In Sydney I find myself categorising most eating establishments as places I’d either go to with my children or I places wouldn’t in a million years. It’s rare that a place can be both. Auckland, it seems, is different. We stumbled across this delightful eatery tired and weary… Up since 4am, we’d survived a 3 hour flight with 2 kids in tow, all 4 of us had had minimal sleep and this was the first non-aeroplane or airport food we’d consumed all day. Seriously, almost anything would have done. But The Store was far from an “anything will do” kind of establishment. A Kiwi friend of mine had told me that NZers in general are far more tolerant than Sydney-siders of the presence of children at the kind of cool café that as an adult you’d actually want to eat at in the absence of your children and, having spent a very pleasant hour here (well, ok maybe half an hour, the kids weren’t THAT good!) I now believe it. We ate in the bistro/restaurant section (where I must confess I enviously eyed a few locals drinking white wine with their lunches but feared I’d lose all capacity to cope with the afternoon ahead if I did the same) but I asked for a delicious-looking chicken pie from their bakery section, which didn’t disappoint. Mr L had a pulled pork sandwich (yum) and we ordered ricotta hotcakes for the kids to share. (They were too tired to really eat much, but Mr L and I enjoyed their hotcakes for dessert). Even the (non-alcoholic) drinks were cool- I had a delicious apple & cinnamon tisane-type drink- it was a little on the sugary side but would have been a perfect hot-chocolate substitute and Master L sank all of Mr L’s quince & malt milkshake before he got much of a look-in. Service was friendly and helpful. I’d happily go there again- avec or sans enfants, either alone, with Mr L, a girlfriend or parents (including in-law).
I don’t think I would have gone into this place had Mr L not had it recommended to him, it looked a bit gimmicky. Although I have, on previous occasions, observed that the busiest-looking café is usually the best, so if I’d gone by that rule I may have ended up there after all, as everywhere else was deserted. I’ll have to withhold the superlative for the time being, but only because I have nothing nearby to compare it to: I was pleasantly surprised. Despite the gimmicky exterior, the service was incredibly helpful and friendly and the food and coffee were definitely worth going back for. Again, child-friendly without being (seeing-hearing-feeling) adult unfriendly, the menu offered a few different choices to the standard Sydney breakfast fare (which consists of bacon & egg rolls, eggs bene, bircher muesli). Mr L and I baulked at the bowls of coffee they served us (you can get cups instead if you want) but the coffee was really good and I had no trouble finishing mine. He had home-made hash-browns (I would have called them potato cakes or gallettes, as I was totally put-off by the term hash-brown) with smoked salmon & poached eggs and I had an omelette with salsa verde, which I don’t often do, as they are usually enormous and I just feel full and sick afterwards. This omelette was indeed quite large, but very nice, although to my great sorrow I set the pot of salsa aside to butter my toast and forgot to try it until I was full of omelette. I’m often wary of salsa verde, I often find it a bit too grass-like but this was more like a subtle pesto: delicious! We ordered the kids toast although Master L demanded most of Mr L’s smoked salmon, and a berry smoothie, which was perfectly yoghurty & un-sugary. I also spied the rolls and sandwiches they had on display as well as some amazing-looking desserts and thought, I’d happily eat here again… how long till lunch?
I realised as soon as I walked in that I’d actually been here before. It appealed to me this time for the same reason as last time- a big central counter with a vast array of breakfast, lunch and in-between choices that looked like they’d been cooked on-site at this café-cum-deli. Great coffee (again) and I like the touch of the mini chocolate-brownie bite that came with it. I’m a big fan of those little biscuits you sometimes get with a coffee when you’re not ordering food. When you are ordering food, I find it a little unnecessary, but I ate it nonetheless. I made a poor choice with my breakfast, however, mostly my own fault. I almost never order the muesli-yoghurt-fruit combo: I am fussy about my fruit, fussy about my yoghurt and I make muesli at home to my own individual taste and rarely find anything that measures up in my book. So the odds were against Zarbo being able to give me a dish that I’d be happy with. Indeed, I was unfortunate enough to end up with thin blobby yoghurt, toasted muesli riddled with banana chips (shudder) and a plate full of pineapple, pear and either papaya or melon, I wasn’t sure which. Given that my 3 least favourite fruits are, in fact, melon, papaya and pear, this was not an ideal breakfast. Like I said, poor choice on my part, really. Mr L had a lovely eggs benedict (with a potato cake instead of the boring old English muffin) and the poached eggs looked absolutely perfectly cooked. Master L had a boiled egg with bacon & toast soldiers, which he devoured. Service was pleasant and I’d go there again, although the menu didn’t enthrall me like The Store’s did, and the attention to detail didn’t impress me like Circus Circus had. Still, not a bad place to have up your sleeve.
I chose this café on the basis that I was flying solo with two kids and there were no other customers in it to a) steer the stroller around or b) annoy. This blatantly disregards my advice re the busiest café being the best and Kiwis being tolerant of children etc but hey, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to test either theory. I walked past the first time having turned my nose up on approach, but on glancing inside it actually looked ok- funky white sofa and otherwise unremarkable décor, I thought perhaps I had judged it too harshly. So on the way back we stopped, I was desperate for a coffee and Master L was asking for a smoothie. Both of which they did quite nicely, I must say. So Café Lava served its purpose. I can’t say I’d rush back there- among the songs played (I think it was a radio station they had playing- although I’m not sure that’s much of an excuse) were You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling and John Farnham’s “Two Strong Hearts”…. Ok ok, so yes, they are both on my ipod and yes, alright, they are two of my favourite songs, but decidedly more appropriate for singing along to in the car than drinking coffee to. What I couldn’t get past, however, were the uninspiring photos of various dishes (do we really need an A4 snapshot of the eggs benedict?), laminated, blu-tacked to the wall… Thanks for your hospitality, you may see us again, but not in a hurry…
We had hoped to check out Casetta for Saturday morning breakfast but it was closed. Instead, we chose Mink, partly because it was directly opposite and partly because we were in a bit of a hurry and it was the only café in which we could see people inside getting ready to open (just before 8am, apparently Kiwis sleep late- or perhaps they are all out early doing crazy adventure stuff and so don’t get to breakfast till a bit later). We had a pleasant but not mind-blowing breakfast, the food was reasonably priced and nicely cooked- I went for poached eggs on toast with spinach which is a bit of a staple for me. The eggs were lovely (I always feel I’m taking a risk ordering poached eggs at a new café, but they were done perfectly) as was the spinach (not sure how they did it but it was hot and tasty, not watery and boring which happens often with cooked spinach) and even the toast (dark and grainy) was lovely. Good coffee, Mr L enjoyed his French toast and Master L wolfed down his sausage (which doesn’t mean much, he’s not terribly picky when it comes to sausages.) The service was pleasant and inoffensive, but I just felt there was something lacking… maybe it was the young waitress wearing running tights (interesting) who hovered, looking awkward, clearly looking for something to do, or perhaps it was the bad soundtrack (again!) or perhaps it was simply the fact that we were at the end of a big week and knew we had to haul two kids and a hundred bags back across the Tasman, so my breakfast mojo was lacking. I’d go back, faced with similar circumstances but next time I’m in Parnell, I’d do my best to try somewhere else first.