Best places to eat and drink in New Zealand: Actor Sam Neill names his favourite places

Sam Neill wants to invite you to dinner across the ditch, and he's not the only one. New Zealand's chefs and winemakers are throwing out the black and white, silver fern-emblazoned welcome mat for Australians, whenever and wherever the trans-Tasman bubble allows.

"They've been without visitors for far too long, they're all ripping to go," says the actor, star of such films as Jurassic Park, The Piano and My Brilliant Career, winemaker, and one of the most popular and high-profile Kiwis among Australians.

Hungry diners will find plenty of top-notch dining experiences not only in major cities like Auckland and Wellington but right across the North and South, says Neill, who owns Two Paddock, a winery in the pinot noir-rich Central Otago region, about 75 minutes' south-east of Queenstown.

"New Zealand's food scene has never been more vibrant. New Zealand food is going through something of a revolution," he says. "A lot of the best chefs are using distinctively New Zealand products to produce Pacific food that could only be imagined here. It's some of the most interesting food in the world at the moment."

We asked Neill to share some of his favourite Kiwi food and wine destinations with us. From casual pubs and laidback wineries to fine diners, you will find his complete hit list below, (with a little help from his friends).

Oh, and while Two Paddocks winery doesn't have a cellar door from which to greet visitors, do pencil in a trip across the ditch for early 2022. "We've done a pop-up cellar door before, and we're looking at doing it again in January or February," he says. "It will be somewhere in Central Otago, a casual lunch in a paddock somewhere. They're always great fun."

See twopaddocks.com

FAVOURITE NEW RESTAURANT DISCOVERY

AHI, AUCKLAND, NORTH ISLAND

AHI menu with Ben Bayly satjul10cover cover story new zealand nz food and wine with sam neill ; text by Ute Junker ; HANDOUT photo SUPPLIED via journalist ; Ahi Restaurant Commercial Bay Auckland

Ahi, Ben Bayly's new restaurant. Photo: Manja Wachsmuth

SAM SAYS

"I was in quarantine in Auckland for a while and was fortunate enough to be able to order in from Ahi, Ben Bayly's new restaurant. I strongly recommend it. I also like Kika in Wanaka and, more casually, Depot Eatery by Al Brown in Auckland."

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TRAVELLER SAYS

If you want a crash course in Indigenous ingredients in New Zealand, Ahi is the place to go. In his latest restaurant Bayly – one of New Zealand's most-awarded chefs - applies his refined technique to ingredients such as charcoaled crayfish served with a lemon-sorrel salad, and wild fallow deer with parsnip and brussels sprouts.

DON'T MISS

The award for the most eye-catching dish has to go to Bayly's butterfish wrapped in bull kelp, looking like a carefully carved piece of pounamu or greenstone.

ESSENTIALS

ahirestaurant.co.nz; depoteatery.co.nz

FAVOURITE CLASSIC WINERY RESTAURANT

AMISFIELD BISTRO, QUEENSTOWN, SOUTH ISLAND

 
satjul10cover cover story new zealand nz food and wine with sam neill ; text by Ute Junker ; HANDOUT photo SUPPLIED via journalist ; Amisfield - Winter Menu - Kiwi Lamington

Amisfield's Kiwi Lamington.

SAM SAYS

"This is a lovely place for lunch. The food is very impressive. Vaughan Mabee is a serious chef."

TRAVELLER SAYS

In summer, take a seat in the courtyard. In winter, cosy up in front of the fire. Whatever the season, Mabee's menu of small plates, and especially his degustation meals, make for a memorable experience. Mabee, who works closely with local hunters, foragers and fishers, is acknowledged as one of the country's best chefs; last year, he was crowned the respected Cuisine magazine's chef of the year.

DON'T MISS

The menu changes with the seasons but if it's on the menu, don't go past the paua (abalone) pie. While you are here, pick up a couple of bottles of Amisfield's pinot noir.

ESSENTIALS

amisfield.co.nz

FAVOURITE FINE DINING RESTAURANT

RATA, QUEENSTOWN, SOUTH ISLAND

satjul10cover cover story new zealand nz food and wine with sam neill ; text by Ute Junker ; HANDOUT photo SUPPLIED via journalist ; Rata Rātā Restaurant Queenstown - Rata's (rather famous) Kiwi dip Southland cheese roll, Speight’s mustard, cornichon jam, fried yeast

Rata's Kiwi dip Southland cheese roll.

SAM SAYS

"I don't like fine dining that much, but there are certain restaurants I have great enthusiasm for. Rata never disappoints."

TRAVELLER SAYS

Founded by star chef Josh Emett, Rata was envisaged as a love letter to New Zealand. A sense of place still shines through in every detail, from the urban forest that surrounds the restaurant to the rough-sawn timber ceiling to the restaurant's name, inspired by a native tree known for its crimson flowers. And of course it's there in the ingredients on your plate, from crayfish to native plants such as kawakawa.

DON'T MISS

Rata's menus are updated regularly but two dishes that seem to have won a permanent place are the Cloudy Bay clams with seaweed butter and chives and the goats cheese profiteroles with honey.

ESSENTIALS

ratadining.co.nz

FAVOURITE LUXURY LODGE CUISINE

MINARET STATION, WANAKA, SOUTH ISLAND

satjul10cover cover story new zealand nz food and wine with sam neill ; text by Ute Junker ; HANDOUT photo SUPPLIED https://visuals.newzealand.com ; 
Licence: WorldWide Licence - Worldwide usage in unpaid digital and print media to promote New Zealand as a visitor destination.Usage: Worldwide usage in unpaid digital and print media to promote New Zealand as a visitor destination.Expiry: Does not expireMinaret Station, Lake Wanaka
Credit: Matt Crawford

Minaret Station. Photo: Matt Crawford

SAM SAYS

"New Zealand has some amazing luxury lodges with amazing food. Minaret Station is accessible only by helicopter [via heliports in Queenstown or Wanaka]; this is glamping with the emphasis on 'glam'. To have a meal up there among the peaks is really special."

TRAVELLER SAYS

Given that the only way to reach this Southern Alps lodge, set at an altitude of 915 metres, is via helicopter, any stay here starts big. The food lives up to the rest of the experience, with seasonal dishes ranging from blue cod ceviche with coriander, lime, coconut and chilli to Te Mana lamb with eggplant and masala paste. Even the breakfasts make an impression, thanks to dishes such as creamy mushrooms with truffle, porchetta, sourdough and rocket.

DON'T MISS

Let one of the lodge helicopters drop you at a scenic spot for the ultimate South Island alpine picnic.

ESSENTIALS

minaretstation.com

FAVOURITE SEASONAL KIWI MUST-TRY DELICACY

BLUFF OYSTERS, SOUTH ISLANDS

SAM SAYS

"In my view, they are the greatest oysters in the world. They are only in season for a couple of months of the year, but at that time any good restaurant will have them on the menu."

WE SAY

These deep water oysters grow naturally in the Foveaux Strait, which separates the South Island and, sitting below it, Stewart Island, New Zealand's third biggest land mass. Bluff oysters are known for their succulence and their distinctive flavour with crayfish, paua (abalone), scallops, salmon, blue cod and whitebait also abundant in these far-flung parts.

DON'T MISS

The oysters' eponymous port town, Bluff, which is about half-an-hour south of Invercargill, the South Island's southernmost city, hosts an oyster festival each year. The Bluff Oyster and Food Festival 2022 festival is set to take place on May 21.

ESSENTIALS

bluffoysterfest.co.nz

FAVOURITE PUB GRUB IN A SEASIDE SETTING

DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH HOTEL, RUSSELL, BAY OF ISLANDS

satjul10cover cover story new zealand nz food and wine with sam neill ; text by Ute Junker ; HANDOUT photo SUPPLIED via journalist ; The Duke

The Duke of Marlborough Hotel, Russell, Bay of lsands.

SAM SAYS

"This upscale North Island pub makes a great stop if you are visiting the nearby Waitangi Treaty Grounds [where New Zealand's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed in 1840]."

TRAVELLER SAYS

This elegant and historic waterfront pub started life as a grog shop in the 1820s, when the immensely charming village of Russell was the largest whaling port in the southern hemisphere. It was later issued the first liquor licence in New Zealand.

DON'T MISS

The local Waikare Inlet oysters are a highlight but the slow roasted lamb shoulder is another favourite. The Duke of Marlborough wine list is outstanding.

ESSENTIALS

theduke.co.nz; waitangi.org.nz

FAVOURITE MUST-VISIT SOUTH ISLAND WINERY

FELTON ROAD, CENTRAL OTAGO

Felton Road biodynamic winery, Central Otago, New Zealand satjul10cover cover story new zealand nz food and wine with sam neill ; text by Ute Junker ; HANDOUT photo SUPPLIED wines@feltonroad.com ; https://feltonroad.com/handy-information - Felton Road Winery

Felton Road biodynamic winery, Central Otago. Photo: Andrea Johnson

SAM SAYS

"For my favourite South Island winery, I'm going to say Felton Road, our neighbours here at Two Paddocks. They're friends of ours and make terrific wines."

TRAVELLER SAYS

Felton Road Wines has some of the oldest vines in the Central Otago region, and makes its wines using grapes that are farmed biodynamically on its three vineyards. Winemaker Blair Walter uses minimal intervention methods, avoiding fining and filtration and using only wild yeast. The cellar door is open by appointment only.

DON'T MISS

Try the Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3 or the Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5.

ESSENTIALS

feltonroad.com

FAVOURITE 'ON MY MUST-VISIT LIST' NORTH ISLAND WINERY

URBAN WINERY, NAPIER

SAM SAYS

"I get to Hawke's Bay at least once a year and always enjoy finding a new winery. The one that's on my list to visit is Urban Winery in Napier – I haven't been there yet but I'm interested to take a look."

TRAVELLER SAYS

Housed in the National Tobacco Company, one of Napier's beautiful art deco buildings, Tony Bish's Urban Winery is known for doing things differently. Bish, formerly the winemaker for Sacred Hill Wines, focuses solely on chardonnays, and guests to his sleek cellar door can admire his egg-shaped fermenters made of concrete and French oak, as well as tasting his wines.

DON'T MISS

The Zen chardonnay has rich layers of flavour over a citrus core.

ESSENTIALS

theurbanwinery.co.nz

FAVOURITE CASUAL DINING SPOT

AMANO BAKERY, AUCKLAND, NORTH ISLAND

SAM SAYS

"You can really put on a few pounds here – I could quite happily eat my way through their range of cakes. Just try saying no to their chocolate tart – you'll never manage it."

TRAVELLER SAYS

Occupying the ground floor of a heritage building in the fashionable CBD Britomart precinct, this high-ceilinged bakery-restaurant is packed with atmosphere and amazing sweet treats. Whether you opt for something slightly unusual like the Basque cheese cake or the vanilla and rhubarb cake, or keep it traditional with a magnificent lemon meringue pie, there's plenty to tempt you here.

DON'T MISS

We're not going to argue with Sam Neill. Go the chocolate tart.

ESSENTIALS

www.amano.nz

FAVOURITE NEW EATERY ON MY 'MUST DINE AT' LIST

HOMELAND, AUCKLAND

satjul10cover cover story new zealand nz food and wine with sam neill ; text by Ute Junker ; HANDOUT photo SUPPLIED hello@homelandnz.com ; Homeland restaurant Auckland ; mandatory credit : Liz Clarkson ;

Homeland, Auckland. Photo: Liz Clarkson

SAM SAYS

"My old friend Peter Gordon has opened a new restaurant called Homeland. I haven't been lucky to get there yet but everything Peter Gordon does is interesting."

TRAVELLER SAYS

Homeland isn't just a restaurant. Gordon, perhaps New Zealand's most internationally-known chef describes it as a "food embassy", and as well as an all-day eatery, it includes a cooking school, a film studio and a community space.

DON'T MISS

Every six weeks or so, the menu changes to highlight a new group of local suppliers. Dishes may include miso-braised beef cheek with kumara gnocchi and mascarpone, or clams with silverbeet and quinoa in a coconut ginger miso broth.

ESSENTIALS

homelandnz.com

FIVE MORE TOP KIWI TABLES

Not content with only Sam Neill's choices, we asked some of New Zealand's top chefs for their own don't-miss dining options.

WBC, WELLINGTON, NORTH ISLAND

CHOSEN BY SHAUN CLOUSTON, HEAD CHEF, LOGAN BROWN WELLINGTON

"This little place [WBC stands for 'Wholesale Boot Company] is a great choice for lunch. They have a fresh seafood bar where they shuck oysters and clams, and they do a great Goan raw fish curry, a bit like a ceviche. The wine list and the cocktails are also really well done." See wbcrestaurant.co.nz; loganbrown.co.nz

FLEURS PLACE MOERAKI, SOUTH ISLAND

CHOSEN BY KATE FAY, HEAD CHEF, CIBO, AUCKLAND

Kate Fay

Head chef Cibo Auckland Kate Fay.

"I absolutely love this rustic restaurant. Moeraki is a small fishing community north of Dunedin, and the restaurant overlooks the whole bay. It has warm friendly service and generous portions of the freshest fish. Have the skate wings or the blue cod." See fleursplace.com; cibo.co.nz

CRAGGY RANGE, HAWKE'S BAY, NORTH ISLAND

CHOSEN BY JOSH EMMETT, OWNER, ONSLOW, AUCKLAND, AND THE OYSTER INN, WAIHEKE ISLAND

"Craggy Range is one of Aotearoa's best winery restaurant experiences in the heart of New Zealand's most exciting wine regions. The chef has his unfair share of incredible local produce to showcase seasonally that's matched effortlessly with Craggy Range's delicious wines." See craggyrange.com; onslow.nz; theoysterinn.co.nz

TASTE OF INDIA, WELLINGTON, NORTH ISLAND

CHOSEN BY LAURA GREENFIELD, CHEF, WELLINGTON'S FIELD AND GREEN, WELLINGTON

"I head to Taste of India at least once a week. There's a queue every day when they open at 5.30. It's takeaway only, no eat in, no Uber eats, but the food is unbelievable. Their tandoor chicken is sensational, the naan is made to order, and it's amazing value." See fieldandgreen.co.nz

MR MORRIS, AUCKLAND, NORTH ISLAND

CHOSEN BY JONATHAN ROGERS, HEAD CHEF, MATAKAURI LODGE, QUEENSTOWN, SOUTH ISLAND

"Michael Meredith, a stalwart of the Auckland hospitality scene, has returned after a couple of years' hiatus with this modern Pacifica cuisine venue. The paua, ginger and seaweed and the octopus, chipotle and mole sauce were my highlight dishes." See mrmorris.nz; robertsonlodges.com

FIVE MORE NEW ZEALAND TASTE SENSATIONS

GREEN-LIPPED MUSSELS

Much bigger than our blue mussels and best enjoyed steamed.

VENISON

New Zealand is the world's largest producer of farmed venison, and local chefs excel at preparing it.

WHITEBAIT

You will find whitebait fritters on almost every menu between August and November.

FEIJOAS

Originally from Brazil, this Vitamin C-rich fruit is grown in many gardens.

HANGI

The traditional Maori method of cooking using an underground pit.

FIVE KIWI COMFORT FOOD CLASSICS

HOKEY POKEY ICE CREAM

New Zealand's contribution to the ice cream world.

AFGHAN BISCUITS

Chocolate and cornflake biscuits topped with walnuts.

L&P

Short for Lemon & Paeroa, this soft drink is advertised with the slogan, "World Famous in New Zealand".

CHOCOLATE FISH

Pink marshmallow with a chocolate coating is a favourite treat for kids.

MARMITE AND CHIP SANDWICHES

A beloved schoolyard treat and hangover food. Best made with salt and vinegar chips.

Victorians, along with residents of the ACT, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, are once again able to head to New Zealand (at time of writing), provided they haven't visited a designated hotspot. All travellers will need to return a negative COVID test result no more than 72 hours before their scheduled departure time. See smartraveller.gov.au

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