It had been a few years between visits for me, and in that time Dunedin had gone and gotten a lot more delicious. In just a few days I explored new openings, returned to some of my old favourites, and bookmarked places I couldn't quite fit in, for a future visit.
It's pretty darn hard to get a bad coffee in Dunedin – I've never managed it. The inner city is riddled with purveyors of great coffee – the Warehouse precinct is a solid source, where I enjoyed a good brew alongside classic cafe fare with the twist at Precinct. My eggs Benedict came with pickled pork, on smoked potato hash – a delicious surprise that had me at first bite. Up on Princes St, newish spot Catalyst proved a beautifully designed haven to settle in at for a wholesome fix – they source local and organic and the menu is all dairy-free.
If you like your coffee best with the accompanying aroma of beans roasting, head up the hill to Grid in Mornington, where this established ethical-beans roastery has more recently been joined by a few other culinary attractions. A door inside Grid leads through to Good Food Co, a specialist grocer of a darling wee size which belies its wide range of local cheeses, charcuterie, pastries (blueberry and custard doughnuts… yes please), cookbooks, and more. Don't leave without a loaf of turmeric sourdough.
This sleepy little village was once connected to the city by a cable car, defunct for 60 years but making a comeback if the Dunedin Heritage Light Rail Trust is successful in its efforts. I can easily imagine riding the car up the hill for an afternoon treat at Patti's and Cream. This new spot is the bricks-and-mortar creamery arm of Olive Tabor's popular burgers and icecream food truck on St Clair's The Esplanade. Olive took me through a tasting of several of her favourite flavours, and told me that, surprisingly, even in the depth of a Dunedin winter her scoops induce steady queues. Olive uses milk from Windy Ridge Farm in Balclutha to make her dense, smooth icecream, and makes the most of things produced locally, such as fruit, Ocho chocolate, Bay Rd Peanut Butter, and Arc Brewery beer to flavour her churns.
After a refreshing walk along St Clair beach, Tītī is the perfect place to smooth down your wind-whipped hair and enjoy the ocean view over lunch. Mel Hartman delivers the dishes her partner, chef Hannes Bareiter has prepared, and talks me through each course – Hannes' cooking has a lovely lightness that gracefully represents a bounty of local producers this German couple have gotten to know and love in their years living here. The trust-the-chef style lunch menu allows you to select a main, while your other one or two courses are surprises.
Another memorable meal was had cosied under a blanket in a glasshouse on the waterfront – Harbourside Grill has two of them available to book. The generous antipasti platter was basically a meal in itself, but I still managed to clean up my main of crispy-skin salmon fillet (I can never not order seafood when dining by the sea).
Dinner at my hotel (Wains, on Princes St) was well worthwhile – The Press Club may be intimate in size, but their portions are hearty, and delicious – my roasted hapuka was treated just right, and I loved trying a few Waitaki wines from the list.
Post-dinner, Dunedin shines when it comes to bars that vibe. The Octagon and surrounds has long been a go-to, and joining old favourites (such as whisky specialist Albar, which was packed to the rafters and buzzing with joy every time I strolled past) were a few new places to be explored. Woof! comes with its own exclamation mark, but the place isn't at all shouty: it's elegantly lit and on the crowded night I called in for a solo glass of Central Otago red, it had a mellow but busy atmosphere, with most patrons on a cocktails and bar snacks journey. Continuing the animal theme, Mr Fox offers a touch of underground sophistication right on the Octagon – undoubtedly the best place to enjoy a late-night espresso martini.
A botanical-driven buzz is the order of the day at Kind Company, which opened doors the day after I left town so has gone straight to the top of my list for the next time I'm down south. Cocktails and mocktails bursting with fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers complement vegan dishes that look almost too pretty to devour.
When visiting Dunedin, make sure your itinerary includes a Saturday so as not to miss the Otago Farmers Market. As the sun comes up to illuminate one of the city's postcard subjects – the Flemish-renaissance railway station and it's pretty flower beds - dozens of stallholders in the carpark adjacent are welcoming their first customers. Because I'm returning home later that afternoon, I make the most of my luggage allowance and stock up on goodies. Like Cox's orange apples, golden beets, and glossy rainbow chard from Rosedale Orchard's bustling stall, sweet shelled hazelnuts from Mosgiel, several Evansdale cheeses, and venison salami.
One final stop before I leave for the airport – The Tart Tin – which was a farmers market stall last time I was in the city, and is now a permanent shop, with a well-deserved permanent queue. The array of baking makes choosing a real effort, but I made a beeline for our family favourite, eclairs – salted caramel, in this case – which I carefully balanced on my lap back to Auckland, before graciously passing them over to my kids for a Dunedin-flavoured dessert.
For more things to see, do and eat in Dunedin, go to dunedinnz.com
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com