New Zealand's top restaurants battled it out at the Cuisine Good Food Awards last night, with Auckland's Sidart taking out the Restaurant of the Year title as well as the highest honour of three hats.
Chef and owner Sid Sahrawat's contemporary Indian restaurant is known for its "art on a plate" degustation dining - an approach he introduced last year to offer "a more refined version" of the traditional dishes offered at sister restaurant Cassia.
Cuisine editor and co-director Kelli Brett said Sidart's menu combined Indian cuisine with New Zealand ingredients to "deliver the very essence of New Zealand on the plate".
"Sidart has become a restaurant that we can proudly showcase to the rest of the world as Aotearoa's very best."
The coveted Chef of the Year award went to Central Otago bistro and winery Amisfield's Vaughan Mabee, who along with his team delivered dishes that "tell the story of the Central Otago landscape," said Brett.
"His three to seven-course feast is one of the most spectacular meals you can find in New Zealand at this moment."
Wellington's Logan Brown won the title of Cardrona Distillery Best Metropolitan Restaurant, one of six category winners in the capital city including Boulcott Street Bistro, Shepher, Charley Noble, Hiakai, and Noble Rot.
Hawke's Bay also won big, with Napier's Pacifica earning the title of Pāmu Best Regional Restaurant, Prue Barton of Mister D awarded the Kenwood Restaurant Personality of the Year. And Black Estate in the Waipara was crowned Best Winery Restaurant.
Brett says it's been a tough year for the hospitality industry, especially in the regions, but it's encouraging to see independently owned and operated restaurants raising the bar of fine dining around the country.
Eight restaurants were added to the traditional top 100 list. The full list, including a "ones to watch" line up, will be published in the magazine's Good Food Guide this year.
Brett also said the hat scores had been tightened this year, meaning some restaurants that gained a hat last year didn't receive one this year.
"However, these restaurants are still delivering a great experience and we felt that they should still be recognised. The ones to watch section also gives us the opportunity to highlight new restaurants that are showing promise," Brett said.
Lead assessor Kerry Tyack said every restaurant was judged on whether they met their own standards of fine dining.
"If a restaurant positions itself to be high end formal dining, then we measure whether or not it delivers that style of dining well."
Tyack said the awards were important to the New Zealand dining public as well as the restaurants.
The awards were announced via online streaming this year by Brett and Tyack. Over 40 cuisine experts determine the top 100 list by anonymous judging throughout the year.