Nelson Eats – A Locals Guide to Eateries in Nelson City

Nelson Eats – A Locals Guide to Eateries in Nelson City - Kismet

Nelson’s hospitality scene has come a long way in recent years and thankfully so!

Te Tauihu is home to some of the country’s best fresh produce and it’s only fitting that we showcase the best of that on the stuff we plate up right here at home for locals and visitors alike.

If you’re planning a night out in Nelson City, there is so much to explore and here I’ve attempted to capture just a taste of the goodness on offer. This is by no means an extensive list but few would accuse me of being malnourished and therefore I feel a pretty good judge of some “must do” Nelson eateries!

This is one of Nelson’s best kept secrets – don’t be fooled by the fairly predictable sloppy smorgasbord that occupies the front window – sitting behind the curtain is one of the best Chinese restaurants I’ve ever tried.

Park up with a Jasmine tea because you’ll need some time with this menu – it’s packed with authentic Chinese dishes ranging from pork hock to peking duck. A few must do’s include the prawn dumplings, sichuan spicy chicken and the beef in chilli broth. I’m salivating just getting these words down.

If you’re stopping by for lunch, there are a few better ways to enjoy an hour away from the hustle and bustle than with a heavenly chicken noodle soup (be sure to ask for chilli oil to give it that kick).

You can BYO to this restaurant so your best bet is to get a group of friends together, book a table with a lazy Susan and bring some decent wine in for the occasion.

Lisa and Logan have it sussed with Arden, a humble feature on the Nelson dining scene, which is captured by a relaxed and easy going atmosphere.

The owners of this wee gem returned to Nelson after a decade in Melbourne and you can see their experience there has certainly influenced the establishment they have today. These guys are fussy about their food and drink – they have one of the best wine lists in town and each one of them is hand selected by the team. The best part? To the untrained amongst us, most of the brands are barely recognisable and yet I’ve discovered many of what have become my favourite wines through the recommendations of their team.

There is a lot to love about this place but to highlight a few – they have a cocktail list that packs enough punch to change the course of an evening, they serve the freshest oysters in town, they have a ‘Feed Me Sunday’ option which is unreal value and all the crockery you eat off is handmade by the owner herself!

Nelson Eats – A Locals Guide to Eateries in Nelson City - Arden

You can’t mention dining in Nelson without acknowledging the multi-award winning Hopgoods Restaurant – the stallion of the Nelson dining scene. It’s pretty hard to fault Hopgoods – the wine list is extensive, the service is flawless and the food is world class.

The menu is constantly evolving and changing with the seasons and the restaurant holds great wine pairing evenings through winter where you can meet the winemaker and experience a tasting evening with wine and food matchings.

Owner and Head Chef Kevin Hopgood makes great use of local produce to deliver truly memorable dishes. The whole experience delivers but I’m particularly fond of their paua dumplings and granny smith sorbet when it’s on the menu.

Nelson Eats – A Locals Guide to Eateries in Nelson City - Hopgoods
Experience Nelson's finest dining at award-winning Hopgood's Restaurant

A surprising but worthy addition to the list is Nelson’s best turkish joint Paasha. I’ve never felt like a customer here, only a friend. The quality of the food is in a category of its own and the family that owns and operates the shop put a lot of love into every meal.

It can be tempting to try the usual favourites but I highly recommend a Paasha Mixed Grill for the best of everything on offer, most notably their range of shish kebabs which carry an unmistakable smokey taste that is quite addictive.

I’ve only recently discovered that they also serve a great raki and their turkish delight is the best I have ever tried. Trust me – you won’t be disappointed by this one!

I’m hesitant to let the secret out but Babagato in Nelson is easily one of my favourite restaurants. This place is completely unassuming. They only serve the best ingredients, accompanied by the best wines and slightly random and erratic customer service which actually makes it a more rounded experience. 

The restaurant featured on the TV show My Restaurant Rules where owner Raffaello (or ‘Raf’) was described as loud, honest and passionate which in my experience is a pretty accurate representation. I would only add – very genuine, extremely talented and quite endearing as well! 

Hot tip – I’m not even a dessert person but their tiramisu is off the charts. 

When people ask me why I love Nelson, The Free House is one of the first things that comes to mind. It’s an institution and deservedly gets recognition in our Nelson eats section despite not having a very extensive food offering. Why? Because at The Free House, you can eat whatever you like from wherever you like. Yes that’s right – the free house concept extends to being open to food being brought in from elsewhere as well.

The Free House is comfortably one of the best craft beer bars in the country but in my opinion it’s just one of the best bars in the country full stop.

The Free House has a famously low profile (yes, I see the irony) and the owner Eelco Boswijk will likely be completely unfazed by this article and possibly even not too impressed with the amount of ‘under the hood’ secrets being shared. This refreshing approach to business is in his DNA – his father the late Eelco Boswijk is often referred to as the pioneer of Nelson hospitality for the famous Chez Eelco on Trafalgar Street.

The great thing about The Free House is you never quite know what you’re going to get – you could grab a seat at a table with the local knitting club (predominantly men I might add), head inside to play cards by the fire or soak in the last of the evenings sun with others winding down from a long day at work.

Nelson Eats – A Locals Guide to Eateries in Nelson City - The Free House
Bartender pouring craft beer at The Free House

Although plenty of people frequent The Free House, many are ignorant to the discreet shed which houses Family Jewels Records Store which is owned and operated by Grant Smithies, a music fanatic and commentator who features regularly on RadioNZ. On a Friday and Saturday afternoon, you can hear Smithie’s tasty tunes bellowing out of the small shack that is Family Jewels Record Store.

When the sun is shining, the tunes are pumping and New Zealand’s best craft beers are flowing – it’s pretty hard to stop at a single pint (and completely unnecessary in my opinion).

The Free House’s low profile means they don’t do social media except for one notable exception – The Dogs of The Free House Instagram account which is a must for the K9 lovers among us and a useful filter for the rest of you (it may not be the pub for you!).

In an era where everyone is seemingly too busy to slow down and catch up, The Free House offers a mental escape from the madness that is our daily lives. Whilst we’re not in the business of promoting alcohol consumption, there are few problems that can’t be washed down with a fresh pint and a bowl of Pics peanuts. Hell if you’re feeling really adventurous, branch out and have a pickled egg.

It’s not unusual to find a local MP leaning over the bar or a few city councillors huddled around a table but none of that really matters at The Free House – it’s an equalising space that feels, for the most part, relatively ego free and down to earth. There is nothing pretentious about the place yet it feels like a carefully curated experience at the same time.

You can probably tell I’m a bit of a fan……I shall stop there!

That all being said – what is the perfect night out in Nelson? Arguably, two decent craft beers from The Free House and a trip to either New Asia or Babaggato is very hard to compete with. If you’re feeling up for it, hit Kismet or Arden for a nightcap before closing out…..you never know where that might take you.

If you’re looking for something more ritzy, then start your evening at Arden with a few delicious natural wines, then head to Hopgoods and rondout with a whisky at Kismet.

SOME FINAL WORDS

That all being said – what is the perfect night out in Nelson? Arguably, two decent craft beers from The Free House and a trip to either New Asia or Babaggato is very hard to compete with. If you’re feeling up for it, hit Kismet or Arden for a nightcap before closing out…..you never know where that might take you.

If you’re looking for something more ritzy, then start your evening at Arden with a few delicious natural wines, then head to Hopgoods and rondout with a whisky at Kismet.

Nelson Eats – A Locals Guide to Eateries in Nelson City - Arden
Cocktails to change the course of an evening at Arden
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