Where to Eat, Drink & be Merry in Wellington
We pick the best bars, cafes and restaurants to seek out when you're next in the capital
It’s seriously challenging to keep up with the latest happenings when it comes to the Wellington’s culinary scene. Shandelle Battersby searches out some of its best bars, cafes, restaurants, live-music venues and out-of-the-way foodie finds
Where to Meet on a First Date
Golding’s Free Dive: We love, love, love this fun and friendly neighbourhood-style bar in the super-cool Hannahs Laneway precinct, which is a guaranteed good time. From the vibrant lighting, to the quirky decor, to the pizza on offer from Pomodoro across the courtyard, to the cute outdoor area, we’d be here every night of the week if we could. Behind the bar is, of course, a healthy craft beer offering, some rotating on the taps, and there’s a great wine list too. If your date isn’t impressed, drop ’em.
— 14 Leeds St, City. Visit Golding’s Facebook page
Forresters Lane: Bye bye Motel and hello Forresters Lane, a welcoming bright space with a colourful cocktail menu that changes with the seasons.
— 2 Forresters Ln, City. Visit Forresterslane.co.nz
Noble Rot: This elegant wine bar — the only one in Wellington — has more than 500 wines on its list, 80 of which you can order by the glass, and a fantastic menu.
— 6 Swan Ln, City. Visit Noblerot.co.nz
Where to Spend a Lazy Afternoon
Heyday Beer Co: The owners of this newish beer bar and brewery have completely transformed a former tyre garage on upper Cuba St to a fun, sophisticated space with mint-green walls, a ping-pong table, a cool flamingo-clad feature wall and, best of all, a revolving range of limited-edition beers brewed onsite. If the sun is shining, try to snap up one of the tables out the front on the AstroTurf and watch the cornhole battles go down.
— 264 Cuba St, City. Visit Heydaybeer.com
Fortune Favours: Another super-hip brewpub, this one in a renovated heritage industrial building, which has its own gourmet meat and cheese bar.
— 7 Leeds St, City. Visit Fortunefavours.beer
Where to Relax with a Coffee & the Paper
Ekor: Cafe meets bookstore meets toy and gift store at this sunny inner-city cafe in College St which is also home to L’affare, Citta, Nood, Moore Wilson’s and a couple of stylish boutiques. The children’s section is particularly magical, with plenty to keep the small ones occupied while Mum and Dad sample the cabinet food and drinks selection.
— 17b College St, City. Visit Ekor.co.nz
Loretta: You can’t go wrong at this stylish all-day eatery, which is known for its earthy tones and beautiful ceramics, and simple but well-rounded menu.
— 181 Cuba St, City. Visit Loretta.net.nz
Milk Crate: A stylishly cute boutique cafe with awesome coffee and fab food that’s a popular hangout for locals.
— 35 Ghuznee St, City. Visit Milkcrate.co.nz
Best Place for a Business Breakfast
Prefab: A favourite of many Wellingtonians, this spacious cafe has excellent service, a tasty seasonal menu, and a buzzing vibe. With its bakery items fresh from the oven and coffee roasted on site, Prefab serves as a community hub and an unofficial co-working space for many. We can’t think of a better place to log on remotely. Note that Prefab is closed on Sundays.
— 14 Jessie St, City. Visit Pre-fab.co.nz
Egmont Street Eatery: An all-day multi-level eatery down an alleyway housed in a former industrial carpark, which has been cleverly refurbished into a modern, stylish space.
— 11 Egmont St, City. Visit Egmontstreet.co.nz
Best Place Mark a Special Occasion
Shepherd: Another gem in the Hannahs Laneway precinct, Shepherd is the eponymous restaurant co-owned by acclaimed local chef Shepherd Elliot, and dining here is a very special experience indeed. The small menu is simply broken down into ‘begin’, ‘middle’, ‘accessories’ and ‘end’, and the cuisine features the best of New Zealand’s seasonal produce selected for its ethical values. Think shiitake glazed eel, horseradish sour cream, radish, beans, lime and fresh herbs or whiskey and honey parfait, grilled stone fruit, black tea honey and cinnamon crumb.
— 1/5 Eva St, City. Visit Shepherdrestaurant.co.nz
Logan Brown: An oldie but a goodie, Logan Brown consistently tops the city’s ‘Best of’ dining lists for fine dining.
— 192 Cuba St, City. Visit Loganbrown.co.nz
The new one from the former head chef of Matterhorn, Monte Cervino has already been garnering five-star reviews for its authentic Italian fare.
— 66 Tory St, City. Visit Montecervino.co.nz
Where to Meet up With a Friend or Two
Mr Go’s: The cuisine at Mr Go’s is described as “modern Asian” — fans of Auckland’s Chinoiserie and Kiss Kiss will approve. As well as staples such as delicious Taiwanese-style gua-bao steamed buns and some of the best crispy tofu we’ve ever eaten, there are innovative twists on the genre including mince and cheese dumplings and kimchi-loaded shoestring fries. Named for a former local Chinese market gardener from the 1880s, Mr Go’s is hectic, colourful and heaps of fun.
— 59 Taranaki St, City. Visit Mrgos.co.nz
Le Samourai: A tiny, French-style bar at street level offering excellent people-watching, a fabulous drinks list, and a small menu of French delicacies, from croissants to croque monsieur.
— 45 Tory St, City. Visit Facebook.com/LeSamouraiwgtn
Havana Bar: A Wellington institution set across two colourful historic cottages that is part-bar, part-restaurant and part-eclectic live music venue. Open for brunch on the weekends only.
— 32a-34 Wigan St, City. Visit Havanabar.co.nz
AN UPMARKET FOOD HALL
Press Hall: Wellington's inner city is abuzz with the arrival of its first upmarket food court, which has taken over the slickly redesigned space that once housed the Evening Post’s printing presses on Willis St. Named Press Hall in a nod to its newspaper history, the Allistair Cox-designed development involved removing a two-storey building in 2016 to create a stylish laneway area leading to a contemporary courtyard and the food court at the back.
The fit-out has been beautifully executed. Think exposed beams, concrete floors and plenty of elegant wood, with a particular highlight being the green-and-cream lanterns over the central dining area and the slightly tucked-away Japanese-themed area occupied by sushi and bento restaurant Yoshi. There are currently nine other eateries — three of which are in the laneway kiosk — with more in the works, including a teppanyaki restaurant and a rooftop bar that will be operated by the owners of Leeds St favourite Hanging Ditch. Until then, diners have the choice of plant-based cuisine from Aroha, fresh pasta and Italian sweets from Fratelli, steamed buns at Bao Boy, Vietnamese street food at Nam D, some of the city’s best pizza at Tommy Millions, and more.
— Press Hall is at 80 Willis St. Visit Presshall.co.nz
Where you'll find the best live music
San Fran: Formerly known as the San Francisco Bath House, this Cuba St second-storey bar is numero uno for mid-sized gigs. Upcoming: Sepultura, May 12. 171 Cuba St, City. Visit Sanfran.co.nz
Meow: A cosy, hip venue that hosts smaller gigs and has a great bar list and menu. Upcoming: Anthonie Tonnon, April 13. 9 Edward St, City. Visit Welovemeow.co.nz
Hunter Lounge: The trusty venue at Victoria University of Wellington, which has played host to many memorable shows over the years. Upcoming: Marlon Williams, May 19 and 20. Level 3, Student Union Building, Victoria University, 1 Kelburn Pde, Kelburn. Visit Thehunterlounge.co.nz
Caroline: An intimate live music joint above Dukes Arcade, which doubles as a burger bar. You had us at mac ’n’ cheese balls. Upcoming: Shaun Kirk, April 12. 1 Manners St, City. Visit Caroline.nz
IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: PETONE
Seashore Cabaret: We thought we’d died and gone to retro heaven when we set foot in Seashore Cabaret thanks to its bank of old pinball machines, vintage decor that could be straight from the carousel at Coney Island, and its fun booths. Set overlooking rugged Petone Beach, the former dance hall sits atop the Petone Rowing Club in the most unlikely of buildings, and is also home to the Good Fortune Coffee Co. Cue delicious aromas. Much like its Lyall Bay sibling, the Maranui Cafe, the queues here can be long, but staff work the line keeping everyone informed with the kitchen’s progress. If the weather is playing ball we’d advise nabbing a spot out on the deck.
— 160 The Esplanade. Visit Seashore Cabaret’s Facebook page
Comes and Goes: Contemporary Asian fusion cuisine prettily embellished with edible flowers.
— 259 Jackson St. Visit Instagram.com/comesandgoeswellington
IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: LYALL BAY
The Botanist: You’ll find this organic vegetarian and vegan-only eatery opposite the pirate playground at Lyall Bay. Housed in a character building with a sheltered, sunny courtyard out the back and fantastic views of the sea and planes landing at Wellington Airport, The Botanist is a great place to settle in for an afternoon or evening of tap craft beer, botanical cocktails, vegan and organic wine and delicious healthy food.
— 219 Onepu Rd. Visit Thebotanistlyallbay.co.nz
Maranui Cafe: Eclectic beach cafe on top of the Maranui Surf Life Saving Club loved by the locals.
— 7 Lyall Bay Pde. Visit Maranuicafe.co.nz
Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli: Boutique and gourmet New Zealand-made deli fare.
— 200 Queens Dr. Visit Queens.co.nz
Nice. Takeaway: ParrotDog Brewery’s slick cellar door offers complimentary tastings and a 10-tap line-up of craft beers to take home.
— 60-66 Kingsford Smith St. Visit Parrotdog.co.nz
IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: NEWTOWN
Cicio Cacio: This charming traditional Italian osteria is tucked down a laneway in grungy Newtown and set in a cosy, alpine-style building with a great vibe. Serving up some of the best food in Wellington including pasta made in-house from scratch, the menu at Cicio Cacio changes regularly, sometimes daily, so the warm and knowledgeable staff run a blackboard, but also painstakingly write out the evening’s choices on the paper tablecloths. Dining here is just like coming home to Mama. Highly recommended, but make sure you book.
— 167 Riddiford St. Visit Facebook.com/osteriaciciocacio
Peoples Coffee: The excellent flagship cafe of the organic and fair trade local coffee roaster that patrons travel across town for.
— 12 Constable St. Visit Peoplescoffee.co.nz