Hiakai is a Maori word that means hungry. It also means having a desire, a need, craving for food. This is precisely why the New Zealander Chef Monique Fiso decided to call her restaurant Hiakai. The chef is hungry to show to the world what the native Maori food and culture is all about. 

The project launched in 2016 as a series of pop up dining experiences; all centered in the old cooking techniques and elements of the Polynesian people. Today, Hiakai is an actual restaurant in Wellington, or as the Maori people call the Northern Island’s metropolis, Te Whanganui a Tara.

Chef Monique Fiso started working the kitchen at a short age. She studied Cookery and Patisserie at the Wellington Institute of Technology and worked under New Zealand star chef Martin Bosley. Monique then migrated to New York, where she cooked at prestigious, Michelin-starred restaurants including The Musket Room, PUBLIC Restaurant, and Avoce.

Chef Fiso is better recognized as a contender in the Netflix TV series The Final Table, released in November 2018, where she was eliminated too early in the sixth round. It’s not her TV appearances but her work around the idea of resurrecting and heightening Polynesian and Maori cuisine that has put her on the culinary map.

You can find Hiakai across the street from Massey University, a few blocks away from Prince of Wales park. The dim-lit restaurant of black ceilings and wooden walls is elegant and contemporary. Black lamps hang over the tables, pouring amber light that create a comfortable and mysterious setting. The open kitchen is the focal point while the tables are dressed with fine crystal wine glasses and traditional earthenware.

Service is dynamic, and staff is knowledgeable; they have to be, to translate the chef’s vision to curious guests with little or no previous knowledge about the produce, the technique and the story behind every dish.  

The menu changes often, but it always displays traditional ingredients and common ancestral techniques like the hāng, in which steaming hot stones are buried with food on the ground for a slow, even cooking. 

Te Matuku Bay Oysters, Manuka Smoked Eel with nori crackers, Steamed and fried Green Lip mussels; the menu is strong on sea produce but displays food from the land too.

The pit-roasted pork with kumara root vegetable and burnt honey dressing is extraordinary. 

New Zealand wine is, one of the main attractions in Hiakai, and their mixology is as rewardingly complex as Chef Fiso´s cuisine. Amy Young carves ice cubes by hand for each cocktail, and unique botanicals from all over the globe shine in outstanding concoctions.

This is not the last time you’ll be hearing from Hiakai and Chef Fiso’s unique native cuisine. The restaurant has already won a few accolades and is starting to turn heads. This restaurant will soon be considered amongst the best in the world, so make sure you book a flight to the land of kiwis, before lines get too long. 

Photos: Hiakay

40 Wallace Street, Wellington, New Zealand


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