Photographs: David Straight
The air, those mountains, the pinot noir. In summer it is baking hot and in winter it is deathly cold and there is a wind that comes off the lake. Yet until recently, it lacked, ever so slightly, in the eating department. Oh sure, pinot noir goes with anything – believe us on this – but it wasn’t consistently exciting. But with a few recent openings joining some brilliant local favourites, Queenstown’s food scene is delivering on the promise of that landscape. That, and there’s now somewhere really quite fantastic to stay.
Last year, Stephen Marr and Sam Chapman – the owners of Auckland’s Golden Dawn – took over a failing 1980s mock-Tudor motel and turned it into the Sherwood. It is, simply, the best small hotel in New Zealand. There is rough-sawn timber and sheepskins and marble; there are upcycled bathrooms and a huge vegetable garden and curtains made from Italian wool army blankets. They turned the defunct swimming pool into a conversation pit: it has a courtyard to rival that of Golden Dawn. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and not just to guests. The menu is brilliant in a 1970s wholefood kind of way – sauerkraut by way of chicken grilled over a Big Green Egg; we once ate a dish of beans and sausage and eggs for breakfast and then for dinner we had grilled chicken with a seasonal salad loaded with freshly picked nectarines. The wine list is all “natural” – biodynamic – and there is a very impressive selection of independent distilleries behind the bar. In short: you should certainly eat here, and you should definitely stay as well.
Fishbone, meanwhile, manages to be New Zealand’s best fish restaurant: we’ve been known to duck in for a plate of freshly shucked Bluffies in the bar. The fitout is pleasantly kitsch and the service is slick. In season, they may cook you whitebait or they may cook you muttonbird, but the menu changes every evening: it depends what chef-owner Darren Lovell gets, direct from day boats around the South Island. Just know that everything is good here.
Amisfield is still brilliant. The building is fabulous isn’t it? Rough-hewn wooden beams and stone, with views to Coronet Peak and out over surrounding vineyards, though the wine you’re drinking comes from Cromwell, through the Kawerau Gorge. The food walks that delicate line between rustic and sophisticated; it’s ingredient driven and generous and it makes for the perfect long lunch, beside the fire in winter and in the courtyard in summer.
Josh Emett and Fleur Caulton opened Rata a couple of years ago – it’s fantastic, the kind of bustling modern joint you’d be more likely to find in much bigger cities, all white wooden tables and exposed beams; the menu runs through classics, only they’re tweaked this way and that. Down the road, the team have opened Madam Woo, take on a traditional Malaysian shophouse: it’s seriously authentic but it’s also seriously fun, with great service and local wines with some of the best Malaysian food we’ve eaten in New Zealand. Tip: you must have the curry chicken roti, and you also must have the hawker rolls, which are food of singular genius.
For craft beer, head to Atlas on Steamer Wharf and, if it is a lovely summer’s afternoon, sit in the sun and look at the lake.
The best place for brunch, meanwhile, can be found in Arrowtown: The Chop Shop (Arrow Lane, Arrowtown) is upstairs off a little lane. The bloody Marys are excellent, so is the coffee: hangovers are well served by the scrambled egg burrito. SFG