Gourmet Dining in Oamaru

New Zealand has some of the world’s best food, with the meats, produce and seafood exported from here enjoying a reputation for high quality all over the world. It’s only natural, then, that the dishes produced locally with these products would also be of a very high quality, and indeed some of the restaurants in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have developed reputations that are the equal of restaurants in Europe and North America.

You might be surprised, though, to learn that Oamaru has two of New Zealand’s best restaurants, as judged by the country’s leading food magazine, Cuisine, and by international cooking authorities like Rick Stein. Perhaps it’s because of the quality of the produce of the Waitaki district that Oamaru is located in, which is famous across New Zealand for the exceptional quality of its tomatoes, potatoes, and other vegetables, or because the region has long attracted people who want to farm in a less intensive manner than is common elsewhere in the world, resulting in less-stressed animals that naturally taste better. But whatever the reason, there is no doubt that discerning diners are making tracks to Oamaru to sample the cuisine of our finer restaurants.

The first one to make news here was Fleur Sullivan’s “Fleur’s Place“, located in the fishing village of Moeraki 20 minutes south of Oamaru. Fleur Sullivan established this seafood-centric restaurant on the Old Jetty in this charming village a number of years ago, attracting a steady clientele, but it was when Rick Stein wrote a review of the restaurant in a British newspaper (he was given an opportunity to review any restaurant he wanted in the world, and he chose Fleur’s) that Fleur’s Place became a destination for visitors from much farther afield. Indeed, meals at Fleur’s Place are not only delicious, but they are served in a one-of-a-kind location, in a rustic setting overlooking the comings and goings of the fishing boats in Moeraki harbour. Truly an experience not to miss.

Fleur has opened a second restaurant, this time right in Oamaru’s historic precinct, that is completely different from Fleur’s Place. The Loan & Merc, as it is called, is housed in a heritage building on the Oamaru coast, and offers everything from a casual café where you can enjoy a cup of New Zealand’s exceptional coffee together with a freshly baked scone, to a Victorian-style carvery, serving a variety of roast meats along with old fashioned pickles, chutneys and side dishes. The dishes are very redolent of Olde England, but prepared with the care and precision that has made Fleur famous.

North of Oamaru, near the Oamaru airport, is the next standout restaurant of the Oamaru area. Riverstone Kitchen, owned by Bevan and Monique Smith, opened only five years ago but has amassed so many awards that you’d think it was open far longer. Bevan Smith’s cooking is modern but familiar, and makes extensive use of the healthful produce grown in their own garden, along with artisanal products from around the region. Winner of the Cuisine Restaurant of the Year Award in 2010, Riverstone also won best casual restaurant (South Island) in 2011, and has been earning kudos from all over the country.

In Oamaru itself there is yet another fine dining option that has begun to earn accolades from diners. Pen-y-bryn Lodge, a member of the exclusive Lodges of New Zealand, as well as the Slow Food movement and the Paris-based Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, offers guests table d’hôte gourmet meals using lodge-grown vegetables and sustainably-raised meats and fish, in a Category-One historic mansion. The menu changes constantly, reflecting the chef’s international experience and the whims of the diners.

In addition to all these excellent full-service restaurants, Oamaru is also fortunate to be home to Steam, one of the country’s best cafés, where visitors are treated not just to some of the best coffee available in this country that is famous for the high quality of its coffee, but also to beautiful home-baked cakes, pies and light meals.

Finally, there are a number of other excellent restaurants in Oamaru that offer a wide range of dining options. Here is just a small list:

  • Annie Baxter’s Victorian Tea Room (a traditional Victorian tea parlour in the historic precinct)
  • Portside (on the Oamaru Harbour, opposite the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony)
  • Fat Sally’s Pub (on Thames Street, in central Oamaru; home to the Wednesday evening pub quiz)
  • The Star and Garter (one of NZ’s oldest continuously operating restaurants, serving traditional Kiwi fare in a Steampunk-friendly environment)
  • Midori (Japanese cuisine)
  • Bangkok Kitchen (Thai cuisine)
  • Indian Kitchen (Indian cuisine)
  • Dilaan’s (Turkish cuisine)
  • Filadelfio’s (pizza and light meals)
  • North Star (international cuisine)
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