The Ultimate Guide to Eating and Drinking in Wellington

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Mar 30, 2017

by EMMA MULHOLLAND, Senior Subeditor

With such a plethora of options for eating and drinking in Wellington, it’s hard to know where to start. And if you’ve only got a few days in town, you’ll need to plan your pit stops carefully. Lucky for you, we’ve already found the town’s best offerings, so stop googling and let the food and drink experiences begin.

Put on your walking shoes

The three-and-a-half hour Capital Tastes walking tour offers a speedy introduction to the city, its history and its obsession with all things food. First stop is Mojo Coffee’s harbourside roastery, where artisans prepare up to 700 kilograms of Wellington’s favourite beans every day. You’ll talk tasting notes with a roaster before setting off for Gelissimo gelateria and other top local food destinations. Word to the wise: don’t plan lunch.

Daily, 9:30am-1pm

Departs from inside Wellington’s i-SITE Visitor Centre, Civic Square, corner of Victoria and Wakefield streets

Visit a local institution

Originally a Swiss coffee house, Matterhorn opened in 1963 and occasionally gets old regulars coming in to reminisce. One can only imagine what they think on seeing the current dark, minimalist surrounds and a menu sprinkled with watermelon rind and pigs’ tails. But if they’re clever, they’ll pull up a chair because the Cuba Street institution offers some of Wellington’s most inspired plates. High points include the starter menu’s venison tartare with Café de Paris sauce and brined octopus “bacon”; plus the cocktail bar’s 14-page menu (locals love Falling Water, with feijoa-infused vodka and Kiwi soft drink Ch’i).

106 Cuba Street, Wellington

Seek out a wine bar

Being just over an hour’s drive from pinot mecca Martinborough, Wellington should, one imagines, be filled with cosy wine bars. Strangely, it’s not. There are craft beer and cocktail spots everywhere but when it comes to wine joints, Noble Rot is among the few. Maybe that’s because it’s blown the competition out of the water. Started by a group of sommeliers and restaurateurs, the buzzing space is unpretentious and fun. But it’s the knowledgeable service and comprehensive wine list that you’re here for. The menu is good, too, including a raw bar, charcuterie and fine-dining style meals.

6 Swan Lane, Te Aro

Partake of a proper high tea

With French chef Laurent Loudeac at the helm, Hippopotamus at QT Museum Wellington has won the city’s heart with its sophisticated dishes and opulent harbour views. If you can’t fit dinner into your schedule, take high tea instead. The vibe is refined without being stuffy (read: no sneakers, no pearls). Bedecked with mismatched furnishings (including armchairs upholstered with hot-pink velvet), stuffed peacocks and paintings of a much-loved local homeless man, it’s not the Ritz – but who’d swap? The china is fine (Royal Albert) and the treats (salmon mousse with crème fraîche; couverture-chocolate truffles) are second to none.

90 Cable Street, Te Aro

SEE ALSO: Wineries You Must Visit in New Zealand’s Canterbury Region

Sample the cocktail menu at The Library

It’s a hotly contested title but those in the know will tell you that The Library makes the best cocktails in town. Most valuable players include the espresso martini with vanilla-infused vodka and maple syrup and the Duck Fat Sazerac with duck-fat-infused whisky, cognac and spiced honey liqueur. It’s hard to find this Courtenay Place bar but it’s worth it, with super-friendly staff dressed like librarians (bring your pearls!) and walls lined with books (you can take one with you – stocks are replenished during the occasional cocktail-for-book exchanges). As if that’s not enough, it’s also a great live-music venue.

Upstairs, 53 Courtenay Place, Wellington

Find the best burger in town

The claim to fame is its Cheese, Beets and Meat Burger, which is kind of strange because it’s hardly indicative of the remainder of the stellar menu at Egmont St. Eatery. But burgers are a big deal in Wellington – so big, in fact, that locals spend August downing the 115-odd entries in the annual Wellington on a Plate burger competition (offices have spreadsheets to select their favourites). In 2015, this small eatery won the Best Burger title: a blessing and a curse, according to one staff member, who serves loads of burgers to this day. Make your waiter happy and instead order the harissa lamb sandwich with watercress pesto, labneh and housemade pickled blueberries – you’ll be glad you did.

11 Egmont Street, Wellington

Try the champagne of beers

The city’s best-known craft-beer brewers, Garage Project started out in 2011 with a 40-litre kit, a suburban garage and three mates who promised Wellington they’d create 24 beers in 24 weeks. The best of them are still around and join new brews, such as Hops On Pointe, a collaboration with The New Zealand Ballet made with Champagne yeast for Champagne-like bubbles. You can taste the ever-changing range at a converted petrol station “cellar door”; bring a bottle (any kind, water bottles are popular) and you can buy your favourite by the litre. Garage Project also has a bar down the way and sells at bottle shops around the country.

68 Aro Street, Aro Valley

Lose yourself in a laneway

In the small, quirky precinct of Hannahs Laneway you’ll find all of life’s good things within metres of each other: chocolate, peanut butter, cookies, soda and cocktails, all produced by artisans. The best part? The smell of chocolate is like a fog that permeates everything. That’s courtesy of Wellington Chocolate Factory, a fair-trade outfit that produces traditional bars with just two ingredients: single-origin cocoa beans and sugar. The result is rich and slightly bitter – and you won’t have to share it with the kids. Keep them happy with a salted-caramel cookie from Leeds Street Bakery.

Between Leeds and Eva streets, Wellington

SEE ALSO: Nicole Warne’s Stylish Guide to Auckland

Follow the lunch crowd

The business crowd loves to lunch at Nikau, so book a table, preferably in the sunny courtyard. In the centre of town, adjoining the City Gallery Wellington, Nikau offers tapas-style fare with almost everything made in-house – even a plum and aniseed soda. Order the seeded crackers with beetroot, walnut and pomegranate dip, plus the prosciutto and roasted capsicum salad with grapes, hazelnuts and fried bread. And make sure to leave room for a slice of the enormous peach and rhubarb pie (made in the downstairs bakery), served with house-made honey ice-cream.

Civic Square, 101 Wakefield Street, Wellington

Listen to live music over dinner

Housed in two wooden cottages from the late 19th century, this bar and restaurant is a bit like eating at your grandmother’s place – if she had a kayak on the roof and hosted live music three times a week. Despite the name, don't expect a Cuban theme (though you can order a cigar). Instead, share plates travel the Spanish-speaking world, their chief purpose to complement the 11-page drinks list. Insist that your table orders the pork belly with nectarine and coriander salsa. To finish? The chocolate and peanut butter truffles will do nicely.

32a-34 Wigan Street, Te Aro

Top image: Egmont St. Eatery

SEE ALSO: One Perfect Day in Auckland