In a quaint, two-storey building on the main street of Lyttelton, a small restaurant is turning out some of the best food in the country.
Giulio and Christy Sturla, the couple behind award-winning Roots Restaurant, are driven by a simple philosophy: to serve good food using fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients.
Drawn to New Zealand by its natural beauty, Chilean-born Giulio, and Christy, an American, arrived in 2009 with the dream of starting their own restaurant. Giulio had earlier spent a year working without pay at world-leading Spanish restaurant Mugaritz with chef Andoni Luis Aduriz.
In New Zealand, he worked as a chef in Napier and Auckland before moving to a highly-rated restaurant in Christchurch run by chef Jonny Schwass.
Restaurant Schwass was extensively damaged a few months later, in Canterbury’s devastating February 2011 earthquake. By this time, the Sturlas were expecting their first child and, having settled in Lyttelton, decided to start anew there.
They began selling gourmet cookies, seedlings, bliss balls, grissini, sauces and preserves from a table on the main street and then started running a café. During the evening, they hosted ‘supper clubs’, which were effectively a testing ground for what was to come.
Roots opened in Lyttelton’s London St in 2012. The restaurant doesn’t have a set menu, which is “partially about trying to change preconceptions”, says Giulio. “People will come here saying ‘I hate mushrooms’ only to tell us after we have served them a dish with mushrooms that [it] was their favourite.”
Much of the restaurant’s produce is harvested from it own urban garden or sourced from farmers’ markets and organics specialists. This is supplemented with foraged foods from Banks Peninsula. “There is nothing wrong with going for a walk and picking something fresh,” says Giulio. “We have found herbs, parsley and wild spinach on Banks Peninsula – even pine nuts.”
The Sturlas’ devotion to forging new ways with food has been recognised by Cuisine Magazine with a rating of 18/20 and three chef’s hats in its Restaurant of the Year awards.
Giulio and Christy Sturla's top five things to do in Christchurch
- The ferry to Diamond Harbour is so quiet and peaceful and the village is a beautiful place to go for a walk.
- We love spending time in Lyttelton, doing walks around the harbour, taking in the views, enjoying the coffee shops in the township and going to the farmers' market on Saturday.
- Akaroa is a pretty little town in its own right and a great base from which to explore the area’s bays, wildlife and interesting French and English history. It is a wonderful place to go walking, fishing or just enjoy the harbour.
- Less than five minutes’ drive from Lyttelton is the Gondola in Heathcote Valley. The 10-minute trip to the Summit Station on Mt Cavendish offers impressive views.
- Sumner has got everything from surfing to walking to beaches, views and gelato!
Best time to visit
Any time of the year; every season brings something new. Roots is open for dinner from 6pm and for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays from 12pm. Bookings are recommended; and can be made here. For bookings of eight or more, it is a good idea to ring ahead.
How to get there
Lyttelton is 25 kilometres from Christchurch International Airport, or 40 minutes by car. Follow SH1 to SH73, then take SH76 and SH74 to Lyttelton. Roots is in the town centre at 8 London Street.
Lyttelton has many beautiful bays on its doorstep. Corsair Bay is a popular swimming spot. Further on is Governors Bay, home to Sir Miles Warren’s beautiful formal garden, Ohinetahi. The Little River Rail Trail is an option for active visitors. From Lyttelton, it is a half-hour drive to the cycle trail’s start in Hornby.