I was pretty sure I liked Queenstown when we arrived, wandering through the streets and alleyways that first night looking for a place to settle in, the smell of smoke from outdoor furnaces wafting past my nostrils. But tonight I fell in love with the place. Where else can you sit in front of an open fireplace in the summertime with a not-so-subtle pinot noir, listening to the likes of Bob Dylan, Dire Straits, Freddy Mercury, David Bowie and Van Morrison playing an endless soundtrack to your beautiful evening? Every now and again someone from the bar staff comes to tend the flames as they lick perfect logs, a constantly changing piece of theatre before you, the heat bold in your face. I could have thrown myself into that fire and died happy.
Everyone is merry and drunk; if not from alcohol, from the sheer pleasure of being here. The town is small but dense, with shops, businesses, bars and restaurants stacked in tight. Everywhere you look there is something for sale, from clothing to food to adventure sports. Understated hedonism is the name of the game and Queenstown beckons you to pick your poison. If a traveller cares little for bungy jumping, sky-diving or white water rafting, he can at least know that he will be well fed. The town boasts over 150 eateries as well as world-class wine and beer producers. Here are some of my favourite picks from the area:
Patagonia Ice Cream
Patagonia’s fresh homemade ice creams are incredible, with 20 flavours to choose from. We indulged in waffle cones, piled high with two scoops each. Usually I order ice cream in a cup, but the cones just looked too good and I was rewarded with delicious chocolate in the tip (love that!). Patagonia also makes over 50 flavours of traditional Argentinean dark, white and milk chocolate, many mixed with fruits, nuts, chilli and/or flowers.
No foodie town is complete without a gourmet supermarket. This one is located just five minutes from the town centre and it offers up only the freshest produce along with deli, bakery and grocery items. From fine wine to gourmet cheese to flowers and giftware, this store has everything. I always know a true epicurean deli from the look of the salamis hanging from its ceiling and I wasn’t disappointed here. If you’re planning to splurge on a gourmet picnic, this is your place. They even stock a range of fine wines.
Central Otago Farmers’ Market
This is a small market, but each stand offered top quality gourmet goodness. We tried the delicious Argentinean empanadas, handmade sausages, Stewart Island smoked salmon and some gorgeous smoked bacon fresh from a farm on the east coast. The locals were all very friendly and happy to talk about their products and we were surprised at the number of foreign offerings. Live music added to the ambience of what I thought was the best little farmers market ever. From December through March the market is held every Saturday at St. Peter’s Anglican Church Green (corner Church and Camp Streets) from 9am-12.30pm.
Winnies Gourmet Pizza Bar
We tried pizza from the outpost of the very popular Cow Restaurant when we were in nearby Wanaka, but we were won over by Winnies in Queenstown. The night before we dined there we had gone in to have some drinks and noticed that the entire place smelled incredible. This alone lured us back and we indulged in a large pizza with half ‘Luigis Italian’ and half ‘Chicken Cranberry & Brie.’ This was incredible pizza, made all the more sweet by the drink specials. If you like to eat late as we do, you can enjoy four dollar house beers between nine and ten o’clock. The staff are friendly and the menu also includes items like steak, burgers and salads.
One place we missed out on was the very famous Fergburger (I know, I know) for the simple reason that every time we walked past there it was packed with people spilling out into the street holding tickets and waiting around for their food. We couldn’t see that there would be anywhere to sit with those kind of crowds. So we gave it a miss.
We were also keen to try a fine dining restaurant in Queenstown. Our top choice wasn’t re-opening until March, so we chose The Bunker instead. While the food was nice, the service was so terrible that I can’t recommend it to you, particularly for a place that calls themselves a “fine dining” establishment. We’re no strangers to eating out; in fact we often spend money on restaurants over other things. Normally one just chalks it up to luck of the draw and forgets about it. But when you’re travelling for a year on a budget and choose to spend activity money on a nice meal, it stings even more to get rolled. After the absolutely exquisite meal we had at Sidart in Auckland, we were keen to try another one of New Zealand’s pricey restaurants. I think this one will be our last this trip.
What’s your favourite place to eat in Queenstown?