Review: Zest Food Tours
An eating tour of Wellington? That’s basically every weekend in my life, but it hadn’t occurred to me to try a structured one. Enter Zest Food Tours, who run eating extravaganzas masquerading as walking tours. Get your culture and history while also stuffing your face? Yes please.
We took a condensed sampler version of the Capital Tastes tour – stopping briefly at some of the locales to talk about what we’d eat there instead of actually eating – but still had a solid couple of hours meandering the city. The real version is three and a half hours of intense snacking and leisurely strolling, rain or shine.
The target market for tours like this is usually tourists, but our guide had so many tidbits and factoids about Wellington that even our group of experienced eaters and bloggers learned new things. Heather is bursting with love for Wellington’s food scene, so the tour feels more like a day with an enthusiastic geek friend than a stuffy tour. She happily ventured on tangents based on what we knew or what we were interested in, so there’s definitely something for everyone.
We started with coffee and a scone at Mojo, where we heard the origin story of how Wellington became Graceland for coffee aficionados. We then wandered on along the waterfront and Civic Square, and chatted about architecture, history, and earthquakes on the way to Gelissimo, where we sampled some of the wares while learning their history and the difference between ice cream and gelato.
The Zest team has put the time into building relationships with the establishments they visit, so you feel like a warmly-welcomed friend of a regular instead of a pesky tourist. Case in point – we happened across Graham, the owner, as we were sampling gelato at Gelissimo. He immediately invited us into the back kitchen (thus ticking ‘Wonka-style ice cream factory tour’ off my bucket list) to show us where the magic happens, and let us taste a few experiments from the freezer.
(Pro tip: always ask a producer about their favourite. Chances are they’ll give you another sample.)
The tour includes a detour for cheese and accoutrements at Moore Wilson’s, a nice way to showcase products from the wider region. We wrapped up in the Hannah’s Laneway, where the full tour would sample their way through the Leeds Street Bakery, Fix & Fogg, and the Wellington Chocolate factory. The guide would typically send their charges off with a list of personalised recommendations for further eating, but we just swapped stories of our favourite haunts.
The standard tour is a solid half day of exploring (longer if you go for the Gourmet package and get a two-course wine-matched lunch at the end), and naturally lends itself to continuing on to one of Wellington’s many bars or cafes, so it would be a great way to entertain visiting family members (or get someone out of the house while you decorate for a surprise party). The walking bit is definitely secondary to the eating, so while you should wear comfy shoes, you don’t need to be especially fit.
Zest will tailor the tour to any tastes, so it could be a fun activity for a pre-wedding do, corporate team building exercise, or birthday party. As Heather rattled off some of the themed tours they’d done in the past, I got the impression she’d welcome the challenge of creating a tour for a really specific set of interests, so bring her your pickiest relative.
All in all, it’s a delicious reminder of just how much this town has to offer. I left wanting to sign up to become a tour guide. The $185 price tag may feel a bit spendy, but the intimate size (capped at eight people) and personal guide make it more of a treat yo’self kind of day than following around a robot guide waving a flag and reciting a script. Sometimes, when you’re overwhelmed by options, it’s nice to let someone else make choices for you. Also, there’s a lot of food.
Recommended for venturing beyond your usuals, or introducing new arrivals to the joys of eating in Wellington. Or just getting your visiting family out of your hair for a few hours.