214 The Parade, Island Bay, Wellington
Opens 8am for brunch until 3pm; dinner until 8.30pm, closes 9.30pm
Granola $15; Havana coffee (incl filter), t-Leaf-T tea
All the cinemas in Wellington have a café attached, but the Empire Cinema & Eatery is the only one that serves muesli/granola. It opened as a suburban cinema in the golden era of movie theatres back in 1925 but eventually closed in 1964. After use as a shoe store, decorator and furnishings shop, hardware store and various other purposes, it was renovated and opened in 2005 in its current multiplex form.
I turned up at a weekend lunchtime before my 1pm movie and found the place very busy. I had to wait a few minutes for a spare table while crowds surged through the space, buying tickets for their next movie or just getting an ice cream.
The granola was a roasted mix made quite chewy by containing a lot of dried apricot. Its base was a mixture of fine and large oat flakes and there were few nuts or seeds. I think I spied 4 or 5 pine nuts and there may have been very fine coconut shred mixed with the oats. It was quite a dry mix. While it clumped, as befits a granola, it wasn’t, on the other hand, crunchy.
The best bits were in the topping. Absolutely delicious coconut whip, yummy poached plums and a pleasantly acid fruit-paste drizzle. The banana? Meh. But the pansy flowers and red fruit paste made the whole thing look very enticing to eat.
I didn’t have the coffee (Havana filter is on offer, so it could have been good). But thumbs down for the tea. Well, OK, it was no worse than what you get in most Wellington cafés, but collectively they need to do better, and that includes the Empire. How? Use a proper tea cup, not a coffee cup, supply a tea pot with a decent spout so it doesn’t dribble all over the table, avoid tea bags, supply a pot of extra hot water. Simple really.
I’m not sure about the white tile wall linings. I wonder if it has to do with the Italian ownership? For a Kiwi like me, public toilets or an old style butcher’s shop come first to mind. I can’t help imagining the place being sluiced down with hoses after the crowds have gone home. I so much prefer the lounge-like settings of the other movie theatres – Penthouse, Lighthouse, Embassy and perhaps the Roxy. After all, that’s what the eateries are for: a place to lounge before or after the movie.
The granola here is a mixed success. It suffers from too much dried fruit and a lack of nuts and seeds. On the plus side there is the coconut yoghurt or whip and the stewed plums. Tea is poor, but coffee might be good. The space is unpleasant when busy (that is, when movies are on), but could be nice in the front window very early in the morning with sun shining in at a low angle. And if the Empire is not looking good then Betsy is across the road.
Reviewed August 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.