Dowse Art Museum, 45 Laings Rd, Lower Hutt
Opens 8am weekdays, 9am weekends; closes 3pm (breakfast finishes 11.30 weekdays, 2pm weekends)
Muesli $12.50; Revive coffee, t-Leaf-T teas
Bellbird Eatery is the Dowse Art Museum’s café. It is more than an adjunct though, for in a city bereft of good eateries (the Petone and Eastbourne suburbs aside) the Dowse eatery has, under various names, long been a destination in itself.
I visited on a weekday and it was popular late-morning but, curiously, rather emptied out by about lunchtime. Perhaps Lower Hutt is such a decentred city and a dormitory town to Wellington that there is no lunchtime worker audience. Or maybe it is a little too far away from what there is of a CBD. Nearly all the patrons were women.
The muesli (they call it granola but the components don’t cluster together) is made of seeds, a puffed grain and nuts. I didn’t see any oats in it at all, so the only cereal content was the puffed grain (not sure what sort, but fairly small) and some buckwheat. Nuts included brazil, hazel, macadamia, almond and pistachio, as well as pumpkin seeds. Many were whole nuts. There was also coconut shred and a small amount of dried fruit. The mix was toasted and had a shiny appearance, perhaps from oil or a sugar based product.
There was a ring of whipped yoghurt around the side of the muesli, but not really enough to moisten the muesli much. However, the bowl came with a jug of milk. And the lightly cooked and spiced plums on the top did the rest.
The other food available looked pretty nice. A dining companion had Vietnamese chicken and she pronounced that it was very well balanced.
And I had a cheese scone about a year after my muesli visit, in July 2021. It was perfectly good, but if you wanted it heated there were only the unfortunate options of the microwave or the sandwich press. At least the butter came in a dish rather than a plastic packet (and was soft).
My Americano coffee was excellent and came with a jug of very hot water for you to add yourself. This wasn’t the case with the tea which I had with the cheese scone though, and the tea was too strong by the time I came for a second pour. The English breakfast t-leaf-T was at least leaf tea – often eateries serve this variety in a tea bag. But another negative was the hopeless-to-pour milk jug. Without a lip on the jug you risk milk running down the sides on to your fingers and the table.
The tea and scones day was during school holidays on a Wednesday at lunchtime and the place was packed. Hardly anybody in the Dowse galleries though, so clearly it was the eatery that was the destination – a case of a café with an art gallery attached rather than the other way around.
There are tables outside, with some options to sit in the shade of the right-angled panels. These fold out as if they are pop-out parts of the wall, but I’m not sure when they are closed. Plus there are umbrellas that staff might put up if it gets really sunny.
Excellent, very nutty muesli that is a welcome relief from the more common, cheap-to-make, heavily oat-dominated ones. It is a little more sugary than I would like, but not too much so. The yoghurt is minimal and mainly adds appearance rather than taste. Pleasant environment when not busy, and good coffee, but tea leaves a fair bit to be desired and the cheese scones are served tough and doughy from the microwave or squashed in a toaster. So a fairly good score all round but room for improvement.
Reviewed June 2020.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.