100 Shelly Bay Rd, Miramar, Wellington
Opens 8am, closes 5pm daily
Muesli (granola) smoothie bowl $13; Supreme coffee, t-leaf-T tea
The Chocolate Fish Café was formerly in Scorching Bay and was known for occasional appearances of international movie stars taking a break from shooting in Peter Jackson movies. The café remains there as Scorch-O-Rama (no muesli) while The Chocolate Fish has moved to the former Warrant Officer’s and Senior NCO’s mess in what was previously an air force base at Shelly Bay. Have the stars remained loyal? I don’t know, but the setting is rather less picturesque.
The muesli served is described on the menu as a ‘muesli smoothie bowl’ so I was a little concerned as to how much muesli it would contain and I was right to be apprehensive, for the dish is essentially a smoothie poured over a chia pudding with a fairly light topping of muesli. To call it a muesli dish for the purposes of my reviewing is a bit marginal but I’m going ahead anyway. Plus I would describe the grain as granola, as it is crunchy and sticks together.
The dish had a chia pudding base which was covered with a berry smoothie and on top was a sprinkling of a granola consisting of millet or similar (the dish is labelled gluten-free), pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, currants, almond slivers and coconut. This was bound with something sticky, making me think of a muesli nut and seed bar. There were some small blobs of berry compote, sliced kiwifruit, banana and apple covering the non-dairy smoothie as well. It all tasted good.
The leaf tea came in a smallish pot which poured well. It was not terribly hot so I had to ask for more hot water. The cup was a real teacup of the sort used by an elderly person who’d bought it in the 1970s or 80s and which eventually found its way to a second-hand store.
I had a cheese scone as well. I’d rate it at about 7/10. Needs more cheese and less salt.
My companion had haloumi and parsley potato cake. I think she was satisfied, but did remark that the toast was unnecessary. Just a double loading of carb. Better to be sitting on a larger bed of greens perhaps.
We found the place pretty quiet early on a weekend morning. A pleasant part-outdoors space at the back specifically designated as a child-free zone suggests that as the sun shifts around later in the day it becomes very popular with families.
Speaking of the teacup above brings me to the decor. It could be read as run-down, certainly casual. This should not be surprising, for the place must be on a short term lease with Shelly Bay slated for redevelopment (expect upmarket apartments and eateries). But equally the decor can read as a subtle, studied Kiwiana. And perhaps it deliberately uses the former to speak to the latter.
Some of the decor looks like it is simply inherited from the air force – I’m thinking of the historical photographs of military activities in the area displayed on the wall (Miramar Peninsula was once home to military bases at Fort Dorset, Fort Balance and Shelly Bay).
The chairs are repainted school chairs and presumably came from the café when it was in Scorching Bay, for the graphics on some caution about waiters crossing the busy road to the beach-side seating. The serving plates are chipped enamel, recalling picnic or bach eating of decades ago. Or maybe they were also inherited from the air force. Likewise with the teacups. Then there are the laminated signs everywhere that remind me of a motorcamp or boarding house. They range from instructions (what not to put down the toilets) to menu items.
Outdoors there are kids scooters, trikes and bikes, a trampoline and jungle gym. That a Kiwi-culture theme is intentional is most clearly signaled by the menu: there are sammies, cherios (kids menu), paua, whitebait and mussel fritters, Foxton Fizz ice-cream spiders and hokey-pokey. And then of course the name, The Chocolate Fish. So its not the retro nostalgia of Maranui and Seashore Cabaret, but something meant to evoke a more recent and familiar New Zealand culture – one that may be fast disappearing as seaside real estate prices soar (a fate to which it looks like Shelly Bay itself will become victim).
You will need a car or bike to get here, which means it tends to serve a family audience. And it is probably nicer in the afternoon when the sun shines on it. Could be a good place to re-experience traditional Kiwi favourites like whitebait fritter (before the fish go extinct?) The muesli smoothie bowl is mainly a smoothie bowl.
Reviewed January 2020.