Simon Farrell-Green visits three restaurants in Dunedin one old, one new and one getting a second lease on life.
Dunedin’s got a casual feel, and it’s a pretty good place to eat. At its best, the city makes excellent use of southern produce and booze, in restaurants that feel like living rooms, where the service is relaxed. And increasingly, those restaurants are finding their home in restored old industrial buildings near the city’s heart. It’s a small, charming city with small, charming restaurants that we like very much.
The new: Moiety
Moiety opened last year, in a beautifully rough former wool store down in the Vogel St precinct, serving the kind of food you’d expect to find in a much fancier spot. It feels like a bar — in a good way — with raw brick walls and a long rolled-steel bar: we recommend sitting here, so you can chat with chef-owner Sam Gasson while he plates up plate after plate of clever yet thoroughly delicious food. Five very fine courses cost a very reasonable $65, plus drinks matching (which you should also do, since dessert might come with an aged cider). We can’t speak highly enough of the Mahurangi oyster, which comes with buttermilk, yuzu and furikake; or the bavette steak, served with parsnip, salsa verde, onion and kombucha. Inspired cooking, casual service.
42 Queens Gardens
The revived: No 7 Balmac
The front door says it all: “Welcome Home”. Recently reopened after a 10-month hiatus following a devastating fire in 2018, No 7 Balmac is one of the city’s best eateries, and one of the very few in Māori Hill. Some things have changed; most haven’t. There’s a new fitout, designed in collaboration with Cheshire Architects — red marble bar, mid-blue walls, oak, a new soaring ceiling — but there’s still a wine list made up almost entirely of Central Otago offerings, and the same wood-fired oven in the ground-floor kitchen that gives the restaurant’s food its distinctive, slightly smoky flavour. New head chef Penny Allan has updated the menu, keeping classics such as the soufflé and the half a roasted chook, and adding Middle-Eastern flavours in keeping with her background growing up in Sydney. It’s fantastic.
7 Balmacewen Rd
The old: Plato
There’s nothing like Plato anywhere else in the country. You’ll find it in the city’s former seafarers’ hostel near the harbour basin — a lovely little modernist building with steel-framed windows and a Mondrian-esque arrangement of panels painted in bright primary colours. Inside, in the former dining room complete with lino floor and built-in original furniture, is a fine collection of tat — don’t let it put you off, because the fish here is some of the best in the country. Portions are huge, and they generally come on lumpy vintage plates; we ate a whole fried flounder, cooked so it was just tender, with crispy edges and a buttery caper sauce: classic, perfectly executed, and served with a glass of Central Otago pinot gris with a dry, crisp finish, perfectly offsetting the richness of the dish. We loved it.
2 Birch St (entrance off Roberts St)
This piece originally appeared in the September-October 2019 issue of Metro magazine, with the headline "Off the beaten track".