January, 2022During times when many restaurateurs have been clinging onto their
businesses in the hope of survival, the owners of The Bunker Restaurant
and Bar in Queenstown have made a bold move, more than doubling in
As executive chef and co-owner Ben Norfolk says: Fortune follows the
brave. Hes hoping that holds true.
He and his business partner Cameron Mitchell, who sold two other
venues in downtown Queenstown last year, had two options in early
2021 after a tough 2020.
We were either going to hold down the fort or invest and this
opportunity came up, says Ben. Weve always wanted to expand and
never had the opportunity to, he says. It just happened to be the
worst timing ever.
They took the brave step of securing double the size of their lease,
extending from their current Cow Lane site right through to adjacent
Queenstown Mall after a former souvenir shop vacated the lease.
The three-month build, which kicked off in February last year, stretched
out into a seven-month project after all sorts of hidden treasures
under the existing building.
It wasnt only the building timeframe that stretched but also the
budget. An original estimate of $1 million ballooned into almost $1.6
million, including taking on the new lease space.
Its been a massive investment, says Ben. We gutted the whole thing
The new-look Bunker, now with two bars, opened on November 20 with
a huge welcome from local fans.
We launched loud and proud. Everybody seems happy and weve had
some amazing feedback about what weve produced, says Ben.
However, last year it was Bens turn to help design his own kitchen.
Hed longed for a larger, newer one for some time, but had to make do
with the cramped original version. My excuse was always that I was
cooking off of a six burner and drop stove - thats always what I used.
But now Ive got everything, he says. The much more spacious modern
version cost at least $250,000 and features all the mod cons and
necessary chefs toys two Combi ovens, eight burners, a chargrill, sous
vide and Thermomix, to name a few. I was so excited to finally get in
there, he says.
Regulars and visitors have been delighted walking into the flash new,
rustic-style interiors, and even more so when theyve tasted the ramped
up menu. I changed the style. Its now a bit more exciting and theres
a bit more theatre, not that stuffy, white linen, formal, fine dining
feeling like this is only for special occasions, says Ben. We have to be
adaptable to all markets, he says. I wanted guys to be able to come in
here with a mate and enjoy a one kilo tomahawk with sides.
The Bunkers focus is still be very much on premium game meat and
seafood, food thats local, sustainable, paddock to plate. I wanted it to
be refreshing, refined and respectful, he says. All of my produce is
locally sourced from the likes of Nevis Garden and Gibbston
Microgreens, and my lamb comes from over the hill (Cardrona Merino),
my venison and wild boar from Fiordland and crayfish from Kaikoura.
There was no need to change that, but Ben says hes made it all a bit
sexier and stepped it up a level. Im super proud of it.
His new 8-course degustation menu has been flying out the door since
re-opening, all delicious, locally-sourced produce from the surrounding
region and around the South Island. Smoked Canterbury ostrich,
pancetta ragout, whipped truffled potato, confit egg yolk, served in an
ostrich egg shell, wild Bannockburn hare loin nicoise, braised leg
roulade and black olive emulsion, all served alongside West Coast paua
tortellini, kina foam and nasturtium.
One Northland specialty has made it on the a la carte menu though
sustainably farmed Ruakaka Kingfish. Wakanui Beef Fillet is also served
a la carte with bone marrow and beef tongue, while the Duck Leg comes
in lollipop form crispy, with plum jus.
Bens Petit Fours are far from petit in size and have been the most
popular choice, offering a selection of frozen crème brulee, macaron,
lamington and chocolate cremeux.
Theres been a shift away from intimate fine dining as customers opt for
a more relaxed, welcoming atmosphere showcasing local and regional
finds. Story is paramount as part of the dining out experience for
many. Customer service is key for us too, says Ben. People need to
feel welcome, comfortable, take their shoes off if they want, or order a
pinot with fish. I wont turn my nose up at that, he says. Were just
here to show people a good time and take them on a journey.
Weve always been lucky to have the locals supporting us, especially in
the bar, so were very grateful for that, says Ben. Wed always
struggled to service the town before with just 28 seats in the
restaurant. We always had to turn people away. There were never
enough seats as we were only a small intimate restaurant with bookings
weeks out, prior to Covid times.
The Bunker now seats 70 inside, instead of just 30, with two cosy, large
fireplaces. A new, more intimate, cosy cocktail bar has been
incorporated downstairs adjacent to the restaurant, catering for about
40 people. This offers a more late night, speak easy vibe serving great
cocktails where you can sit down and enjoy several good whiskeys while
the younger customers party in our upstairs bar, says Ben.
A new feature, a winding internal staircase connects the restaurant with
the newly-redeveloped much larger upstairs bar and its greatly
extended outdoor bar area which has capacity for about 100 people. At
present thats encased by marquee style covering with plenty more fire
pits to heat the space with plans for a retractable roof to be installed
The Bunkers famous secret wooden door now serves as a fire exit.
The interiors are rustic, refined and re-envisioned, put together largely
by Camerons wife Tina Mitchell, who has an eye for interior detail. The
Bunker has retained its old world charm dark wood, green bankers
lamps, brass furnishings and its red carpet entrance.
Source: Intermedia NZ
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