Queenstown is changing. Artisanal producers are flocking to the local valleys and reaping the rewards of the land. Handmade chocolates, natural wines and goats cheese are made with love and devoured by a new gentrified kind of traveller. So while bungy jumping is still on the menu for some, we set out to find who's serving up the best food in Queenstown.
Rata - Fine Dining $$$
Named after the local Rata tree and taking inspiration from New Zealand's South Island, Rata is a fine dining experience without the fuss. Diners casually graze on a menu that is approachable and refreshing. "Bites" of tuna, avocado and grapefruit were perfectly balanced and pulled pork croquettes were moorish. Larger dishes such as beef cheek with cauliflower risotto and roasted duck with confit and black garlic were fine examples of Chef Josh Emett's understanding of the South's produce. Sweets demonstrate serious technical skill by the pastry chef with cream filled cinnamon "oysters" and oozing salted caramels. With a well curated wine list and an off-the-strip location, Rata has quickly established itself as a favourite amongst well seasoned travellers and the locals.
Botswana Butchery - Steakhouse $$$
You'd be hard pressed to find a prettier dining room than the one at Botswana Butchery. Melting in to a deep cigar chair and watching the sun set over the lake is an experience in itself. Butcher's knives hang proudly on the wall while the log fire crackles away and diners happily tuck in to some local lamb (a specialty). Traditional starters such as french onion soup run alongside more unique dishes like Peking Duck. Main's showcase a range of game and meats but I skip straight to the butchers block. My grain finished eye fillet was juicy and full of flavour, served with your choice of sauce (try the garlic aoili). Classic sides of mac & cheese, greens and mashed potato were done well and wines are reasonably priced. Finish with a dark chocolate marquise and you have a very solid meal. Even better, you can book one of their individually furnished private dining rooms (can accommodate 2 to 30) for those special moments.
Madam Woo - Modern Malaysian $$
Madam Woo is buzzing on the night of my visit. A no booking policy doesn't deter diners who are happy at the bar sampling Madam Woo's fresh Asian inspire cocktails (a must try). Hanging lanterns warm the room and cool waiters seamlessly delivering plates of spicy food to ravenous tables. Hawker rolls come out as crispy and flaky Roti Canai filled with herbs and chicken. They're fresh and have me wishing I'd ordered another serve. A Nonya chicken curry is bursting with all the flavour elements of a Malay curry and black bean pork spare ribs fall apart in your mouth. Classic Asian desserts of sago pudding and banana fritters are damn good with coconut cream and fresh mango.
The Sherwood - Local Modern Dining $$
The in-house restaurant for the Sherwood hotel offers food sourced from it's own garden and surrounds. Head chef, Ainsley, plates up food with so much thought and care, it's almost a shame to eat it. A menu mapped out in to Earth, Fire, Wind and Water sees grains, veg, meat and fish seasoned with what's available from their backyard. A charcuterie board of their own house pancetta and pastrami is simply delicious, served with their pickles and sauerkraut. Polenta is creamy and is served effortlessly with beef and kale during my grazing feast. Save room for lemon meringue made with chickpeas, a combo that miraculously worked and left me wanting more. Flipside, let the sommelier guide you through their natural wine map, pairing local Otago wines to your food and expertly finding selections depending on your personal taste.
Pedro's House of Lamb - Lamb takeaway $
This institution only serves up one dish: a shoulder of slow roasted lamb and scallop potatos. It's $45 and serves two. They will even deliver to your hotel for a small fee. The lamb melts in your mouth and is fragrant of thyme and rosemary.
Fergbaker - Bakery $
Skip Fergburger (it's just a burger) and head next door to their bakery. Pies and cakes will feed you for less than $10. Particularly good is their Boston Cream Donut. Wash it down with their mango acai smoothie.
Taco Medic - Tacos $
Tucked away, high up on the hill towards the gondola sits Queenstown's best kept food truck secret, Taco Medic. Serving up gluten-free tacos in fresh pressed corn tortillas, this truck has a limited menu of four tacos and they're all good. The slow roasted pork (The Bushman) is dusted with pork crackling and The Stockman (pulled beef) is smoky and spicy. Add some chips and guacamole to the menu and we'd feel complete.
Vudu Cafe - Brunch $
If you want decent poached eggs, look no further. Except perhaps to their new sister cafe Bespoke Kitchen, which is next door to the Queenstown Medical Centre. Coffee, pastries and salads are all on offer and use some of the best produce available.