For a tiny island nation, Aotearoa has a world-class array of food on offer. From fine dining experiences to grab and go treats, herewith what top foodies reckon is the best thing they've eaten so far in 2021.
Henry Oliver, editor of Metro
This is one of those questions where the more you think about it, the harder it is to answer, but the first thing that springs to mind is the baseless cheesecake from Pici. No biscuit, just cheese (and sugar and eggs and maybe some other stuff) topped with grassy olive oil and crunchy shards of sea salt. The first time I ate it was on a rainy lunchtime with my Metro colleagues. The pasta was good too, but it's the cheesecake I still think about.
Beth Brash, program director of Visa Wellington on a Plate
This might be a little off brief, but when you're a delightful combination of being a neophile, an optimist and an enthusiastic eater, it's hard to pinpoint the greatest thing you’ve eaten. That is why I went for a dish I could (and usually do) eat every week - Floriditas Smoked Fish Hash.
Just this weekend, while sitting at Floriditas with my brother discussing this brief, he ordered it to see what the fuss was about. It looks so slapdash, and initially, he wasn't convinced. But this dish is the ultimate slow burn: you start with the bigger pieces of potato and smoked fish but by the time you get to the end, it's these intense mouthfuls of all the best bits, crunchy salty potato, smoked fish, egg yolk, lemon juice, herbs and hot sauce. The final part of the meal he was shovelling these flavour bombs into his mouth at a frenzied rate, he then went very quiet, and looked across the table, and said, "Nah, you're right, this is mean". What else are big sisters for other than steering you in the right direction?
Kim Knight, NZ Herald journalist and restaurant critic of Canvas magazine
I know I’m cheating but... Daphne’s ox tongue skewer. Ockhee's seaweed noodles. Gemmayze St's falafel. Ada's beef short rib. Ima's cheese pudding. Raw crayfish from Cocoro. Kingi's kina and Homeland's pāua.
My palate is a broad church but one of the altars it worships at most frequently is Cazador Deli, home of Auckland's best wagyu mince, cheese and béchamel pie. (See also: Mushroom and venison).
Sam Low, food and beverage creative
The beef carpaccio from Hugo’s Bistro, consisting of a mature 7-year-old black angus, dry aged for four weeks and topped with fine shavings of 3-year-old mature gouda, fresh yuzu zest and a drizzle of a deep and fruity olive oil. The dish highlights incredible artisans and producers from around New Zealand, and the mastery of flavour recognition from the head chef Alfie Ingham. The beef is melt in the mouth with richness and body that lingers, the cheese adds immense umami, finally the yuzu allows the palate to be refreshed and excites you again for the next bite. Incredible.
Emma Galloway, chef and author My Darling Lemon Thyme
We recently travelled to the South Island and on the way home a good friend of mine gave us the mother of all tip-offs when she suggested we visit Kim's Kitchen in Tawa, just out of Wellington. Kim makes gluten-free dumplings, steamed buns and bao buns (which are also free from dairy, egg and nuts). On Friday and Saturdays, she also does gluten-free, nut-free, vegan iced and filled doughnuts. Both my daughter and I are gluten-free and avoid as much dairy as we can, eating one of Kim's doughnuts was one of the most enjoyable food experiences I've had in a very long time.
Anna King Shahab, writer and co-founder Lazy Susan
Recently I was lucky enough to nab tickets for a My Mother’s Kitchen pop-up Ethiopian vegan dinner in the courtyard of Coco’s Cantina. MMK Owner and chef Yeshi Desta posts details of her events on Instagram Stories, and they book out in a hurry! We feasted on alicha wot (a hearty, gingery vegetable stew), misir wot (complex and spicy brown lentil stew) and shirt wot (stew of roasted ground chickpeas with wonderfully warming berbere spice) and a zingy tomato and chilli salad, all scooped up with tart, spongy, tender injera (fermented teff flour flatbreads). We left with very full tummies thanks to Desta replenishing the dishes constantly, and also with a far greater knowledge about the cuisine of Desta’s mother country.
Damaris Coulter, founder The Realness World
Earlier this year my partner and I took our Pēpi’s whenua [placenta] back to my mother’s whenua on the Karikari Peninsula, and we took our Pēpi to visit some of the lands we Whakapapa to. All I felt like was burgers, and lucky for me the best homemade burgers are from this part of the world! Blue Moon in Awanui serves the most delicious hot, fresh, unpretentious burgers made with local produce in a soft bap (rather than a burger bun). The steak and egg roll or the bacon burger are my favourite.
The other life-changing kai for me was when I was in hospital after giving birth to Hinekōrako, I ate the freshest kina which I believe saved my wairua and restored my energies! My partner's cousin was a midwife (that lucky for us was on duty while we were in there), and her partner was driving from Ahipara to visit her in Auckland. She organised for him to stop at Cable Bay for a dive and bring us fresh kina - now that is manaakitanga! #TeTaiTokerauForLife
Simon Day, commercial editorial director at Daylight Creative and host of The Spinoff’s food podcast, Dietary Requirements
When I arrived at Goods, on Tinakori Road just down the hill from the Wellington Botanic Gardens, there was a queue out the door and down the brick alleyway that leads to the beautiful cafe/bakery/patisserie. When I finally made it to the counter I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the cabinet and I ended up spending $100 on cinnamon buns, croissants, black sesame kouign amanns, chocolate swirls, and lemon ricotta pastries. They were the most delicious pastries I’ve eaten anywhere in the world. But the highlight was the chilli cheese twist. It was savoury and salty, crunchy and chewy, intensely cheesy and just perfectly spicy. The best thing I’ve eaten in a long time.
Rebecca Wadey, co-founder of Ensemble
The rice, eggs and avo at Wharf Road in Coromandel town. I know, it sounds like a bummer of a dish but it’s unbelievably tasty with delicious pickled vege, a coconut curry leaf sambal and mango pickle yogurt. I had to slap away the forks of everyone else at the table. The milk buns at Gochu are a close runner-up.
Sally Duncan, marketing director at Te Mata Estate winery and chair of Hawke's Bay Winegrowers
"From the moment you arrive at Mangapapa Hotel you know it’s going to be good, and one of my guilty pleasures is their weekly steak evenings. For just $49 you are treated to the most mouth-watering and succulent steak you will ever taste - and you get a glass of Mangapapa wine to boot (if you feel like an extra treat, pair your steak with a glass of Te Mata Estate’s Coleraine!). Mangapapa must be one of Hawke’s Bay’s best kept secrets, although with nights like this, and a F.A.W.C! event in June, it won’t be for long."