103 Oriental Parade, Oriental Bay, Wellington
11am weekdays, 8am weekends; closes late every day
Granola $16, porridge $20; Halo coffee, T2 tea
Coene’s Bar & Eatery is in an upstairs section of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club, a spiffing location, with an uninterrupted view over the yacht harbour. There is even a balcony where you can dine, though breakfast patrons tend not to eat here. Still, you should have no trouble getting a window seat most times.
The menu seems to change quite a lot, so don’t rely on the website. Currently (June 2021) the menu on the door says ‘ginger spiced granola’ and that is what I am reviewing here. The menu description says ‘with Wellington Fog roasted oats, seeds, nuts, berry compote, earl grey and vanilla milk’. What are Wellington Fog roasted oats? I’ve no idea. Earl grey and vanilla milk? Milk flavoured with early grey tea and vanilla? There is a beverage known as London Fog, which is Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and vanilla syrup. Maybe this dish is supposed to be a Wellington version. Somehow.
The granola was well roasted, crunchy and often clumping. It consisted almost entirely of oats, with a few pumpkin seeds and some walnuts. It was topped with several sliced grapes, a berry compote, and a very pathetic quantity of sliced granny smith apple. You get a small pot of tangy yoghurt, but I had to ask for some milk as clearly the yoghurt was not going to be enough to wet the granola. It was plain milk, definitely not flavoured with Earl Grey tea or vanilla.
So did something go wrong in the kitchen and the served dish never came near what it was supposed to be? This isn’t the first occasion I’ve had a mismatch of description and actuality at Coenes. On a previous visit I took what I was served back after I’d eaten a bit since it bore no relation to the menu description of ‘overnight oats’. As you can see below, this dish was mostly biscuits, meringue, chocolate buttons and toffee popcorn or something, all on some sort of chocolaty base. If there were any oats in it they were hidden and sparse, never mind soaked overnight. A kids sugar-rush dish I think. I was given a half price refund.
This time I didn’t bother raising any questions because there was another problem: the granola was very salty. Usually the problem is too much sugar, but this time I couldn’t eat it all because of the amount of 1) oats and 2) salt. Some people like plenty of salt, but I figure you can add it yourself if you are one of them. What those of us who care about their health can’t do is remove the salt.
Coenes have been going steadily downhill from my first visit in 2019. In Oct 2020 the granola dish was called, ‘Natural unsweetened Lewis Road yoghurt with Harraway oats, fruits and berries’ on the menu, though it was essentially granola. Yoghurt indeed constituted a significant portion of the dish, but there were also a couple of delicious stewed black Doris plums as well as a crunchy granola, a sort of mousse and a fine chocolatey powder. Overall this dish was very good, though a bit too sugary in the granola department for me to want to have it again.
But the Coenes granola version I can’t resist showing is the first Coenes offering that I reviewed in October 2019. Unfortunately it is long gone from the menu, but it got my top marks at the time – for appearance if for nothing else, though it did taste great as well.
This version included smooth peanut butter, but not enough to be a gluggy party pooper; fresh fruit such as strawberries and banana slices; and all manner of swirls of delicious custards and gels. One seemed like lemon curd. Another had a lovely flower fragrance. And there were flowers for real as well. Underneath everything was granola. If ever this was a breakfast dish designed for Instagraming, this was it.
The coffee was a good size and tasted OK, but wasn’t anything special, and on my last visit wasn’t even terribly hot. Maybe that was because I asked them to hold the coffee until the granola was ready, and rather than make it at this stage they had it sitting around in the cup while the granola was prepared. Other cafés seem to be able to deal with my request OK and pull the coffee once the dish is ready to go. Coenes isn’t a place to go for coffee alone.
There was no one seated when I arrived at about 8.15am on a Sunday, and by 9am there were a handful of other diners. I grabbed one of the booth seats at the far end where you get the sun and face a window. Wedged in there it was my own private seat with a view. Some rather crappy music played a bit loud ruined things at first but that faded into the background somewhat after the noise of conversations rose. Equally awful music played on both my October 2020 and June 2021 visits. Tinny speakers didn’t help.
You might perhaps wonder who Coene is. Nope, he is not the owner. Lieut.-Commander Edgar J Coene was the US officer in charge of the boat harbour and sheds when American armed forces were stationed in NZ during WWII. The NZ government built the sheds you see either side of the slipway just north of the current yacht club building in 1942 for the US Navy, originally with an additional story. You can read about the history on the Wellington City Council’s heritage page. Within the eatery there is also a war-time photo showing that all the boatsheds lining the harbour then had a second story.
Fantastic location but the quality of food has gone way downhill since I first visited in 2019. I won’t bother eating here again now. I say this with both annoyance and regret, as the granola and porridge I had at Coenes in 2019 was amongst the very best in Wellington and really motivated my early efforts creating this site. Plus, of course, the location and view is second to none. But now, what a waste.
Reviewed June 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.