Dining out in Queenstown

By Belinda Henley

Belinda Henley samples of the resort town's newest foodie offerings... and some old favourites.

Tuck into a hearty steak at Botswana Butchery. Photo / Supplied
Tuck into a hearty steak at Botswana Butchery. Photo / Supplied

Queenstown is fast becoming one of New Zealand's culinary capitals. It seems every time I visit, at least one or two new eateries have popped up in what is surely one of the most spectacularly-beautiful locations in the world.

One of the great things about eating out here is the range of options. From the famous Fergburger, to fine dining restaurants, there's something for everyone.

One recent-ish addition to the Queenstown foodie scene is Fergbaker, which opened adjacent to Fergburger last year. Initially set up as a business to produce the buns for the burger business, it's quickly become as popular as its predecessor.

I found it hard to imagine there would be anything which could draw me away from the burgers on offer right next door, but one mouthful of their biggest-selling pork belly pie and I was hooked.

The offerings are extensive and if I'd had longer I would have worked my way through the entire list, including the venison and portobello mushroom and the prawn and chorizo pies.

There are also sandwiches, wraps, and a large range of breads, as well as some amazing cakes, slices and biscuits - the salted cashew, caramel slice and chocolate and raspberry fudge cake were my top picks.

Another of the newer dining spots in town is Number 5 Church Lane at The Spire hotel. It's home to a fantastic bar with some outstanding bartenders and a great menu featuring Thai fusion-style tapas.

We had lamb wontons, scallops with cucumber salad, duck rice paper rolls, and chicken larb balls, but their signature dish and undoubtedly my favourite was a roasted chicken salad with fresh ginger on top, one of the best taste sensations I have had in a long time.

For the best steak in town, look no further than Botswana Butchery, a restaurant I have visited on numerous occasions. Renowned for its perfectly-cooked cuts of beef, I asked the chef to bring me out some other of his signature dishes.

We had a selection of entrees, including some deliciously light and flavourful Spanish-style whitebait served with chilli and a salmon gravalax. Botswana also expertly serves one of my favourite dishes: Peking duck pancakes with house-made hoi sin sauce.

For my main, I had duck and a range of sides including the incredibly bad, but oh so good, duck fat potatoes, sweet parsnips and a beetroot salad with goat's cheese and hazelnuts.

Dessert was a new addition to the menu - apple strudel served with an accompanying apple crumble and a stunning crème brûlée.

The restaurant and bar upstairs are always busy and have a real buzz. Cosy and warm in winter, in summer it opens out onto the lake.

Simon Gault is about to open one of his Jervois Steak Houses in Queenstown, which will surely make this alpine town one of the best places in New Zealand to get a steak.

Just around the corner is MasterChef judge Josh Emett's new restaurant Rata.

While Emett has opened many restaurants for other people, namely Gordon Ramsay, this is the first one he has opened under his own name. In partnership with Fleur Coulton, formerly of Amisfield, it is hard to imagine a more competent dream team when it comes to providing the best in food, wine and service.

Rata vastly surpassed my expectations. I knew it would be good, but it is exceptional. The fit-out is modern and comfortable, the back wall dominated by a stunning backlit photo of native New Zealand forest.

I tried too many dishes to mention them all but some of the highlights included, Rata's homemade bread - baked and served in a tin, goat's cheese profiteroles served with rata honey, a white onion and thyme soup with wild mushrooms and the venison served with an 'osso buco' pie.

Emett's chocolate fondant served with salted almond ice cream was near perfect. It alone would have been worth the trip to Queenstown.

On the other side of Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown's town centre is the Hilton hotel, which has a number of accommodation, food and drink options - the most celebrated being Wakatipu Grill, which is expertly helmed by Auckland chef Peter Thornley.

Thornley moved south to open the restaurant and has a passionate commitment to sourcing local, fresh and seasonal ingredients.

I have a slightly unconventional but completely delicious brunch with an entrée of Eggs Lemuel Benedict, followed by a plateful of delicious scallops with Jerusalem artichoke puree, pear and chorizo, all washed down with a chilled Central Otago pinot gris.

If you want to dine in one of the most remote and spectacular places in New Zealand, look no further than the newly-opened, Minaret Station Luxury Tented Lodge.

A 15-minute helicopter ride from Wanaka, it is set on a working high country station and nestled among the 'hills'.

New Zealand's first luxury tented lodge, it has four suites, each with its own hot tub and private deck. But if you aren't able to stay over, a Mountain Kitchen day excursion is a good alternative.

Meals are taken in a shared dining room and lounge, with roaring fire blazing away. It was one of the most peaceful and jaw-droppingly beautiful places I have ever been.

With the head chef from Botswana Butchery running the kitchen, the food is exactly what you would expect: high-end comfort cooking with a twist.

Lunch was a cauliflower and bacon soup served with incredibly fat and juicy prawns, followed by baked salmon with ginger rice and bok choy and a warm custard topped with a blueberry compote.

It might not be the cheapest place to dine in the area (once you factor in the chopper ride) but I can promise you, it's a dining room with a view unlike anywhere else.

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