Friday, May 13, 2016

Culinary Christchurch (or "Christchurch for foodies")

During my short time in Christchurch, New Zealand, I was able to experience a handful of restaurants, mostly around the city’s Cathedral Square area. While I present this as nothing more than my limited experience, I can unequivocally recommend each of these establishments.

There are a number of restaurants that run the gamut from international chains like Wendy’s and KFC to local haunts, dives and fine-dining venues within easy walking distance of Cathedral Square, which was the location of my hotel and the site of “ground zero” for the Feb. 2011 Canterbury earthquake that so heavily damaged this city.

Potstickers at Auntie Dai's
My first experience happened when I was just off the bus (literally) from Christchurch Airport (CHC) at the city’s recently opened bus interchange. There in the terminal was a little shop called Auntie Dai’s Dumplings.

One of a number of such outlets in the city, it offers a dozen freshly made potstickers with a variety of fillings ranging from vegetarian to traditional pork, chicken and others for between NZ$10 to $13. Either boiled or pan fried, they were prepared to order and delivered to one’s table piping hot. Bottles of hot chili oil and soy sauce were waiting on each table. Very fresh, very tasty, very reasonable.

After checking in to my hotel, I wandered around the area and happened into New Regent Street, a pedestrian-only enclave of shops and stores, bars and restaurants. At one end, I popped in to the Last Word Whisky and Cocktail Lounge where I enjoyed a Laphroaig cask strength scotch before heading across the street to the restaurant 27 Steps.

Eggs bene at Fiddlesticks
Named for the 27 steps leading to its second-floor location, some sources call it one of the best spots in Christchurch. I can’t vouch for that, but the mushroom risotto I had with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc made me vow to come back for a more extensive meal another time.

Lunch another day was a spicy bratwurst and a beer at Re:START Mall, a temporary shopping district located near Cashel and Colombo Streets. Temporary stores are situated in modified marine cargo container and provide a downtown shopping district to keep the area afloat until more permanent structures can be rebuilt.

A self-proclaimed breakfast snob, I had to try another well-regarded establishment called Fiddlesticks Restaurant & Bar for my Sunday breakfast. Although it was Mother’s Day, I arrived early enough to be seated immediately. Beginning with a glass of champagne hoisted in my late mother’s honor, I then moved on to the eggs Benedict. Not strictly traditional, as they were served on ciabatta bread instead of an English muffin, but freshly prepared and flavorful, although the Hollandaise sauce could have used more lemon for my taste.

Dinner was light. I stopped at an establishment called Three Cows on Victoria Street for a glass of wine and a pate’ appetizer. Excellent flavor with just the right touch of gaminess to the liver, it was accompanied by a quenelle of tomato marmalade and a Mud Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

Black Betty's Shakshouka
Another morning, another breakfast place. This time, I sought out Black Betty, a coffee shop and restaurant near the Catholic Cathedral College. While the pour-over coffee was bit weak for my taste, my main dish of Shakshouka – a dish of eggs baked with spicy tomato sauce and chorizo sausage – was outstanding. Topped with shredded fresh spinach, both the tomato sauce and the chorizo had a distinct kick. In addition, the dish was accompanied by toast and what was clearly house-made strawberry jam. It definitely got my morning off to an excellent start.

For dinner that night, I indulged in a bit of kitsch: Dinner on the Christchurch Dinner Tram. Not unlike the Napa Valley Wine train, but with less focus on the wine, dinner on the tram has been rated as one of the best dining experiences in Christchurch. Again, I can’t vouch for that but I can confirm it was delicious. In fairness, I should point out that the food is prepped in the kitchen of Maddison’s Restaurant in the Heritage Hotel, just across Cathedral Square from Cathedral Junction, the tram’s point of departure, and finished on the train.

Wine service on the dinner tram
Dinner started with a glass of Peter Yealando sparking blush wine and an amuse bouche of broccoli and egg. That was followed up by a snapper tartare with popcorn for a bit of crunch and salt, braised wild venison that reminded me of pot roast, and a cheese plate of New Zealand cheese accompanied by ruby port.

Service is very gracious and a fair selection of wines and port are available. The only caveat is that it is simply dinner in a rolling tram car. There is no narrative offered so that guests can have uninterrupted conversations among themselves or with other diners.

Croque monsieur and coffee at Vic's
For breakfast my last morning in Christchurch, I sought out another well-rated establishment, Vic’s Café on Victoria Street. Starting with a “long black,” a double-shot of espresso with just a splash of hot water, I soon received my toastie version of a croque monsieur. Not a “proper” croquet monsieur in the sense that it wasn’t topped with grated, melted cheese but it was satisfying just the same. The sandwich had two types of cheese in addition to the ham, lettuce and mustard that are the hallmarks of this dish.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of Christchurch’s culinary offerings, it represents a starting point as well as encouragement that, despite the challenging conditions that persist since the 2011 earthquake, locals are not going to let the foodie scene be numbered among the quake’s casualties.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos by Carl Dombek
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