Given carte blanche and a budget to match means executive chef Phil Healy has been able to get thoroughly creative with the menu at Stellar Restaurant and Bar.

Mr Healy's been brought in to bring major changes to the dining experience for the new owners, the Thirsty Whale group, which has a number of bars and restaurants in the lower North Island, and last week he unveiled a brand new menu that strongly reflects his culinary touch.

"I'm bringing a bit of better dining for Whanganui with a step up, featuring great flavours and great presentation. It's simple but flavoursome. There are things in this menu that I know haven't been done in town before," he said.

He said it was about providing competition for the city's other restaurants, and if all lifted their standards, then the diners win.


Mr Healy has his own catering firm but it is not involved in this venture. He's travelled for the past few years working in a number of NZ cities.

In Tauranga he oversaw the catering for the hundreds of people involved in the initial stages of the salvage of the Rena off Mt Maunganui.

"We were feeding 120 people five times a day. We were hiring extra staff through Winz to help us out. In that first week we out-catered because it was too much for us."

That contract lasted for almost five months but it gave him the money to buy a cafe and take on other catering contracts. He said his role at Stellar was essentially to create the new menu and train up the other chefs. "Nothing on this menu is carried over from the previous one except for the pizzas and desserts."

Some of his signature dishes include the salmon fillet served on a seedless passionfruit slaw with tempura prawn cutlets and an orange and ginger drizzle. Or there's the pan-fried fish on a nicoise salad, dried shallots on a bed of green beans and tomatoes, topped with a smoked paprika creme fraiche.

As an executive chef, Mr Healy is also involved in judging regional chef competitions. At the end of this month he is representing this region for the New Zealand chefs' pavlova competition in Auckland.