An upmarket food court on Christchurch’s High St
The chain-link fence that once blocked lower High Street in Christchurch featured a hand-drawn sign saying “limbo land” – a show of frustration at the slow pace of the earthquake recovery. Those days are thankfully over and it’s looking more like a land of opportunity for outstanding bars and eateries. Upmarket food court Little High Eatery arrived on the corner of High Street and Tuam Street in May this year, at the heart of Christchurch’s 3.6-hectare central city ‘innovation precinct’ of tech, retail and hospitality businesses. Housed within the restored Mckenzie & Willis building, Little High Eatery has eight locally owned and operated restaurants with freshly roasted coffee and treats from A Mouse Called Bean, modern Japanese from Sushi Soldier, authentic Italian from Base Woodfired Pizza, Thai street food from Noodlemonk, gourmet burgers from Bacon Brothers, Latin American flavours from Caribe Latin Kitchen, South American-style barbecued meats from El Fogón, and flavoursome Chinese food from Eightgrains.
A few of the eateries come from the RE:START container mall that helped keep the hospitality and retail side of central Christchurch alive in the early stages of the rebuild; this area is now being developed into a farmers’ market.
Other vendors, like Venezuelan-born Richard Castro of Caribe Latin Kitchen and El Fogón, moved up from Queenstown to help complete the food offering at Little High. Richard started his Caribe brand in Queenstown but added El Fogón when he arrived in Christchurch.
Richard says that to make sure each of the eateries at Little High was unique, all the owners
Order your Oreo freakshake at Base Pizza, espresso martini at A Mouse Called Bean, Eightgrains have your lychee margarita, and a glass of Chilean red is waiting at El Fogón
sat down at the start and agreed to sell different products, right down to their drinks menus, and they cooperated on pricing so you pay the same for tap beers at each spot. The obvious advantage for customers is you get a completely different experience at each of the eateries: order your Oreo freakshake at Base Pizza, espresso martini at A Mouse Called Bean, Eightgrains have your lychee margarita, and a glass of Chilean red is waiting at El Fogón. The drinks reflect the backgrounds of the vendors and match the style of cuisine, from the bao buns and dumplings handmade by the mother of Eightgrains owner Mia Zhao, to the authentic stuffed cornmeal arepas at Caribe.
“I took all the nice Kiwi produce and meat and matched it with what we do back home,” says Richard of the food at Caribe and El Fogón. “We make everything, all the sauces and breads, by hand in the same way we do back home.” At Caribe, quesadillas are the most popular item as they are familiar to Kiwis but Richard is pleased that the signature street food of his hometown, arepas, are gaining traction. Caribe also boasts some of the best churros in Christchurch.
In a neighbourhood with Josh Emett’s Madam Woo, French bistro St Germain, C1 Espresso and the newly relocated The Monday Room there’s no shortage of excellent eating haunts. But Richard says that even after Little High’s ‘honeymoon period’ the place is still packed, to the extent that a planned ninth eatery has been put on hold to allow for more seating.
Luke Bilbrough of Bacon Brothers is another who’s delighted at the popularity of Little High. “Weekends are insane; we go non-stop from 9am to 12pm,” he says. To keep the party going during the week, Bacon Brothers engage in some quirky marketing with their ‘Tinge of the Ginge Thursdays’ where redheads get a discount or ‘Tinder Tuesday’ where you turn up and hug a date to get two burgers for $20.
Coming to Little High from the Christchurch Farmers’ Market, Bacon Brothers were keen to keep the local connection and get their burger buns from another market stallholder, Le Panier. Naturally, bacon features in many of the burgers and they get that from local butcher Peter Timbs Meats as well as Ashby’s Butchery in Greendale. They’ve even enlisted local graffiti artist Wongi Wilson to help decorate their eatery space. Their burgers are named after employees, such as the best-selling ‘Big Jim’ (chicken, bacon and avocado) and they also celebrate ‘local heroes’ with specials like their chicken, bacon and brie burger called ‘Mike the Milkman’. Mike’s the bloke who delivers milk to A Mouse Called Bean next door.
While parts of High Street are still being repaired, the invention and excitement coming out of Little High Eatery suggests there are fun times ahead for foodies in the central city. ○
The busy dining room at Little High Eatery.
Clockwise from top left: Caribe Latin Kitchen’s signature margarita; Caribe’s Camila Napoleone and manager Ram Hari Maciel Vera; Eightgrains’ best-selling mixed dumpling platter; Eightgrains’ manager Shaili Pandya.
‘Andy the Electrician’ burger with a side of fries and deep-fried cauliflower at Bacon Brothers. James ‘Big Jim’ Rawsthorn and Luke Bilbrough of Bacon Brothers.
Scenes from Little High Eatery.