There are lots of fabulous reasons to pay a visit to Wellington, and the city’s dazzling array of dining options is certainly one of them. It’s commonly quoted that Wellington has more restaurants, bars and cafes per capita than New York City. We’ve done the hard yards and narrowed it down for you…
Once overshadowed by larger, showier Auckland, Wellington has come into its own in the role of New Zealand’s creative as well as parliamentary capital, and as a dining destination of choice.
With its compact size and picturesque harbour, the city of sea breezes punches well above its weight in both the cultural and culinary stakes. Here are some ideas for great places to eat in Wellington during your next visit.
Places to eat on the Waterfront
Right in the middle of Queen’s Wharf is the effervescent Foxglove Bar and Kitchen. Big, bright and full of fun, it’s the perfect place to enjoy Wellington’s bustling harbourside scene. Unwind over a drink and snacks on the first-floor balcony with its wide-angle water views, or retreat to a secret cocktail bar that can only be reached, Narnia-style, though an old wooden wardrobe. Downstairs, you can order tapas or gourmet burgers in one of several bars and lounges, or head to the restaurant for main meals and multicourse dining — great for family get-togethers or a special night out.
If you come for lunch or brunch, consider combining your Foxglove visit with a harbour ferry ride. Just steps from the front door, East by West Ferries depart for excursions to Somes Island nature reserve and the seaside village of Days Bay.
Also at Queen’s Wharf, seafood takes pride of place at Shed 5 — a restaurant within a historic woolshed where floor-to-ceiling windows frame harbour views. Here, the upmarket ambience of white linen and gleaming glassware contrasts nicely with exposed wooden beams and iron bolts that recall the building’s working-class origins. The seafood menu is simple and seriously fresh (the restaurant’s fishmonger heads to the fish market daily to nab the best of the catch). Leave room for the desserts, including classics like pecan pie and strawberry bavarois.
Places to eat on Cuba Street
In arty Cuba Street, long regarded as the city’s Bohemian quarter, dining options range from cheap and cheerful to traditional and refined. Playing on the street’s name, Fidel’s Café has been ‘serving the people since 1996’. The tongue-in-cheek revolutionary theme and 1950s Cuban memorabilia provide a colourful background to hearty breakfasts and plenty of pizza choices later in the day. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a fine Cubano sandwich on the menu.
Fresh-faced diner Loretta is the place to go for all-day dining with just the right mix of new trends and old favourites. Meanwhile, for strong coffee, late hours and budget prices, you can’t go past Midnight Espresso — a Cuba Street institution. The relaxed atmosphere and art-grunge style will appeal to students and backpackers. Anything on the menu that’s not vegan can probably be ‘veganised’ (just ask) and there’s a seemingly inexhaustible array of sweet treats.
Much-loved Olive restaurant has been a Cuba Street presence for more than 20 years. The menu is seasonal, and offers contemporary New Zealand cuisine, infused with a strong Italian culinary influence and an enthusiasm for local produce. Vegans and vegetarians are well catered for. You can enjoy your meal in the charming indoor dining area or, if you can, grab a table in the courtyard beside the venerable olive tree that gives the restaurant its name.
Cuba Street is also home to one of Wellington’s premier fine dining restaurants — Logan Brown. Enter through the red door that punctuates the façade of the imposing neoclassical building (a former bank) and you’ll find a beautiful octagonal dining room with moulded ceiling and archways. The Bistro, A La Carte and Chef’s Choice Tasting menus offer different combinations of classic dishes — most of them oriented towards meat, fish or game. Committed to local, ethical and sustainable sourcing, Logan Brown is the perfect place for a grand night — or day — out.
Places to eat Downtown
Every visitor to Wellington has the magnificent NZ National Museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, on their list of things to see and do. Fuel up for your museum day, or reward yourself afterwards, with a visit to one of Wellington’s eclectic mix of downtown eateries. Just three minutes’ walk from Te Papa, Mama Brown on Wakefield Street is a perennial family favourite that serves supersized portions of Mexican and American staples such as nachos, tacos and waffles.
One block further from the museum, on Courtenay Place, the highly rated Hummingbird Eatery and Bar caters to more grown-up tastes with an extensive cocktail list and the choice of an à la carte or eight-course tasting menu (dinner only). The Library, a unique book-themed venue also on Courtenay Place, opens from late afternoons onwards and serves tapas, desserts and cheese platters to accompany a veritable catalogue of cocktails and wines. Just around the corner in Tory Street, Chow offers mid-price Asian fusion dining with efficient service in an upbeat setting. Vegetarians will definitely feel the love here, and on Tuesdays everything in the restaurant is 100% vegan.
Just across Cambridge Terrace in the Mount Victoria district, Ortega Fish Shack serves up not only the freshest of fish, but also selected meat and vegetarian dishes in an unpretentious space with maritime-themed décor. Don’t be deceived by the restaurant’s humble name and modest streetfront — this is truly fine dining, to which Ortega’s many accolades attest.
Places to eat at the Bay
Sublime in summer sunshine and dramatic during winter storms, the southern suburb of Lyall Bay — home to Wellington’s longest beach — is a 15-minute drive from the CBD. Elegant bayside eatery The Botanist channels the seaside vibe with a dreamy décor of pastel colours and neutral tones. The restaurant offers a long list of inventive vegetarian and vegan dishes. All drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, are certified organic.
At the Maranui Surf Life Saving Club, Maranui Café presents a different take on holiday chic with its retro furniture and primary colours. Think Mediterranean-café-meets-1940s-milk-bar. This is a great place to refuel after an early surf or a morning at the beach, or simply to enjoy the ocean view. Choose from an array of ‘surf snacks’ and ‘beach breakfasts’ and enjoy the casual ambience while you watch all manner of water sports take place out on the bay.
Need a place to stay?
Quality Inn Angus in Lower Hutt offers an idyllic alternative to staying in the busy heart of Wellington. Located 15 minutes’ drive from the New Zealand capital’s CBD and within walking distance of Lower Hutt’s business district, the hotel has 75 superior rooms and suites, which are spacious and well appointed. Amenities include a pool and sauna. The hotel’s onsite Conservatory Restaurant serves breakfast daily and a full a la carte dinner menu from Monday to Saturday. The menu is complemented by an extensive wine list.
About the writer
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph (Escape) and The Australian (Travel & Indulgence). In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed her to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism New Zealand. Image: Graeme Murray