The Best Luxury Dining Experiences In Aotearoa
The creme de la creme of high-end, tell-all-your-friends eating across the country
Luxury dining is the privilege of having someone’s care and attention, and the opportunity to share the fruits of their knowledge and skill.
It’s an experience made of so much more than money, but access to our top chefs, sommeliers and hosts in unique and chic surrounds does come at an understandable price.
For those occasions when you have the cash to indulge in the best of the best, you want to get serious bang for your buck. Here’s how.
Hippopotamus at QT Wellington
QT Hotels are synonymous with luxury and at QT Wellington’s Hippopotamus restaurant executive chef Jiwon Do puts his spin on things through ingredients and their provenance. Jiwon writes menus that deliver an experience and tell stories of unique, local, hand-selected produce.
This winter he is looking forward to working with George, his truffle supplier, to create dishes that perfectly showcase this Nelson-grown delicacy, including a truffle degustation. From the daily menu diners can choose two courses for $79, or three for $95, and it’s a tough choice when you are presented with the likes of ‘Cook Strait’ — catch of the day from Cook Strait with Kiwi saffron, Mills Bay mussels, Cloudy Bay clams and a smoked paprika and agria rouille.
The Tableside Theatre menu ($149 for one course to share) brings serious drama. Leftover from Hippopotamus’ classic French fine dining days perhaps, but this gueridon service indulges Jiwon’s storytelling. The chateaubriand (hand-selected Greenstone Creek beef fillet) or saumon meunière (a unique Ora King Keiji salmon) arrive at your table on a trolley where it is perfectly carved and plated by the restaurant manager or sommelier as they talk of where your meat has come from and how the chef has cooked it. That form of engagement means luxury to Jiwon. A blazing crêpes Suzette is, of course, the dessert on this menu, $29.
The plush, Cheshire-designed bar of Auckland’s high-calibre department store Faradays serves Sturia Vintage caviar from France (15g $89/50g $269) with gold leaf and a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée, Edition 169 ($88). An exemplary pairing you won’t find anywhere else in New Zealand.
The wine list has a French focus — the house Champagne pour is Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame at $49 a glass. Iconic bottles such as Château Margaux 2011 Premier Grand Cru ($2950) and Château La Fleur-Pétrus 2005 Bordeaux Pomerol ($1150) are listed alongside those from Hawke’s Bay’s Craggy Range (Prestige, Les Beaux Cailloux 2019, $230).
Light bites, from French fries with truffle crème to Mount Cook alpine salmon with potato sourdough, round out the food menu designed by Sarah Ginella of the neighbouring Barulho restaurant. On Sundays, Anthony Price of Private Fine Dining creates his take on Omakase with a decadent nigiri box.
Putting your appetite completely into the hands of the chef, who does after all know what’s eating best on the day, is commonplace in many high-end restaurants. The degustation/tasting/trust-the-chef/just-feed-me menu has become the mark of an accomplished, confident chef with a lot to offer and can be a very satisfying and enlightening experience.
Trusting the chef is not for fussy eaters and nowhere is this more so than Auckland’s Pasture where chef Ed Verner cooks only what he chooses on the night, with minimal substitution — most dietary requirements are handled through the omission of courses.
Seated at the counter, with the chefs and their wood-fire oven right in front of you, 17-23 courses of Ed’s choosing are served, each one masterfully considered, highly experimental and palate pleasing. It’s an outer-worldly experience that is hard to come by with a maximum of six dining at one sitting, and worth every bit of the $300-$340 per person, drinks on top.
The hour-long drive off State Highway 4 in the Ruapehu District to Blue Duck Station is just the start of the adventure that is dining at The Chef’s Table. From here, an ATV (or helicopter) is the only way you can access chef Jack Cashmore’s hand-built restaurant, so an ATV bush safari has been incorporated into the experience which takes you through virgin rainforest, waterways and extreme terrain to one of the station’s highest points with views across the Central North Island, including its four mountains: Taranaki, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.
For $370, you’ll take a two-hour safari, followed by a 10-ish course tasting menu comprising produce farmed, grown and foraged on the farm. For $695 they’ll also put you up for the night in one of three cosy ensuite cabins where you can watch the sunrise over the mountains while enjoying breakfast.
This is fine dining with the edges knocked off, showcasing what can be achieved remotely on an efficient and sustainable scale. The buildings are completely off-grid and made using timber milled on the station. The restaurant is intimate, with only 10 diners each evening, and an open kitchen, which allows the small team to interact and get to know you. It’s a quintessential New Zealand dining experience that is as refined as it is relaxed.
Kotare Estate is a little-known secret and Mathias and Pip Robbie-Godert like it that way, operating on an ‘if you find us and are willing to pay our prices, let’s talk’ basis. There’s no flashy website for this husband-and-wife team. They list their charming 1920s Spanish Mission-style home, set privately in the hills of Havelock North, on Airbnb where, right at the end of the description, it reads, ‘private chef available on request’.
That chef is Mathias and, yes, you can talk to him about cooking meals during your stay at Kotare Estate, but you can also talk about dining in the Estate’s cave, which is available to those not staying at the house.
Pip’s father carved this unique dining hall into a massive limestone rockface and with the help of his woodworker brother, hand-chiselled the macrocarpa beams and roof linings. It’s a unique, private space warmed by an open fire and candlelight, that Pip and Mathias are now sharing with their guests. Cave dinners are for 14 people, you are welcome to have less but must still pay the $300-400 (depending on requirements) per head cost for 14.
There is no menu because Mathias likes to cook what is best from his fishmonger and what the local farmers and the Estate’s substantial organic gardens can provide on the day. He cooks quality ingredients extremely well but, as Mathias says, “without a big hoo-ha”.
Operating without a liquor licence, this is also a rare opportunity to bring your favourite tipple to the party. It’s completely bespoke, Mathias talks through your likes and dietary requirements, shops, preps and cooks for you, and you’ll be calling him your new best friend at the end of the day. You won’t go away disappointed.
A list of luxury dining experiences would not be complete without top chef Michael Meredith, who supports different charities through once-a-month charity dinners at his Auckland, Britomart restaurant Mr Morris.
Diners are encouraged to be generous and pay what they like for the set menu that Michael creates with the support of his food suppliers. This is a unique opportunity to support the local community and bring extra feel-good factor to wining and dining. It’s to Michael we turn for a private chef experience too.
The Mrs Morris dining and event space seats 20 to indulge in a bespoke tasting menu with cost dictated by your desires. Michael will work with you to ensure the experience is as good, if not better, as dining at Mr Morris itself.
Coming in at a whopping $12,000 is lunch at Soho Basin, the private ski field adjacent to Cardrona Alpine Resort. Lunch, prepared for you by Amisfield chefs, is only part of this exhilarating experience that gives you and nine others exclusive use of over 1400 acres of terrain for the entire day.
You can choose to drive or chopper to the alpine hut at the bottom of the basin where your day begins with pastries and coffee before the snowcat takes you up for your first run — there are no chair lifts here. A guide ensures you ski the best lines, and you can go as hard as you like.
Back at the hut, lunch goes something like crayfish bisque, wild game en croûte and a decadent bread and butter pudding. The chefs and wait staff are there just for you, pouring wines and beverages around the wood-fired brazier. Mulled wine and an ice bar encourage you down from the powder in the afternoon.
Top off this one-of-a-kind day with dinner at Amisfield and executive chef Vaughan Mabee’s world-renowned $220-per-person degustation; it’s as good as it gets.
Oro at The Carlin Hotel
At Oro in Queenstown, executive chef Thomas Barta has Sturia Vintage caviar on the menu, served on ice — the tin (15g for $149 or 30g for $295) opened at the table and served with a mother-of-pearl spoon, chopped egg yolk, chives and blinis. It is also dotted on the roasted market fish with green-lipped mussels, citrus sabayon and fennel $46.
Situated in newly opened The Carlin boutique hotel, Oro is a fine-dining restaurant with modern French, British and New Zealand influences. Barta has designed an extensive menu to meet high-net-worth travellers’ expectations and to make it affordable for local regulars to enjoy a night of luxury.
Fresh, sustainable, line-caught fish from around New Zealand comes in twice a week and the best seafood on the day forms the Oro seafood platter — a tower of sashimi, freshly shucked oysters, grilled wild Australian prawns, Moreton Bay bugs, creamed Bluff paua, beer-battered fish, green-lipped mussels and Cloudy Bay clams for $175.
The prime grill section lists a Carrara wagyu scotch fillet from Queensland with a marble score of nine for $129, and Wakanui grass-fed, grain-finished scotch fillet from Ashburton at $50. Pearl veal makes an appearance as a tartare for $27 and panko crumbed with spanner crab and bearnaise sauce for $43. Foie gras? Here it is, from the South of France served with a duck liver mousse and toasted brioche, $27.
This story was originally published in volume eight of Viva Magazine.
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