In the relatively small city and competitive market of Wellington, a sense of terror and a feeling of belonging are central to what makes a restaurant stand out. Here’s ten local eateries that are getting it right.
Offering a wide selection of traditional dishes such as masterfully-made dumplings and Peking duck, Dragons showcases flavours and technique found only in fine Cantonese cooking. Fans of yum cha and larger format sharing dishes alike will agree that this temple of Chinese gastronomy is second to none. Once you’ve sampled the huge array of tasty treats on this menu, Dragons will become your own personal culinary lighthouse—a beacon calling out your name.
Opting to ditch the meat in 2018, Hillside offers an intimate setting where diners can experience vegetables and fruits at their peak, often picked directly by owner-operator Asher Boote at his farm in nearby Shannon. Head Chef Nikita Kuschke’s dedication to honouring remarkable product, elevates humble ingredients to centre-stage, with a never-ending barrage of brassica literacy, that makes you want to plunge your hands into the living earth, giving prayer to the vegetable kingdom in all its unordained splendour.
Yanbu Vang serves up bright Tibetan-Yemini-style food, pulling the big punches that can only be expected from such a rich culinary milieu. Engaging diner’s within his flavour-memories, Vang’s cuisine transcends and reframes what we know about taste and texture. The freshly squeezed juice, in all its quirky flavours, is good too—really good. Take thee to the isle-of-yum, they said, it’s over yonder, they said, that place called Gunusu, bruv.
- Taste of Home
Renowned for its use of spicy chilli oil, Sichuan peppercorn enhances the intensely fragrant citrus-y flavours characteristic of this Chinese province, and at Taste of Home the spicy, fragrant, sweet, sour and numbing flavours of Sichuan cuisine are showcased; this is a true culinary experience that you’ll not want to miss. Come, consume, and let the flavours burn their saucy imprints into your brain like a hot iron to a cattle hide. Don’t worry it won’t hurt (much), and you’ll be one of ‘us’ in no time.
At a Japanese restaurant we know what we’re going to get, we just want to know that it’s good. And, well, Kazagaruma is very, very, good. Your face won’t explode with the heady joys of a fresh truth bomb direct from flavourtown, but that isn’t what we came for. Kazagaruma is simple, pared-back, exacting in every element of technique, offering expertly crafted sushi and sashimi, sake, green tea, and all of the usual suspects, though it’s the harmonious balance of flavours, textures, and attention to detail that set this destination apart.
Authentic Burmese food has found a recent home here in Wellington at Mabel’s. Arguably South-East Asia’s culinary underdog, the sharp, spicy, sour and salty notes are resounding at this fresh and vibrant neighbourhood restaurant. And then there’s the certain refinement to the food at Mabel’s that rounds out the intensity, leaving you at once satisfied but wanting more of these traditional favourites; the perfect location for groups that want an experience to fully immerse themselves in. Newly defined friends with newly defined benefits: ie. eating yum stuff at Mabel’s.
Rounding out the dining experience with natural wines, cocktails and thoughtful service, Mason makes you feel welcomed by people who really care. Matt Hawkes’ (ex- Rita) passion for organic, seasonal ingredients and devotion to big, bold flavours fits perfectly with the Middle-Eastern theme in this intimate space. No room? Never fear, get yourself to their sister bar Next Door. It’s an arms reach away, literally. You can even say hi through the conveniently located and self-proclaimed ‘glory-hole’. Next Door is that foodie’s parallel universe we’ve always wanted but never been brave enough to ask for.
They say you can tell a lot about how clean a restaurant kitchen is by the cleanliness of their bathroom; in Rita’s case, you can tell a lot about the restaurant’s entire vibe. With its simple-yet-refined décor and food, Rita evokes a commitment to quality and consistency that can only be attributed to the dynamic hospitality duo, Kelda and Paul (previously of Nikau). Let them welcome you into their humble but smart abode, while Head Chef Kahlivia Russell (ex-Cumulus, Melbourne) and her team do what they do best. Settle into Rita’s pared-back, intimate surroundings, and soak up true hospitality in all of its finer details at this Te Aro institution. Sit back and relax—there’s plenty more Tinder dates in the sea.
With market-fresh ingredients and a quality wine list to boot, this family-owned dining room is at once classical and modern, robust yet refined. Capitol is ideally situated for watching the world go by, while being served hearty Mediterranean-inspired dishes in a smart, but casual environment. As owner-operator Tom Hutchison would say, “It’s pretty tasty, bro.”
- Taste of India
Delighting Wellingtonians with its beautiful curries and freshly-made naan from an open-kitchen tandoor, Taste of India is a hidden gem. Hands down the best chicken tikka in the city—if not the world—the salty, zesty, smoky flavour of the yoghurt marinade, spices and oven char is enough to transport you directly to a street food cart in India, the lemon on the side elevating this dish to a near-religious experience. No dine-in, but go and eat the food—in a park, at a hotel, in bed—all of your wants and needs will dissolve once you experience the spicy greatness confined within these walls. Trust me: you’ll thank me later.
By Jack O’Donnell