90 Aro St, Aro Valley, Wellington
Opens 7.30am weekdays, 9am weekends; closes 4pm, or 5pm Sun
‘Porridge‘ $16, muesli $15.50; Aro Coffee (owners brand), t-Leaf-T tea
Aro Café is a bit of an institution in the secluded Aro Valley, which is not far from the Te Aro area of Wellington city. It is in the Aro village and diagonally opposite Arobake. The latter gives the café a run for their money in the bakery department but has negligible seating.
Before you read any further you should know that this is not porridge as conventionally defined but simply as titled on the menu. The NZ Oxford Dictionary calls porridge, ‘oatmeal or another meal or cereal boiled in water or milk’. The result of such boiling is generally a mush or paste. What we have here is instead cooked quinoa. However, it is served as though it were a muesli or porridge, so I am giving Aro Café a very liberal benefit of the doubt.
This quinoa was warm (helping it just a little to conform to the porridge concept) mixed with rehydrated dried blueberries and a few small pieces of dried date for sweetness. It was topped by a coconut yoghurt (described on the menu as coconut custard, and maybe that’s what it was), some poached pear slices, a berry compote and a very minimal sprinkling of sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
So, very much the sort of topping you would see on muesli, and sometimes on porridge. Overall, it was very tasty actually, and pretty healthy to boot. The pears were plainly cooked, so not sweetened, and the berries seemed like the thawed frozen variety, so again no added sugar. The proportion of protein and carbohydrate in oats and quinoa is about the same but quinoa has a better protein profile and no gluten.
The café now serves filter coffee, but I can’t say I was terribly excited by what I was served. I am also not keen on it being in a glass, but that’s just a personal preference. Give me a mug every time.
I’ve reviewed the tea in my Aro Café muesli review, but I wasn’t very impressed in that drink department either.
Aro Café is pretty popular, but I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it’s the captive audience of Aro Valley residents who tend to stay local and have flexible or no jobs, plus people from Karori who drive through the valley and are poorly served by cafés in their suburb. Then there are the mountain bikers who can descend in a drove at any time, but especially in the weekend.
The café is a relaxed place, as befits its situation in the heart of bohemian Aro Valley. Several newspapers are available and the soundtrack is pleasant (Buena Vista Social Club when I was there). But personally I find the dark wooden décor makes the place too gloomy to feel comfortable. This isn’t helped by the front windows being under a verandah and never getting the sun.
Don’t be mislead by the listing of a dish on the menu as ‘quinoa porridge’. It is not porridge, but it is a good dish all the same. I don’t think I can rank it on my porridge page, but I publish this anyway and you might find your way here from my Aro Café muesli page. And if you do hanker after mushy quinoa porridge, you can buy it in a packet at supermarkets as ready-to-cook flakes under the Orgran brand.
Reviewed June 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.