I recently visited Dunedin, New Zealand for my Christmas holidays 2018. Kris grew up in Port Chalmers (a small town just outside of Dunedin city) and went to the University of Otago, so it was a good opportunity to explore where he grew up.
As a city, Dunedin has it all. The centre is a thriving, bustling metropolis full of heritage buildings of architectural significance. Its close proximity to the sea means you get access to sandy beaches during summer (or the winter, if you’re a particularly keen surfer). Being a university town, there are plenty of boutique (and budget-friendly) cafes and bars to keep one entertained. During our visit, Kris showed me a couple of his all-time favourite hangouts that are still going strong, as well as some new openings which we discovered along the way.
CAREYS BAY HOTEL
This historic hotel was built in 1874 from locally quarried Port Chalmers bluestone. Today, Careys Bay Hotel is a cozy gastropub set in the very scenic location of Careys Bay, surrounded by cute fishing boats.
The pub has a good selection of beers and wines and we were very impressed by their fresh seafood offering. I would highly recommend their Seafood Platter (queen scallops, green lipped mussels, clams, salt & pepper squid, prawns, fish bites & cod wings with tartare and coconut sauces). Fish and Chips and Seafood Thai Red Curry (a cream style curry, packed with fish and shellfish) were superb too.
We loved the food so much that we decided to come back a second time for their meat selection. We tried the Crispy Pork Belly (with rice and seasonal vegetables) and Lamb Rack (with kumara and rosemary cake, local seasonal vegetables), finished off with an indulgent Tiramisu Cheesecake.
You may need a car to get here; alternatively, buses from Dunedin City to Port Chalmers stop right outside. Here’s a tip: ask for table number 3 for the best view of the magnificent bay.
Nova is a Dunedin institution and is a cafe by day, restaurant by evening. This is where I had my first experience of the famous Kiwi brunch. Alongside hot food, they also do cakes and other baked goods. We tried their deliciously filling Croque Madame (leg ham, gruyere cheese, fried egg, tomato jam, pickles) and Baked Eggs (chorizo and white bean cassoulet, gremolata, feta and sour dough bread) – both excellent. Nova stays open until late, takes bookings and its location at the center of town makes it one of Dunedin’s favourite hangout spots.
This was a new discovery for us. Inspired by Malaysian Street food, Madam Woo has branches in multiple locations of New Zealand as well. We liked the fresh, bright and colourful interiors of the Dunedin branch.
The Hainanese Chicken and Rice (Soy and sesame steamed chicken, cucumber lemongrass and rice) and Char Kway Teow (fried noodles with prawns and Chinese sausage) were decent renditions but I thought the Malaysian Laksa, although big on flavours, was wimped down for my liking. Still, a great modern eatery to try something different from the usual New Zealand and European brunch fare.
Perc is an excellent example of your typical Kiwi brunch cafe, serving delicious brunches, decent coffees and decadent baked goods.
Kris opted for The One (toasted ciabatta, bacon, hash browns, grilled tomato, poached egg, BBQ sauce, creamy hollandaise) , while I gorged on their Halloumi Stack (ciabatta, avocado, rocket, halloumi, chilli jam). Service is friendly and super casual. A brunch here will truly perk you up for the day!
THE CORNER STORE CAFE
Nex to Perc, we discovered another cute little place called The Corner Store Cafe. It is a brightly lit, buzzing place serving some unique brunch dishes. I tried their Smoked Salmon and Chilli Eggs (smoked salmon, chilli scrambled eggs, lemon and thyme cream cheese, beetroot relish, toasted ciabatta) which was really good. Kris tried their Turkish Eggs (Poached free-range eggs, labneh, spiced butter, harissa, organic greens) on toasted flatbread which was super satisfying.
INSOMNIA BY STRICTLY COFFEE
Whilst we didn’t stop here for brunch, this place serves one of the best coffees in town and the interior setting is not bad either. They even have a lovely alfresco space to catch the rays. A true hidden gem.
Our favourite new discovery of the trip: Emersons is a taproom, cellar and restaurant rolled into one. We only stopped (several times) for pints here but the food looks delicious enough to return for and the interiors are impressively modern and industrial.
One of Kris’s favourite restaurants, Plato is located near Dunedin’s harbour front and cashes in on the fresh seafood and fish supply. The interiors are quirky; check out the shelf of knick-knacks which comes from the owner’s personal collection.
I tried their special Surf ‘n’ Turf, but my top recommendation would be their Fish of the Day. On this occasion, it was a fresh fish fillet of Blue Cod coated in a kelp crust, pan-fried and finished with lemon butter and served with steamed rice).
We ended the delicious meal with a dessert of New York-style baked cheesecake, flavoured with lemon zest and served with strawberry compote and whipped cream. This is everyone’s favorite restaurant in Dunedin so bookings are highly recommended. This place is best for special occasion meals with family, friends or for a date.
Two Chefs is a French-styled Bistro, serving classic French cuisine. Their beef and lamb dishes are the ones to go for. I tried the Grilled Beef Fillet (truffled macaroni cheese, green beans, caramelised shallots, wine merchants sauce) which is a complete meal on its own. Kris ordered their Roasted Fare Game Loin of Venison (sautéed kale and mustard, Parmesan beignets, Black garlic aioli). Prices are on the higher-than-average side, so again perhaps best for a special occasion meals. Service was a bit on the slow side, but if you want a relaxing evening of good food and wine, this is the place to be.
Saving the best for the last, Ironic was my favourite cafe and restaurant in the whole of Dunedin. Their brunch dishes were some of the best I have had, and the whole experience was relaxing and straightforward.
Over multiple visits we tucked into the Ironic Brunch Stack (sautéed greens, chorizo and spinach with roasted tomato, poached egg and avocado cremé, served on toasted ciabatta); Pumpkin Smash (Smashed pumpkin & kale, served on house-made rye toast, with poached egg, walnut dukkah, creamy feta, kale pesto and balsamic reduction) and Moroccan Lamb Salad (strips of tender slow roasted lamb and roasted vegetables tossed with salad greens and cumin, chilli and lime yoghurt sauce and finished with kumara crisp). Indeed, this place should be renamed iconic rather than ironic.
So there is my list of top places to eat and drink in Dunedin; some old favourites and some new discoveries. Due to the festive season, a couple of places were closed or the timings did not work out so next time I hope to tick off some of the other well regarded places such as Custom House, No. 7 Balmac, Bacchus, The Fix, Potpourri and Cafe Rue.