Some of New Zealand's finest places to eat and drink are served with a side dish of history, writes Alexia Santamaria
There are so many incredible places to eat in New Zealand. We are spoiled for choice with everything from multi-course high-end degustations to $10 bowls of hand-pulled noodles to fancy-pants French bakeries to good local Kiwi pub food. But some places have the added bonus of telling a tale, being a part of New Zealand's history by virtue of their location or age. If you're travelling around New Zealand this summer here are some interesting spots to stop for a slice of our past with your bite to eat.
The Gables, Russell
The Gables is New Zealand's oldest operating restaurant, but back when it was built in 1847 the clientele might have been a bit rougher than they are today - after all, the area was known as "The Hell Hole of the Pacific". It's been a brothel, a shop, bakehouse, and Salvation Army Boys' Home in its lifetime too. With kauri panelling, open fires, original maps, prints and early photographs of our history, it is now listed as a Heritage building. Great place for a drink and a bite, right at the water's edge.
The Kentish Hotel Pub, Waiuku
The Kentish Hotel Pub lays claim to being New Zealand's oldest continuously licensed pub. Built in 1851 by Edward Constable, its Licence No.47 was granted on January 10, 1853. That same licence continues today making it the longest continuous liquor licence in New Zealand. The hotel has hosted dignitaries such as the Māori King Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, Sir George Grey, Richard Seddon, Sir Joseph Ward and William Massey. More than 450 photographs throughout the hotel celebrate the personalities that have made Waiuku, and New Zealand's history. The outdoor Portside bar area is great for a drink and a bite overlooking the harbour and Tamakae Reserve.
Mission Estate Winery, Napier
Well known for great wine and being an excellent concert venue, Mission Estate was established in 1851 by French missionaries, making it New Zealand's oldest winery. It has a fascinating past, surviving everything from floods to earthquakes. The building is the original but it actually moved sites when it was realised that the ground was going to be subject to periodic flooding. In 1909 it was physically cut into 11 sections, rolled on logs and pulled by traction engines to its current Taradale site. Today locals and visitors like to stop in for a tasting - or lunch at the restaurant - on a gorgeous Hawke's Bay day.
The Moutere Inn, Moutere
There's a lot of contention over the location of New Zealand's oldest pub (
) but The Moutere Inn is definitely one of the longest in the tooth. Still operating from its original 1850 building, it's a craft beer free house with 13 rotating taps and all wines sourced from within 10km of the inn. It was built by one of the German settlers in the area, Cordt Bensemann, and is part of the Moutere Artisans' Trail that takes you past the arty and culinary delights of the area. If you like a cider, try Peckham's – made less than five minutes from the pub.
Speight's Brewery, Dunedin
If you're interested in the history of beer in Aotearoa, Speight's is New Zealand's oldest brewery and you can take tours, do some tasting and grab a bite to eat at the Ale House located in the building. In 1876 James Speight and two partners, William Dawson, a brewer, and Charles Greenslade, a maltster, established the brewery James Speight and Company and it's been brewing on the same site ever since.
Outside of these places with an ultimate claim to fame ("the first", "the oldest") there are some others that have been around a while and deserve a mention:
Cardrona Hotel was established in 1863 and is thought to be one of our most photographed buildings. It's one of only two remaining buildings from the gold rush era in the Cardrona Valley.
Bannockburn Hotel popped up in 1862 and is still serving locals and visitors great food, wine and Central Otago views to soothe the soul.
Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell began its life in 1827 as "Johnny Johnston's Grog Shop," It was renamed Duke of Marlborough and gained its first licence in 1840 after the signing of the Treaty.
The Riverhead in Auckland is a much-coveted summer spot for a drink by the river and proudly claims its place as New Zealand's oldest riverside tavern, serving locals for 160 years.
Royal Hotel Naseby was built in October 1863 but was wrecked in a storm two years later and was rebuilt and reopened in 1865. It does cracking food and is a lovely cosy stop if you're exploring the new Central Otago Touring Route.
Established in 1874, Carey's Bay Historic Hotel is still bringing joy to all that frequent it. Situated next to Port Chalmers right on the beautiful Otago Harbour it's worth the 15-minute drive from Dunedin for one of the best old-school seafood platters in the country.
Honourable modern mentions
Then there are more modern places that are housed in some pretty special buildings.
Homestead is a firm favourite with Aucklanders for its fabulous food and gorgeous setting. Built in the late 1870s, the Pah Homestead was the largest house in the Auckland province at the time and Auckland Council restored and adapted it when they opened it as the home of the Wallace Arts Centre in August 2010.
O.G.B in Christchurch is a speakeasy-style bar housed in the Old Government Building, which opened in 1913. It's a great space that does incredible cocktails and is very close to historic Cathedral Square.
Clarence Tauranga is proudly housed within the walls of the former Post Office which dates back to the 1900s. Whether you're eating in the restaurant or grazing from the bar menu, you're guaranteed a fabulous dining experience.
If you fancy the idea of dining in the halls of power, Bellamys opened to the public a few years ago under the expert hand of the Logan Brown team. Once reserved for MPs and their guests, this Wellington-based Parliament institution is a great spot for some excellent New Zealand fare.
Bootleg Brewery is located in the historic Matangi Dairy Factory which was built in 1885. The creamery supplied cream to Waikato's first butter factory run by Henry Reynolds (who established the iconic Anchor brand). Brews are great with a simple accompanying menu of Kiwi faves like onion dip, hot dogs and toasties.
High tea at Larnach Castle (which dates back to the late 1800s) is a must-do if you're in Dunedin. Eating home-made sandwiches, slices, scones and cream cake under the high ceilings of the Ballroom Cafe definitely transports you back to a bygone era.
Central Fire Station Bistro, Napier made quite the splash on the Hawke's Bay dining scene when it opened in 2019. But it's not only incredible for its food - the restaurant is in the old Central Fire Station designed in 1923 - which served the city until 1969.
Olivers, Clyde Olivers Restaurant goes about its business within the historic walls of one of Otago's most notable buildings. Originally named The Victoria Store, it serviced the needs of the gold miners who had come to the area to seek their fortunes. Olivers is popular for its fine dining at night as well as daytime cafe-bakery-delicatessen Merchant of Clyde, and the Victoria Store Brewery.
Union Square never fails to deliver on a fabulous food experience, under the guiding hand of Michelin star-winning chef Adam Newell. It's housed in the gorgeous Martinborough Hotel which dates back to the 1870s and is a wonderful place to stay.