When it comes to fine food, the capital just keeps giving, discovers Kerri Jackson.
Wellington and good food have become as synonymous as cheese and wine. For years, Wellington-based master chefs such as Al Brown and Martin Bosley have elevated dining in the city to a capital experience.
And many column centimetres have been devoted to trumpeting the delights and variety of Wellington's inner-city dining.
But what about further afield? Fear not. It turns out Wellington's knack for good food extends well into its suburbs. Here's a pick of some the city's best suburban eateries.
Rotheram Tce, Miramar
Miramar is Wellington's coolest kid. Tucked beside the harbour, Miramar retains a sense of being a sleepy seaside holiday spot, though it has long been part of the urban sprawl and is next to the international airport.
But it is also home to Weta Workshops and Peter Jackson's Stone Street Studios and it's not unknown to spot familiar faces fresh from Middle Earth getting a caffeine hit at Cafe Polo. But hobbit-spotting aside, Cafe Polo is also famous for its food. Pop yourself in one of the corner seats with the sun shining on your back and take your pick from delicious brunch options or the dinner menu. And I dare you not to be tempted by the baked treats in the counterside glass cabinet. The focus is all on local, additive-free and free-range produce. Fully licensed.
Also try: Miramar and its neighbour Lyall Bay are awash with good cafes. Just around the corner from Cafe Polo, co-owner Valentina Dias runs Coco at the Roxy in Miramar's gorgeous, revived Art Deco movie theatre Roxy. Rather than just the snacks you'd expect to find at a cinema eaterie, Coco has a full menu that includes pasta, risotto and burgers so you can enjoy your movie with a full stomach.
Another Miramar star is The Larder, which serves everything from breakfast and brunch staples to a dinner menu that includes snapper, prawns, Angus fillet and lamb rack from the pan of chef and owner Jacob Brown, ex Boulcott St Bistro.
Meanwhile, Nicola and Scott Barrett of Elements in Lyall Bay, seem to be living up to their goal of providing city-quality food in the suburbs. Non-meat eaters are especially fond of the vegetarian tasting plate.
92 Karori Rd, Karori
Want a little touch of the continent in suburban Wellington? Owner/chef Jerome Touzard trained in France and worked in kitchens at the Savoy, Hilton and Waldorf Hotels in London. Coucou does a great brunch or breakfast but if you really want to see it at its best go for dinner where its Gallic style shines with dishes like duck a l'orange. And there's a great wine list, including French and New Zealand wines.
Also try: Rata Cafe, Zealandia, Waiapu Rd, Karori. After strolling the pathways of the Zealandia wildlife reserve, refuel with a bite at the on-site, fully licensed cafe. With spectacular views across the treetops and the lake, you'll feel like you're miles out of the city.
Jackson St, Petone
This grand but cosy neighbourhood bistro is housed in a beautifully restored Art Deco building _ all wood panelling and earthy colours. It's small but never feels cramped, making the most of walls and panels to create cosy dining nooks. And the food is simply excellent, whether you're there for a lunch or snack of small shared plates or opt for the full dinner option. This is a must-visit.
Also try: No visit to Petone is complete without at least a nibble and a coffee at La Bella Italia in Nevis St. Part warehouse-style deli, part grocery and part cafe, there is nothing quite like it in the country. The food is superb, whether it's just a plate of olives or a more hearty meal of pasta. One visit will not be enough _ if you're really keen they also run cooking courses and guided tours to Italy. It's not technically a cafe, but pop into Cultured in Jackson St for artisan cheeses and other gourmet produce _ along with really good coffee.
34 Poplar Rd, Raumati South
Though it's named for the ultimate in slow-release foods, the elvish lembas bread featured in The Lord of the Rings, this Kapiti Coast cafe is famous for its Lembastic burgers, which won last year's best burger competition at Wellington on a Plate.
Plenty of other delights are on the menu, too, from small plates and light meals through to dinner. Inside, the walls are lined with local art and every Friday night there are live performances. It's a great spot to fill up after the kids have had a run through Queen Elizabeth Park or on the beach.
Also try: The Beach Store, on the beachfront at Paekakariki is a wee gem of a place, although it's more about good coffee and quirky retro goods than food. Browse the antique typewriters and unique homeware for sale as you wait for your coffee, then enjoy it on the deckchairs provided seaside, across the road. Sip and enjoy the striking views up and down the Kapiti Coast.
August in Wellington means one thing - Wellington on a Plate, the annual culinary festival in which more than 80 events will take place around the city, including beer festivals, food tours, themed dinners and more. A highlight this year will be the day-long Fisher & Paykel Masterclass in which the nation's top chefs such as Justin North and Al Brown share their secrets. A full list of festival events from August 5-21 can be found on the website above.
* For more eating-out ideas in suburban Wellington, visit wellingtonnz.com