Nelson's best new restaurants

00:39, Feb 12 2013
Nicolas Cantina
MUY BIEN: Nicola’s Cantina in Vanguard St was a surprise find.

This summer, I have been showing out-of-town visitors the best of Nelson, and have found eight new eating places.

This is great for me and my visitors, but I want to know why anyone would want to start a new cafe or restaurant, or refurbish an existing one. It requires huge skill, an excellent location, and tonnes of start-up money.

The costs are huge: a place seating 25 will employ at least three people every hour that your charming cafe is open, and then there is rent, stock, resource consents, and bills for electricians, plumbers, tilers, kitchen installers, painters and interior design. The costs go on.

The average cafe in New Zealand has a life of 18 months, after which they generally change hands, close down or go broke. So why would eight brave teams start a cafe or restaurant? And how good are these new kids on the block?

First up is Eatalian Urban Ristorante and Bar in Fashion Island. I went with my book group and, by coincidence, three other book groups. Eatalian could be a literary hangout, or it was just one of those coincidences?

Ambience was evident from the moment we entered, with an attentive host, and staff with European accents. We discovered our waitress wasn't Italian but German!


I ordered risotto, as it is my favourite Italian dish. Eatalian's was creamy with perfect texture and flavour. If the portions were slightly larger and I was serenaded in Italian, as happened when at a Sydney restaurant, this would be the top dining choice for me.

The Styx Bar and Deli on Wakefield Quay is in a building that has seen many food businesses come and go. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has plenty of space inside and outside. The menu is varied and the coffee good. It's a great location with superb views of the Haven and Tasman Bay, and I can't understand why so many food businesses have tried this site and lasted only a short time.

Collingwood St is home to Hangar 58, a large aviation-themed bar and restaurant started by friends. It offers cabinet food and a la carte dining during the day, and restaurant meals at night. It has four separate indoor bar areas, including a private function room, and a large outdoor area.

The Nelson Mail reported that Hangar 58 employs 36 people and runs 19 hours per day. A very ambitious undertaking - and from what I saw last Friday night, it is proving to be a popular place to hang out, and has "taken off" among locals.

Masa's Restaurant and Sake Bar in Hardy St is a Japanese restaurant run by chef Masao Kumagai and wife Yuko. Kumagai has an impressive pedigree in the Nelson dining scene, with stints at the Miyazu and Oceana restaurants, and Flax in Mapua, and he started Sushi House in Bank Lane.

The restaurant style is izakaya, which translates as a "sit-down sake house". These are popular for after-work drinks and light dining. Offerings include sushi and sashimi, tempura, tonkatsu (crumbed pork), seaweed salad, and octopus dumpling balls. Masa's is a "casual, not fancy" establishment, with most dishes priced between $5 and $17 and served tapas-style. It is a great place to go with friends to share interesting food.

Just 400 metres from our home is The Fish Stop in Alton St. Our takeaway fish and chips were so good my husband rang the owners to thank them. You can choose your fish species and have it crumbed, fried or battered, or simply go with their special of $5 for a packet of fish and chips. Next door, in the spot recently occupied by Ka Pai, is a new daytime cafe called 91 on Nile.

We hope locals support these businesses and that they stay for a long time. My family love having high-quality takeaways so close to home, and the afghans at 91 on Nile are excellent.

Although not new, the Vic Brew Bar in Trafalgar St had a serious makeover when it was closed last winter for earthquake strengthening, sprucing up the bar and installing a new kitchen. I went there with my husband for lunch.

It was excellent and passed his expectations for taste, portion size and presentation. We were surprised how few people were there for Tuesday lunch, as we enjoyed a moderately priced meal in possibly the safest old building in Nelson. The bar offers indoor and outdoor seating areas, and live music in the evenings.

Nicola's Cantina in Vanguard St was a surprising find when I was returning from having my car serviced.

From the moment I walked in I knew I had found a winner. It is a fusion of Mexican, with tacos and burritos, and French, with pastries and macaroons. I had the best corn bread I have tasted, and my dining companion had her best ever burrito.

I concluded that people start these businesses because they are passionate. Those who manage to sustain a successful business are obviously workaholics and know their food. I urge you to support these brave souls.