Dine your way around Manawatū

When it comes to New Zealand’s foodie destinations, Wellington is almost always top of mind. But just above Wellington, you’ll find Palmerston North situated in the heartland where many of our most prized ingredients originate.

A chef making pizza.

The fertile landscape supports huge diversity when it comes to farming and food production. Local producers take advantage of this bounty everyday, which means that supporting locals is just the way things are done at many of Palmerston North’s restaurants and cafes. You’ll find locally grown proteins, vegetables and fruits on many of their menus, alongside artisanal cheeses, breads, preserves and more. The eight venues use what’s around them to present dining experiences that showcase the best of New Zealand through cuisine that is both familiar and foreign.

Close up of pepperoni pizza Brew Union.

Brew Union Brewing Co

41 Broadway Avenue, Palmerston North

Two beer nerds who’d been friends for a long time, created this homegrown brew pub and eatery and it shows. They’ve got a small scale brewery operation out the front, 20+ taps in the middle and heaps of seating both inside and out in what used to be The Manawatu Meatworks.

On tap you’ll find Brew Union’s own pours (Swamp Juice Hazy IPA is a must try) amongst other local numbers from Garage Project, Boneface and the like. Beer isn’t alone here however - Brew Union is also all about taking pub fare to new heights. The focus is woodfired pizzas made with local Cartwheel Creamery cheeses because as the proprietors put it, “We knew we couldn’t have good beer without good cheese.”

Egg breakfast at Local.

Local

240 Broadway Avenue, Palmerston North

Located on Broadway Avenue, Café LOCAL is a humming hotspot that is just that…local. Open six days a week, you can find the fine people of Palmerston North here enjoying breakfast, lunch and/or drinks.

Regardless of what time or season you visit, expect dishes that incorporate a ton of flavour, colour and ingredients sourced close to home. The ‘Banter’ smoothie bowls are an a.m. favourite, while daily salads and ramens make perfect noontime kai. The coffees (made with local Arrosta beans) plus wine and craft beer offerings make easy complements to dishes like the ever popular avocado and feta smash, which comes served with house made potato and rosemary hash, smashed avo and feta, free range fried egg, hollandaise, basil pesto and organic baby rocket. It’s filling and fresh with a bit of crunch and more than a few servings of daily greens.

Sashimi at Yatai.

Sashimi at Yatai Japanese Izakaya Restaurant.

316 Featherston Street, Palmerston North

Yatai’s menu has almost 80 dishes including sushi, sashimi, curries, okonomiyaki and other traditional Japanese dishes. It’s the story behind the menu’s huge range that brings its value home, however. When Barbara and Atsushi Taniyama opened Yatai it was just a food caravan. Neither of them had any hospitality experience. Over time head chef, Atsushi, taught himself each and every dish, perfecting each recipe as he went. Even today, Barbara, says he sticks to every step exactly as it’s written. This consistency, she says, is what has set the restaurant apart from others over their 20+ years.

Straight off the bat, Yatai’s sashimi is a literal cut above as every fish used arrives whole and is filleted by Atsushi and his chefs. Other, more unusual dishes, like the miso eggplant, are a chance to expand your palate when it comes to the many flavours, ingredients and textures used in Japanese cuisine. At Yatai you can even dine on traditional tatami mats in the private dining room, which is available upon request.

A taco.

Libre

9 George Street, Palmerston North

Libre is a restaurant and bar that feels like a real Mexican Cantina even though it almost couldn’t be further away from that country. If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Mexico or even Los Angeles, you’ll know that tacos found in New Zealand can sometimes fall a bit…flat. Not at Libre. The taco list here covers all the classics from pork carnitas and carne asada (steak) to lamb barbacoa and de pastor (pork shoulder).

On top of all the authentic options, the taco list also incorporates some of NZ’s favourites with fried chicken, ceviche and beef cheek numbers. Add local Cartwheel Creamery queso de fresco, homemade guacamole or any of Libre’s handcrafted salsas for even more flavour. Libre has also got not one but three sangrias, not just stirred but also frozen margaritas and tequila/mezcal lists that are hard to beat.

Dessert on a table at Amayjen Restaurant.

Amayjen Restaurant

7/12 Fergusson Street, Feilding

Amayjen has won excellence in the Beef and Lamb Awards for five years running and Chef Andrew May’s keen understanding of the choice, local meats he uses is evident in every dish. So much so that Amayjen has even won a Cuisine Good Food Awards ‘Top 100 NZ Restaurants’ nod in recent years.  The Angus Pure 200g eye fillet, for example, comes with black garlic mat, baby carrots, truffle agria mash, spinach and shallots and red wine jus.

With gourmet burgers, twice cooked pork belly and other decadent options it can be hard to choose what to get here…so don’t. Trust the chef at Amayjen and rest assured you’ll get to try the very best bits without an ounce of stress. And while Amayjen is known for using substantial flavours, the desserts and small plates counter with delicate and curious flavour combinations. Desserts like the chocolate and cardamom taco, are a treat before you even tuck in, with bold colours and precise plating. 

Beef and chips at Little Savanna.

Little Savanna

45/47 Princess Street, Palmerston North

Have you been to South Africa? Do you have South African mates? If you answered yes to either, you’ve probably heard about their beloved braais or traditional South African BBQs. Flame grilled meats are always the centrepiece and any respectable braai also includes some quality beer and wine. Little Savanna, located on Princess Street, aims to recreate this fun and delicious concept by bringing the braai inside.

Local South African expats agree, the concept has been executed to a tee - many of them come in specifically for Little Savanna’s best selling ribs and espetada. That second item refers to skewered meats which are fired on the flame and served with melted butter, season vegetables and homemade chimichurri. Little Savanna also has one of the largest drink menus in Palmerston North, offering everything from wine tasting paddles to flaming cocktails. 

Lamb shoulder at The Fat Farmer.

The Fat Farmer

360 Albert Street, Hokowhitu, Palmerston North

This neighbourhood bistro ticks all the boxes when it comes to excellent hospitality. The fitout is elegant yet rustic and offers diners several unique dining nooks both inside and out.

The menu is an incredible showcase for local ingredients, and Fat Farmer’s signature dish is one that’s beckoned even the prime minister in for dinner (we just missed her when we were there)  -- 1kg ANZCO lamb shoulder lamb shoulder is slow roasted on the bone and served with honey, roasted pumpkin puree, minted lamb jus and Yorkshire pudding. The kitchen operates with a firm commitment to balance in every dish, and the menu’s variety of small plates make it easy to graze at will. Everything comes out as it’s ready.

Food on a plate at Nero.

Nero

36 Amesbury Street, Palmerston North

New Zealand’s beef and lamb is the global gold standard, but this doesn’t mean any dish made with either of these meats is an automatic knock out. Quite the opposite actually. Nero, however, has it down to a science (literally), and over the last 20 years they’ve made a name for themselves with their considered approach to the stuff.

Head chef, Scott, is a NZ Beef and Lamb ambassador and specializes in dry aged meats. His 42 day whiskey aged beef is a top seller and boasts smokey flavours as a result of the barrel aged whiskey. Served with seasonal sides that make the filet absolutely sing, this is an experience in and of itself. Whatever you choose here though, you can be sure that you’re getting the freshest, most local cuts prepared with respect and as little waste as possible. Nero’s modern approach to meat is one foodies and conscious eaters alike can get behind.