The food in Queenstown can be very, very good. It can also be very, very bad.
The last time we visited (in 2014), we made the mistake of not asking for some advice on the best places to eat. At this point I wasn’t doing the kind of pre-trip research I would do now, so we ate some pretty bad food at some places that looked like they’d be nice, but weren’t. Luckily, my brother in law lives just out of Arrowtown, so he came to the rescue with some outstanding dinner options.
I guess this is the challenge with any town in any country that has tourism as a primary source of income. I could say the same thing about Venice, Crete or Fiji. Rich and I have a theory that you should always eat one block from the best view. Thankfully, in Queenstown, this doesn’t have to be the case (although when your view is all encompassing mountain ranges, they’re pretty hard to avoid).
These are some of the places we ate at while we were there. Things change pretty quickly though, so I can’t guarantee there won’t be better newcomers in the next few months.
A notable omission on my part is Fergburger and their associated stores, Mrs Ferg and Fergbaker. Sadly the ever present queues outside Fergburger meant we were unable to eat here, but this is a Queenstown institution and really should not be missed. The word from insiders is that you’re best to place your order online beforehand to avoid what can be a sizable wait. We poked our heads into Fergbaker and Mrs Ferg (which sells house made gelato) and these are pretty impressive establishments. Everything was fresh and smelled amazing. Don’t make the same mistake I did, make the time to eat there at least once.
Madam Woo – Madam Woo is one of two local restaurants owned by celebrity chef Josh Emmett and restaurateur Fleur Caulton (the other is Rata – see below). This is their Malaysian Hawker food inspired offering, right in the middle of the Queenstown shopping area. They only take bookings for eight or more, so we made sure we arrived just after 6pm to get a table (they’re also open for lunch). The food is relaxed and designed to share, the room is energetic and brightly decorated. This time it was only me and the kids (Rich had gone back to work), so sadly we didn’t get to try as much of the menu as I would have liked. We had a mix of steamed dumplings and a hawker roll (pulled pork with herbs wrapped in roti) to start, then Char Sui BBQ pork spare ribs (to keep the 11 year old happy), honey and soy squid and Asian vegetables for a main. The desserts looked amazing, but sadly we were too full to try them. The kids loved it, and I noticed a number of other families in the room, so they welcome children.
Rata – This is Emmett and Caulton’s more grown up option. We had a fantastic dinner here, aided by the fact that my brother in law seemed to know everyone in the room, so we were spoiled rotten. Rata is a fine dining restaurant, focused on local produce. The menu is limited to four options for starters, five for main courses, but the options available are fantastic, so this really wasn’t a problem. The service is impeccable, the room beautiful, but I wouldn’t be bringing the kids here!
Bespoke – This cafe, situated just below the gondola, won New Zealand cafe of the year in 2015. The owners also own Vudu cafe on the Wakatipu lakefront, which has been excellent through the years. I was blown away by Bespoke. It was crazily busy, but we managed to find a perch by the window and had a delicious breakfast. Their menu appears to be very health focused on first look, but a closer look reveals the eggy, bacony, breakfast standards we all love. I had black rice baked with coconut milk and served with caramelised bananas, Amelia had a beautiful, flower bedecked chai pudding. The coffee was delicious, they do some lovely smoothies, and there is an awe inspiring range of cakes, sandwiches and other sweet but healthy treats adorning the counter and cabinet.
Taco Medic – This is the kind of little local find that I love. We we coming down from Coronet Peak and found Taco Medic’s food truck situated on the side of the road back to Queenstown. They’ve set up camp with a doughnut guy (which the kids had instead) and a guy selling beer. The tacos are fresh and delicious, with hand made corn tortillas. I had the pulled brisket, but there’s also pork, fish and a vegetarian taco. There’s even a breakfast taco, which I was told was amazing (maybe next time). This is really inexpensive, but delicious food. Perfect after a day’s skiing. They also have a location in central Queenstown.
Ivy & Lola’s – After being so rude about good food and views being mutually exclusive, I stumbled on Ivy & Lola’s whilst on a late afternoon hunt for mulled wine and hot chips. The brief was simple – I needed to be able see the water and the mountains while I drank my wine. This place ticked all the boxes. It’s tucked next to Mac’s Ale House on the lakefront, and to be honest it looks like the same establishment. The view of the mountains is sensational, the heaters were going and there were blankets for those of us placing scenery above warmth. Although I didn’t have dinner here, the menu was enticing, and if the wine and chips were anything to go by (I know, that’s a fragile premise to base a good review on!), the food is good. When we ventured inside to pay the bill, we found the dining room to be eclectic, with framed vintage cutlery, old radios and china teapots and cups adorning the walls. Really lovely.
The Cookie Bar – this part of my restaurant wrap up is for kids only. Cookie Time have opened a themed cookie bar, that serves milk and cookies, cookie dough icecream, s’mores and warm cookies, fresh from the oven. It’s a cute concept, which my kids loved. The milk is served in old fashioned glass milkbottles, which they’ll clean out and send home with you. The cookies are an insane sugar hit, so maybe don’t look too closely at the list of ingredients, but this is all about the children (and sub-25 year old tourists).