Despite the challenges of a crippling pandemic, our capital’s dining scene seems to have roared back to life with so many fresh-faced and fabulous options that I think we may be entering Wellington’s greatest dining era yet.

Liberty is a fresh taste from the team behind iconic Wellington restaurant Logan Brown and chef Sean Clouston’s take on globally inspired comfort food. Head chef Alex France is delivering a menu that will definitely leave you with a sense of having eaten your way around the world, from one table. Golden Cheddar puffs with whipped chèvre might transport you to many different places, but you will soon be grounded in New Zealand by its rich rewarewa honey; grilled octopus is laid on a bed of lusciously creamy white beans with a mint salsa verde to bring you flavours of the Mediterranean; while pulled pork tostadas partnered with ’nduja and tomatillo will take you across to Mexico via a quick stopover in Italy. Pietro Boscia will tempt and tease you with a small but perfectly matched wine list, and don’t skip on the ricotta gnocchi rabbit bolognese, no matter where it takes you – it is absolutely delicious. 227 Cuba St, Wellington,

Concord is bringing back the touch of glam that we desperately need after drinking all those cocktails in our sweatpants at home last year. Located in the historical Mibar building, it’s kind of classy old-world meets edgy new Welly with chef/co-owner Shepherd Elliott putting sophisticated spins on classics that have remained favourites for decades for a good reason. There is a lot to adore about the steak tartare and Shepherd’s chicken liver pâté holds a firm rating in my soon-to-be-announced chicken liver pâté appreciation society. The prawn cocktail is hard-core-prawn. The ‘plats principaux’ are served with salad, sauces and bottomless fries (yup, you read that right) and the aged eye and scotch fillets, half a roast chicken or eggplant schnitzel will feed and soothe your soul. It’s gorgeous enough during the day, but at night the lighting adds a sexy glow that will compliment your perfectly engineered martini. For my money, Concord encapsulates our capital’s aptitude for making a comeback. 81 Victoria St, Te Aro, Wellington,

I’m guessing that by the time this issue of Cuisine is published you will need to be willing to queue or be best friends with chef/owner Vaibhav Vishan to snag a table and tuck into his masterful mix of Indian street food at Chaat Street. The outrageously popular pop-up at last year’s Wellington on a Plate has grown into a fully fledged restaurant, and people in the know are already ordering up on the papri chaat (zingy Indian nachos), Kashmiri kanti (pan-tossed lamb) and shakar-kandi ki (slow-cooked kūmara smothered in ‘top secret’ spice). Currently focussed on the north of India, Vaibhav says he is serving only 0.01% of over 59,000 street foods in the country. I can’t wait to chaat more. 99 Victoria St, Te Aro, Wellington, @chaatstreetwlg

At Koji, co-owner/chef Johnon MacDonald and head chef Geordie McLachlan are seamlessly blending elements of sweet, sour, spice and crunch to reimagine what we know as modern Asian. It is exceptional. Plant-based options deliver some serious hitters such as the deliciously dark miso dengaku eggplant, every bite a surge of texture from the deep-fried black rice, pumpkin and sesame seeds against a soft, fleshy, umami-spanked underbelly. Korean barbecue beef lands unexpectedly on toast to play with a rich duck fat béchamel and Sichuan pickle, and you should probably order extra yellow curry beef doughnuts with pickled daikon and Kewpie mayo to avoid a duelling chopsticks situation. Lots of aromatic, spice-loving wines, plus sake, beer and shinnichi (pro-Japanese) cocktails all mix brilliantly with this genre-defying menu. 2 Majoribanks St, Mt Victoria, Wellington,

If you are looking for somewhere to stay that is a little bit luxe with a whole lot of attitude, then the Intrepid Hotel is for you and will put you right in the thick of the Cuba Street precinct. Owners Alex Cassels and Sean Golding have turned what was the old Cadbury building into 18 slick and sassy rooms with some little extra touches thrown in to make you feel loved and appreciated. A freshly baked pastry will arrive in the morning from Leeds Street Bakery, you’ll have access to complimentary tea, coffee, snacks and sparkling water on tap, and every evening a quirky chocolate bar will appear on your pillow. The building also houses one of Wellington’s best wine bars, Puffin, so a drink will definitely be in order. The focus is on natural, organic and minimal-intervention wines, and it turns out that a cleansing glass of Maria Gomez Espumante by Portugal’s rebel winemaker Luis Pato is a great opportunity to end the day with a fashionable fizz. 60 Ghuznee St, Te Aro, Wellington,

Traditionalists may say that chef Alric Hansen’s ever-so-lightly roasted oysters – in house-made organic chickpea miso – go a bivalve too far at Highwater, but I say order half a dozen of these beauties and settle in for a good time. Pearly slivers of longline trevally crudo partner perfectly with marinated mussels and smoked garlic aioli, and Alric makes great use of delicious Cloudy Bay tua tua, dressing them with a smoked whey butter and rippling them through a house-made spaghetti with fresh chives. Co-owner Ben Farrant mixes a mean negroni, but the wine list also deserves your concentration. Carefully curated to include the serious and the fun, both this list and the food menu at Highwater exude energy and attention to detail that translate into something special. 54 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington,

With an upstairs bistro that presents beautifully twisted interpretations of French, Italian and Catalan inspirations, Yu Group executive chef James Pask works with head chef Thomas Adam at Cinderella to deliver a bar offering that makes for equally superb snacking. The wood-fired bread and house-cultured butter alone are a very good reason to stop in, but add a bowl of Catalan-style shellfish that has been braised over embers and you will experience the bliss that comes only when exceptional bread is dipped into a smoky and outrageously savoury stew of superbly cooked ingredients. Roasted Bostock chicken with confit garlic and fino sherry continues the cinder-box theme. It’s an extremely compelling argument for their in-house romance with that Josper wood-fired oven. 278 Willis St, Te Aro, Wellington,

Thom Millott and Natasha Piper have developed a cult following at Amok in the few short years they have been open. Part restaurant, part wine bar, the style here is not easy to categorise but I’d go as far as to say few restaurants give this much flavourful bang for buck. Kirran Buckland and Thom deliver exciting food from a tiny kitchen, while Tashie and Frankie Mulcare guide you through their menu knowing exactly how to elevate your chosen dish with just the right drop. Potato bread and kefir cream with chilli honey, a sensational smoked eel risotto, charred octopus melting into ’nduja and chickpeas, and a stunning slab of iceberg dressed in the most astonishing green goddess have all merged into a magical memory of my perch at their bar. Cool and cultivated, this is food of the moment. 18 Majoribanks St, Mt Victoria, Wellington,

Mason feels like a bit of a suburban drop-in spot for hip Wellingtonians who want good food, no fuss and a glass of something cool. Chef/owner Matt Hawkes serves up his thoughtful takes on a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-inspired menu with gems such as pumpkin kibbeh with a medjool date and olive tapenade and a turmeric vinaigrette, or a cheeky fig and prosciutto salad where the flavour of burnt honey dances with toasty pistachios and bitter radicchio to make every salty-sweet forkful one of pure pleasure. A recurring theme these days sees chefs serving the food they want to eat, rather than the food they think you want them to serve. So at Mason you’re invited to just come as you are… 3 Wilson St, Newtown, Wellington,

Emerging chef Max Gordy and front-of-house superstar Christina Persen earned their stripes at Wellington’s popular plant-based temple Hillside and have now opened Graze, a neighbourhood wine bar in Kelburn in what was once the local butcher’s shop. If you can grab a seat at the bar you will be drawn into the preparation of food that tells an inspiring story of sustainability from the ground up and demonstrates an incredible understanding of the importance of layers when it comes to taste. Mills Bay mussels with leek and kūmara are nestled in witloof, each crispy bite capturing those slightly bitter, nutty and earthy umami flavours that work so well with the smoked and pickled mussels topped with onion weed. Cute little cornmeal pancakes come alongside a bowl that looks deceptively simple but is layered with macadamia purée, roasted beets dressed in plum vinegar, pickled beets, cured egg yolks and toasted macadamias – a textural triumph. A small but honest wine list allows you to get a taste of some of our lesser- known winemakers. If you are not already a regular, you will leave wanting to be one. 95 Upland Rd, Kelburn, Wellington,

For absolute comfort and a touch of the cosmopolitan, a stay at the Intercontinental on the Wellington waterfront is always a great decision, and it is the team here, under the superb direction of general manager Scott Hamilton, that makes it so special. From the concierge with snippets of useful insider knowledge, to the club floor with its high teas and early-evening canapés, to the lobby bar where you can linger for a martini in front of the fire, you’ll be taken care of. I can’t wait to see the new restaurant offering take shape in the talented hands of chef Carl Maunder. Exciting times are certainly ahead for this global five-star brand. 2 Grey St, Wellington,

Don’t miss an opportunity to taste all of this and more at Visa Wellington on a Plate this August.

Kelli Brett travelled to Wellington courtesy of Wellington NZ and Wellington on a Plate