Treat your taste buds to an epicurean adventure this summer in Queenstown, writes Mike Yardley.
Queenstown’s cachet as the adventure capital of New Zealand needs little introduction, but it’s the food adventures that piqued my interest, on my latest foray to the glittery resort town. Home to some of the most decorated restaurants in New Zealand, fine dining in Queenstown will smash your expectations. Tucked away in the heart of Queenstown, Rātā executes artfully crafted dining experiences, from goat’s cheese profiteroles and Rātā blossom honey to grass-fed beef tartare.
Under the command of Josh Emett, the menu caters to all tastes, from Te Mana lamb rump to Big Glory Bay Salmon, Havoc Farm Pork Belly with torched scampi and spring carrot and pine nut filo. Don’t miss the eatery’s contemporary twist on the classic cheese roll—the Southland Windsor Blue Cheese Roll with preserved apricots and honey and mustard. Outrageously good.
Located in the historic Archer’s Cottage, Botswana Butchery is another icon of destination dining in Queenstown, with sublime lake views and roaring fires, providing a heart-warming ambience all year round. The salivating superb straddles everything from the finest cuts of wagyu eye fillet and slow roast lamb shoulder from the “Butchers Block” to a sweeping range of seafood, including the Flash Fried Paua with garlic and lemon. And both lunch and dinner settings can be paired with a recommended wine from the venue’s private 1800 bottle cellar.
At Steamer Wharf, Flame Bar & Grill has a ringside seat on the best lake views from its first floor perch. A mainstay of the dining scene for over a decade, powered by their secret South African BBQ recipe wrapped around award-winning ribs and steaks. Rest assured, you will smell the alluring aroma of Flame food before you enter the restaurant! Follow your nose. If you love aged steaks and juicy ribs you’ll be in seventh heaven.
The sides and salads are and deliciously prepared too, like their crunchy apple slaw with pinenuts. There are many strings to their culinary bow, including the freshest seafood plates to burgers, zesty seasonal salads and their acclaimed creamy Mozambique prawns. Bliss! The expansive green-tinged interior, outgoing service and superb drinks list completes the package.
One of the newest kids on the block is the festive Mexican restaurant, Margo’s. From the second you walk in, you know you’ve come to somewhere special. Eye-catching arched walls adorned with vibrant street art set the tone. Settle in at a balcony table and sink into some celebratory frozen margaritas as dish after dish is brought to your table. This is soul food grounded in the multitude of regions of Mexico. Star specimens include the tuna ceviche served with pineapple salsa and avocado, a Mexican fondue of cashew cheese (queso fundido), coconut shrimp with valentina mayo (hot sauce) and the rabbit empanadas in lime mayo.
Margo’s tacos, nachos and fajitas are all irresistibly good. Leave room for dulce. How could you say no to cinnamon tossed churros with Mexican hot chocolate and dulce de leche? They also offer a great vegan menu of options. The mixologists at Margo’s whip up masterful concoctions from a head-swirling range of Mexican Tequilas, Mezcals, Whiskey and Gin that pay homage to the mother country. There’s a party atmosphere here; a fiesta of flavour, colour, culture, exemplary cuisine and exceptional service.
Travelling with the kids? A decadent family favourite is to make tracks for Balls and Bangles. This delicious venue is another Queenstown original, fawned over for their bagels, sandwiches and brugels (burger bagels.) Be warned – the Glitter Bomb doughnuts will leave your kids spell-bound. The flavour range is lip-smacking, from oreo cream and vanilla bean custard to lemon curd and peanut butter and jelly. The next-level option is the doughnut on top of a milkshake. Does that qualify for meal status?
Stretch your legs and take a stroll along the lakeside on the Frankton Walkway to the historic Boatshed Café. It’s winning way to start your day and earn yourself a hearty breakfast at one of the most photogenic spots in Queenstown. If you’re not up for the leg work, grab a Queenstown water taxi or the bus. Its back-story is fascinating, set in the restored New Zealand Railways Shipping Office after beginning life as a store in the 1870s.
In 1936 it was bought by Frank Duncan, a Dunedin lawyer, who moved the building from the town centre to its current waterfront location. For a bumper breakfast, wrap your lips around the works. Eggs on toast with halloumi, mushrooms, crispy potatoes, grilled tomato, avocado and bacon. Great coffee, too!
Great drinking spots? Home of the teapot cocktail, in Church St, The World Bar is a buzzing spot for afternoon drinks, flavourful food and shindiggery. The teapots are still as good as ever, as are their classic cocktails. You can’t go wrong with World Punch, consisting of Captain Morgan’s spiced and dark rum, orange, pineapple, soda and grenadine. Mmmm. I’ve always enjoyed Ballarat Trading Company, the resort town’s original gastropub. Inspired by an 1850’s trading emporium, the evocative space oozes character. Sidle into a cosy booth, or kick back outside in the courtyard or along Queenstown Mall. Their crispy calamari is a personal favourite.
Tucked away in Searle Lane, Habana Boutique Rum Bar infuses Queenstown with a taste of Cuba. Boasting a collection of over 70 rums, this pint-sized bar offers sophisticated respite from some of the wilder party bars in town. It’s definitely the destination for the best mojitos in town. Their daiquiris are also a hit with locals as are their rum flights, critical in determining which variety will become your new pet preference.
And how could visit Queenstown without enjoying some great craic and Guiness at Póg Mahone’s? Indisputably the Irish heart of Queenstown since 1998, the Kiwi and Irish owners wanted a truly authentic Irish atmosphere, so had the entire pub designed and built in Ireland, then shipped over. Try the signature beef and Guinness pie, the hearty Irish stew or tuck into something from the stone grill.
Also becoming part of the waterfront landscape in recent years, Perky’s Floating Bar. With tap beers and Central Otago wines, you’ll also be drinking in some of Queenstown’s most breathtaking views, whether you’re sitting out on the bow or amid the gorgeous wooden interior. If you’re peckish, bring your own food, so grab your favourite takeaways and enjoy it on the boat, over beverages.
Elevate yourself at Attiqa, a vivacious gin and cocktail bar located upstairs from the corner of Queenstown Mall and Rees Street. The Sundeck is the perfect place to enjoy a cheeky drink and some eclectic house music. Fantastic lake views, the extensive cocktail list and the tapas menu have cemented its credentials as Queenstown’s favourite rooftop bar. Bask in the sun by day and come twilight, the fire pits go on, and the Attiqa magic reaches deep into the night, with the views, vibes and libations. Their espresso martinis are tops.
Finally, enjoy a scoop of floating pleasure, aboard Southern Discoveries’ gleaming catamaran, Spirit of Queenstown. They operate great-value multiple scenic cruises each day, as far as Mt. Nicholas High Country Station, one of New Zealand’s most historic, family run Merino sheep stations. Their merino wool is sold to Icebreaker. The 90 minute scenic cruise down Lake Wakatipu affords glorious vistas of Mt. Earnslaw, Walter Peak, Cecil Peak, and the tucked away valley beneath Mt. Creighton, where the Hollywood set have previously purchased homes, including Arnie Schwarzenegger and John Travolta.
We also popped into Bob’s Cove, marvelling over its remarkable turquoise water and dense native bush. A great add-on is the Wine and Cheese option, where you can sip Akarua wine and nibble away heartily on a Gibbston Valley cheese board, while soaking up the sights. www.southerndiscoveries.co.nz
Planning a great summer escape to the wonders of the Queenstown Lakes region? Make your first port of call the region’s official website. www.queenstownnz.co.nz