Perhaps more than any other destination in New Zealand, Wellington‘s a city that prides itself on its dining culture. The city boasts a wide array of restaurants that span the full range of the budget spectrum, and as a result for those who list food as one of their high priorities while travelling Wellington makes for an excellent choice of locales.
New Zealand’s capital contains an extremely high proportion of restaurants and bars per capita, and within its sheer numbers lie a surprising quantity of award-winning places to eat that cover a wide variety of cuisines. It’s served as the springboard for a number of internationally-recognised chefs, and with its proximity to both ocean and vineyard Wellington provides these talented artisans with quality NZ-style raw ingredients with which to work their magic.
But which Wellington restaurants rank the best of the best? We took a detailed sampling of Wellington’s various dining hotspots and came away with some hand-picked finalists – here, we take a look at the Top 10 Restaurants in Wellington, NZ.
10. Istana Malaysia
Location: 1 Allen Street, Wellington, NZ
This long-running Malaysian restaurant has been a staple of the Wellington dining scene for over two decades, and shows no signs of either slowing down or cutting back on its overall quality. A relatively underrated variety of food in general, Malaysian takes a skilled hand to make it stand out, and the expertise on display at Istana Malaysia is a prime example of this – this is genuine, fresh and wholesome Malaysian cuisine at its best.
While for many the unique spices that Malaysian cooking uses may seem foreign at first, the tongue quickly adjusts and Istana offers a solid selection of food types for all dietary requirements; if you haven’t had Malaysian food before, there will surely be something to suit your palate here. Dishes that are staples of Malaysia such as Lamb Varuval and Udang Sambal can be flexibly adjusted to the appropriate spice level, and their roti’s (similar to Indian-style bread) are hand-made on site and serve as a tasty compliment to the mains.
This is genuine, fresh and wholesome Malaysian cuisine at its best.
Istana Malaysia is located in a convenient central location in Wellington city, and upon entering the warm and welcoming atmosphere is immediately apparent – “service with a smile” is an increasing rarity in the Wellington dining scene, but that’s definitely not the case here. The restaurant is tastefully decorated with themed items without being overly gaudy or stereotypical, and boasts an open kitchen that allows diners to see the chefs in action, which makes for a lively spectacle.
The restaurant also offers a surprisingly extensive wine and beer list, while visitors also have the option to BYO if you’re looking to keep the costs down further. Given that Istana Malaysia is already very reasonably-priced – especially in comparison with many other top-rated Wellington restaurants – it’s possible to enjoy a filling (and fulfilling) meal here that won’t strain your wallet. Add to this the substantial portion size, and you’ve got one of Wellington’s best-value eats that’s easily accessible and wrapped up in a family-style atmosphere.
Location: 612 Marine Drive, Wellington, NZ
Cuisine: A La Carte
While the food is likely to be the major focus of any day or evening of dining, there are plenty of other factors that go into making a restaurant an enjoyable venue – service, presentation, ambience, and location all play a role, and in terms of Wellington restaurants it’s harder to find a place that offers the latter any better than Cobar. Perched in a location at Days Bay on the “far side” overlooking Wellington’s picturesque harbour, Cobar boasts perhaps one of the best locations of any premium restaurant in the city.
It’s a classy eatery that takes advantage of its geographical position to maximise the viewing potential for its customers, and magnificent views can be had from both within the restaurant or in the outside section. When weather allows, dining on the outside deck comes highly recommended, and at Cobar the staff go the extra mile in order to make this a comfortable experience even on hotter days – there are plenty of large umbrellas for shade, and should you find yourself exposed you’ll be provided with hats and sunscreen post-haste. It’s this atmosphere that helps separate Cobar from other competitors and augments the physical act of dining wonderfully.
Perched in a location at Days Bay on the “far side” overlooking Wellington’s picturesque harbour, Cobar boasts perhaps one of the best locations of any premium restaurant in the city.
Of course, a restaurant would not make this list without offering quality food, and Cobar more than delivers in this department as well. While it’s on the upper end of the mid-tier pricing scale, meals at Cobar are reasonably priced given the combined degree of class, presentation, and overall quality with which its dishes are constructed. While the menu changes often (making repeat visits viable), the consistent theme is that they aren’t afraid to experiment here – Cobar’s menu offers a number of interesting flavour combinations, with standouts like the venison starters, duck parfait, twice-cooked pork belly, and various others rounding out a range of choices that might not be too extensive, but are well done across the board.
Special mention must go to the desserts here, which are a refreshing break from the norm and offer some nice variations implementing ingredients such as rhubarb to great effect. Modern, stylish décor and an overall high-end feel that extends through to the bathrooms round out the experience at Cobar, and thus if you’re the type who puts a premium on the other “external” factors for a restaurant then it’s a venue that’s hard to beat – all complete with the best panorama available on the Wellington dining scene.
8. Havana Bar
Location: 32 Wigan Street, Wellington, NZ
If you’re looking for an enjoyable meal in Wellington and after a more relaxed and laid-back lunch or evening out, this relatively hidden Cuban-style restaurant in Wellington’s back streets may be just what the doctor ordered. The first thing that’s likely to strike you with a visit to Havana Bar is the restaurant’s architecture; historic and a tad rustic, it definitely stands out from the more modern highrise-style surroundings and its inviting wooden facade belies what’s awaiting inside.
Replete with Cuban-themed décor appropriate of its Cuba Street-area location, the “restaurant” is actually divided into two main sections – a bar, and the restaurant proper – and thus it’s easy to jump from one to the other with a minimum of fuss. Havana exudes an indie-esque atmosphere as opposed to some of the more pretentious high-end offerings that Wellington is home to; this isn’t fine dining, but rather a bohemian-flavoured evening out specialising in tapas style meals. In addition, while it’s technically a bar, Havana is still highly family-friendly.
The tapas is the star of the show here, and the majority of the restaurant’s menu are tapas meals designed to be shared amongst friends or family.
The tapas is the star of the show here, and the majority of the restaurant’s menu are tapas meals designed to be shared amongst friends or family, as well as some larger, full-blown mains. There’s immense variety in flavours and combinations of tapas, and the likes of prawns, haloumi, beetroot, pork belly and more serve to make what can sometimes be relatively basic food much more adventurous than it initially may seem. Dishes are well-presented, too, which helps further their appeal, and those looking for a thorough cross-section of samplings can opt for the degustation menu that covers a huge range of tastes.
Other positives include live music which helps add to the ambience rather than detract from it, as well as Havana’s wide range of cocktails to choose from making it as pleasant a venue to enjoy a drink as it is a meal. In addition, set menus available at lunch time provide good value for money should you be looking to divert from the neighbouring Cuba Street for a quality bite to eat. It may be slightly out of the way, but Havana is unique and full enough of character to more than warrant the extra effort a diversion requires.
7. Boulcott Street Bistro
Location: 99 Boulcott Street, Wellington, NZ
Another long-running fixture of Wellington dining, the Boulcott Street Bistro is one of Wellington’s most consistent restaurants across the board as far as the balance of food quality and service are concerned. Housed in a charming, Victorian-style timber venue that is full of character and with a small and cosier interior that radiates warmth, this is a classy yet subtle restaurant that is a great choice in Wellington for special occasions. It’s a relatively hidden gem, as well, tucked away from the city’s central downtown area that’s more than worth the game of hide-and-seek finding it requires.
Equipped with subtle, unobtrusive lighting and lovely décor, the restaurant can get loud when busy due to its construction, but never overly so. The Boulcott Street Bistro offers a fairly limited menu, but it’s intentionally been limited to what they do best – all the core meats in particular are delectably done and universally tender, and those looking for a good steak will be in their element here as the fillet is truly outstanding. Seafood is also done well, with exceptionally fresh oysters, expertly-prepared fish-of-the-day, and other marine-grown offerings befitting Wellington’s seaside locale. Courses are well timed and spaced out, and even on busier evenings you’re never made to feel rushed.
The Boulcott Street Bistro is one of Wellington’s most consistent restaurants across the board as far as the balance of food quality and service are concerned.
The Bistro also provides a solidly extensive wine list with a large range of selections that can mostly be had by-the-glass – a nice touch. Dessert here (and crème brulee in particular, with its wonderful texture and flavouring) also warrants a special mention, and is the ideal capper to a pleasant evening of dining. Every aspect of the food here is faultless, from taste, to texture to aroma and everything in between – simply choose a selection from the blackboard menu and you can’t go wrong. While the menu is far from cheap, the “get what you pay for” adage more than applies here, and given for many this will be a one-time visit it’s well worth loosening the purse strings.
One important thing to note about the Boulcott Street Bistro is that tables cannot be pre-booked. As a result, be sure to arrive early – or intentionally late – as its popularity ensures the restaurant is almost eternally busy. The restaurant does contain a comfortable bar on-hand, however, that makes waiting far more tolerable, and the bar itself has an impressive number of quality craft beers available with which to sample while passing the time. Add to all of the above positives the delightful and friendly waitstaff, and this is a Wellington restaurant that’s hard to fault in any aspect.
6. Restaurant 88
Location: 88 Tory Street, Wellington, NZ
Vietnamese is another cuisine that is a relative rarity throughout the world compared with the over-saturation of the likes of Chinese, Italian and French restaurants that are a dime a dozen, and if you’re a newcomer to this kind of cookery then there are few better places to start than at Wellington’s Restaurant 88. Featuring authentic and fresh Vietnamese food that does a great job of incorporating many of the fresh herbs that are vital for producing its unique taste, this is an easy to recommend “go to” restaurant if you’re unable to decide exactly what you feel like or how much you are looking to spend.
While its tucked-away location may not be situated in the “nicest” part of Wellington (there are plenty of bars and night spots nearby), Restaurant 88 immediately stands out from some of its nearby peers with a more upmarket appearance – a sentiment that carries on upon entering. The restaurant offers nice, modern décor with a more contemporary theme and a minimalistic approach that’s a refreshing break from the typical Asian eatery that comes across as tacky or trying too hard.
This is an easy to recommend “go to” restaurant if you’re unable to decide exactly what you feel like or how much you are looking to spend.
This carries over to the price point, too – this is not a “cheap and nasty” takeaway-style Asian restaurant, so be prepared to pay a few extra dollars in return accordingly. And what do you get for that extra monetary investment? Satisfying dishes of good portion size for the price, for one, with a menu that is fairly widespread in terms of choices without being overwhelming. First-time Vietnamese diners will no doubt be able to find a dish to suit their tastes at Restaurant 88 – of particular note are the starters, which are usually something of an afterthought at many restaurants. Here, they are done proper justice however, and menu items such as the sticky back ribs, duck rolls and prawn sticks may even often turn out to be the highlight of your dining.
Mains are likewise solidly portioned, with the stuffed chicken wings being a major standout and a quite original spin on the use of relatively basic ingredients. Vietnamese coffee also provides a refreshing change of pace from the standard Western style, and has a strong and aromatic presence that helps set it apart from the typical everyday flavour. Staff here are likewise excellent, offering service that is attentive without being annoyingly so, and are always happy to explain dishes in detail to the uninitiated upon request. As a final bonus, Restaurant 88 is also often listed in the Entertainment Book so discounts are available to reduce prices even further, making for an extremely good value evening out full of different tastes for the palate.
Location: Museum Hotel, 90 Cable Street, Wellington, NZ
“Fine dining” is a term thrown around somewhat too loosely in restaurant circles, however Wellington’s Hippopotamus restaurant on the top floor of the Museum Hotel is one such establishment that proves worthy of the moniker. Popular as a destination for enjoying high teas, the restaurant also is a high quality and award-winning dining spot for dinner that features a blend of brilliant atmosphere, food and staff all rolled into one that you might expect of a high-end French dining experience. With more of a formal and upmarket atmosphere that’s suited for special occasions, Hippopotamus is quite “posh”, but in a good way; if you like to dress up and make an event out of dining every once in a while, this venue will not disappoint.
The surroundings both within and outside the restaurant – its altitude and aspect provide wonderful harbour views – are truly opulent, and it’s obvious that no expense has been spared with the furniture, cutlery and overall décor all emitting prestige. Make no mistake: you are paying a premium price for the privilege as this may be Wellington’s most expensive overall restaurant, but in return you get a premium feel in both food and service that is appropriate for the price point. This carries over to the extensive wine menu, the knowledge and professionalism of the sommelier, the interesting and quirky theming, and the attentiveness of the staff on hand.
The surroundings both within and outside the restaurant – its altitude and aspect provide wonderful harbour views – are truly opulent.
Food-wise, all the major hallmarks of top-end French food are here, and they are all, without exception, brilliantly presented. Venison, leeks, butter milks – and, of course, cheese – as well as other staple and delicately flavourful French ingredients combine for a smooth and enjoyable array of dishes that display excellent craftsmanship. Hippopotamus’ degustation menu is also easy to recommend for the indecisive visitor, and comes with matched wine and wonderfully presented courses that cover a nice cross-section of French foods that come in confit, sauteed and miscellaneous other fashions. If you’ve got time (and money) to spare, then this option comes highly recommended and takes some of the difficulty out of determining your own pairings.
Service, too, is likewise exceptional as water and wine are regularly topped up without having to ask, and courses are delivered at ideally spaced out intervals. The restaurant also boasts a fancy cocktail bar that makes for a great pre-or-post dinner drinking venue as well, and serve some rare beverages that are not often encountered. Overall, in terms of raw quality of food Hippopotamus ranks up there at the very top of the scale with the best in Wellington; however, the price point means that for most this will be a restaurant that is only visited infrequently, at best. If you’re only going to be visiting Wellington the one time, however and are looking to splash out, you’ll be hard-pressed to find fault with what Hippopotamus offers.
Location: 70 Courtenay Place, Wellington, NZ
Cuisine: Modern Asian
Residing in central Wellington and hidden behind a rather inconspicuous facade lies, what we believe to be, Wellington’s best Asian restaurant. Dragonfly provides a venue that produces very defined and distinctive tastes that you will seldom encounter elsewhere – the names of the dishes might seem familiar, but the spins that are given on each of them are original and inventive. While it’s also one of the higher-end restaurants in terms of price, the uniqueness of both the restaurant’s food and its original Asian / Pacific theming make the monetary investment worthwhile in return for a very memorable dining experience.
Upon entering the restaurant, a mixture of pleasantly Eastern fragrances can be found permeating the air, and the appropriately mellow and subdued lighting makes for a soft and relaxed atmosphere for the dining to come. Diners have the choice of either eating in the main restaurant area at the restaurant’s front, or sitting around its quirky and characterful bar outdoors which lends its own form of charm to the proceedings. The phrase “sharing is caring” applies at Dragonfly, with a majority of dishes designed to be split amongst several diners in order to cover a wide spectrum of tastes; as a result, it’s a great spot for larger groups whether it be for business purposes or simply a larger scale friend or family affair.
If you’re looking for a non-traditional dining experience in Wellington, then Dragonfly’s combination of quality and accessibility make for an easy choice.
The enjoyment of the food here all starts with its core ingredients – the meats, for example, are obviously of an exceptionally high quality and have a tendency to fall right off the bone where applicable – that are then applied to a number of flavoursome and fragrant dishes. Even seemingly simple menu items such as dumplings and lemongrass chicken manage to be simultaneously both filling and light, and the restaurant’s propensity for the liberal use of chives adds some unexpected variation that will leave your tastebuds surprised. The salmon is also exceptional, being done two ways and leading to a powerful yet not overwhelming taste.
There are clearly hints of a variety of influences of multiple Asian nations’ cuisines intermingled here; elements of Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Indian make the menu diverse and varied, and many individual dishes cross the boundaries between one or more of these at once. Rounding out Dragonfly’s offerings are a robust wine list and some unique spins on dessert (the sampler tasting plate that combines multiple small portions is recommended) for an evening of dining in Wellington that just comes out in feeling both premium and… different?… to anything else the city has to offer. If you’re looking for a non-traditional dining experience then Dragonfly’s combination of quality and accessibility make for an easy choice.
3. Muse on Allen
Location: 18 Allen Street, Wellington, NZ
Cuisine: Modern/European Fusion
Another top-tier locale that has morphed into a true up-and-comer on the Wellington dining scene, Muse on Allen is a fairly recently established restaurant that takes flavours and combinations and simply runs with them to the point where a wonderful blend of originality and quality are the end result. Having not long ago been redesigned, the relaxed atmosphere at Muse on Allen belies the standard of both the food and service to come – this is another fine dining establishment that manages to incorporate European influences into contemporary dishes to add an unexpectedly enjoyable “twist” to every serving. Bold colours and interesting designs used in presenting the dishes make each one a veritable work of visual art, but Muse on Allen is just as much substance as it is style.
While they’re definitely served on a “quality over quantity” basis here – you may want to order accompanying sides if you’re a big eater – the immaculate presentation is a standout, and the meals themselves are flavourful while still remaining somewhat subtle. Creative in both concept and execution, there’s plenty of worthy menu items to choose from; pork tenderloin medallions wrapped in bacon with meats both inside and out of an exceptionally high quality, salmon given tiny touches of golden beetroot, snapper done with chorizo and crab ravioli… it’s the small additions to each dish that help to differentiate them from many items at other similar establishments, and is what makes the flavours memorable and makes one want to return to sample more in future. In all, a great use of local NZ produce done with a difference.
Bold colours and interesting designs used in presenting the dishes make each one a veritable work of visual art, but Muse on Allen is just as much substance as it is style.
Of course, for those who simply can’t choose, the degustation menu at Muse on Allen is an easy fallback choice, featuring 5 dishes each of which are delivered at the appropriate time intervals and are universally velvety-textured in nature. A special mention must go to the deconstructed interpretation of a lemon meringue pie which both looks and tastes delectable. In all, the restaurant offers a menu selection that is wide enough to intrigue without ever feeling daunting, and the exemplary staff on hand are always happy to provide further guidance should one have trouble deciding. Service here also definitely goes an extra mile and showcases a degree of professionalism that is rare elsewhere in the city; the majority of the waitstaff seem to be French, and while everything is done classily there is no unnecessary haughtiness to go with it.
Decor at Muse on Allen is contemporary without being pretentious, lighting is subtle without being overly subdued, and while it’s tucked away in a little corner of Allen Street it’s still easy enough to find. Having only been in operation for a couple of years, the restaurant has fast earned itself a growing reputation as one of Wellington’s best – it’s impressive that everything feel so polished and give the impression that it’s been running for a long time. If the standards can be maintained over the coming years, do Michelin stars await? Only time will tell, but keep your eye on this excellent venue and don’t hesitate to indulge if you’re in the city.
2. Ortega Fish Shack
Location: 16 Majoribanks Street, Wellington, NZ
There’s a saying that when you’re looking to choose a restaurant in a new city, pick one that’s full of locals – and thus there’s a reason that the Ortega Fish Shack is eternally one of Wellington’s busiest restaurants. As a city that prides itself on the quality of its seafood, Ortega serves as a worthy card-carrier for displaying this to Wellington diners firsthand without being too much of a strain on the wallet to boot. The restaurant is a more casual offering than some of the other entries on this list, so if you’re the type who feels intimidated by (or rolls your eyes at) more over-the-top presentation, then Ortega is a more than viable alternative. The venue’s nautical / maritime theme throughout is distinctive and different without being tacky, and there’s a friendly buzz here that can be noisy but is never overly boisterous in the old-style house in which it is contained.
Classic, quality cuisine is the name of the game here that makes the most of the adjacent ocean’s bounty, and while the menu is largely dominated by seafood given the restaurant’s motif there are also other options – such as excellent fillet steak, cannelloni and other non-marine offerings – which round out the available dishes. Seafood is without a doubt the highlight at Ortega, however, and tantalising options such as crayfish-and-prawn ravioli, snapper done in a smoky tomato sauce, and astonishingly fresh bluff oysters are all reflective of the combined talents of the restaurant’s chef and the quality of the ingredients with which he gets to work. Each dish is cooked to perfection – multiple visits reveal this to be a consistent theme – and seasoned with beautiful sauce with bread served to soak up any of the delicious remains. Dessert (particularly the mousse) is likewise consistent with the rest of the standards of dishes and a great capper for the dining experience.
Quirky, friendly, and with an atmosphere all of its own, Ortega Fish Shack is a must-dine for seafood lovers in Wellington.
If you’re looking for a lighter meal rather than a full-blown multi-course affair, Ortega likewise delivers; it boasts one of the best cheese boards in Wellington, and diners are given a platter that is weighed beforehand and then given the chance to eat their fill, paying for only how much is consumed. It’s an extremely original and nice touch that allows for an appropriate level of snacking without having to either over or under commit. The restaurant also offers a wonderfully diverse selection of domestic NZ and craft beers that can be enjoyed either with a meal or at its bar, and also boasts an extensive wine list that is priced appropriately rather than excessively. Staff are well-versed in the ins and outs of the wine menu, with everything explained in a friendly, non-condescending manner.
Ortega Fish Shack is relatively small in size yet remains incredibly inviting, emitting a familial atmosphere which is reinforced by the down-to-earth and warm attitudes of its staff – particularly the manager, who is more than willing to have a chat with guests and give advice on both food and sightseeing to those who are new to the area. It’s cosy, intimate and overall friendly, and it’s hard not to come away from an evening here smiling. Perhaps the only downside is that the restaurant’s popularity makes bookings nearly essential, so be sure to take this into account if you’re planning to dine here beforehand. Quirky, friendly, and with an atmosphere all of its own, Ortega Fish Shack is a must-dine for seafood lovers in Wellington.
1. Logan Brown
Location: 192 Cuba Street, Wellington, NZ
Cuisine: Modern Contemporary
Who said that fine dining had to be conducted with a nose in the air? Logan Brown bucks the trend by simultaneously having meticulous standards when it comes to food quality without alienating its patrons with excess snobbery or pomp. Housed in a building that was formerly an old bank and bringing along with it the high ceilings and exceptional craftsmanship that go hand in hand with the period of its construction, the entire experience from start to finish at Logan Brown feels enveloped in luxury from the food that is both delicious and filling to the service that is impeccable and sincere without feeling artificial or forced at all. Throw in the ornate surroundings and you’ve got a venue that simply oozes “special” all-round.
While Logan Brown offers many of the expected traditional fine dining menu items, it’s the difference in ingredients and their usage which help separate its dishes from those of its peers. The incorporation of elements like wild venison and hare break up the monotony wonderfully while bringing a dash of the unexpected to the proceedings, while the Paua (the Maori name for a species of sea snails) ravioli is a signature dish that simply cannot be matched anywhere else. Overall, the restaurant’s menu features an ideal balance of local seafood, poultry and meat done in distinctive enough ways to satisfy all comers with dishes that are executed with both great taste and technique. The lamb, in particular, makes one wonder how the kitchen maestros are able to cook it so excellently.
Simply put, this is a restaurant that rewards the opening of the wallet with an experience that is hard to fault, as every box one could want for in a dining locale is thoroughly ticked.
While traditional 3 course meals are popular here, tasting menus are also offered at a very reasonable price that provide a wonderful sampling of the variety that exemplifies the restaurant. These “taster” courses are sample-sized portions that nonetheless add up sufficiently to leave you feeling full but not excessively so, and each individual course is a veritable adventure for the palate strikingly plated and amazingly cooked. Special mention must be given to Logan Brown’s wine list, which is truly staggering to the point that even the fussiest connoisseur will be sure to have their palate sated by the offerings here; it’s also well laid out and divided up logically so as not to be overwhelming.
Decor at the restaurant registers on the “tasteful and quaint” end of the scale rather than being unnecessarily chic or contemporary, which feels appropriate given its historic surrounds. Service, meanwhile is simply second-to-none; everything is timed perfectly, there’s a genuine sense of warmth from the staff, and their knowledge on every individual menu item is encyclopaedic. Nothing is rushed, and guests are left along to enjoy one another’s company rather than having any unneeded fussing over for the sake of appearances. Simply put, this is a restaurant that rewards the opening of the wallet with an experience that is hard to fault, as every box one could want for in a dining locale is thoroughly ticked: in terms of ambience, service, views, food quality, value for money and uniqueness of offerings, Logan Brown is a worthy contender for the title of Wellington’s best restaurant.
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