which come complete with eating and drinking) so that a nice to-do. Manon, also in newtown is friendly and good quality- not too cheap, and not big portions, but i like it. the menu changes seasonally. next to that is the chilean place, which does an interesting breakfast. on a random note, the garden centre in miramar is nice for breakfast and you would have already heard about the place that used to be the chocolate fish, right? not my fave, but some like it. I preferred the maranui surf club for breakfast- early so i could sit by the window overlooking the sea- but it burned down and i'm not sure if they've rebuilt it yet.
I learned to adjust my expectations really- i seldom think 'wow' when i go out to eat, i just think 'i like this atmosphere and this food' and with the company i have, thats more than good enough for me.
Just off cuba street, opposite the metropolitan (just off that car park) there's a nice place called the duke of something, which is a nice place to meet for wine, olives, and little tapas dishes. The three restaurants tucked up the side of the cinema I'm trying to remember the name of.... the one at the foot of mt vic- they're good, I like the fish one a lot. Gosh my memory is shocking. The place i go even though the food leaves much to be desired is the italian place on courtenay place, a few door away from kitty o sheas. For me, its like the place you go to on holiday when the environment makes up for it. Although I like the dark wood/trad interior- the 'courtyard' out the back makes me grin from ear to ear. Its really a bit outdoor room/atrium, painted possibly 20 years ago to look like an italian courtyard. garish aqua, murals, plastic flowers. just order a carafe and be prosaic about the small dish of olives you just ordered.
Although i would avoid all of courtneay place on a fri or sat night, the wine bar up the road from there, on the corner of courtenay and cambridge terrace does a great tasting platter. get the big one with the melty cheese and things involving ceviche, goats and random salsa's.
Finally, although its a bit noisy for me sometimes, the spanish place at the bottom of tory street is a good find. go just for a drink- order a sherry or a jug of sangria, and some nibbles to have at the bar, then you can peruse the menu and spy on the kitchen to see if you want to go for a whole feast.
Course, for me the best meals were in new friends (brits like me, kiwis, americans, french, germans...) houses- sams mushroom surprise, kirstys half cooked roast beef sundays, winter thanksgiving for 24 in my house, summer thanksgiving for 30 in the garden. And of course, kaimoana caught and cooked on the beach, tucked in between rocks for shelter.
I do miss moore wilsons- i'll be back in a few months and you'll probably find me hugging the 'cheesidor' there within hours of me getting off the plane.
Also- if you venture out to petone, as well as the italian and spanish places in that road just off the waterfront (te pune st???) I like johns fish market. they used to do a lovely fish wrap (fish and greek salad wrap) which i'd eat on the beach. the same people who have manon had a posjer place a few doors down, pearl, but not sure if it survived.
Enjoy your stay in Aotearoa,
Thanks all for the help! We're San Franciscans too, although we've recently lived in the vicinity of Formaggio's Kitchen in Cambridge MA so we are totally spoiled for cheese. It's exciting to see so many New Zealand cheeses.
We're working our way through Moore Wilson's cheese department. (thrilled to find cumin and fenugreek Gouda, which for some odd reason is rare in the US) and buying organic produce at Commonsense Organics so far (although Moore Wilson sells an overpackaged plastic tin of fabulous organic microgreens). Thanks for the tip on New World. We're planning on doing Maria Pia's soon.
Since we're stuck in a hotel for the first two weeks (this explains our diet of cheese and avocadoes), I'll report on our favorite restos so far:
Ernesto 132 Cuba Street www.ernesto.co.nz 04.801.6878
We've eaten here twice and been thrilled with every bite. Cafe atmosphere (comfortable black banquettes and wide tables so two can sit side by side -- also the chairs are comfortable) with nearly half the spacious room an open kitchen feels like you are in the cook's living room. Watch out they close early. We arrived at 9:30 (after calling to find out what time "late" meant and being told 10) and had to beg the chef for dinner. He graciously agreed to haul everything out and cook for us although he had already cleared the kitchen. We had a seared lamb appetizer with garbanzo beans, also the lamp chops (perfect!), the delicious and unusual creamed spinach, and the pork belly on puréed sweet potato. Would have been nice to have a bite of bitter or a bit of crunch on the plate, but that didn't prevent us from licking it.
Finc 122 Wakefield http://www.finc.co.nz 499.299
Looks trendy and upscale but turns out to be less expensive than many nearby places. Creative food in a cafe atmosphere (uncovered wooden tables not close together, one common table, high ceilings, good magazines). They don't advertise this, but they have free wifi! Long, diverse list of $8 entrées that deliver generous portions of chicken roasted in grape leaves (didn't taste the apricot in there but it was fabulous anyway), and pork dumplings. The menu is refreshing and unpretentious. Turkish eggs at brunch were lovely. Lots of literature here about sustainability and artisanship. Open all day and evening. High tea on Sundays, in grandma's teacups.
Aro Café 90 Aro Street http://www.arocoffee.co.nz/ 4 384 4970
Everything you want with the perfect cup of coffee... An array of savories from bean salads to mini quiches and plenty of desserts, all easy to see. And a menu. And organic ingredients. And hip. Open for dinner for a few hours some nights.
i know you are looking for things to cook rather than dining out but as you have mentioned slow food i really have to recommend Maria Pia's Trattoria - if you are looking for slow food then this place really fits the bill as Maria the owner/chef is NZ's slow food enthusiast - and you can taste it in her cooking - everything is delicious and fresh - and reasonably priced. I live in auckland but have been known to go to wellington JUST to eat here!! review here:
her menu changes regularly, is seasonal, locally sourced etc etc - plus she imports wine direct from italy - great range and again reasonably priced.
as for other places in wellington - to be honest nothing has blown me away. Locals will go on about the "wonderful" Malaysian places in wellington but don't believe the hype. I have tried many many of these places and yet to find any good authentic malaysian - certainly nothing even remotely in the league of what auckland has to offer (and thats still a long way off malaysia most of the time).
anyway hope you make it to Maria Pia's - well worth a go!
The New World Market on Wakefield is a good market. New World is a chain but they are individually own and operated. They carry local, organic produce, and their cheese selection is quite reasonable. They have some versions of cheese that rival those I find here at home in the SF Bay Area (Humboldt Fog cheese comes to mind). The agricultural regions are mainly on the north island and just a few hours drive from Wellie. Overall, the whole country is agricultural and farmland, enough to sustain themselves and export items like lamb and wine.
I never found the term "grass-fed" on any packages of beef, lamb or venison probably because they are raised in pastures and not in feedlots. If you do get a chance to get out of the capital, you can find endless fields of sheep and cattle. Just an fyi, a scotch fillet is similar cut to a rib eye steak.
There is an italian deli/grocery/cafe, La Bella Italia located on The Terrace, a bit north of Te Papa. I've not been to this store location, but if it is anything like their store in Petone, you will be able to find prosciutto, copa, salami, etc.
On Cuba Street past Vivian is Caffe Italiano. There may be more items there of interest. A friend of mine in Hataitai loves the place. Across the way from the Caffe is the Sea Market. I don't know if their fish has been frozen or not, but they seem to do a brisk business and have good turnover.
If you want a place fun, casual atmosphere for a bite or a cup of coffee, walk further up Cuba Street a bit past the Sea Market to Fidel's Cafe. The crowd tends to be somewhat younger than middle-aged (my current club), but I really enjoy the energy there.
I don't know what part of town you are living, but if you find yourself craving Greek food, I have to recommend Kosmos Greek Taverna on Pirie Street near Kent Terrace (Mount Victoria). Babis and Gabriella are warm, wonderful hosts. I had dinner one evening with my husband and our friend. We ate ourselves silly, shared a few shots of Ouzo with Babis and practically had to be carted out, we were so full.
If you do want to know more about the local restaurants, you might check these links. The reviews are more current than what you will find on Chowhound.