Alex Davies

Alex Davies is a chef inspired by produce and producers. Gatherings, his ground-breaking Christchurch wine bar, serves a predominantly plant-based menu and was New Zealand’s first venue to focus purely on natural wines. The English-born chef isn’t just turning heads in his adopted hometown, either. In 2019 at the invitation of Margot Henderson of St John fame, he cooked at London’s Rochelle Canteen and has also hosted pop-ups in Paris too.
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Christchurch’s New Food Culture

We’re very much connected to our landscape due to the fact we’re such a small blip on a big agricultural region. There are a lot of smaller owner-operated places and people trying to redefine and set new rules on what Christchurch can be and where we stand in regards to food culture in New Zealand. People are paying more attention to newer things like this because we have the scope to create a new identity in a space that’s collapsed. That’s why I think there’s a lot of conversation happening around where we’re at and what we are. Traditionally this was a very conservative space: meat and three veg would be the norm. We’re creating a change in demographics and people are open to newer things. There’s more conversation around these things that people are bringing to the table: “perhaps we need to look at the world this way now as opposed to the way we were before.”

The Canterbury Wine Producer To Watch

Canterbury is a really cool wine region because geography dictates that we can’t really have any big, big wineries in here. The land and soil type change so dramatically that you can’t plant out rows and rows and rows and produce the same thing. As a result, you have all these small independent wineries all dotted in and around North Canterbury which is only 40 minutes north of the city. Many of them are organic or in-conversion to organic which is very cool. It’s a very big movement down here. Theo Coles at Hermit Ram is a really good friend and really pushing the boat out with what we can do in this part of the world. He’s really getting a lot of attention for what we’re doing. It’s kind of guiding a lot of other people into moving into that direction and starting to shift away from the traditional. We have a lot more freedom to do some really exciting things.

An Organic, Farm-To-Table Restaurant And Winery

I really like heading out to Black Estate in North Canterbury. It’s completely organic. You sit there overlooking the vines and get a really good perspective of the region and the area. It has its own little microclimate and it’s always five or so degrees warmer than the city. The food is awesome, they very much practice this farm-to-table kind of thing and very focused on what they’re doing. Black Estate wines are great. You’re always going to have some nice wines. They’ve got a tasting room as well so you get to have a drink before. It’s just a great spot to spend a warm afternoon or early evening out there. It’s always a good time.

Sharing Plates At The Chef’s Table

Simon Levy, a friend of mine, has a cool spot called Inati in the centre of town. It’s a nice little, 40-person spot that’s right in the centre of the city and is the place you go if you want to have a fancy night out. It feels very upmarket and smart. You sit at the bar and the food is cooked in front of you. Inati means “to share” in Maori and Simon puts up big sharing plates of really interesting little bits and pieces. He has a nice cellar of aged wines. It’s very different to what we’re doing but that’s why it really jumped out. Even though you’re right in the middle of the kitchen, and you’re watching everything being cooked in front of you, it has the nice, calm coolness about it but you’re there and you get to really engage with the chef and you get to see the work that goes into making the dishes.

From Brazil To Paris To Christchurch

There’s a patisserie called Sweet Soul that’s epic. It’s owned by a couple of sisters from Brazil who worked in Paris for a while and came to Christchurch. What they create out of this tiny kitchen is mind-blowing. The cakes and pastries they’re making are awesome and world-class. There are really good tarts, eclairs, tarts and classical glazed bits and pieces you’d see at any high-end patisserie around the world. You go there, get a really ornate beautiful little cake and a cup of coffee and you sit in this little alleyway that’s tucked away, it’s really nice and it’s a really cool place to visit.

Two Key Coffee Addresses

I really, really like Coffee Supreme. The company is originally from Wellington but came down and opened a flagship store in Christchurch that’s become a real hub for the city. It’s just a beautiful little space that speaks to who they are and what they’re doing. The baristas there do brilliant coffees and roast everything themselves using beautiful single-origin beans. There’s also a spot called Grizzly Baked Goods out in an industrial area in Sydenham that’s doing filter coffee along with great croissants and stuffed bagels baked on-site. It’s nice to go out and sit out on this make-shift bench and enjoy some great filter coffee and fresh baked goods.

Coffee Supreme. Photography: Courtesy of Coffee Supreme

Deeply In Love With Pinot Noir

A friend recently opened a spot called Pinot Cave, a cool little Parisian-inspired wine bar that’s opened in an old warehouse space in Sydenham. Youssef Iskrane the owner is from Paris and he just pours you whatever is open that day. He’s really into pinot noir and there’s a lot of pinot there. He’s really into pinot. It’s a really nice place to just hang out. His hospitality is awesome. His wife Flip [Grater] owns Grater Goods. They share the place together. Grater Goods is a vegan delicatessen that does some nice spins on sandwiches and steak and chicken burgers. It’s very casual food but it’s all vegan.

Lifting The Spirits

There’s an amazing late-night bar called Last Word which has an incredible selection of whiskies. It’ll take you around the world through whisky. Whisky connoisseurs go there, but then also people who want to stop in for a cocktail on a night out or go get a nightcap. The service is very professional. You’re seated and given really nice table service. It’s perfect for people wanting to get into whisky or get a taste of something they might not have the opportunity to try because they’re not going to go out and buy an expensive bottle for home. It has most of the whisky produced in New Zealand. It’s a very nice space to sit in and think about what you’re drinking. Down the road there’s a bar called Gin Gin that’s a lot of fun and a nice place to go as part of an evening out in Christchurch. The owner Luke has a lot of energy. 

Seasonal Ice Creams With Michelin Pedigree

In the seaside suburb of Sumner there’s an amazing ice cream shop called Utopia Ice that’s recently opened a place in the city. It’s nice to have an ice cream out at the beach but now it’s here, it’s easier to access. The owner Sebastian Koburg has experience in Michelin-starred kitchens in Germany but he decided to put his energy into ice cream. He moves a lot with the seasons and has a really good selection of delicious flavour combinations and classics.

Pizza Time

Mediterranean Foods is a big Mediterranean food warehouse with a little pizza spot on the side where you can have your classic stone-baked pizzas and an Aperol in the afternoon. It’s cool and old-school and it’s been in Christchurch for a long time. We’ve got another spot called Alligator Pizza which is doing the massive New York-style slice. It uses sourdough which makes everything taste better. It’s exactly what you want when you want a big, over-the-top, dirty New York-style slice.

A Cafe That Loves Its Community

Lyttleton Coffee Company does brilliant coffee and is a beautiful place with a huge amount of soul. You’re sitting on the deck and looking across at this contrast of natural beauty and big industrial shipping machinery. It’s the perfect place to hang out. Lyttleton is a working port town as well as a place where a lot of artists and musicians live. There’s this amazing mix of people that don’t want to conform to society’s norms and they do things on their terms. On Saturday mornings, they also host the Lyttleton Farmers Market that takes over the main street and you can visit the café while you’re at that market. There are some really nice traders there selling some really nice produce and products. For vegetables, there’s Streamside Organics. They’re really good to visit. If you’re after a snack, there’s an Indonesian tempeh stall that does these nuggets with peanut sauce. They’re delicious and worth nibbling on while walking around.

The Lyttleton Bar Where Locals Drink

Civil & Naval is another spot in Lyttleton. It’s always got a great range of beers – the taps are constantly moving. We’ve got a really cool craft beer scene in Christchurch. The team there also take cocktails really seriously. It’s a lovely mishmash of people and everyone’s always engaging with each other. It’s such a small bar. You can’t avoid engaging with people while you’re there. It’s a good way of immersing yourself in that mixture of people that share this place and call it home.

Smashing Stereotypes

Ilex Cafe at the Botanic Gardens is a really interesting spot. It looks like your classic botanic garden kind-of cafe but the food it’s putting out is really nice and really well made. The chef Jonny Schwass is doing a good job and really cares about what he does. He’s putting up classic New Zealand comfort food like cakes and slices but doing it his way. I also like Kinji Japanese. It’s part of a set of old shops 20 minutes west of the city and is an absolute gem of a place. It’s always full and sells an incredible array of seafood. Ask owner-chef Kinji to cook what he feels is good and you will be well looked after.

Sashimi platter at Kinji Japanese. Photography: Courtesy of Kinji Japanese

The Wine Bars I Call Home

Gatherings is a tiny restaurant that serves natural and living wines from New Zealand primarily, but we do have a global focus as well. It has a very small list and menu of what we think is best and what works together at the time. I describe the food as neo-bistro food: not overly complex, but interesting and where the focus is on flavour from our region. We celebrate our farmers and what’s around us and show that in a really relaxed and informal environment. The space is really light and all the furniture is made from recycled timber. We constantly change the artwork and we change some of the light settings with the season. People can come in and drink wine and have a lot of fun while engaging in something that I think is quite serious: looking after the planet and honouring these farmers that are doing all that work out on the land and countryside.

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