Queenstown is home to some of the best ski fields in the country, but for locals like Amisfield Restaurant’s executive chef Vaughan Mabee, it’s only one part of the attraction. “For me, I love how dramatic the seasons are,” says Mabee. “Winter’s winter, summer’s summer. For a chef, I really love that. It directs what we do and introduces us to what’s possible around us.”
Mabee says there’s plenty more to see and do than just skiing (though that’s a pretty good reason to travel to Queenstown). Here are his top picks.
A long-time staple of Queenstown dining, Japanese spot Kappa is where you’re likely to find Mabee outside of his own kitchen. “I probably dine there more than I dine anywhere else in this town,” he says. If you’re stuck with what to order, he recommends the bluefin tuna sashimi, blue cod tempura and the eggplant. “It’s miso-glazed, barbequed eggplant. It’s amazing. Simple but always so perfect.”
Drink: Lodge Bar
Clothing label Rodd and Gunn combines fashion with food and cocktails at the Lodge Bar. “That place is really consistent and they have an amazing wine list and they do amazing gin cocktails,” says Mabee. Order cocktails like Apple of my Eye, starring New Zealand’s Little Biddy gin, apple liqueur and apple syrup. For a snack, follow his lead and grab a meat pie and smoked cheddar croquette. “He’s an amazing chef, Matt Lambert.”
Stay: Eichardt’s Private Hotel
Perched right on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, Eichardt’s Private Hotel features luxurious rooms, beautiful views and really good smoked salmon and eggs. “I love going there for breakfast,” Mabee says. “In the wintertime, you look through the window where you have breakfast in the bar and you can see the boats and the mountains covered in snow in the background. It’s like a mosaic out the window.”
Do: An Over The Top Helicopter Tour
The only way to really see the scale of Queenstown’s surrounding mountains and lakes is from the air. If you get the chance, a helicopter tour will give you that bird’s-eye perspective, and Over The Top is Mabee’s recommendation. “The owner, ‘Choppy’ Louisa Patterson, is kind of like a landmark of Queenstown,” he says. “She knows every little corner of this region and if you’ve got enough money in your pocket, it’s amazing to go on a tour with her.” The experience is a lot more than just a helicopter flight though – you can play elevated golf above 1300 metres, see the glaciers and fly through the alps.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Otago without a winery visit, and Amisfield is one of the region’s best. “The coolest thing about Amisfield is it’s an organic single vineyard,” says Mabee. “There’s such a variety of wine from fume to chenin, orange wine, pinot gris and more.” Having just been named New Zealand’s restaurant of the year, you’ll want to take some time to visit Mabee at work. “Our cuisine is always designed around complementing the wine, or the wine complementing it,” he says. Current favourites are the quail matched with pinot noir, and paua paired with the fume blanc.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism New Zealand.