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Just like many of our culinary candidates, we’ve been out foraging, our judges scouring the country in our search of excellence. We’ve found it in many forms: porcini gelato and kelp cream dessert – dessert! – at Mapu; sumac processed from freshly picked berries on the Horowhenua coast, and powdered pōhutukawa at 50-50. Pomp and ceremony (plus audience participat­ion) were dished up with the chateaubri­and at Hippopotam­us, while Hillside’s 100% plant-based line-up has, we believe, been known to sway committed carnivores.

We’ve revisited oldies that are still goodies – some of which now have third-generation diners making it their fave. And we have found the teeniest, weirdest, wonderful dive bars that widened our eyes with surprise. We soaked up the comfy, the edgy and a whole lot of stunning.

This year’s Cuisine Good Food Guide will come with an elephantin­e caveat. COVID has challenged the hospitalit­y industry beyond all that is imaginable: lockdowns, levels, traffic lights and more have changed the food scenery forever. When, we wonder, will it ever end? And what will things look like when it does? But then we think of people like Bradley Hornby at Blenheim’s Arbour. When a group of diners coaxed him out of the kitchen to chat about the food and congratula­te him on their meal not so long ago, he responded by saying, “It’s you that we should be clapping for – you hold the power of keeping small businesses open.” That’s never been more important than now, when restaurant doors are opening a little more.

It is, therefore, our delight to deliver the results of our foray, which was conducted in stages, depending on what level a region was functionin­g at at the time. We salute these restaurant­s, cafés and bars, for their ingenuity, their willingnes­s to explore new food boundaries, their commitment to sustainabi­lity, their observance of tradition – and their indefatiga­bility. We salute every staff member who turned our work into a treat. The best thing you can do now is to support them. It’s got to be good for you, too: in doing so, you’ll be contributi­ng to some gross domestic happiness.

And just like Bradley, we are clapping too – for you, our audience. He’s right: you do hold the power of keeping business – ours included – open. Even in these unpreceden­ted times, New Zealand’s restaurant­s, bars and cafés continue to excel and excite. Here we bring you, in no particular order, the finalists in the Cuisine Good Food Awards 2021, for regions outside Auckland.

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