Where To Eat, Drink and Visit In Christchurch
A revitalised inner-city Christchurch has plenty of temptations, with an exciting mix of restaurants, bars, art and boutiques
There’s a vibrancy to inner-city Christchurch, stimulated by the innovation, redevelopment and resourcefulness of post-quake recovery. It's filled with cutting-edge options for dining and drinking, as well as an impressive arts precinct with a refreshed offering to draw people back to the city. Despite this, visitor numbers aren’t what they once were. The Centre of Contemporary Art’s executive director Romy Willing says visitors to the gallery “dropped dramatically” after the quakes, a sentiment echoed by other business owners working to attract back tourists and locals alike.
There was a “real energy” building in the city prior to the mosque attacks, says Romy. Now it’s back to convincing people to return. “I think people got used to having their lives out of the city,” says Romy. “They entertain at home and got out of the habit of coming into town.”
Some locals were put off by bowled buildings and the road closings and gridlock caused by reconstruction, but with warmer weather on the way the new, more open city deserves to be anything but empty. “It’s all here,” says Romy. “There’s amazing restaurants, there’s a lot going on.”
When they do venture in they will find innovators have got on with stirring the city to life, reimagining empty urban spaces into social enterprises and creating exciting new hospitality options. Cultivate Urban Garden’s urban farm, for example, supplies local businesses with organic produce and collects any food waste for compost that goes back into the farm. It has a social agenda too, getting young people without formal education into work experience and internships.
Another initiative is Otakaro Orchard, which creates a community around sharing food knowledge with an information centre, restaurant, free edible garden, outdoor amphitheatre, and garden venue next to the Avon. If there’s a spot that defines the resourcefulness of the hospitality industry post-quakes it’s Smash Palace, which serves burgers, beers and good vibes from a converted bus and container bar. It doubles as a music venue, motorbike shop and beer garden that's well-loved by locals.
Here are more places contributing to the cultural scene in Christchurch that are well worth a visit.
FOR FINE WINES
At wine bar Not Without You you’ll only find local wines on the menu. It’s a concept that makes total sense to owner Phillip Sunderland, who named his bar after his inclusive business philosophy. “Not Without You has two readings, one is that life is better shared, but it also means I’m not going to do this business without supporting others.” That translates to wines from local producers Greystone, Pegasus Bay, Muddy Water and Georges Road, alongside New Zealand cheese and tasting platters. “When a country punches above its weight in wine, why fly wines from Europe when you can serve local versions?”
Phillip also owns local denim brand Dual, and wanted his bar located in Christchurch’s previous fashion mecca of High St, once housing Nom D, World, Barbara Lee and Kate Sylvester. He likens it to a hidden gem in a Melbourne-style laneway. “We placed ourselves here to support New Zealand-made,” says Phillip, who used to have clothing racks in the bar but found customers hardly noticed the denim so he’s sharpened the focus on the wine and food.
"When I first did the wine list I populated it with wines that I like, the Atarangis, the Te Matas, the Kumeu Rivers. Now we’re one of the only wine bars pouring special wines by the glass.” His mission is clearer than ever, with the bar hosting local wineries that champion organic winemaking practices for tasting nights that often sell out. 5/181 High St, Little High Lanes
ALSO TRY: Speakeasy-style cocktail bar OGB, serving all the classics in a warm, wood-panelled heritage building in Cathedral Square. 28 Cathedral Square
FOR WORLD-CLASS ART
Art is an integral part of the cultural fabric of any great city, and the team at Christchurch Art Gallery has been working to get visitor numbers back up. “The city hasn’t come back quite as buoyant as it once was,” says director Blair Jackson. “But it’s turning around as the inner city rebuilds in a really exciting way.”
The gallery’s acquisition of ‘five great works’ secured through a crowd-funding campaign is contributing to that excitement. The five artworks signify the five years the gallery was closed after the earthquakes. Blair says well over a million people have been through the doors since then, many of them particularly moved by the Ron Mueck piece Chicken / man 2019, depicting a naked man seated at a Formica table, staring down a chicken. “It’s really captivated people,” says Blair. “There was something about this work that spoke to people after the September event [2010 earthquake].”
The first of the five works is Michael Parekowhai’s bronze bull, which stands guard outside. “It was a real community effort. I think we’re the only art gallery I know that had sausage sizzles to raise money for artwork.” Blair’s focus since the gallery reopened in 2015 has been to attract new audiences with events and exhibitions specifically targeted to a younger market such as current show Wheriko — Brilliant! which celebrates light as a subject medium.
ALSO TRY: The Centre for Contemporary Art, which houses diverse art shows in a modernist building. “We’ve been focussing on the blurred lines between contemporary, design, architecture and craft,” says executive director Romy Willing. “We’re bringing a lot more of that into our programming.” Don’t miss Kate Scardfield’s large-scale installation, The lighter a thought the more it rises. 66 Gloucester St
FOR A TASTE OF LOCAL FARE
Inside one of the glass-fronted buildings that punctuate the ‘new Christchurch’ is a restaurant with more soul than you might think. Inati, which means to share in Maori, offers seasonally-inspired tasting plates alongside New Zealand wine. The open kitchen is the star of the show, with a long raised bar lined with 20 generous swivelling bar seats perfect for watching the action. Chef and owner Simon Levy opened Inati two years ago having worked at London’s Claridges, The Ivy and as head chef of Gordon Ramsay’s The Warrington.
Dishes like “duck trumpets” — duck liver parfait in a miniature waffle cone with black peach jam; smoked mutton tartare with nettles; and confit fish floating in the lightest crayfish bisque fly out of the kitchen. Try the Trust Us option, six or eight plates selected by the kitchen to showcase the breadth of the menu, served with matching wines. It’s a fun way to dine. 48 Hereford St
ALSO TRY: Earl, an all-day eatery serving Italian, French and Portugese-style plates in a chic, laid-back environment. Earl celebrates a winery each month, ideal for discovering innovative local wines. 128 Lichfield St
FOR A COFFEE WITH HEART
C1 Espresso is an institution in Christchurch, although owner Sam Crofskey isn’t a fan of the term. “It has connotations of old slippers or a smelly pair of shoes”. His cafe’s been around for 23 years, and was one of the first businesses to reopen in the central city in the Old Post & Telegraph office building, just across the road from the previous cafe.
“When we reopened this place we wanted it to be familiar,” says Sam, whose seven-day-a-week, all-day cafe is many things to many people. “But this being an old building people were afraid of it because it was one of the few still standing.” For a while it was the only building with lights on at night, as the city slowly regenerated around it. “It was just us in the central city for ages.”
C1 specialises in coffee, and was one of the first cafes to offer radical (at the time) options like takeaway, soy milk and flat whites in a glass. Its specialist coffee includes “super-concentrated” cold drip brewed over 24 hours, served over ice and drunk like whisky; Fat Blacks, a combination of espresso, coconut oil, butter, vanilla and cinnamon; and Instagram-friendly colour-changing iced tea. C1 has been divisive since its inception — just check the customer feedback printed tongue-in-cheek style in its menu with comments like “Terrible service”, “Too cool for you”. Not everyone gets it, says Sam.
“We don’t have trim milk and we don’t have high chairs. People go wild on that.” It’s been a lot of work getting the cafe back on its feet and Sam credits his staff with making it possible. “They’re very good at what they do.” Sam says some day soon he’ll be able to take a day off. “Living through what we have in Christchurch, losing your business, your house and your identity, you learn that home is really important.” 185 High St
ALSO TRY: Supreme Supreme. Expect great coffee alongside a simple food menu in pared-back surroundings. 10 Welles St
FOR A BUSTLING MARKET
Mike Smith, general manager of Riverside Markets, hopes the newly opened seven-day indoor farmers’ market will rival some of the best markets in the world. Comparisons to London’s Borough Market or Barcelona’s La Boqueria might sound like a stretch, but Riverside Markets does something that all good food markets do — it brings local, independent growers and small businesses under one roof in a bustling, vibrant environment.
Riverside houses 30 food outlets and 40 market stalls from local artisans, many of whom started out in farmers’ markets or as food trucks. On the ground floor it’s a riot of sights and smells with Le Panier Bread’s French bakery and boulangerie; Bacon Bros’ Christchurch-famous burgers; sauce-smothered souvlaki from Dimitris Greek Food; coffee from Undergound Coffee and fresh produce from Cultivate Urban Farm.
Upstairs is the Akaroa Cooking School and a mezzanine dining area and bar. Mike says the idea was to create a community hub with a focus on fresh, local organic fare. The 3500sq m space, partly built using reused materials, is an ode to Christchurch. Its creation supersedes the much-loved Container Mall site, a symbol of post-quake resilience. Mike plans to create a shared dining table overlooking the Avon, where people can enjoy their food in the sun and sprawl out on picnic blankets come summer. Cnr Oxford Terrace and Lichfield St
ALSO TRY: Little High, a buzzy indoor food alley housing eight local eateries from the same developers as Riverside. 181 High St
FOR DESIGNER THREADS
NG Boutique founder Sharon Ng’s clothing store-cum-gallery space on the ground floor of the elegant 1905 Baines building stocks international designers Horisaki, Ann Demeulemeester, Junya Watanabe, Philippe Vidalenc, Detaj and many more, sourced on Sharon’s twice-yearly trips to Paris. “I choose labels that are not too commercial, I suppose, and that have their own signature,” says Sharon, who also has a recycle section so customers have an outlet for their designer labels.
New Zealand designers and artists on display include Being, Karena Carran, Vita Cochran, Lela Jacobs, Monday’s Child, Sharon’s own label NG and 6x4 from Christchurch designer Steven Junil Park, who works the floor at NG part-time. His one-off gowns are made with antique silk scarves, French wool or antique fur, which he hand-dyes with “whatever’s available. I use walnuts if they’re in season. I use what I can find.”
He designs jewellery and ceramics too. Some of his earrings are crafted from African wenge wood and a necklace is made from ostrich feather and handwoven alpaca from Argentina that doubles as a hat band. 212 Madras St
ALSO TRY: Infinite Definite, which stocks Kowtow, Yu Mei, Penny Sage and Meadowlark and international labels like Wood Wood, Veja and Norse Projects. 246 High St
FOR A HOTEL WITH A TWIST
A pair of black container-like dwellings bordering Montreal and Peterbrough Sts tends to draw curious stares from passers-by. The Tack Rooms used to be army barracks, then classrooms. Now they’re a unique accommodation option in the central city, with two self-contained pavilions housing a spacious kitchen and lounge, plus a free-standing bath, impeccably styled in black and white. Access is through a pin-code, so it feels like arriving home to your own stylish apartment. 365 Montreal St
ALSO TRY: The George, a luxury five-star boutique hotel with glorious views of Hagley Park that’s famed for its personalised service. 50 Park Tce
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