128 Courtenay Place, Te Aro, Wellington
Opens: 7.30am weekdays, 8am weekends; closes midnight, Fri and Sat 2am
Muesli $11, Hummingbird coffee, T2 teas
Enigma took over the old Courtenay Place premises of Espressoholic in 2009. Founded in 1991, this was one of the first of the present day cafes selling espresso coffee in Wellington. Espressoholic was, and Enigma remains, a grunge café, similar to Midnight Espresso. If there is such as thing as a punk café, then this might be it: painted entirely black within, including the floors, somewhat tatty, and open late; the sort of place teenagers might find glamorously risqué.
The menu listing doesn’t give much away when it comes to the granola (better described as muesli). Just your usual ‘House-made toasted granola with fresh fruit salad and natural yoghurt’, but in the flesh the granola/muesli was not the usual at all. It seemed to be entirely nuts (cashews, almonds) and seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and linseed), plus toasted coconut shred and dried cranberries. I’m not sure it had any oats in it, which is good news for those who want to be gluten-free.
The fruit included apple, orange, pineapple and banana. The yoghurt was nicely tangy and runny. My only complaint was the compote. It was rather jam-like in consistency and sweetness. Tip to chef: just use frozen berries thawed out. As I have complained about in other reviews, I wasn’t so keen either about the deep bowl, which doesn’t allow you to separate and mix ingredients, but forces you to eat downwards in succession, leaving you with plain muesli at the bottom.
I’ve had an Americano coffee twice at Enigma and both times it was good. There is plenty of good-looking counter food, an ice cream or gelato freezer, and a sizeable menu that includes pretty standard fare. Plus there are newspapers to read, and a decent sound system that’s played loudish.
The black floor, ceiling, walls and furniture doesn’t present a very inviting environment, unless perhaps you are a vampire (or plain hungover) and want to escape the bright daylight outside. Nevertheless, I’ve seen people in business suits, families, loners, teen groups and people tapping away on laptops all hanging out here. A more diverse crowd than you would find at Floriditas or Loretta to be sure. Maybe it is simply more comfortable here: no starchy waitstaff and unspoken dress code. You can just be yourself and stay as long as you like.
There is a ‘garden’ seating area out the back. It looked a bit grim when I was there, but then it was the middle of winter. Maybe they unfold the awnings in summer. Even so, I’m not sure much sun would reach down into this well between buildings.
Enigma seems to serve the same sort of role in Courtenay Place that Midnight Espresso does in Cuba St: as a open-all hours place where there is always plenty of food on offer at a reasonable price. So if you are feeling a bit peckish after a movie or a visit to the fleshpots of the Courtenay Place there will be something for you here.
Surprisingly good muesli that is mostly nuts and seeds, with a decent serve of fresh fruit and healthy yoghurt. The dried fruit adds a bit of sugar, but not too much. A bigger issue is the sickly-sweet compote. And there is the grungy décor you will need to cope with. The clientele is very mixed though, so you should fit in easily enough. And anyway, maybe it won’t be long before heritage status is awarded the interior and well-heeled people will be visiting to see what 1990s espresso cafés looked like.
Reviewed July 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.