Holidaymakers usually visit New Zealand for its stunning backdrops, but it is quickly becoming a paradise for food and wine lovers, too.
Our Kiwi neighbours are taking the food scene up a notch, delivering a range of culinary wonders — notably, in the Lower South Island (LSI), which is just a few hours by air from our east coast.
Central Otago, Waitaki and Dunedin are often overlooked by tourists for adventure capital Queenstown, but this is starting to change with the trio’s award-winning meals, world-class wine and exquisite cheese placing them firmly on the foodie map.
After eating my way around these stunning regions over seven days — and stretching my stomach in the name of ‘research’ — here’s the best LSI spots to take full advantage of the region’s tasty spoils.
Bannockburn Hotel – Wine Country Restaurant and Bar
If you appreciate a good glass of pinot noir, riesling or sauvignon blanc, look no further than New Zealand’s Bannockburn Hotel.
Its menu features three full pages of top-notch grub and a staggering 40 pages of wine. That’s more than 200 wines to choose from.
The best part is many come from local wineries – patrons can even spot vineyards from the restaurant, alongside those breathtaking views of Pisa Range, Mount Michael and Mount Difficultly.
Located in Cromwell, the menu is tapas-style with the produce also sourced locally — the chorizo comes from Cromwell, and the olive oil and honey from Bannockburn.
Olivers Restaurant and Bar
This award-winning restaurant is run by David and Andrea Ritchie, who also operate Olivers Lodge and Stables, a boutique stay.
Both the restaurant and B&B are located on the same complex in the tiny historic town of Clyde, a hidden gem with a population of just 2000.
At dinner time, go for the 48-hour braised beef short rib with truffle mash, confit carrot, crispy shallots, beets and madeira jus.
This dish was named the supreme winner at Eat Taste Central festival last year.
Ancient Briton Hotel
Built in 1863, the Ancient Briton Hotel was Naseby’s first hotel. Today, it is one of just two remaining hotels in the small country town with accommodation for up to 35 people.
It has been renovated but still has its old gold-mining charm with mud-brick walls and historic fireplaces.
The Provenance lamb shoulder is the hotel’s star dish, snapping up the supreme award at Eat Taste Central in 2017. The shared meal for two is very impressive – it’s a rack that you carve yourself, served with shallots, hummus, grilled halloumi, root vegetables and sweet sherry jus.
Carrick Winery Restaurant
There is no denying New Zealand does wine well, and Central Otago is famous for pinot noir.
At Carrick Winery Restaurant, you can enjoy a delicious meal while looking over the lake and vineyards of Bannockburn. The garden risotto with broccoli, baby peas, preserved lemon, almonds and Grana Padano is a treat, as is the wonderfully dry 2017 Carrick Riesling.
A region no doubt familiar to Aussie lovers of the sav blanc, wine tastings here are a must.
Go for the Cloudy Bay Experience, comprising a medley of top drops. The sauvignon blanc is unsurprisingly a fan favourite, bursting with acidity, citrus and apple notes.
The newly opened The Cloudy Bay Shed (designed by the staff and brought to life by architect Paul Rolfe) also serves light snacks, including cheese platters, bread and dips, and decadent warm chocolate brownie.
For those wanting to eat “the best seafood in New Zealand” – words straight from the mouth of celebrity chef Rick Stein – Fleur’s Place in Moeraki is well worth a visit.
The rustic restaurant is run by 80-year-old Fleur Sullivan, serving up market-fresh seafood in a tranquil waterside setting.
The mouth-watering specialties include the shellfish hotpot, blue cod wrapped in smoked bacon, and seafood chowder.
Whitestone Cheese in Oamaru was founded by Bob and Sue Berry in 1987. The couple were sheep and beef farmers but got into cheese making after a series of droughts — and we’re so pleased they did.
The duo employed a cheesemaker from Germany to make the first batch (named Farmhouse) and the rest is history.
Today, they sell 25 artisan cheeses – semi-soft, soft, blue and fresh. Windsor Blue is a stand-out for me. It’s a delicate, creamy blue, with a silky smooth finish. So good is it, it’s even exported to France.
Cucina has a “trust the chef” tasting menu, featuring the restaurant’s favourite dishes, including empanadas, house smoked chicken ravioli, egg tagliatte, and dark chocolate mousse with sour cherry ice-cream.
The owner of the business, Yanina Tacchini, was an exchange student from Argentina but when she and her husband, Pablo saw the building on Tees Street, they knew they wanted it.
Dunedin is filled with hip new eateries but one of the clear favourites is Good Good. As the name suggests the food is damn good, as is the chilled-out vibes.
Go for the beef burger featuring a milk bun filled with grass-fed beef, American cheddar, salad, pickles and Good Good sauce.
I’m powerless to resist the potato tots dusted in Parmesan and generously drizzled with Good Good sauce. Warning: these are terribly addictive.
Nearby is Vault 21, a popular Asian fusion restaurant and bar set within a former heritage bank building. If you sit towards the front of the restaurant, there’s excellent crowd watching, and the marble seating is heated.
Tuck into succulent roast pork belly steamed buns, Peking duck tacos, battered crispy prawns, and pork cheek fingers, all washed down with the bar’s legendary signature cocktails, of course (the Candy FLoss Cosmo has our vote).
This highly talked about food stop is situated in the historic woodland garden on the Otago Peninsula.
Enjoy superb cuisine by award-winning chef, Hannes Bareiter who makes good use of fresh local produce from artisan suppliers. Glenfalloch is consistently rated number-one on TripAdviser.
Delicacies like smoked fish cakes, twice-baked goats’ cheese soufflé, potato and Parmesan gnocchi, and kumara and chickpea fritter has patrons returning again and again.
Where to stay
Poshtel in Waitaki is a new boutique accommodation in the heart of Oamaru, and just a five-minute walk to cafes, bars, and popular attractions.
Despite Oamaru being the “quirky capital of New Zealand” (locals ride penny farthings to work or the grocery store), this hotel is sophisticated and well, “posh”.
If you’re setting up a home base in Central Otago, check into Olivers Lodge and Stables. Nine years ago, the derelict stone buildings and homestead were restored to their original gold rush splendour (and a few welcome modern touches were added, too).