Southern comfort: Eating and, yes, drinking in Dunedin

Dunedin is exploding with new bars, breweries, cafes, restauarants and takeaway spots. From the major redevelopment of Emerson’s Brewery, to the juice bar that took a risk opening in “chilly Dunedin”, to the bar owner who decided to stock up with one of the best ranges of gin in the country, Dunedinites are spoilt for choice. Here are some of Idealog’s favourite haunts.

Emerson’s 

A stone’s throw from Forsyth Barr Stadium sits the recently opened Emerson’s brewery, taproom and restaurant, a $25 million project that employed 250 people. 

For Richard Emerson, who established the company in 1992 and sold it to Lion in 2012 for $8 million, it was important the brand stayed in his hometown. “We bought a derelict piece of land, filled with junk - definitely an eyesore for Dunedin, and transformed it into an attractive industry complex that Dunedin can be proud of,” he says. 

After more than four years of planning and building, with the help of the local Beca and Farra Engineering, the site now employs 35 staff, 20 more than Emerson’s previous site. Emerson’s ‘new spiritual home’ currently has the capacity to make around 2.5 million litres of beer, more than double its previous capacity, and will eventually brew eight million litres. And the bigger brewery reflects the craft beer industry’s rapid growth in New Zealand. “The demand for good craft beer far outstrips the supply … the better craft brewers find that they have to produce more to remain relevant,” says Emerson. 

Emerson’s philosophy of beer, food and sociability is poured over the new character-filled space. The restaurant, which features lots of polished concrete and leather and offers a relaxed gastro pub menu that complements the flavour of the beers, is located in the heart of the brewery, with large windows to show its inner workings. The ‘Workshop’ will conjure new brews for the taproom and long-awaited tours will be offered at the cellar door. 

The opening ceremony on 21 June was steeped in Scottish tradition, with haggis and a whisky porter toast. Emerson’s mother Ingrid cut the ribbon and was “very surprised” to see herself acknowledged as ‘the Hon. Richard’s Mum’ on the plaque. 

The projected turnover at the new site is $40 million per annum, with plenty of that expected to come from tourists. And the brewery and restaurant is forecast to bring around $2 million per annum into the local economy. 

Lion is no stranger to doing business in Dunedin, where its $40 million Speight’s Brewery redevelopment was completed in 2014. In a statement the Mayor of Dunedin, Dave Cull, said the opening “following so soon after the Speight’s expansion, demonstrates Lion’s confidence in Dunedin … I'm delighted to see… Dunedin’s position as a forerunner of the New Zealand craft beer renaissance formally recognised!”

The Standard Kitchen 

The Standard Kitchen owner and chef James Roberts says its offering is simple: it makes the food the team likes to eat. The cafe on Princes St is a winning combination of whole and seasonal foods, where the chefs are making everything from scratch where possible. “We put a focus on healthy and nutritious food and seasonality plays a huge part in what we can do. We cater for folks with intolerances and allergies without trying to make substitute foods,” he says.

Roberts says the team really care about the way they eat, and want to share it with “anyone that’s keen”.

Copper 

Copper’s head chef Scotty Low started at the restaurant when it opened in August 2015, and when the opportunity came up to sublease it on 1 June, he stuck up his hand. Now his aim is to build the restaurant’s customer base by providing “good honest service and local food”.

Low has been cooking for over 30 years, and he and his wife Christine Hope-Low moved to Dunedin 13 years ago. “Dunedin has a great mix of cultures and students - small enough yet big enough with everything all in a central location,” Hope-Low says.

They believe Dunedin patrons are now looking for places that serve Otago produce, value for money and quality, consistent food. “I feel people are travelling a lot more, whether for work or pleasure, so moving with the times and making subtle changes across the board are important for this industry to be successful,” Hope-Low says.

Liquid Assets Juice Bar 

Local husband and wife team Roger and Nina Pennycuick started Liquid Assets Juice Bar in the Octagon this year, with a passion for creating fresh, healthy cold-pressed juices and smoothies. They admit it was a “brave choice” considering Dunedin’s chilly climate, but say they could not have asked for a better welcome to Dunedin.​ “We of course saw the potential for such a business here in Dunedin, but I don’t think even we realised how much people were screaming out for a change,” they say.

The Pennycuicks believe people’s eating habits are changing to become more health conscious, and Dunedin is no exception. “People are pining for healthier options without having to compromise on taste, cost
or convenience.”

They’ve found success in their brand of locally-sourced, minimally-processed soups, takeaway teas and creatively named juices like the Daisy Duke (apple, fennel, cucumber, mint, lemon) and the Hot-lips Houlihan (apple, red capsicum, beet, cherry, tomato, chilli).

Zanzibar 

Dunedin now boasts one of the greatest collections of gin in New Zealand, according to Zanzibar owner Jonas Hjertquist, who opened the bar on George St in May this year.​ Hjertquist says 55 specimens of gin currently fill the shelves, which can be consumed alongside craft beer, tasty skewers and fresh coffee.

He says the hospitality industry in Dunedin is vibrant and on an upswing, with lots of new places opening in the city at the moment. “Being in the city and easily accessible with buses and taxis is important, as is providing a unique experience,” he says.

Vogel St Kitchen 

It wasn’t an easy road to opening for Vogel St Kitchen when its owners chose a 19th-century building as its venue, but it appears the hard work paid off. Owners Riah McLean and Alan Hayman say it was a 12-month renovation and consent process to get the tired John McIndoe Printers building – in the heart of the warehouse precinct – to where it needed to be. But they ploughed on with support from the local community and opened in December 2014. Vogel St Kitchen is now a large, modern warehouse café on two levels, seating around 150 people. 

It specialises in wood-fired pizza, local seasonal produce, local beers and wines and fine espresso, with a menu heavy on breakfast and brunch items that only use free-farmed meats and eggs. “I would say going out for breakfast and brunch is as popular as dinner and there's a huge market for casual café dining, done well,” McLean and Hayman say.