What to Eat in the Waitaki

These dishes come from some of the area’s most loved dining establishments and all represent the region in a uniquely different way.

Waiter at Cucina holding a cauliflower dish.

Words by: Olivia Sisson

Photography by: Nancy Zhou

Even in the dead of winter, the Waitaki landscape is full of colour - the sea a sparkly blue, the paddocks a vibrant green and the hillsides awash with different flowers and native grasses. These vistas aren’t just beautiful year round, they’re also incredibly bountiful. Ōamaru and the surrounding regions are full of farms big and small that produce delicious dairy, award winning sheep and beef and stunning produce, too. Luckily this region is also home to a fair few chefs, bakers, butchers, fishmongers, cheese makers and otherwise food obsessed individuals who know how to make the most out of all these vibrant ingredients. 

Whitestone cheese platter.

Whitestone Cheese Co.

3 Torridge Street, Oamaru

The folks at Whitestone Cheese are, simply put, ‘really good cheese people’ and they have been since the business started nearly 35 years ago. Their cheeses are ‘handcrafted to be destroyed’ and while you may have had one or two before you should definitely drop in for one of their famous platters. These provide an opportunity to try a bit of everything at once, in the very place where these artisanal wheels and wedges are made. If you have time, take the hour long tour which walks through the history of cheese and the history of this prized local business. At the end you’ll be treated to a sampling platter which includes Whitestone favourites like the Brie, Creamy Havarti and Aged Airedale. This wee cheese board features the full spectrum, from stinky to sublime, crumbly to creamy - it’s a little ‘homage to fromage’. While this alone is certainly a treat many visitors seem to be just getting started at this stage. If that’s you, simply head through to the cheese cafe and order up any of the larger Whitestone platters.

Birdeye view of people eating food at Cucina.

Cucina

1 Tees Street

Cucina is a showcase for flavours of South America and the Mediterranean. Owner operators, Pablo and Yanina, grew up in Argentina and love sharing the flavours they grew up with. They’re pretty serious about it, too. So much so that at Cucina, one of their three Ōamaru restaurants, there’s a dedicated pasta making room. If you visit at the right time you might catch Pablo and his team of chefs handcrafting these starchy treasures. But they don’t stop there. Every pasta dish at Cucina is bursting with colour and flavour. Pablo changes the menu almost weekly to feature the best of local, seasonal ingredients alongside these pastas. One past favourite, the beetroot gemelli, featured deep purple noodles with chunky spinach and kale pesto, chilli, garlic, charred beetroot, torn mozzarella, fresh herbs, parmesan and hazelnuts. With almost every colour represented on one plate this dish was a treat even before the first taste and the expertly layered flavours did not pale in comparison. It’s rare to find dishes that are as delicious as they are instagrammable but at Cucina flavour and presentation are given equal weight on every plate.

A hand squeezing lemon over a bowl of cooked mussels.

Fleurs Place

169 Haven Street, Moeraki

A visit to Fleurs Place is an experience, not just a meal. The menu focuses on what’s already here for a simple and familiar feel. Kai moana, locally grown produce and foraged ingredients are the menu’s stars but not because that’s what’s trending. As Fleur put it, mahinga kai means the gathering of food from local resources. Creating a restaurant this way, she said, just makes sense. As eel and watercress live near to one another in life, for example, they come together well on a plate, too. If you’ve come hungry the easy choice has to be the fish platter. Five fillets of different types of fish come served atop a bed of steamed organic vegetables and two homemade sauces of your choice. Fleur sources these fish straight from the Moeraki boats which are easy to spot from this wee restaurant nestled just above the headwaters and the wharf. As a result this dish is supremely fresh, prepared in a way that lets the sea’s natural flavours sing. Check the chalkboard on the outside of the building as you walk in to preview what fish is featuring on any given day and then simply relax and enjoy. Fleurs is the food of this place and its people, it’s meant to nourish and delight. Simple as that.

Fish and chips in a cardboard takeaway box.

The FishWife

145 Haven Street, Moeraki

Fush and chups are a cornerstone of Kiwi cuisine but let’s face it not every basket was created equal. After a few (repeat) visits to The Fishwife, however, we can confirm these guys quite possibly whip up the best fish and chips in all of Aotearoa New Zealand. The Fishwife method isn’t some kind of long guarded family fish fry recipe though, just plain old commitment to quality and a love for the sea and the kai it provides. Owner operator, John, is a fourth generation Moeraki fisherman. He gets the blue cod used at The Fishwife straight off the Moeraki boats from his mates and serves it up at The Fishwife with partner Nicky and their team. This blue cod is prepared with care, cleaned and kept only in salty sea brine (home chefs, this tip is for you!) as harsh tap water dries the fish and strips its freshly caught flavour. From there the blue cod is delicately fried up achieving the perfect balance of crunch and sturdiness and is served with a generous scoop of chips and lemon. The end result is melt in your mouth, flaky and crispy all at the same time. True to form this stuff is best enjoyed by the sea and that’s easy here as The Fishwife is located on the Moeraki waterfront.

Birdseye view of salmon and potatoes on a plate.

Riverstone Kitchen

1431 State Highway 1, Rd 5h

Slowwww down as you zoom along Highway 1 and pull off at Riverstone Kitchen. While cooking with local, seasonal and foraged ingredients has become rather ‘cool’ in recent years, Riverstone has been doing just that since 2005. In the bountiful, beautiful Waitaki region this just makes sense and makes for some pretty incredible dishes. While the Riverstone Kitchen menu changes often to reflect what’s growing there are some staple favourites that return, when the time is right, year after year. When we visited the hot smoked salmon was flying out the door. The delicate salmon provided the right level of smokiness - just enough to notice but not so much to dominate the dish - and the locally grown Jersey Benne potatoes were a perfect flavour vehicle while also being delicious on their own. Surrounded by fresh salad greens (grown in Riverstone’s surrounding gardens) this dish could be described as Spring on a plate. Finished off with a light creme fraiche and plenty of fresh herbs, we’re still thinking about this one.

Plate of steak and chips.

The Fort Enfield

625 Weston-Ngapara Road, Enfield

We reckon The Fort Enfield Tavern is the perfect foodie destination to bike to. While you can of course, drive, this spot is just twelve kilometers from Ōamaru. With only a bit of elevation gain it’s a ride the whole family can tackle - so do a bit of mahi and reward yourself with a meal at The Fort Enfield Tavern straight after. The menu features classic pub fare, simple kai done excellently - exactly the type of food you'll want to eat after working up an appetite on your bike. It’s been said that Chef Johnny and the team do the best steak in and around Ōamaru and frankly we agree. This generous cut is cooked to your liking served with your choice of sauce plus crisp chips and a crunchy side salad to round things out. Choose from homemade garlic butter, peppercorn sauce or red wine and mushroom sauce and you’ll be on your way to an unreal lunch or dinner. On the whole, The Fort is a place where all of the best aspects of the classic Kiwi pub seem to shine extra bright and everyone feels welcome.

Badger & Mackerel Pie

Badger & Mackerel

175 Thames Street, Oamaru

Badger & Mackerel Messhall is a Thames Street hub for great food, excellent service and a refreshing mix of big brekkie classics and modern brunch plates. But there's a local favourite here that sticks out more than the rest. The humble pie. These handcrafted beauties are flaky and buttery on the outside and hearty on the inside with fillings like steak and mushroom and bacon, egg and cheese. Whether you’re after one for a quick, quality takeaway or a leisurely lunch, be sure to pay them a visit.