Te Whanganui-a-Tara’s surface-level simplicity belies a hefty amount to discover within the twists and turns of its walkable centre. A few days in the capital isn’t nearly enough to sample all its culinary delights, but you’ll leave happy with this guide that includes neighbourhood gems, a buzzing underground arcade and bakeries that are among the country’s best.
Don’t be surprised if there’s a puffer-jacketed queue to get into Myrtle’s front door; Wellingtonians are a hardy bunch and will brace biting temperatures for this Kent Terrace bakery’s goods. It’ll move quickly, though, despite the mountains of tempting treats piled in the cabinets and on the back shelves. You might go for a rhubarb, rose and elderflower danish, a brown butter and cinnamon scroll, or one of the many generously stuffed sandwiches. There are a few seats inside if you can nab one, or take your pastries for a trot up Mount Victoria if it’s a fine day – it’s a climb but the view’s worth it.
Just off Dixon Street, Hannahs Laneway has a high hit rate of excellent eateries and two of its newest additions are topnotch pit stops. Contemporary Chinese-Taiwanese restaurant Mr Go’s recently moved to 3 Eva Street after seven years on Taranaki Street and is open for lunch Wednesday through to Sunday. The space is a joy to be in: all changeable neon lights, coloured glass and mint green tiles. Order a house-made bao bun with tofu, fried chicken or pork belly, and follow with prawn har gow, cumin-spiced lamb skewers and kung pao cauliflower. Less than 30 metres away, Shelly Bay Baker on Leeds is ideal if you’re craving a sandwich or a generously seeded bagel. The bakery’s organic sourdough is widely lauded, and every ingredient it uses is similarly high quality.
If you feel like being spoiled for choice, head to Willis Lane – Wellington’s new underground food hall. Here you’ll find excellent pasta at Corso Pastaria (we can recommend the prawn linguini); Nashville-meets-Korean-style burgers and more at Crack Chicken; fresh Japanese food at Wasabi Sushi – and many more outlets.
It’s rare that driving is necessary in central Wellington, but you’ll want to jump in the car (or hey, maybe a bus) to head up to Graze Wine Bar in Kelburn. Founded by chef Max Gordy and his partner Stina Persen, this 22-seater will have you feeling like a local. If you can, book a seat at the bar – you’ll look directly into the kitchen as Gordy and his team interact affably while cooking, and chat relaxedly with diners. The food is special: all made according to low-waste principles with ingredients that are often hyper-local. Always get whatever the fish dish is – it’ll be from sustainable fishery Strait Speared – and the signature perogies are a must with their ever-changing fillings. If it’s on the menu, order the oat milk panna cotta for dessert. A silky triumph.
For punchy flavours that take inspiration from across Asia, Hot Sauce is a playful, red-tinted venue that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Share small plates like vegetable or lemongrass chicken yakitori; salmon sashimi with wasabi mayo and ponzu sauce; and sesame-crusted eye fillet – or go large with the signature on-the-bone lamb rendang. The cocktails are a bit of fun, too, like the Lucky Cat with makrut lime-infused rum, apple soju, coconut, lemongrass and soda.
Wellington has no shortage of great wine and cocktail bars, but if you’re going to visit what’s considered the craft beer capital of New Zealand, then you might as well go to ground zero. You can drink Garage Project all over the country, but at its cosy Aro Street taproom (there’s also the cellar door a few steps away) you can talk to a staffer who’ll know the ins and outs of every brew and be able to pour a good range for a tasting board. The vibe is family-friendly – and just all-round friendly. Right now, you can still try three beer specials that were made especially for Wellington on a Plate and Beervana – you won’t find these at the supermarket.