Flaky croissants, craft beers and slow-braised shawarmas. Wondering what the best things to do in Wanaka are? Renowned chef James Stapley spills the beans on the best places to eat and drink in his town.
Any visitor to the Central Otago hotspot of Wanaka is sure to encounter chef James Stapley’s acclaimed trio of restaurants, Kika, Francesca’s Italian Kitchen and the just-opened Arc. For many, these eateries are precisely why they come. But as the award-winning chef reveals, the region’s booming restaurant-and-bar scene means there are even more reasons to visit this alluring township hugging the turquoise waters of Lake Wanaka and framed by the Southern Alps. From fried chicken to fine dining, here are his top picks.
Bistro Gentil for the French onion soup with gruyère crouton – “The views of the lake and mountains from the restaurant are stunning and so is the French food from owner and head chef Mario Rodrigues. He’s been doing his thing for many years now and has his own style. The food changes with the seasons but you can never beat the French onion soup or the lamb, which he might do as a backstrap with Jerusalem artichoke truffle and blueberry relish.”
Firebird for the fried chicken – “It’s great to have this cool little dedicated fried-chicken place in town. It’s housed in a converted shipping container and it’s all about the chicken, whether that’s a burger, a hotbox or fried wings. Just add the house chilli sauce.”
FuDog for the dumplings – “You’ll find modern-Asian food here – a mix of Japanese, Korean and Chinese – but thanks to the head chef John Menzies, it’s beyond the norm and super-delicious. The menu is a mix of dumplings and noodle dishes, with some interesting small plates – there’s an exceptional fried cauliflower with chilli sauce and tomato powder – and larger plates like spicy Korean tofu to share. There are excellent cocktails, too, that stick to the Asian theme.”
Pembroke Patisserie for the croissants – “To find a really good European-style patisserie in New Zealand can be tricky but this place alone is worth coming to Wanaka. Head chef and owner Matt Schmutsch is a wizard, making amazing pastries and croissants and great sourdough and baguettes. His pies have super-flaky puff pastry – and without a doubt his doughnuts are the best I’ve ever eaten.”
Ground Up Brewing
Ground Up Brewing for the craft beer – “Just outside central Wanaka, this brewery’s amazing craft brews are the only beer we put on tap at Kika. The deck is a great place to sample one of its 22 beers and if you swing by on the weekend you can enjoy it with a burrito from Mexican food trailer Burrito Craft.”
Big Fig for the lamb shawarma – “The slogan of this Middle Eastern-hearted café is ‘slow food served fast’ and it’s the best way to sum it up. Interesting salads accompany slow braises, rotisserie chicken and flatbreads. The food is generous and tasty, not to mention perfect to take away and enjoy while sitting beside Lake Wanaka.”
Image: Alistair Guthrey (LandEscape Wanaka), Jason Kelly, Miles Holden.