232 Oriental Parade, Oriental Bay, Wellington
Opens: 8am; closes late (summer hours)
Porridge $12, granola in summer; Peoples Coffee, t-leaf-T tea
Beach Babylon is another Wellington retro-themed eatery, along with Maranui, Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli, Seashore Cabaret, Preservatorium, Fidels, Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, and, to a milder extent, Midnight Espresso, Ohtel, Southern Cross, and Black Coffee. Perhaps one could also add Pravda and Leuven to that list as places that draw on nostalgia for past worlds.
Here the vibe is a combination of 1970s hip and tropical beach culture. So we have the orange palette and swirling, multi-lined typography of the 70s-look logo, plus décor and nick-nacks reminiscent of a beachcomber hang-out one might have encountered in the Pacific, Carribean or Asia.
I noted granola on the online menu in summer, but with the season now late autumn I found instead two varieties of porridge on offer. Both were steel-cut oats, with one titled Mama Bear and the other Papa Bear. I went for the first, for while the spiced pears and toasted nuts of Papa sounded fine, I was slightly put off by the brown sugar and cream also listed.
My Mama Bear porridge was nicely cooked, apparently with some milk, and wasn’t too chewy on the one hand, nor textureless on the other. It had chia seeds in it and was topped with stewed plums, coconut yoghurt and toasted coconut yoghurt shred. The way the plums were cut make them look like an exotic fruit or some sort of organ meat, but don’t worry, they are plums alright. I thought the whole thing was pretty nice actually.
I was pleased with my Americano, though disappointed no filter coffee was on offer. Wouldn’t that have been more in keeping with the beachcomber theme? I was surprised that the music had no particular connection to the décor either. It consisted of golden oldies to be sure, but nothing especially 70s or beachy.
I was pleased to see a newspaper too, but I had to get permission to read it as it was on a table marked ‘reserved’. For a regular apparently. The clientele on the morning weekday I was there seemed like wealthy retirees from apartments nearby. How nice: amble down to the beachfront at your leisure in the morning to have breakfast at your favourite table with a newspaper reserved. Mind you, this regular never turned up while I was there. Perhaps it was set aside for the owner in case they put in an appearance. Or reserved in memory of a now deceased regular.
Two days out of three in Wellington you will have a northerly wind blowing into the café, but then what’s a beach café without a bit of wind? On the day I was there it was calm and the French doors were wide open and most people chose to sit at least partly outside.
Oriental Bay is a very popular place to promenade with your dog. Sometimes you even see professional dog walkers with a dozen of so pooches moving like a herd. Beach Babylon have decided to cater to this dog world and have a special dog menu, ranging from dog biscuits and ‘a dogs breakfast’ of poached egg on toast to a doggaccino of frothed water and lactose-free milk with meat stock sprinkled over it ‘just the way they like it’.
I enjoyed my porridge and will be back to have it again. I’ll be interested to see how the place works on a strong northerly (does everyone eat inside?) And hope to catch sight of the mystery regular who (if they exist) I may aspire to be myself one day. Plus I will give Papa Bear a go next time. But then where’s Baby Bear? That was actually the one that was ‘just right’.
Reviewed May 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.