New Zealand's best restaurants by city
While the 2017 Restaurant of the Year prize in the Cuisine Good Food Awards went to a Napier restaurant, Pacifica, the awards highlighted a mouth-watering line-up of high-quality dining options across the country.
The following are the stand-out establishments from the main centres, with the judges' comments; along with some of the other notable winners (and losers) from this year's awards. The full list of winners, hatted restaurants and the overall top-100 restaurants are listed in a special booklet released with the upcoming edition of Cuisine magazine.
* New Zealand's 100 top restaurants for 2017 named
* Napier's Pacifica named as New Zealand's restaurant of the year
Apero (scored 17/20 - two hats; Best Metropolitan Restaurant)
The fact that Leslie Hottiaux and Ismo (Mo) Koski love what they do shines through in every aspect of the Apero experience.
Within minutes of arriving at the cosy brick-walled, wooden-floored space tucked away on K Rd, it's clear that this is so much more than a wine bar. Regulars and newbies alike are greeted with the same warmth and enthusiasm and that's the vibe that continues through the night, from Koski's knack for knowing exactly what you feel like drinking (even if you're not sure yourself) to Hottiaux's seriously delicious food.
It's clear that a great deal of thought is put into everything on the the menu, with a wonderful array of flavours on display – think snapper crudo with pink grapefruit pieces, fine pickled courgettes, cucumber balls and avocado cream, or roasted cauliflower with goat's curd, almond and mint. And don't leave without trying the legendary pork sausage.
Palate (scored 16.5/20 - two hats)
Palate's talented owner-chef Mat McLean and his staff have the knack of delivering creative food and superb wines in a seamless flow from kitchen-and-cellar to table, all the while making guests feel relaxed and welcome.
The menu is carefully planned around local and seasonal ingredients, some of them grown especially for the restaurant – think potato gnocchi, with corn, mushrooms, truffle, parmesan and cauliflower puree, or orange pannacotta, liquorice ice cream, candied kumquats and mint syrup.
A kitchen table opposite the pass gives four to six guests an opportunity to watch the chefs at work and enjoy an exquisite seven-course degustation with wine matching. With the knowledgeable Larissa Muller at front of house, this place can't miss.
Logan Brown (scored 16.5/20 - two hats)
Logan Brown is the grand old lady of the Wellington dining scene.
The vast, circular dining room is set beneath a neo-Classical dome, held up by Corinthian columns, in a former banking chamber. The cuisine is also classical and mostly familiar, but within these parameters, there is a willingness to experiment and introduce international ingredients, for example, wrapping scampi fillets in sheets of nori seaweed and pairing them with a Jerusalem artichoke and preserved lemon risotto, with a crayfish bisque poured around at the table.
The imposing setting, attentive, thoughtful service and impressive drinks list, combined with bare wooden tables and refined bistro inspired dishes, add up to a relaxed but special, delicious dining experience.
Roots (scored 18/20 - three hats)
This tiny restaurant on Lyttelton's London St draws food lovers from New Zealand and overseas to its complex, surprise degustation menus that can change every night.
Since being "discovered", Roots has grown a little larger in staff and space, but this is still a boutique operation. Chef Giulio Sturla's dishes tell tiny stories of time and place. He uses the best local produce, with an emphasis on foraging and fermentation, but immaculate technique and balancing of intense flavours creates the magic.
Pork and milk is a classic but Roots takes it to a new level: nubs of golden brown and creamy pork appear with earthy turnips, slivers of intense pan-seared saffron milk cap mushrooms and fruity quince in rich nut milk, with crunch from shaved hazelnuts and sliced radishes.
The wine list is heavily local and favours natural, organic and biodynamic, but all styles are available. Service is personable and knowledgeable.
Bracken (scored 16/20 - two hats)
For contemporary degustation dining set in a historic villa, Bracken has no peer.
Chef-owner Ken O'Connell presents five, seven or nine-course menus with thoughtfully matched wines, happily adjusting his menu to suit any dietary requirements.
His innovative dishes are deft, subtle and include contemporary techniques such as gel balls or compressed watermelon. You might be served a fillet of fish on potato and seaweed puree with a horopito citrus tea poured over with a flourish at the table, or a slice of Angus beef on wilted cavolo nero with celeriac puree, mushrooms, barbecued leek and black garlic, or an onion espuma on an heirloom tomato with a crisp paper-thin slice of speck.
The wine list is tight and focused, with interesting options, and service is professional, attentive and confident.
NOTABLE OTHERS - UPS AND DOWNS
Clooney: The sole newcomer to the hallowed ranks of the three-hat club, joining such heavyweights as The French Cafe, Sidart, Roots and Merediths.
Peter Gordon's Sugar Club: While plenty of restaurants slip up and down the hat rankings, the absence of one of NZ's best-known chefs from the hats list (after securing one hat last year) is bound to raise eyebrows.
Pasture: This Auckland newcomer and its chef Ed Verner claimed two hats, along with the Best Drinks List award and the Chef of the Year title.
Phil's Kitchen: The best new metropolitan restaurant in 2016, but no hats in 2017.
Sid Sahwarat: Continues his outsized presence in the Auckland dining scene with both Cassia (two hats) and Sidart (three hats) confirming their ongoing place among the country's best.
Other noteworthy newcomers to the winners' circle include Christchurch's Gatherings, Marlborough's Arbour and Hawke's Bay's Malo.