New Zealand's best restaurants: Six essential Wellington food experiences

You will never go hungry in Wellington. The city's lively food scene is rich in passionate small producers, each of whom has a story to tell. Chocolatiers who source beans from across the South Pacific and hire local artists to design their packaging; lively laneway diners that throw the menu open to influences from across the globe – it's all part of Wellington's eclectic gourmet scene. Whether you are hungry for an elegant French meal or a quality hit of caffeine, Wellington is the place to indulge your appetite.

Head for the laneways

Ask any local to identify Wellington's culinary epicentre, and they will point you in the direction of Hannah's Laneway, where some of the city's favourite flavour purveyors are clustered. From the salted caramel cookies of Leeds St Bakery and the pizzas at Pomodoro to lively bars such as craft beer haven Golding's Free Dive and the funky Hanging Ditch, Hannah's Laneway offers a true feast for the senses. Don't miss dinner at Shepherd, where Shepherd Elliott leads the team in the open kitchen banging out share plates at an astonishing rate. The menu covers all the bases from posh comfort food (hot blue cheese custard served with bacon vinaigrette and toast) to Asian flavours such as fish studded with yuzu and dashi, served in a ginger broth, and does it all well. See leedsstbakery.co.nz, pizzapomodoro.co.nz, goldingsfreedive.co.nz and shepherdrestaurant.co.nz

Explore the dark side

It's not just chocolate fans who will buy up big in the Wellington Chocolate Factory: the colourful wrappers, designed by local artists, are objects of desire in their own right, variously decorated with green snakes on a red background, or entwined with tropical foliage in hues of purple, pink and blue. Fortunately, the contents live up to the packaging. The back story is also part of the appeal: committed to ethical trading, the company sources its beans from small sustainable enterprises in South America and also across the South Pacific. Our favourites include the Samoa Bar, dark chocolate with distinctive spicy, fruity notes. See wcf.co.nz

Get buzzed

Wellington is one of those places where you literally wake up and smell the coffee. The city has a serious caffeine addiction, and there are plenty of roasters and coffee bars dishing up aromatic brews right across town. Perhaps the best known is Mojo Coffee, with 22 outlets across town (there's even one in the zoo!) We love The Beanery, its pocket-sized outlet on Lambton Quay, where the focus is on specialty techniques from cold brew to steampunk. Other local favourites include Flight Coffee's warehouse-style flagship, The Hangar, which brews ethically sourced Colombian beans, and People's Coffee, one of the few NZ businesses certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation. Drop in to their Espresso Bar in Newtown to sample their brilliant brews. See mojocoffee.co.nz, flightcoffee.co.nz and peoplescoffee.co.nz

Enjoy some French flair

For years, the whimsically named Hippopotamus restaurant served up superb French food from a waterfront location atop the Museum Art Hotel. That hotel has just been reborn as the QT Wellington, but Hippopotamus is still going strong. Wellington's must-visit restaurant is known for its elegant yet playful interiors (high-backed velvet chairs, mirrored bar, colourful chrysanthemum carpet), its scenic perch opposite the Te Papa Museum, and of course, for its food. Chef Laurent Loudeac​ draws on global influences as well as his classical training: try the superb venison carpaccio with beetroot and chocolate, or the outrageously good salmon sashimi. See hippopotamus.co.nz

Take a hike

In a city as walkable as Wellington, it is no surprise that some bright spark got the idea of introducing food tours that exercise your legs as well as your tastebuds. Zest Food Tour's Capital Tastes tour is a three-and-a-half hour stroll through some of Wellington's favourite foodie hotspots. You might want to skip breakfast: on the tour, you will sample everything from homemade gelato to artisanal peanut butter. There are also some exclusive experiences, such as a tasting of local cheeses in one of Wellington's best food halls. The emphasis is on meeting local foodies who are dedicated to doing things differently. See zestfoodtours.co.nz

Make tracks for Martinborough

Technically, the wine region of Martinborough is outside Wellington's city limits but since it's not all that far outside, we're going to include it. After all, it would be a serious shame to miss out on this superb wine region, only an hour's drive from Wellington. There are about 20-something small wineries in Martinborough producing small batches of high-quality wines. The area is best known for its elegant pinot noir, but the local pinot gris is also delicious, with distinctive fruity notes that contrast with the mineral finish. Make sure Martinborough Vineyard and Atarangi are on your itinerary. Lunch at the lovely Poppie's is also recommended; while you are there, try their superb late harvest pinot gris. See martinborough-vineyard.co.nz, atarangi.co.nz and poppiesmartinborough.co.nz

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/wellington

FLY

Qantas and Air New Zealand fly several times daily from Sydney and Melbourne. See qantas.com and airnewzealand.com.au

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STAY

The InterContinental Wellington has a convenient location, spacious rooms, and superb service. Rates from $260. ihg.com/intercontinental/hotels

Ute Junker was a guest of Discover Wellington Tourism.

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