Haggis schmaggis: Dunedin is a foodie haven that's well worth a visit
Its Scottish history may charm and its heritage buildings wow, but Dunedin’s edible offerings are as modern and Kiwi as they come.
Stuart, George, Moray and the Octagon. Remember those street names. Commit them to memory and reach for them often. Because when you visit Dunedin, this tight grid of streets is where you’ll find not only your sustenance but also some of the best experiences of your trip. Aotearoa’s seventh-largest city may traditionally be known for rowdy students, the rolling Scottish “r” and a certain type of music, but in the past few years it has emerged as a centre of culinary cool where clever chefs do interesting things with local ingredients.
We drop our bags at Dunedin’s newest hotel, which is actually its oldest. Dunedinites might still call it the Wains Hotel, but this five-star boutique accommodation recently underwent a $3 million nip and tuck, and now goes by the name Fable Dunedin.
We’re parched, so go straight to Mr Fox lounge and tapas bar. I’d heard it was tricky to find the entrance, but after a bit of pacing around the Octagon and prodding at Google Maps, we find number 12 and head down a flight of stairs to this newish bar that’s bearded/tattooed/checked-shirt hipster territory. The interior looks as though it was airfreighted from New York, the staff are impossibly cool and the “foxtails” have oh-so-clever names, such as Honey I’m Home (made with tequila and Blueskin Bay honey from up the road) and From Here (local Ocho chocolate, rum and Kahlúa, topped with cream and cereal).
By now it’s late and we’re tired, so we head back to our hotel to eat at The Press Club, the restaurant that occupies the ground floor of Fable Dunedin.
If you prefer your restaurants with an interesting backstory, you’ve come to the right place: this venue was a popular spot among journalists, editors and publishers in the 1870s, and its dark and elegantly moody decor reflects that. I try not to embarrass myself with the cutlery as we work our way through award-winning chef Jinu Abraham’s scallop risotto and Wakanui scotch fillet. Later, there’s an espresso chocolate mousse I’m still raving about.
We continue our calorific carnival the next day with breakfast at Heritage Coffee in the city’s hip Warehouse Precinct.
Can we pretend I had the virtuous Bircher muesli instead of brioche French toast with lashings of hokey pokey and mascarpone? My excuse is that I needed the energy for a day of exploring, and I’m sticking to it.
“You have to visit No 7 Balmac,” says almost everyone we meet. So we do, heading to Māori Hill and the iconic eatery slipped into an old villa.
My husband opts for the barbecue-braised octopus, while I try the twice-baked cheese soufflé, which is light and fluffy in all the right places. I now understand why everyone was so keen for us to eat here.
We had planned to head out to the Royal Albatross Centre, the only mainland breeding colony of northern royal albatross in the world but the weather rains on our parade, so we seek shelter at New New New Corporation, Dunedin’s largest independent craft brewery. I’m not the world’s biggest beer lover, but even I’m seduced by their interesting flavours (chilli, lemongrass or Japanese plum beer, anyone?).
So many restaurants like to talk about sustainability and local sourcing. Moiety truly walks that talk, with a five-course French/Japanese-inspired menu that leans heavily towards products from local growers, farmers and fisherman, including wild Fiordland venison and the creamiest cheese.
The drinks menu couldn’t get any more local if it tried – my glass of pinot noir comes courtesy of the Urbn Vino winery next door.
How many almond croissants is too many? I’m attempting to find out at The Friday Shop, a legendary Dunedin bakery which, as the name suggests, is open only on Fridays. Having heard they’re often sold out by 9am, we wake early to get our fill of the buttery offerings that chef Jim Byars pulls fresh from the oven. It’s totally worth it.
After a morning exploring Dunedin’s contemporary street art (hint: download a map of the Dunedin street art tour and prepare to be amazed), we stumble on Dog With Two Tails café and bar.
It’s named after a Chilean proverb about being “happier than a dog with two tails”, and I am after the burger filled with chunks of nori and sesame-crusted tofu, pickled ginger and wasabi-smashed peas. I’m powerless in the face of its chewy deliciousness.
Three words – quirky, cool and fun – tell you everything you need to know about Woof! On the corner of Moray Place and Lower Stuart Street, it hits the sweet spot between pub and cocktail bar and is the kind of place I wish my neighbourhood had.
We order elderflower daiquiris and work our way though the Indian-inspired menu that includes dahi puri, a moreish Mumbai street snack, while getting in some serious people-watching.
If you’re in Dunners on a Saturday, it’s almost compulsory to swing by the Otago Farmers’ Market, where you can pick and choose breakfast from 70-plus stalls.
Don’t forget to admire the historic backdrop: nicknamed the Gingerbread House, Dunedin Railway Station features impressive Flemish Renaissance-style architecture that’s said to make it one of New Zealand’s most photographed buildings.
I’m not used to day drinking, but after a tour of the iconic Emerson’s brewery in Anzac Ave, where we learn all there is to learn about fermentation, it’d be rude not to enjoy a tipple or two. It’s a good way to while away the afternoon and make friends with others on our tour.
After a quick nana nap at the hotel, we point our hire car in the direction of St Clair, a beach suburb that’s famous for having New Zealand’s most consistent year-round surf break.
We watch a few hardy souls tussle with the waves before getting into the warmth at Tītī, a newish restaurant by Hannes Bareiter. No stranger to Michelin stars, Hannes first introduced diners to his delicious offerings at the nearby Glenfalloch restaurant and garden. We scoff fish with pea pesto and broccoli freekeh, and although we’re really not hungry, squeeze in the delectable dark chocolate and miso mousse.
By now, it’s almost time to return to the airport. We can’t leave the Edinburgh of the South without one last treat, though. Patti’s & Cream food truck is a familiar sight around town and is rightly famous for its unusual but tasty flavours created by dairy maestro Olive Tabor. Order a scoop of the pear and riesling or pumpkin dulce de leche ice-cream and leave Dunedin happy that you’ve sampled the best the city has to offer.
THINGS TO DO
- Dunedin Street Art tour
- Otago Farmers’ Market
- Royal Albatross Centre
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
- Dog With Two Tails
- Heritage Coffee
- Mr Fox
- New New New Corporation
- No 7 Balmac
- Patti’s & Cream
- The Press Club
- The Friday Shop
WHERE TO STAY
- Fable Dunedin