Thrilled to be out on the road again for Cuisine, I made a beeline for a relatively new player on the Queenstown accommodation block and although I’d stalked the property thoroughly on Instagram, I wasn’t quite prepared for the wow factor of Kamana Lakehouse. This is quite the house on the hill – as you step past reception, walk through the bar and into Nest restaurant, the sweeping views across Lake Wakatipu are beyond glorious. I’m betting that this will become the next Queenstown hotspot for lounging in style at sunset. The lake view rooms all deliver on their promise and include the lure of the Kamana Soak – available exclusively to in-house guests – fast becoming the must-do Insta shot when visiting. Now for me ‘soak’ is not a sexy word, summoning visions of dried beans being left in a pot on the benchtop overnight, but an hour in one of the stainless-steel hot tubs with a rhubarb spritz and Stanley Tucci (though only on paper) and I am pretty happy with the soaking situation. Needless to say, I tagged Stanley and I’m still waiting for a response. If you can stretch to the Lakeview Luxe room, you’ll enjoy wall-to-wall lake and mountain views and your own private outdoor tub. No better way to start a lazy weekend than with breakfast at Nest on the expansive terrace, where General Manager Mario Sandulescu and his team will spoil you rotten and where you will be gazing at that gorgeous lake and thinking about how very bloody lucky you are.

I had envisioned at least an hour’s drive to get to the magnificent lodge that is known as Matakauri. It turns out it is only seven minutes from the heart of Queenstown, located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and wrapped within the iconic three: The Remarkables, Cecil and Walter Peaks. New Zealand’s luxury lodge properties are some of the best in the world and Matakauri stands proudly as an ultimate lodge destination. Of course, there are all of the experiences including a sensational spa at your disposal as befits a lodge of this calibre, delivered by a team of professionals for whom attention to detail is absolutely paramount. Manager Fiona Winger introduces me to executive chef Jonathan Rogers, who has been leading the Matakauri kitchen since 2011, and walks me through their plans for a massive extension of their current kitchen garden. It is clear that beautiful food is at the very core of this experience and Jonathan and his team have their work cut out for them with a captive audience that has the highest of expectations. It can be no small feat to deliver a five-course tasting menu and a full à la carte offering that changes daily, let alone catering for breakfast, lunch, room service, private dining, special events and picnics. The ingredients used are the very best and showcased within an array of dishes that highlight great technique. A Big Glory Bay salmon crudo takes my breath away with its delicate yet precise flavourings of cucumber, begonia and tomato/citrus water – New Zealand summer on a plate. Cocktail hour is an opportunity for Jonathan to show off and the snacks are irresistible. It is here that you can almost see into the mind of the chef and his play on the world around him. I found it hard to leave my spectacular suite with its unforgettable views of Lake Wakatipu. And so on my last day I hid in my room eating a bowl of summer corn soup and a delicious lamb shank agnolotti and learning the story of Matakauri. He was a brave Māori warrior who gained the hand in marriage of stunning princess Manata by rescuing her from a cruel giant. Matakauri found the giant asleep in a small valley and laid bracken around the body and set it alight. The blaze grew so hot that it consumed the giant, his body burning a hole in the ground and melting the snow on surrounding mountains. To this day, Lake Wakatipu resembles the shape of the sleeping giant. The lake’s water level rises and falls about 11cm every 11 minutes and legend says the giant’s heart is still beating beneath the surface.

It was 10 years ago this May that Fleur Caulton opened Rātā with founding partner Josh Emett, so now is the perfect time to revisit this Cuisine Good Food Award-winning establishment. Josh has stepped away from the partnership to concentrate on his Auckland restaurant Onslow, leaving a team of absolute hospitality stalwarts that has been curated and nurtured by restaurateur and industry dynamo Fleur. Daiki Kato started as kitchen porter – hospo speak for entry-level – six years ago, and is now in the kitchen on larder while also taking the role of head forager. The dessert game is seriously good and tonight’s bowl of delicious is a Zenkuro Sakekasu cut with passionfruit, chocolate and yoghurt by Marcus Johnson who has worked his magic in the pastry section for over five years now. Assistant restaurant manager and extraordinary host Joe Daniels is hitting eight years on the floor and slick restaurant manager Claire Abbott has been with Fleur from day one.

Chef Michael Bickford has recently taken the lead in the Rātā kitchen. Originally a Te Awanga boy from Hawke’s Bay, Michael has spent over a decade working at some of Australia’s best restaurants. He cut his teeth working for Michael Lambie at The Smith, before going to work at Royal Mail Hotel in regional Victoria, but his exciting new menu still celebrates southern New Zealand’s unique provenance with the consistency and dedication that has been at the heart of this now iconic Queenstown restaurant for a decade. The chef’s snacks are a ripping start, then Karitane crayfish, cucumber, fennel, hemp seed and finger lime team stunningly with a 2020 Wet Jacket Chardonnay. The lemon sole comes together beautifully with agria and burnt lemon in a Café de Paris sauce and when paired with a Millton Riverpoint 2019 Viognier – with its hint of salt and mineral edge – makes me happier than a seagull with a french fry.

The QT Queenstown has had a huge win with the appointment of executive chef Ryan Henley to lead its food and beverage programme and a sneak peek at the new menu for Lil Red indicates that this QT is now a serious destination for those of us who love a good hotel room, a great room service menu and some cool options when it comes to in-house dining. You may remember this talented chef from his time at The George in Christchurch, serving as chef de cuisine for the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant Pescatore, where he earned two hats in the Cuisine Good Food Awards. Since my last visit Ryan has transformed the QT breakfast menu from a buffet option to a slick à la carte, but it is Lil Red, the intimate 40-seat restaurant due to open in winter 2022 alongside Reds Bar, that is the one to watch. The establishment of a kitchen garden and some hives on the hotel roof give the new menu infinite possibilities and the appointment of Jonathan Williams – ex-head chef at Rātā – brings a wealth of the good stuff to this impeccably styled hotel. Get ready for a cleverly curated feast in a home-grown hideaway.

If you are a regular reader of Cuisine, there is no need for me to write a huge amount about Amisfield as you will already know that, in our opinion, this is the best restaurant in New Zealand at this very moment. You will also know that we think Vaughan Mabee is this country’s most innovative chef. Once again, a meal at this world-class restaurant simply knocks it out of the park. Vaughan is defining the flavours of Aotearoa and delivering an experience that builds an outstanding connection through food to place. Together with head chef Mathieu Lagarde and food and beverage director Tony Stewart, Vaughan is pushing the boundaries of fine dining as we know it. You must not visit Queenstown without having a meal at Amisfield.

I tend to approach a buffet with a great deal of caution, but it is clear from the moment I step onto the deck of the dining room and pick up the mouthwatering smells that are wafting out of the open-plan kitchen that the Walter Peak Gourmet BBQ has been cooked with love and great care. It soon becomes obvious that executive chef Mauro Battaglia is treating the dining experience at this picturesque high country farm as an opportunity to tell a story of true local flavour. There is a cold seafood station, an antipasto selection, the freshest of hot, buttered vegetables and, wow, the grill station is off-the-planet, all of it beautifully cooked using premium ingredients. Spectacular desserts by pastry chef Soledad Mendoza bring home the message that so much work and effort has gone into the production of this magnificent spread by chef Mauro and his team. The cruise back on the TSS Earnslaw left me with a whiff of nostalgia and a heightened sense of connection to Queenstown’s pioneering past.

When you hit town and three different people who are all serious hospitality professionals ask you if you have been to Kappa for Japanese, you know it is going to be worth a look. Originally opened over 25 years ago and still located at 36 The Mall, owner/chef Naoya Higuchi began in the Kappa kitchen in 2001 and took ownership in 2007. Serving unashamedly traditional Japanese cuisine to its loyal devotees for so many years, the signature sashimi platter is sensational and the tempura insanely delicious, I’d say bordering on addictive for those who live locally.

Restaurateur Darren Lovell – ex-Fishbone Queenstown – is fast becoming the new Colonel when it comes to the fried chicken at Love Chicken. The tagline is ‘Fast Food with Heart’, although it’s fried to order so sometimes on a busy night it’s not that fast, but worth the wait! The stand-out is the Korean BBQ burger – a breaded and fried organic chicken breast, dipped in their housemade Korean BBQ sauce with honey-miso slaw, pickled carrots, cucumber and Kewpie mayonnaise. But for Darren, a half-dozen chicken wings and a pottle of housemade ranch dressing (made with business and life partner Kareem Harvey’s recipe) is life-changing. I haven’t had the wings but I can vouch for that deeply cool dressing. Head to Love Chicken and you can make a stand by supporting local suppliers, while eating something good.

Editor Kelli Brett travelled courtesy of Destination Queenstown and hit the road with