Dunners, you’re on…

By Kelli Brett17 Minutes
February 10, 2021By Kelli Brett

With its Gothic architecture and stunning coastal landscapes, Dunedin has always had a quirky urban charm, but there is a sense of change in the air for the local restaurant industry with professional kitchens sizzling and a new wave of chefs stepping up to the pass.

Tītī at St Clair is a relatively new kid on the ocean-front block with chef Hannes Bareiter having already forged a rep as the creative force behind some impressive dégustation menus at Glenfalloch Garden & Restaurant on Otago Peninsula. There is no doubt that Hannes is a great talent. However, Tītī is not for you if you need to have a lot of choice with regards to the menu. Hannes aims to offer fresh food picked and gathered locally each morning and presented on the plate for customers that same day. You can go protein-based or plant-based and be confident that with either you will be on a winner. My advice is to trust Hannes and partner Melanie Hartman who is superbly across front of house and just let them get on with it. It’s a smart way of doing things and the only way if you don’t want to see beautiful ingredients going to waste.

Lunch is two or three courses (there are also à la carte Belgian waffle options that are very special) and dinner can be three or five courses. My daily catch was crispy-skinned and floating in a delicate yellow curry and I could smell and taste the ocean and local surrounds. The menus are elegant and the carefully curated selection of wines to match is as outstanding as the view. titi.co.nz

A walk through the Octagon precinct at around 6.30pm on a Friday gives you a bit of a crash course in the local art of understatement. Pre-dinner, pre-theatre, pre-partying will be in full swing and it will be hard to miss the effortlessly chic crowd spilling out onto the high tables and stools outside the Prohibition Smokehouse. Andre Shi is the owner and can be found every evening buzzing between his three (soon to be four) super-cool hospo babies – PSH, Vault 21 and Catacombs Nightclub. He’s a smart cookie with an understanding of comfort meets style so it stands to reason that he would jump at the chance to hire ex-SkyCity executive chef Chris Will. My visit coincided with Chris’s first week so I’m still waiting to see just where he will take this shiny group of feel-good fun-time establishments, but one thing is for sure: Chris knows good flavour and bang for buck. Watching him working up ideas for the superb contents of some dry-ageing meat lockers has me feeling this will result in some extraordinary dishes at PSH. As for Vault 21 and Catacombs Nightclub… I haven’t had that much fun since the 90s. prohibitionsmokehouse.co.nz

Chef Kane Bambery has moved into Nova in the heart of Dunedin’s Octagon and is having a magical effect on their approach to breakfast, lunch and dinner. Owners Mark and Nick Fraser have jumped on board with his plans to achieve zero waste by establishing worm farms and composting to work towards a full-circle system from waste to soil to produce. Kane has worked alongside some of New Zealand’s best including Giulio Sturla at Roots in Lyttelton and Vaughan Mabee at Amisfield in Arrowtown and at the time of my visit was working with super-slick GM Nicole MacPherson on developing ingredient-driven menus that will take Nova out of its former comfort zone and into a whole new world of sustainable local flavour. Go check out team Nova; if my delicious whitebait crumpet with its zingy pesto and perfect egg is anything to go by, Kane is definitely one to watch. novadunedin.co.nz

Greg Piner is no stranger to Dunedin diners having headed up Pier 24 on The Esplanade (now Tītī) and also produced impressive work as group executive chef at Vault 21. He’s also no stranger to premium brands, working as a consultant to Silver Fern farms and earning an ambassador title for Ōra King Salmon.

Greg has taken the reins in 2021 at long-term player No. 7 Balmac on Maori Hill where owner Katrina Toovey runs a space that feels like a beautiful extension of your own luxurious living room (I wish). Substantial kitchen gardens out back and an exclusive private kitchen/dining room give Greg all the new perks he needs to deliver a playful and flavour- forward menu at this neighbourhood  favourite where humble ingredients are showcased with great flair. Go for the lightly spice-rubbed beef, almond tahini hummus-smeared sourdough pancake with crispy onions and toasted cauliflower herb tabouli. It’s a winner. no7balmac.co.nz

I love Moiety. It’s edgy and intimate and a spot at the bar by the pass is the best seat in the house. You will be in awe of chef and co-owner Sam Gasson as he fields a million questions and carries on conversations while keeping one eye on his brilliant team, another on his own plating and another… well it feels like he has more than two eyes; let’s just say he doesn’t miss a beat.

Neither does partner and co-owner Kimberly Underwood who runs the busy floor with great skills, noticing what is happening, listening, anticipating what is needed, and providing the all-important binding for the clever menu being rolled out from behind the bar. I didn’t felt like they really wanted to share a little bit of their hearts and their community with me.

I tasted the glorious duck paté, tamarillo, plum and sourdough from the snack menu and I realized that even if Sam and Kim gave me every element on the plate to take home in a doggy bag, it would never taste as good as it did sitting at the bar. Nothing beats the whole restaurant experience. And that was just the snack! What followed was a carefully curated set menu that I think is one of Dunedin’s finest. If you are curious about good food and drink I guarantee you will learn something at Moiety. And I hear they now serve that paté to go, so you can have the best of both worlds. moiety.co.nz

For a little bit pub, a little bit diner, a little bit cocktail lounge and a big bit of fabulous, head over to Moray Place (corner of Lower Stuart Street) and say hi to Josh Thomas and the team at Woof! The colourful cocktails are wickedly evolving although they can just as easily whip you up a cool classic if that’s what takes your fancy, and all of your beer and wine bases will be well covered. Food from Chef Stef can be a little or a lot, ranging from mezze and snacks to something more. It’s a place designed for grown-ups who want to dissolve into a pool of exotic liquid relaxation. @woof_dunedin

And for a touch of nostalgia don’t miss historic Best Café (established in 1932). I rode an unexpected wave of emotions while watching locals come in and order their long-time favourites and seeing loyal supporters lining up for lunch from the takeaway fish and chips section. Soft slices of bread and butter (both brown and white) were placed on the table as I sat down, really good blue cod and hand-cut chips, Bluff oysters, the simplest of whitebait patties (egg white only) and a shrimp cocktail in its creamy, delicious house cocktail sauce – I hadn’t had one of those for years. So many memories… and throughout it all an overwhelming sense of care. Founder Patrick Collins would be super-proud of his great-granddaughter Jessica Marks who has stepped up to continue his vision in this iconic Dunedin seafood institution. Don’t visit Dunedin without experiencing a taste of the best. bestcafe.co.nz

New to the inner-city accommodation stakes is the Fable Dunedin. Formerly the historic Wains Hotel this grand, eighteenth-century building has been respectfully stripped, buffed and polished by New Zealand-owned CPG Hotels, and their decision to include award-winning chef Jinu Abraham as group executive chef for their boutique hotel collection is a good one. Jinu’s focus on whole foods and local ingredients can be felt across all of the menus on offer at their in-house bar and restaurant The Press Club. The breakfasts are exceptional with all of the usual continental suspects overshadowed by a stunning brown rice porridge laced with strawberry and rhubarb compote and caramelised pear or the eggs bene on kūmara rosti with smoked salmon and poached eggs. The Fable is a perfect spot to base yourself and for a little rest and relaxation between meals. fablehotelsandresorts.com

Long known and loved for its grungy university vibe, I reckon Dunedin is moving into a dining class all of its own. What does that mean for you? Well, it means that Dunedin should now be on your list of must- do New Zealand foodie trips.

ADDITIONAL BITES…

Legendary pies at Princes St Butcher. princesstreetbutcher.co.nz
Pop in to The Tart Tin for a sweet treat and a coffee to take away (Wednesday and Friday only). thetarttin.co.nz
Delicious small-batch ice cream and American-style burgers at Patti’s & Cream (Shop Wednesday-Friday (ice cream only), Truck Friday-Sunday). pattisandcream.co
Try Side-on for unforgettable baked goods and the best baguettes and coffee. side-on.co.nz
For plant-based and botanical cocktails head to Kind Company. shop.kindgrocer.nz
Adjo has Scandinavian cuisine along with great coffee. adjo.co.nz
The Swan Café & Bar for local flavours, tap beers, live gigs and fresh coffee. theswan.nz
Stylish cocktails with great jazz and blues at Pequeño Lounge Bar. @pequenoLoungeBar
Do the high tea at Larnach Castle (New Zealands’s only castle) and take the tour. It’s magical. larnachcastle.co.nz