It seemed fitting to start my Hawke’s Bay getaway with lunch at Mission Estate. Established in 1851 and the birthplace of New Zealand wine, the beautifully restored seminary building set within this historic winery houses a restaurant where the food and wine offer considerable competition to the stunning views of Napier city. It is clear that chef Ricky Littleton has a firm eye on premium New Zealand ingredients, and the braised Wagyu brisket with miso custard in an egg drop broth is a definite crowd-pleaser. If his creamily rich and comforting bowl of pāua chowder is on the menu, I highly recommend you go for it. And as for the lamb rack and short rib with sweet and sour spring onions and a Paloise sauce (a variation on the classic Béarnaise sauce that substitutes mint for tarragon), it is impossible not to sense an undeniable link to previous generations of satisfied customers. At Mission Estate you will find a heritage like no other.

If you head towards Havelock North, located at the foot of the magnificent Te Mata Peak, you will find a bustling town centre that is bursting with endless eateries. The Porters Boutique Hotel is right in the thick of it all, providing you with an opportunity to rest and relax in between stepping out to explore. You won’t have to step far to reach Malo (right next door), where you’ll find honest food and a fresh approach with European and Dutch influences from head chef Bert van de Steeg. If you pop in just for a bite and a drink, do not miss the profiteroles, although it is hard to choose between the duck liver parfait with plum gel and pistachio or the goat cheese with Arataki honeycomb and thyme salt.

In Havelock North village you will also find Mary’s, where the traditional diner format has been transformed into edgy fare and good times for local and visiting food and drink lovers. Chef Casey McDonald’s latest baby is headed up at the pass by chef Josh Christie, along with an enthusiastic and sassy team guided effortlessly by restaurant manager Brooke Roylance. Much of the fabulous cooking centres around a prized Josper oven, while Casey’s take on techniques brings out the punch in the flavours. The snack game is high, with the ‘KFQ’ tonkatsu (Kentucky fried quail) already well on its way to becoming legendary. And who wouldn’t want whipped cod roe with their fries? It’s addictive little morsels like these that are causing many a customer to linger over their drinks. With a menu that changes often, the local fish fillets and braised octopus with olive tapenade and lemon and burnt butter sauce is a current standout. If the organic scotch with smoky broccolini is on the menu, it should be topped with the Cafe de Mary’s butter, which is fast becoming the butter that legends are made of. It’s all so good! Be sure to go with an appetite.

Located just a stone’s throw away from both Havelock North and Hastings, St Georges Restaurant is not to be missed. It’s a family affair, where Kathryn Godinho runs the show behind the scenes and the kitchen team includes the talents of chefs Kieran Elwood and Nilesh Patel. Meanwhile, when he is not on the pans, head chef Francky Godhino concentrates on the constant upkeep of his huge organic garden to feed his ever-evolving menu. A Nieuwenhuis Farmstead goat cheese parfait served with compote and roasted home-grown figs is almost too pretty to eat, while the eye fillet (courtesy of Francky’s own Hereford cattle) resting on silky celeriac purée and accompanied by potato rosti and onion and grenadine confit is surrounded with vegetables that will make your heart seriously want to karaoke. An edible sugar-glass apple filled with homemade Heilala vanilla ice cream and apple jam, serve with oat and apple crumble and velvety custard sauce, demonstrates that this is a chef who takes delicious inspiration from his surrounding landscape. Make sure you ask Aby Pathedan to whip you up one of his sensationally seasonal cocktails.

Havelock North’s Craggy Range Restaurant earned two hats at the most recent Cuisine Good Food Awards, and chef Casey McDonald has played a huge role in earning the prestigious honour. With an extensive kitchen garden to play in and a globally celebrated winery as his backdrop, Casey works closely with an ever-expanding network of local growers and producers to create some of the most exciting food in Hawke’s Bay. His constant toil is evident in the Craggy kitchen shelves, which bulge with pickles, ferments and preserves, and the reward is a menu that remains vibrant and diverse all year round. The snacks are a must – complex simplicity and sophistication with an element of surprise, providing a glimpse inside the mind of a chef who has worked within the high-expectation environment that comes with a Michelin star. The cured fish on crème fraîche with lemon verbena and pickled celery is just stunning, while the perfectly seared duck breast, roasted endive and confit duck is rock and rolled with the addition of pickled plums and blood custard. Bring it all home to an elegant finish with poached meringue, roasted plum, brown sugar cream and sorrel granita. Restaurant manager and sommelier Majda Falan runs the well-dressed room with a fine-tuned front of house, and the whole Craggy experience seems to nail that perfect combination of comfort and luxury, steeped in the kind of family tradition that almost compels us to rise to an excellent occasion.

At Black Barn Bistro in Havelock North, its spectacular wine is, of course, front of mind, but you will also have the opportunity to indulge in a drinks list that reflects some of the best of New Zealand and beyond. Chef Regnar Christensen’s menu tells an authentic story of place and season. Dishes are pared back to let the Hawke’s Bay ingredients shine and will take you on a diversely delicious journey. On a blue-sky day there will never be anything more perfect than Regnar’s raw fish with preserved mandarin, verjuice and horseradish, while the roasted lamb shoulder for two with nduja and almond cream is pure comfort. Pāua, pork cheek, celeriac cream and XO sauce come together to surprise and delight, and the roasted quince, sheep milk yoghurt, amaretti and pink pepper present a unique combination that is at the core of Black Barn – a little bit comfy, a little bit edgy and a whole lot of yum.

How about a farm stay at one of New Zealand’s oldest homesteads? Wallingford Homestead in Pōrangahau is the perfect place to unwind, and this sprawling boutique retreat set within gentle hills and the prettiest of cottage gardens is like no other. Despite the wonderfully comfortable country feel of this glorious old girl, it’s the combined talents of ex-Sydney restaurateurs Chris Stockdale (originally a Lower Hutt boy) and Jeanette Woerner that will make your stay here unforgettable. Throw into the mix 1,700 oak trees that are currently cultivating Périgord truffles, and you are all set to enter gourmet heaven. The intimate multiple-course degustation dinners in their magical dining room will make you want to move in forever. Chris works the menu hard to give a sense of this gorgeous property on each plate. His creative, confident cooking showcases locally caught snapper with avocado and makrut lime served on wafer-thin, crispy taewa (Māori potatoes), a riff on salt cod soup sees red gurnard become the filling inside a plump tortellini pillow, showered with finely shaved early-harvest truffles, and toasted wheat adds the perfect crunch to creamy, earthy kūmara and kawakawa semifreddo. I left with an overwhelming desire to return.

There is more than meets the eye behind The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. Hailed as one of New Zealand’s most beautiful luxury lodges and one of the world’s top golf courses, this stunning venue is perched above rolling hills, rugged cliffs and spectacular sea views, and is also home to some of New Zealand’s most precious flora and fauna. Extensive vegetable, fruit and herb gardens on the fully functional farm give head chef James Honore the opportunity to present an elegant menu with full confidence that flavour and seasonality will shine. There could be seared locally caught tuna and pāua with slow-baked kūmara in a smoky seaweed broth, or heritage pork with a silken parsnip purée, wild blackberries and apple. With a captive audience that is used to nothing but the best, the pressure is on and the team slickly delivers across breakfast, lunch and dinner, whatever the tastes on offer. This is a sophisticated operation overseen by manager James McMenamin, who has an impressive eye for detail. Luxurious suites, a gymnasium, a pool and a blissful spa make it impossible to do anything but be pampered. Elegant and cosy spill-out spaces throughout the lodge provide ample opportunity to sneak a stylish cocktail or comforting snack while you curl up with a book from the substantial library or admire the breathtaking artwork, but really, you should be outdoors taking in the magnificent scenery and searching for those elusive kiwi. Be proud, New Zealand, Cape Kidnappers is truly world class.

Central Fire Station Bistro in Napier will whisk you along a Hawke’s Bay tasting trail that is driven by solid relationships built with local suppliers. The wine list is 100 per cent Hawke’s Bay, and with 90 per cent of the produce being organic, chef Sam Clark and pastry chef Florencia Menehem have set the bar high with regards to telling a sustainable local food story. I could happily have settled in for the afternoon with the duck and pistachio terrine with fig relish and pickles, but then a perfectly caramelised and textured halloumi salad arrived, peppered with beetroot, fig, hazelnut and tabbouleh, followed by a Te Mana lamb rack with nduja dressing, ajo blanco basil and excruciatingly well-roasted carrots. The feijoa toffee pudding with pear and feijoa compote and brown butter ice cream is a dessert that I would travel many miles for. In fact, I would move my whole family to Napier for a regular helping of the bistro’s sourdough with brown butter. Sam was once head chef at revered Auckland fine diner Clooney, and that should give you an inkling of his calibre. Although these days his creations are perhaps less complex, you will recognise his ability to elevate ingredients in a way that makes them the very best version of themselves. It’s a Hawke’s Bay love affair played out at your table, and an approach that gives CFSB a sure recipe for continued success.

A visit to Elephant Hill estate vineyard must be on your itinerary. Chef Jason Brown has taken the reins within the stylish restaurant, and this monumental building presents a vibrant vista that should not be missed. The menu explores the local food bowl, tempting you with the likes of white fish ceviche with chilli and citrus or a Matangi beef braise inside the softest of ravioli. Or you might just want to take advantage of the cellar door, with its special ‘Flight & Bite’ wine and food experience, pairing artisan-style morsels with the perfect Elephant Hill wines. Either way, there is no denying that the unique weather and terrain in Food and Wine Country produce some pretty spectacular wines, and the Elephant Hill range is no exception.

If Napier is known as the art deco capital of the world, then it stands to reason that you must stay at the iconic Art Deco Masonic Hotel. The first Masonic Hotel opened on the current site in 1861, and the current incarnation boasts 43 stylish hotel rooms and suites accommodating up to 88 guests. Located directly opposite the beautiful Marine Parade promenade, the hotel is a heritage-flavoured smorgasbord of rich leathers, marble and warm wood, with just the right amount of art deco to make you feel glamorous. Eating and drinking within the Masonic is made outrageously easy and comfortable, with their Emporium Eatery open from breakfast and offering a fun menu that covers all the bases and includes quite an extensive cocktail list. The Rose Irish Pub is a local institution, with all the beers and wines you will need and a casual menu. Step outside and you are smack bang in the heart of Napier city. What’s not to love?

It was local Napier food lover and communications guru Kim Thorp who pointed me in the direction of this little gem, and I’m so grateful he did. At Sai you are eating the Thai food that the Sai team grew up with. Their signature meang kana is a must, with hits of ginger, cashew nut, crushed coconut, pork crackling and lime, all wrapped Thai street-food style in a Chinese broccoli leaf – the chilli vinegar is mandatory. Crispy momen tofu with five spice and soy caramelised sauce, sprinkled with crispy garlic and chilli, is really, REALLY good, and a traditional stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts and sun-dried chilli is deliciously familiar and yet not quite as you might remember cashew chicken. The panang beef short rib curry that has been slow cooked for seven hours is worthy of an Instagram page all of its own. Owner Sasi Limapibal and her sister, head chef Siriya, are recreating their food memories right in the centre of the city’s shopping promenade. Lucky Napier!

The award-winning team at Bistronomy brings you fresh, fun comfort food right in the heart of Napier’s dining district. I have always loved the room and the slick design, with its fabulous long bar stretching down one side. It would fit comfortably in a big city location, but it is the food from chef/owner James Beck that makes it memorable. James infuses the best of an inspiring Hawke’s Bay food bowl with global ideas, and the result is often not what you would expect but always bang on the money. For instance, the kūmara ‘surprise’ blew me away with its umami-filled miso rice, pickled ginger mousse and cashew butter, nestled inside a crispy fried kūmara shell. Patangata Station lamb shoulder is slow braised and served with a swede and mixed-grain risotto and a coffee-bean hollandaise, while the ‘good fish’, pan-fried and served in an onion broth with roast pumpkin and kale smash and a bacon emulsion, ticks so many comfort boxes you might never leave! Do not miss the fried Māori potatoes with just a hint of hāngī and watercress salsa verde, or the purple kūmara focaccia with whipped chicken butter. WHIPPED CHICKEN BUTTER. Do yourself a favour and just get in there.

How to describe the two special humans that are the lifeblood of the vibrant blue beach bungalow in Napier that is Pacifica? Chef Jeremy Rameka is a master and has been quietly telling a uniquely New Zealand food story here for years. Natalie Bulman runs the restaurant and is phenomenal to watch as she guides her guests through what will be one of the most thoughtfully delicious meals they have ever had. Together, the pair have created a restaurant that not only holds three coveted hats in the Cuisine Good Food Guide, but has also held the title of New Zealand’s Best Restaurant. During this visit, I was held spellbound by crisp-yskinned gurnard and calamari, floating in a magical ‘Rameka’ mussel broth – until the flounder in a delicately spiced coconut creamed pāua made me want to jump the pass and hug the chef. Of course I didn’t, as Jeremy is infuriatingly modest. To finish, a superb vanilla pastry cream is cut with an irresistible lime coulis and served with a peppery ginger tuile. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every single ingredient on Jeremy Rameka’s plates has a reason for being there, and the end result delivers flavours that are pure and honest. Only the most skilled and confident chefs can achieve this.

I’m excited to see that the evolution of this regional food story is being driven by the talents of those who grow, produce and cook it. Over and over again, I was tasting the work and dedication of so many outstanding farmers, growers and artisanal food producers, in collaboration with some of the country’s finest chefs. Make Hawke’s Bay your next gastronomic adventure. It truly is New Zealand’s Food and Wine Country.

Kelli travelled to Hawke’s Bay courtesy of