I’m not accustomed to eating dinner at 5:30, but some
rules are made to be broken. A seating at Hiakai is currently New Zealand’s
hottest ticket – Time Magazine nominated the Wellington restaurant as
one of the 100 Greatest Places in the World last year – so when an early table
opened up I jumped at the opportunity.
Even on a sunny summer day, the dark wood
furnishings seem to suck all the light from the small 30 seat room but Hiakai
is no den of mystery – quite the opposite. The name is te reo Māori for
“hungry”, and chef Monique Fiso is at the forefront of a movement educating
diners by bringing Māori ingredients and culture to the table.
Before the first course arrives, I’ve already
consulted the glossary in the wine list several times. Moist, thickly sliced rēwena
(sourdough potato bread) is made with a starter of kūmara (sweet potato) and
spiced with the peppery leaves of the horopito tree. And it comes with the most
distinctive butter I’ve ever tasted. Confit tītī (muttonbird) is whipped
through the spread, which is then topped with a dark pool of fat smelling
strongly of anchovies. It’s a bold opening statement, and one that suits Fiso’s
Like Australia, New Zealand’s culinary
development has been heavily influenced by British cuisine and augmented by
waves of immigration. And like Australia, the fine dining scene is finally
beginning to show more interest in the ingredients and techniques that preceded
the arrival of Europeans. But where Orana foregrounds the ingredients, Hiakai
also places them in context by telling a story of country.