Just back from our first trip to this part of the world and are so grateful for all the great advice we got on this board. We ate so well on this trip and wish we could have stayed longer. Your region has much to be proud of and we can't wait to be back. Sadly, we only had two weeks to cover a lot of ground, so we focused on four areas and had up to three nights in each.
First time poster here, but figured we should as a thank you for all the great advice (especially the tireless PhilD and mr_gimlet, who I saw on thread after thread about Sydney) and an update to reassure people that some of the advice on older threads still holds. And I also threw in a couple general observations, which could be useful to other American visitors and might be interesting to those in the region.
I'll start here, since it's the focus of so many threads.
We chose this as our super-splurge special dinner after considering several of the other top-ranked restaurants talked about on this board. Since it was our first trip, we decided to go for a restaurant that would offer an iconic view along with its excellent food. Also, a restaurant that has world-class food AND a world-class view is something of a novelty to New York diners. We have many restaurants with great views, but in all of them, the food is terrible or at best overpriced. For view restaurants in New York, I always recommend people getting a drink there to check out the view and then going elsewhere to eat. Speaking of the view, several posts said that a cruise ship could spoil it. Good advice - I used this site to make sure the spot was clear:
To get a reservation, try phoning as opposed to e-mail, even though it means you might need to do it at an odd hour in your home time zone. We e-mailed twice offering various days, times and alternate times. They said everything was booked. But when I called, we got a table at the exact day and time we wanted. It was so easy I thought maybe there was a mistake. But the night of the dinner, there we were, in the tower at a table right against the glass. Perfect. And the food, wine and service were all fantastic. We chose the a la carte over the tasting menu so we could try a slightly wider variety of dishes.
Other highlights from Sydney:
Local Taphouse - excellent craft beer served by a knowledgeable staff (we didn't eat there, but the burgers sure looked good)
Mamak - Malaysian, a cuisine scarcely available in NY
Lord Nelson Brewery - thought this would be a tourist trap, but was steered in and enjoyed the beer. Food was good, though it was more precious than we expected. (wasabi mayo with the chips, etc)
Spent most of our time in Arrowtown and Queenstown. Had so many great meals, but several highlights were all in tiny Arrowtown:
- Saffron - world-class, unforgettable food in a warm setting with excellent service. Our best meal in New Zealand
- Provisions - a bakery we went to over and over for baked goods and coffee
- The liquor store in Arrowtown carries several good craft beers, such as Moa and Green Man
Also, Amisfield Winery - we did a tasting menu with wine pairings, an hours long, wonderful experience. Handsome dining room with nice views, too, though to have dinner, you have to eat early.
Highly recommend taking a wine tour from Appellation Central. Knowledgeable guides take people in small groups (ours was 6) and you get a great lunch out of it. Great wine and you get to see the beautiful countryside, while someone else does the driving. They'll tailor it to your tastes, if you have certain wineries you want to visit.
And this isn't news to anyone, but Fergburger in Queenstown is great.
The only disappointment was The Bunker in Queenstown. The food was fine, but not outstanding and the room feels like, well, a cramped bunker. But Saffron was absolutely fantastic and even a bit cheaper.
Logan Brown lived up to its strong reputation - highly recommended.
We enjoyed a number of cafes around Cuba St, but Duke Carvell's was our favorite by far.
Malthouse is in all the guidebooks as a great beer bar, but don't miss Hashigo Zake, which has excellent selection in a comfortable space with a well-informed, friendly staff
We were there to dive the Reef and didn't have high expectations for food in the touristy downtown. But there were some surprises:
- Ochre: many dishes have unusual Australian ingredients like kangaroo and crocodile, but prepared seriously, not as a gimmicky. Interesting wine list, too.
- Rusty's Markets - a collection of small producers selling a huge array of fruits, many of which I'd never seen (custard apple, black sapote). Check the hours beforehand and try to go early in your trip, so you have time to let things ripen.
- Moreton bay bugs were great - available all over town
Some things that struck us about dining in both countries:
- Spirits are extremely expensive; we were told that's due to high taxes. Even boring mass-market stuff is expensive. We drank wine and beer almost exclusively.
- People around the world are familiar with the wine from the area, but there's also excellent craft beer that deserves to be better known. Had many great microbrews that we hope make it to New York someday.
- If you're used to New York dining, you will find portion sizes to be quite large. This was true at both cheap, casual places as well as tasting menus at fine dining restaurants. We often found we over-ordered and didn't have room for dessert.
- Organ meats are rare on menus. On the entire trip, we saw one sweetbread dish (quite good) and one liver dish (didn't try it). Pity - all that delicious lamb - what happens to the rest of it?
- Service is almost uniformly excellent. Not so in New York. Manhattan restaurants often require head shots and hire staff on looks alone. Not all pretty people make good servers, so it's very hit or miss. But the service we got in New Zealand and Australia was outstanding. (And yes, many of the servers were also quite attractive.)
- Through internet searches and dozens of conversations with coffee shop staff in the region, we got many different answers to the question: "What's the difference between a flat white and a latte?" In any case the coffee is excellent in the region.
So thrilled we got to visit - New Zealand and Australia are great food destinations. We'll have to come back to explore more of it someday.