New Zealand's 100 top restaurants for 2017 named
Kiwi foodies, get ready to tuck in.
Cuisine has revealed its biggest list of top restaurants ever for its Good Food Awards, with casual dining and fresh produce the trend in 2017.
Cuisine editor Kelli Brett says the 100 restaurants named as Awards finalists deserve to enjoy their success.
"Making [the finals] is wonderful. It's a celebration of their incredible work and ability to shine in a really, really tough and highly competitive industry."
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"If a restaurant doesn't make the Cuisine Good Food Guide list it can be devastating news for the team behind the restaurant. It can be really hard to tell them they have not been recognised," Brett says.
"We know this, and take creating the guide very seriously."
Wednesday's announcement is effectively the first cut of the rigorous judging process which has been under way around the country for months. To feature in the guide (which is released next month) is to be selected among the cream of the country's ever-evolving restaurant scene. The judges have narrowed these finalists down to 100; the next step will be the awarding of "hats" (a rating system of 1, 2 or 3) and, at an awards dinner in early August, announcing Cuisine's verdict on the industry's very best individuals and businesses.
For restaurant diners, it's all good news. The annual guide is a useful, changing snapshot of restaurants that are delivering wonderful experiences.
The 2017 guide has the most on the list yet. Last year there were 83 restaurants.
Chief judge Kerry Tyack says most interesting to him was a change he saw in the differences between metropolitan and regional restaurants.
"What we see typically see on offer in urban areas we are now seeing appear in regional areas. Travelling Kiwis don't all just come home to the cities, they go to the regions and they are demanding more variety. Restaurants are popping up to meet that demand," he says.
"Whereas the trends used to be led by the urban restaurants, now the regional restaurants are much more in tune with what is going on and are adopting them."
Those trends that continue to strengthen include a big push for using local produce, and using fermented and pickled foods. Restaurants are also offering more special diet options like gluten-free.
Brett agrees that regional restaurants "are stepping up" and the spread in the 2017 list underlines that.
WHAT'S TRENDING IN 2017
The big trends Brett sees are in the rise of the awkwardly named "plant-based" meals, and excitement around bringing a distinctly Kiwi influence to dishes, especially in using local produce.
Her plant-based epiphany came earlier this year at a pop-up event. Brett was hungry and the first course was a single roasted carrot with a bit of dressing on it.
"I looked at the carrot and thought, 'you have got to be kidding me'. I was really disappointed. But I'm so ashamed because that carrot was the best carrot I've ever had in my entire life. The flavour and the way they treated this vegetable and the wine they paired with it – who knew you could be transported by a carrot. It was really clever cooking that made me start to change the way I think about all that."
She says young diners are driving this. "For years we have been talking about where our food comes from, but they are asking even more questions."
The 2017 list also acknowledges the shift to casual dining in New Zealand.
"We felt we weren't recognising the casual sector enough. There are so many places serving up excellent food and wine and craft beers, but not necessarily in a formal setting," Brett says.
"They still have that level of excellence of food and drink and service, but you are not going to walk in the door and get linen table cloths."
Both Brett and Tyack believe at least a couple of our top restaurants would earn a spot in the world's top 100.
Brett says the key is getting the world to notice our top restaurants and creating a guide that sums up our best will help with this.
FINDING THE TOP 100
Restaurants can't buy their way in. Many more were assessed than made the list.
Cuisine uses a national pool of expert judges who make anonymous visits and these detailed templated reports, plus background information on the restaurants, decides whether they make the list, and then whether they get further awards or the "hats" that mark an outstanding place.
"We build up a dossier over time on places," Tyack says.
"That includes local intelligence, anecdotal information, and information from people who have been there over the year, including our assessment team. And we do link it back into past performance.
"The anonymous visit gives us an up-to-date snapshot of what that restaurant is like and what it is doing."
WHAT COMES NEXT
The next step is a grand awards night in Auckland on August 7.
The awards include Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, Best Metropolitan Restaurant, Best Regional Restaurant, Restaurant Personality of the Year and Best Winery Restaurant. An award for Best Casual Dining Restaurant has been added this year.
The official Cuisine Good Food Guide for 2017 will be included free with the September issue of Cuisine, which goes on sale on August 14.
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