Our capital city has more restaurants and cafes per capita than New York. Delaney Mes tries as many of them as she can.
I spent close to eight years living in the capital, as a student and waitress and then a graduate. Wellington still holds a piece of my heart, so I was delighted to go back to investigate how the food scene is looking a few years on. It is one of the best destinations for a weekend, especially if you love food.
An early-morning flight meant I arrived in time for multiple coffees and, after the sweeping drive in from the airport along the sculpture-dotted waterfront towards town, I parked on Cuba St. My first coffee of many was at the iconic Floriditas, which still serves some of the best eggs in town and has just celebrated its 10th birthday.
I was more excited about its new sister restaurant a few doors up, Loretta on Cuba. Loretta is larger and offers a fresh, inventive, seasonal menu.
The green eggs came under a pile of beautiful fresh herbs, and underneath sat two fried eggs on house-baked sourdough, with bacon on the side. It is simple - just put the best-quality ingredients you can find on a plate - and it works. There's also beautiful crockery, an impressive array of baked goods, and near-perfect coffee, although I'd expect nothing less from a city with more cafes and restaurants per capita than New York.
I spent the afternoon just around the corner from Cuba St at the Hannah Factory Laneway precinct. It has slowly evolved over the past few years into an inner-city hub of artisan producers and factories: from soda to coffee, peanut butter, beer, pizza and bread. I began with chocolate.
Wellington Chocolate Factory is co-owned by Rochelle Harrison, a pastry chef of 18 years (coincidentally, I worked with her many years ago in my university waitressing days). She began playing around with making chocolates a few years ago, but was increasingly concerned about not knowing where her ingredients were coming from. So began her journey to create New Zealand's first open bean-to-bar chocolate factory.
The factory has direct relationships with its cocoa bean farmers, from Madagascar to Bougainville. When it comes to the the taste-testing I'm told to just let it melt on your tongue, so the flavours can come out. It reminds me of single-origin coffee tastings or craft beer or wine. The salted caramel brittle is the most popular and I can attest to its incredible flavour.
Next was a man after my own heart. In a small factory, which slightly resembles a bunker, some of the best peanut butter I've ever tasted is being churned out by former lawyer Roman Jewell.
Fix and Fogg peanut butter began as a hobby, grew to a market stall, then Jewell branched out into the factory on Leeds St.
We discussed the trials and tribulations of a hobby-turned-obsession growing into a fulltime business. He said giving up your safe salary and day job sounds romantic, but in reality it's incredibly hard work. He said it's worth it, of course, because the rewards are infinite.
The peanut butter is excellent - they roast Queensland peanuts with just the right amount of sea salt and have capacity for about 250 jars a day. Available in crunchy or smooth, they've also done two special releases: smoke and fire, flavoured with chilli and paprika, and dark chocolate.
I think it's fair to say Jewell is obsessed, right down to the perfect bevel on the jar to enable scraping out every last inch. The peanut butter is available through its website and a few select stockists around New Zealand. At the factory window it's cash sales only.
Between chocolate and peanut butter, there are a few stops within a few metres to cleanse your palate.
Six Barrel Soda was one of the first artisan producers to be in the Hannah's Lane area. Co-owner Joseph Slater has a cafe-style soda tasting room, where you can sit and have a soda before taking a bottle home. As well as natural flavours such as celery tonic, hibiscus, and kola nut, it offers seasonal specials like pine at Christmas, and has released a blueberry and fennel.
In need of a beer, I paid Sean Golding a visit at Golding's Free Dive, a bar tucked between the soda joint and the coffee place. With a rotating array of interesting beers, this is Wellington's craft beer culture at its best. It's the kind of place you want to be your local.
Amazing toasted Reuben sandwiches are on offer, complete with homemade sauerkraut, but woodfired pizzas from neighbouring Pizza Pomodoro are also available to complement your pint.
If you find yourself (a few beers later) a block or so up Courtenay Place, or if you're a pizza aficionado, call in at Tommy Millions. Lawyer-turned-pizza-maker Tom Kirton has perfected New York-style pizza. At $5 a slice, it's one of the best bargain feeds around.
The bakery's famed salted caramel cookie is for sale alongside some of the most "super unpretentious and accessible" coffee in the city, according to owner Steve Barrett.
He's a full-blown coffee nerd who cares more about quality than many coffee companies. From training passionate staff who can offer tasting notes to an unparalleled focus on quality, taste, and ethical and transparent production, it's one of the best spots to throw back an espresso before continuing to eat.
When you're just there for a weekend, dinner is an important choice. Dixon St's Little Penang is an authentic, utterly delicious Malaysian at a reasonable price. It sources its herbs and spices from Penang, frozen when fresh and vacuum packed, and you can taste the difference. The spicy tangy assam laksa is a comforting bowl, especially when the city's signature wind is up.
For something different, the new offering from Wellington hospitality royalty the Bresolin brothers is on Willis St and worth a look. Aptly named The Bresolin, it has perfected fried chicken and has three excellent burgers. It has taken everything that's great about a takeaway burger and fine-tuned it with the best ingredients. There's rotating local craft beer on tap which, much to my delight, is just about a given in this city.
Brunch is big, but more important on Sunday mornings is a visit to the City Market inside the Chaffers Dock Building. There you will find everything from walnut pesto, Vietnamese spring rolls to visiting restaurants serving dishes, plus bacon butties, fresh oysters, and chocolate chunk cookies served warm out of a pie warmer. Take some cash, meander around and fill your belly among the hustle and bustle.
It was the best way to while away the morning, moseying around talking to producers and taste-testing before it was time for the airport.
Wellington is incredibly easy to get around and the wind just gives it character. I left with a full belly and plenty of treats to bring home - the perfect weekend of food and inspiration.
Delaney travelled courtesy of Positively Wellington Tourism.