Food and Wine Restaurants Wanaka

Kika Culture

Written by Rebecca Williamson

Internationally renowned chef James Stapley took a punt when he launched Kika in Wānaka in 2016. Five years on the high-end tapas and sharing plates restaurant  is still gaining momentum.

He says the restaurant with its relaxed social atmosphere was something the resort town had never seen before and it continues to enjoy a loyal local following today.

“It just went nuts from day one. I think Kika works so well because there’s nothing else really like it. The food is focused on amazing ingredients, flavours and interesting combinations. We like to make the dishes look good as well but the important thing is flavour. During the summer and winter seasons we often get queues of 50 or so people at the door waiting for us to open. I had never really experienced that before opening Kika.”

The eclectic style restaurant people would expect to find on the streets of central Melbourne or Manhattan, Kika’s distinctly cool international vibe is just as memorable as its à la carte menu, which switches up regularly according to available local produce.

James says when it comes to deciphering what takes pride of place on the menu, anything goes and there are no culinary rules at Kika which is part of its attraction. 

“We are all about produce. When something comes into season or we find a new product we start to play around with various combinations and ideas until we get something that feels like Kika. If we all love it then it goes on the menu. There are no set rules as long as it works – often Japanese, Mexican and French influences work well.”

“We do have a few signature dishes that are firm favourites amongst our customers, too,” he says. “Our beef tartare with miso, crispy shallots, soy jelly and slow-cooked egg yolk is one of my favourites that I still love as much now as I did when it went on the menu four years ago. The Kika classics will always stay the same.”


Describing himself as someone who gets bored easily – particularly when it comes to cuisine – James continues to stand the heat in the kitchen alongside head chef Sam Cooper.

“I am around and write the menu’s with Sam who is in charge of running the day to day operations of the kitchen,” he says. “A large part of my role today, five years on, is developing the dishes that go on the menu and finding great suppliers and produce.”

Bringing world-class cuisine to Wānaka

Award-winning chef James Stapley trained at the Park Lane Hilton in London and continued to work at fine dining and Michelin-starred restaurants for nearly a decade before moving to New Zealand. 

It was at Pegasus Bay Winery near Christchurch, however, that he really harnessed his talents and began developing dishes of his own.

The luxury Whare Kea Lodge in Wānaka soon came knocking which James describes as his “dream job” before eventually moving on to open Kika.

“At Whare Kea I was in charge of creating a six-course tasting menu every night and that enabled me to build up a huge repertoire of dish components and lots of small suppliers that I still use today.”

James is totally committed to Kika and to Wānaka

 “I absolutely love the town and can’t imagine living anywhere else.” 

About the author

Rebecca Williamson