Featured in Capital #79
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Every two years, locals come out in the thousands to vote in our Best of Wellington awards. Celebrating our most laudable locals across retail and hospitality, this year’s competition covered everything from kebabs, cafés, and crafting to fashion, flowers, and fine dining.
The votes have been tallied and now it’s time to take a look at who came out as best of the best. The top spots were hard fought for this year, and some categories had just a few votes between first-place and runner-up.
Thank you to everyone who got on board – nominees, campaigners, supporters, and voters – you make sure we can share the love for our local businesses. Don’t forget to get out there and vote with your wallets, there’s no time like the present.
Neapolitan pizza is quite different from anything that was available in Wellington back in 2000 when Massimo Tolve began Pizza Pomodoro. His pizzas are wood fired and handcrafted in the traditional way to ensure a soft but crisp crust. “I’ve worked hard to get it as close to the authentic product as you can outside of Italy. In fact, we have been awarded certification from Italy, from the governing body who oversee the production of pizza around the world,” says Massimo.
Runner-Up: Scopa Pizzeria
Opening one week before New Zealand went into a nation-wide lockdown was “an interesting time to start,” says Gorilla Burger’s general manager Reddyn Wallace. But the “juicy, messy burgers” have been a hit with the locals, and our team has big plans to take over the capital and then the country. Reddyn tells us there are new stores opening in Wellington soon, with “exciting limited-time burgers being released every couple of months”.
Best Fish & Chips
There’s a bit of competition between The Chippery’s two gourmet fish and chip shops. Every month the chefs at the Mt Vic and Thorndon stores create a new Burger of the Month, with an in-house competition to see which store sells the most burgers. They offer fresh fish cooked in a variety of ways and several chips options. “We pride ourselves on good fish and chips. The staff have all been trained to make both stores consistent,” says owner, Komal Parbhu.
Runner-Up: Wellington Seamarket
Best Cheese Scone
The team at Frank’s (Frank’s Terrace, Frank’s Newtown, and Frank’s Roastery) are a small bunch of “passionate, all-around professionals excited about making delicious drinks, baking scones, creating an inviting space, cleaning up after ourselves, saying please and thank you, and delivering memorable experiences,” says owner/operator Frank Hsu. We asked him the secret behind his fabulous cheese scones and he wouldn’t tell us! You’ll just have to go try one.
Runner-Up: Bellbird Eatery
Frank Hsu started Frank’s on the Terrace in 2015 in “the coffee capital of New Zealand”. The best part of his day is “talking to people about the story behind the coffee they really enjoy.” He says Wellingtonians know their coffee well and are open to tasting unique and exquisite coffee. “By providing carefully crafted and delicious single origin coffee we can add further value for coffee drinkers in Wellington.”
Runner-Up: Willy at Swimsuit Coffee
Master Baker Maximilian Fuhrer founded Arobake in 1989. Asked why Wellington, he simply says, “Where else?” Arobake has gone from strength to strength over the years; expansions in Aro St, a new bakery and shop in Petone, and plans for more shops and a roastery in the works. If the fine selection of breads and treats has you struggling to choose, we recommend the rhubarb and custard tart or the lemon sour cake.
Runner-Up: Shelly Bay Baker
Best Sweet Treat
Kaffee Eis (coffee and ice cream in German) make great coffee, but they’re definitely best known for their gelato. “We have over 30 flavours that have won awards over the years,” says Karl Tiefenbacher, including Black Doris Plum sorbet which scored a perfect 100 out of 100 at the New Zealand Ice Cream Manufacturers Association Awards last year. Awards are cool, but Karl just loves spending time in the production kitchen making gelato. “It’s physically demanding and immensely satisfying,” he says.
What makes Little Penang stand out from the dozens of Malaysian restaurants in Wellington? Tee Chiew Phie and her husband Keith decided to focus on Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine, which has Chinese, Indian, and ethnic Malay influences. From small beginnings on Dixon St, Tee and Keith have now moved to bigger premises on Victoria St and a second restaurant on the Terrace.
Runner-Up: Mr Go’s
Best Cheap Eat
Mr Go’s is known for “quality, quick and tasty offerings with good service,” says Dean White. He’s particularly proud of their Regional Menu Series. Every month or so they pick a region in wider-Asia and serve up a few dishes and drinks representative of the region. “While it’s mostly snack and street food items to keep in line with Mr Go’s, we keep quite traditional with the recipes – it’s really all about that region. It’s teaching us and our guests.”
Runner-Up: Winner Winner
Viva Mexico serves homemade, traditional Mexican meals and drinks made with love and spice. Luis Guerrero tells us their philosophy is “to make our customers feel homesick even if they’ve never been to Mexico.” This means showcasing the culture of Mexico and authentic Mexican food “beyond the typical stereotype”. If you’re not sure what to order, Luis says the enchiladas represent “the best of what we want to give as a restaurant: a fiesta in the mouth.”
Runner-Up: Taco Queen
Best Artisan Food & Drink
When Vicky Ha invited her friends over for dinner she would make her mum’s dumplings. Vicky’s friends convinced her she should start making them commercially so she went to Australia to work on a prawn trawler in the Gulf of Carpentaria. “I got $20K and used that money to start House of Dumplings.” Vicky says that when it comes to her business, she always tries to do the right thing and create the type of food her grandmother would’ve “using the best ingredients.”
Runner-Up: Six Barrel Soda
Freya Atkinson and Matt Wilson create Wellington’s best coffee at their roastery on Petone’s esplanade, Good Fortune Coffee Co. The pair have worked in the Wellington coffee scene for more than a decade, and are local favourites. For Matt, the support is clear when you look at who’s succeeding in Wellington. “Local coffee roasters have all been supported by the locals, rather than the big guys coming in and having a monopoly on everything.”
Any Wellingtonian worth their weight in table salt will tell you that a seat at Seashore Cabaret is a coveted one. This is the second time Seashore Cabaret has won our Best Café award, signalling a bright future for their new Fitzherbert Street location, the House of Good Fortune café. Owners Freya Atkinson and Matt Wilson are grateful that locals have connected so well with the brand. “People do really love that brand, the artwork, and obviously the coffee,” says Freya.
Runner-Up: Swimsuit Coffee
The best part of Dean White’s day is “walking into a busy restaurant that’s operating well.” Ombra, which Dean purchased from founder Russell Scott in January 2018, is a “bacaro” – the Venetian version of an Italian osteria. Ombra serves traditional and modern Italian sharing plates, offering a warm and lively environment with excellent food. There are plans for a small kitchen renovation this month “which will give us scope for different dishes,” says Dean.
Runner-Up: El Matador
Best Fine Dining
Hippopotamus is known for its spectacular harbour views, sumptuous dining experience, and delicious dishes designed with Executive Chef Jiwon Do’s signature quirky flair. “We really hang our hat on our lavish high tea service and degustation menus,” he says. One of the best things about Jiwon’s job is visiting local producers. “I love weaving ethically sourced ingredients into unexpected and experimental flavour combinations, all while using classic French cooking techniques.”
Walk up the stairs at Fork and Brewer and the first thing you’ll see is their brewery bubbling away. Designed in New Zealand and constructed in China, the custom brewery allows the team to brew around 1,000 litres of fresh beer at a time. Visitors can rely on a large selection of regular Fork and Brewer beers as well as special collaboration brews with visiting brewers, seasonal beers, and special occasion offerings.
Runner-Up: Double Vision Brewing
Four women saw a gap in the craft beer market, for a place that was fun but also where solo drinkers would feel comfortable. So in 2011 they opened Little Beer Quarter. Tucked away in the Edward St Precinct, LBQ offers exciting beers and tasty food. “It’s a massive thing for us to celebrate a decade,” says Stacey Walsh, “There have been so many wonderful memories and great people.”
Runner-Up: Choice Bros Ghuznee St
Best Middle Eastern
Faris Yago and his family make up the tight team behind the best Middle Eastern in Wellington: Babylon Kebab. The business has not been without sacrifice, Faris explains. “My wife Kladis and I worked many long hours to get to where we are today.” It would seem that the hours have paid off. At this year’s CupaDupa, their Middle Eastern dessert table sold out on both days. “We never knew Wellingtonians had such a sweet tooth,” says Faris.
Runner-Up: Camel Grill
Cranfields offers enduring, quality collections that you don’t find elsewhere in New Zealand. “We get told all the time we should be in Auckland but Wellington is our home,” says Nicola Cranfield. Cranfields were an early proponent of New Zealand made and responsibly-sourced home goods, a strategy they have stuck with over the decades. They are marking their 30th anniversary this year and will celebrate with some special collaborations with local makers.
Best Arts & Crafts
Emma Smith opened Miss Maude in Greytown in 2019. Amongst the great range of high-quality fabrics, patterns, and sewing supplies, Emma says that many customers feel the store evokes “fond memories of childhood trips with their mother or grandmother to their local and long since closed haberdashery.” Emma encourages people to take time to enjoy creating, and not worry whether the end result is stitch perfect. “A sharp and well balanced pair of scissors, or a fine pin with a glass-blown head is sure to bring a smile.”
Runner-Up: Wellington Sewing Centre
When asked what he loves most about Wellington, Unity Books manager Adrian Hardingham says, “The strong tradition of writing and of books. For years Wellington had a great range of bookshops and, although that faded for a while, it’s great to see new bookshops opening and being supported by readers.” And the best thing about working at Unity Books? “Recommending books we love to readers keen to try new things.”
Runner-Up: Arty Bees Books
Ruben Bryant wanted to create “a new type of shopping experience and scene that sold all the best bits from New Zealand and around the globe in a warm and friendly environment.” In 2004 he began Good as Gold. “It was and still is a small boutique run by a small team of passionate friendly staff,” he says. Check out the new digs on Bond St, which are designed and built by Ruben and staffer Oscar Mavropoulos.
Best Shoes & Accessories
Samara Collins opened Wellington’s I Love Paris in the Old Bank Arcade in 2004, following in the footsteps of her mum Ava who began the first store in Dunedin in 1988. “Wellington has always felt like a larger Dunedin to me. Everyone has their own style and quirkiness is celebrated. I knew that the eclectic, beautifully made footwear which has been so popular in our Dunedin store for decades would be very well received by Wellingtonians.”
When Manuela Lipsham started Flowers Manuela in 1998 she said it was her “dream job” and 23 years later that’s still true. She particularly loves “getting it just right – the marrying up of the foliages, colour, balance, design, and technical floristry. Every bouquet and every flower is different.” At the end of every week she gives flowers to Te Whare O Matairangi, the mental health ward in Wellington Hospital. “We get so much joy – the nurses are awesome!” says Manuela.
Runner-Up: The Flower Studio
Best Attraction or Activity
A timber Gothic Revival building, Old St Paul’s opened in 1866 on the site of what was once Pipitea Pā. It’s been a visitor site since the 1970s and is administered by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. “Watching visitors experience Old St Paul’s delights me,” says Tamara Patten, Property Lead. “When I share a piece of the building’s history with someone and see that it has resonated with them, or when someone walks into the building and goes ‘Wow!’ – I just love that.”
Runner-Up: Katherine Mansfield House
Jason Hurier began hairdressing when he was just 15 years old, in his hometown of Cambrai, France. He met his Kiwi wife Kajal on the second day of her OE, and they moved to New Zealand in 2015. Jason now owns and operates the Best Barbershop in Wellington, where he is the eponymous French Barber, on Lambton Quay. Quality cuts and beard services come with a “professional, old-school barbering flair.” Extra attention to detail is what Jason says turns customers into regular patrons.
Runner-Up: Cuba Street Social
Best Wellness & Beauty
Established in 2014, Wellington Apothecary is a botanical factory, herbal dispensary, and natural therapy clinic. “We endeavour to create a tranquil and sensory experience where you are welcome to smell and try each product, see them being made and gather over a hot cup of herbal tea,” says Chantal Cropp. Qualified herbalists and naturopaths are in store to offer professional health advice and to formulate and prescribe remedies.
Runner-Up: Spring Spa
Acme & Co’s
Our best ‘burb, as voted by you the public, is Mt Victoria. The suburb got its English name from New Zealand Company colonists who settled there in the early 1840s and named it in honour of their young queen, Victoria. We must admit we’re not surprised it took the title, sponsored by Acme & Co. Mt Vic boasts spectacular views from Matairangi’s 196-metre summit, a lush town belt, and the HQ of your favourite magazine.
Runner up: Newtown
Tommy’s Real Estate’s
Almost 20 years ago, 22,000 tonnes of sand was shipped from Golden Bay to expand Oriental and Freyberg beaches. Back then, the project won a Supreme Award from the New Zealand Institute of Landscape and Architects. This year it’s been awarded the coveted title of Tommy’s Real Estate’s Best Beach. Fun fact: the area was once called Duppa after its sole resident, Mr George Duppa. He renamed it Oriental Bay after the ship upon which he arrived in Wellington, the Oriental.
Runner up: Scorching Bay
Sponsored by Wellington Airport, the Best Sculpture award, fittingly, has been won by the eagles at the airport. Installed in 2013 to promote The Hobbit, the eagles were created by Sir Richard Taylor and Weta Workshop. One of the eagles is Gwaihir the Windlord, the lord of the Great Eagles, and the other carries Gandalf on its back. Gwaihir made international headlines when the sculpture fell during a 6.3 earthquake in 2014.
Runner up: Gollum, by Masayuk Ohashi for Weta Workshop
Fix & Fogg’s
Located on Oriental Parade, the 33-metre heated indoor pool at Freyberg Pool & Fitness Centre has won Best Pool, sponsored by Fix & Fogg. The 58-year-old pool is named for Bernard Freyberg, a World War I Victoria Cross recipient, and Governor General of New Zealand. The building that houses the pool (plus a gym, sauna, steam room, and spa pools) is classified as a Category I historic place by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
Runner up: Thorndon Pool
Best Street Art
The Bowie Mural
Painted by artist Xoë Hall, The Bowie Mural on Ghuznee takes out the award for Best Street Art, sponsored by Radio Active. The mural of three big Ziggy Stardust faces was commissioned by Jam Hairdressing and Xoë says it took “three long days” to paint in December 2016. “The best response has been seeing it become a bit of a selfie spot for Wellington. I love seeing those photos on the gram! It even has its own GIF.”
Runner up: Shark mural by BMD – corner of Cable and Chaffers Sts