New Zealand Food Exploration: South Island Recommendations

We spent around 12 days on the South Island of New Zealand, and very beautiful ones they were too.

Our limited budget forced us to view things a little differently, and during this early period of our holiday, we were still railing against it quite frequently. It was a sharp change from our usual vacation spending excesses, and I must confess to twinges of sadness when we had to bypass a vast array of gourmet restaurants in favour of cooking in our motel room or a pizza.

It was quite a salutary lesson though as to how frivolously we spend money on food when at home. Having to write down every day where the money was going really hammered home how stopping for a coffee and a hot chocolate consumed one eighth of our budget for the day, and drinks with dinner torpedoed it.

We got used to drinking the free water every restaurant provides, and to make the most of the limited cooking facilities our motels offered. I know it sounds like a big fuss over nothing – it’s not like we were starving or eating beans on toast 3 times a day, but as the title of the blog hopefully conveys, for me, food is about going beyond sustenance into the realm of pleasure.

So bearing all this in mind, I wanted to document some of the places where we really enjoyed eating. None of them were too pricey, and although many (to my chagrin – what a waste of research!) were listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook we acquired before departing, some will hopefully augment your own lists.

Option 1
Poppies Café, Twizel

We stopped off here for lunch while driving up to Lake Tekapo. H had an excellent steak sandwich (pictured below) and I had a well-priced ham and cheese panini.

A day or two later we were back in Twizel again, and decided to return for dinner, having enjoyed our previous experience and not being tempted by any of the other places.

This time I had a crispy pork and pear pizza (it was a bit odd, but tasty none-the-less), and H has some fish and chips.

steak sandwich

Option 2
Riverstone Kitchen
, Oamaru

I was very keen to go here, and when we turned up before 2 and they told us it would be an hour’s wait (Sunday lunchtime no reservation – doh!), I took an executive decision that we would.

Luckily they had some vegetable gardens you can tour round, and there are some shops to poke about in. We were rewarded for our wait with more fish and chips for H, and some tender rillettes with ciabatta for me.

Beautifully presented, expertly cooked, all round great. We snagged a slice of sour cream chocolate cake on our way out to eat later. That too was excellent, very moist and light.

Option 3
Loan and Merc, Oamaru

Still a bit full from the lunch at Riverstone, I pushed to go here as it was a venture of Fleur (from Fleur’s Place – see below). The majority of diners were enjoying a mighty carvery, but we shared a single ploughman’s platter which proved ample, and was laden with things like breads, cheese, beef in various forms, pie, smoked salmon, what tasted like blood pudding, relishes, tomato, a hard-boiled egg, cucumber and olives.

Option 4
Oamaru Creek Bed and Breakfast, Oamaru

Utterly useless for me to recommend this if you aren’t staying there, but do stay there as it’s great, and then you might get to enjoy the same awesome breakfast we did. In addition to granola, yoghurt and nectarines, we were served french toast with bacon and caramelised bananas. I can’t say I like bacon and bananas together (which seems to be a big New Zealand thing), but bacon and french toast or bananas and french toast were delicious, so I alternated mouthfuls.

Option 5
Fleur’s Place
caravan, Moeraki

Fleur’s Place pops up all over the internet when peeps are recommending restaurants. Unfortunately it was closed the day we were in the area, but the little caravan out front was open, and as it had only been an hour or two since breakfast we shared a single
raw fish salad (pictured below).

It proved to be a huge cupful, very nice but just too much, especially without any carbs or veggies to dilute it a bit. Next time I’d be inclined to drag along a baguette and some greens, and make myself a truly wonderful sandwich.

raw fish salad

Option 6
Patagonia Chocolates
, Queenstown

We were like little Dickensian street kids in this shop, metaphorically pressing our grubby little hands and faces against the glass displays of chocolates, cake and ice cream. Our treacherous budget did allow me to enjoy a superb hot chocolate though.

Option 7
Penguino Gelato Café, Nelson

I’ve written quite a bit about this in the post on gelato, so suggest taking a quick look at that if you’re interested.

Option 8
Falafel Gourmet, Nelson (195 Hardy Street)

This was a real and delicious change from recent lunches. Pittas crammed with oodles of fresh salad and lots of other interesting things. For me, this meant falafel and hummus, for H, chicken and some sauces (pictured below, as you can see I started mine before H had time to take a picture…again).

pitta sandwiches

Option 9
Mango
, Nelson

A mini-chain, this offered a good selection of Malaysian and Indian food for reasonable prices. We shared a lamb curry, dahl, rice and roti canai, and it all disappeared in rapid time, though we wondered if the roti was pre-packaged rather than made fresh (it was still good!).

Option 10
Boat Shed Café, Nelson

If we’d had it, we could have spent some real money here. My mussels (see other post) and H’s grilled prawn salad (pictured below) were both excellent, but H particularly suffered from hunger pangs afterwards, and a side of bread or chips would not have gone amiss.

Back in the UK we would have ordered that, and probably puddings too, so it’s no reflection on their portions but on the difficulties of trying to eat a bit more upmarket on a budget.

prawn salad

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