The Best Spicy Eats of Christchurch's Turn Up The Heat Festival

Close up of a burger and chips on table against a white tiled walled with pink grouting.

Ōtautahi Christchurch is finally getting the winter festival it deserves. August is typically that month of the year that feels like the cold weather is lasting longer than we’d like; summer days are a distant memory, and it would be great to break things up with something different. Enter Turn Up The Heat!

Words by: Julia Rutherford

This inaugural event in the central city is all about celebrating the businesses and the people from the worlds of hospitality and performance. During this month of spicy sounds, sights and bites, there’s a programme full of roaming characters, comedy, cabaret, drag and variety shows. 

For all you foodies, there’s also a fiery food competition, with over 50 entries from participating restaurants, bars and cafés around the city centre. They’re putting their best foot forward and amplifying the heat factor for sure! In this battle for spice supremacy who will come out on top? 

From finger-licking good fried chicken to a bounty of burgers, to spicy-sweet treats and a cocktail trail that is hot, hot, hot! These are the eats and drinks that have a pretty good chance of taking out the crown, so make sure you try them for yourself and get amongst rating all them at, you could be in to win a city staycation!

Hot & Spicy Wings - Empire Chicken

100-96 Oxford Terrace, Christchurch Central City

If you’re in the central city and feeling like fried chicken, there is no better place to go than Empire Chicken in Riverside Market.

For the fiery food competition, they have taken things to the next level with their Hot & Spicy Wings entry. Promising to be a treat for your tastebuds and inject a dose of heat and spice with every crispy, crunchy, succulent bite. If you’re with a mate or group of friends, make sure to order multiple, as you won’t want to share and it’s only a dish to be experienced during the festival!

Spice Up Cake - Sweet Soul Patisserie

Cafes icon

126 Cashel Street Guthery Centre, Christchurch Central City

Tucked away in the Guthrey Centre, you will find one of the city’s best patisseries and Sweet Soul is bringing their A-game this August.

Their ‘Spice Up’ creation features a complex range of fiery flavours, all balanced perfectly to produce a sweet sensation. There are layers of chocolate mousse infused with chilli, hot cinnamon ganache, red pepper compote, hazelnut crunch and chocolate brownie cake. It’s just the treat you need and deserve on a cold winter’s day.

Limited Edition ‘Hot In The City’ Coconut & Chilli Porter - Three Boys Brewery

Bars icon

Various locations

Favourites on the local brew scene, Three Boys Brewery jumped at the challenge to turn up the heat and craft a special spicy porter just for the festival. Pouring at five city centre locations in August, this 5.2% porter heroes coconut and chilli, with the balance of these two flavour profiles working in perfect harmony. Only a limited amount has been made, so it’s highly advisable not to delay and visit one of these spots with ‘Hot In The City’ on tap immediately!

Available at Canterbury Brewers Collective -Riverside Market / Pomeroy’s / The Craft Embassy / Dux Central / Twenty Seven Steps.

Piquant Kimchi and Gruyère Croquettes - Downstairs

16 New Regent Street, Christchurch Central City

Christchurch’s newest wine bar on New Regent Street (and sister venue to Twenty Seven Steps) has arrived on the scene just in time for the festival and the fiery food competition.

Already a popular spot for the after-work crowd and vino lovers, the Downstairs food menu is a selection of tasty plates designed to pair well with their wine selection. Their competition entry of Piquant Kimchi and Gruyère Croquettes are no different, and these deliver on the heat factor. Full of warmth from the kimchi and rounded out by the sweet nuttiness of the cheese, one order of these crispy croquettes simply isn’t enough.

A plate of Piquant Kimchi and Gruyère Croquettes on a plate next to a glass of red wine.

Cocktail Trail of the CBD

Various locations

Cocktail connoisseurs embark on a journey around the city centre this month that will take you from one spicy margarita to the next, with a few other creative tipples in the mix. Starting at the top, the rooftop that is, there’s Mr. Brightside’s Spicy Margy made with their house base chilli mix and shaken up with all the margarita favourites - tequila and mezcal both make an appearance if you please.

Then it’s on to the margarita trio at Kong, $30 for three minis that are salty, sweet and so cute for the ‘gram. Mixing it up from the margaritas but still honouring tequila is the Pheew Paloma at The Poplar Social Club, the citrusy vibrancy of grapefruit shines through here while still packing a spicy punch at the back of the palate. While gin gin’s The Pretty Buzzy will take you on a multisensory journey, starting with fresh zest, and ending with a spicy tingle. 

Special mention must also be made to the margs at Boo’s, Kaiser Brew Garden, Riverside Cantina, 50 Bistro and Rascal, and the oh-so-pretty Feeling Good, Feeling Pine cocktail at Pink Lady. The bartenders and mixologists of Ōtautahi Christchurch deserve a round of applause for their creativity.

Best of the Burgers

Various locations

For you burger fans out there, be prepared to be wowed by the selection that is entered in the fiery food competition. Starting with Seoul Sandwich, they’ve taken their signature K.F.C (Korean fried chicken) burger and turned up the heat with their ‘hot as’ volcano sauce. 

Or how about the Chilli Cheese Extreme from Black Burger in Riverside Market? It isn’t one for the faint of heart as it ranks right up there on the competition spicy scale. There are plenty of fiery elements going on from jalapeños and chilli jam to a dollop of SpicyBoys Garlic Reaper Hot Sauce - best have a refreshing beverage at the ready! Smokey T’s is bringing it with their Buffalo Fried Chicken Burger, and both 50 Bistro and Bloody Mary’s have spicy beer and burger offers going on. So grab your pals and make your way through this epic burger lineup. 

Three Fires / E Toru Nga Ahi - Pizza Trap

Restaurants icon

371 Saint Asaph Street, Christchurch Central City

Pizza Trap inside Space Academy is one of the best and most underrated pizza spots in the city, so if you haven’t been yet, August is certainly the month to visit.

Their Three Fires / E Toru Nga Ahi pizza is a triumvirate of heat, with these three distinct components working perfectly in harmony. There’s the warmth of horopito, the cozy numbness of Szechuan pepper and smouldering smokey chilli. Plus there’s an option to make it plant-based. Match this pizza with the craft beers they have on offer, alongside chilled vibes and good music, it makes for the perfect winter night out with friends.

Sugar & Pepper - Utopia Ice

153 High Street, Christchurch Central City

Local ice cream empire Utopia Ice is known for their inventive and out-of-the-box flavours and creations. They have taken up the challenge of the fiery food competition and what they have come up with will have you making a beeline for their High Street store.

Simply designated ‘Sugar & Pepper’, this dessert will tickle and delight your tastebuds. Just imagine a freshly baked waffle topped with dark chocolate chilli ganache, piment d’espelette oranges, toasted coconut and fresh ginger ice cream and finished with a Szechuan peanut brittle. It’s sweet, it’s spicy and it’s the perfect combination of flavours.

A flatlay close up of Utopia Ice's waffles on a pink table.

Karaage Squid - Hali

166 Cashel Street, Christchurch Central City

Exciting the palate and being inspired by the ocean are at the heart of everything produced in the Hali kitchen, and their competition entry is no exception. The Karaage Squid is a refined and technical dish, plus it’s just so pretty to look at. Served with hot sauce and a tikka spiced emulsion, this is fried squid but not as you know it… it’s so much better!

A plate of Karaage Squid on a blue table inside Hali restaurant.

Pani Puri Bhoot Jholakia - Story

Restaurants icon

8 New Regent Street, Christchurch Central City

Elegant and elevated, is what New Regent Street’s Story does best. Chef Shafeeq is known for drawing inspiration from cuisines from around the world and infusing this into his creative dishes. His Pani Puri Bhoot Jholakia dish in the fiery food competition exemplifies this. These delicate sphere-shaped puffs are made of semolina and filled with a mixture of sauces, creating flavour and heat in the best way possible with each bite. Story is an intimate restaurant and regularly books out, so make your reservation now so you don’t miss out on trying this delightful take on pani puri.

Neat Christchurch & Canterbury Places

Ally & Sid

The counter and coffee machine at Ally & Sid café in Christchurch.
Place Christchurch & Canterbury
Cafes icon

Everything about Ally & Sid is inviting - a breezy spot for excellent coffee, tasty cabinet fare and a big side of sunshine.

Tramway Restaurant

Tramway Restaurant exterior.
Place Christchurch & Canterbury
Restaurants icon

The Tramway Restaurant is somewhat of a moving Christchurch institution. Most of us have seen it roll past us lit up with warm lighting, filled with happy diners waving at passers by.

Brew Academy

Side view of a man pouring a beer from taps at Brew Academy in Christchurch.
Place Christchurch & Canterbury

Brew Academy gives you the chance to learn to brew, grab a pint from their tap room, and get a mean feed from Smoke ’n’ Barrel, who operate out of the same premises. There’s a lot on offer at Brew Academy, and good beer ties it all together.


Shelve of warm winter scarfs at Shopology.
Place Christchurch & Canterbury

Shopology is a collaborative retail space, where talented artisans, makers and designers come together.