With a name that means “hungry” in te reo Māori, Hiakai not only satiates the hunger of the belly but also the hunger for an exceptional, memorable dining experience.
The 30-person restaurant was opened by internationally acclaimed chef Monique Fiso in 2018 and is dedicated to showcasing indigenous and local ingredients in a fine-dining setting.
In 2019, Katie Monteith joined the team as co-owner and general manager, and together they helm what is widely considered to be one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important restaurants
This, along with Fiso’s reputation as one of our most groundbreaking chefs, means there are lengthy waiting lists to secure a reservation.
Hiakai serves a degustation menu and the contents are kept hidden until you’re sitting at one of the restaurant’s tables. While the menu is overhauled seasonally, it is always themed around a concept, story or myth from te ao Māori (the Māori world view), with each dish building on the narrative.
The beverage menu is as thoughtful and carefully curated as the food and is almost entirely from New Zealand, save for the champagne, mezcal and port selection. The beverage pairing includes both an alcoholic and non-alcoholic option, with the popular non-alcoholic pairing handcrafted by the Hiakai team.
Find Hiakai in a three-storey building in an incongruously suburban Wellington setting. The ground floor makes for quite the entrance, still housing large, disused brick kilns from the building’s past life as a brick factory. The restaurant itself is up on the first floor, accessed via the striking staircase in the middle of the room.
The space is decorated in darker tones and is dimly lit with booth seating around the edge of the room that cocoons diners in intimate pockets. Despite the moody setting, service is playful. Stacks of mānuka wood kept downstairs fuel the custom-made parrilla grill.
Fiso is known to be a perfectionist – before starting Hiakai she worked at extensively at Michelin-starred restaurants in New York. Her innovative, meticulous cooking style, combined with the exploration of Māori and Pasifika techniques, is truly sublime.
It is steadily becoming more common for New Zealand restaurants to include indigenous cooking techniques and native ingredients in their food, but Hiakai continues to lead the charge. A meal there is a deep dive into Aotearoa’s history, a celebration and evolution of what makes this country’s food culture so unique.