Hippopotamus, QT Hotel, 90 Cable St, Te Aro, Wellington
Opens 6.30, finishes breakfast 10.30 weekdays; 7am to 11am weekends
Granola $21, muesli $23; continental breakfast $25; full breakfast $32 (neither available during Covid precautions); L’affare coffee, T-Leaf tea
The Hippopotamus restaurant is upstairs in the QT Hotel, formerly known as the Museum Art Hotel (for its art collection). Before that again it was the Museum Hotel de Wheels (for the incredible 1993 engineering feat of shifting the entire building on wheels to make way for the construction of Te Papa, now across the road). The restaurant has a reputation in its own right beyond that of the hotel and a special feature is high tea in the afternoon. Be aware that the price for this pleasure is also high.
Like a number of hotels, you can have the buffet breakfast, with options of continental or cooked, or you can select from an à la carte menu. Anyway, that was the situation pre-Covid, but at the time of writing the buffet is not available. I chose ‘The Mighty Fig’ from the menu.
The menu lists this as containing ‘organic granola, dried figs, coconut yoghurt, saffron and vanilla caramelised apple, blue agave and goji berry syrup’. Ginger is not mentioned, but this was the dominant taste, and it went well with the nicely poached pear (or was that the apple?) The granola was crunchy and included sesame seeds, buckwheat, sunflower seeds and coconut flakes, and dried figs, but I couldn’t see any oats. Maybe they were the binder that made these ingredients clump into crunchy pieces. I asked about the agave and goji berry syrup and was told it was mixed in. The coconut yoghurt was nicely tangy. Almond milk in a jar is served with the dish.
Back in November 2019 I had Grandpa’s muesli here. It was both heavily oat based, and heavy, with just a few raisins and even fewer pumpkin and sunflower seeds, accompanied by sparse pieces of dried pawpaw and coconut flake. It was topped with a nicely tart yoghurt, plus blueberries, diced banana, goji berries, and a sliced strawberry. The base was very sweet, probably from the drizzled-over honey that had soaked into the warm oats.
This dish has now gone but in November 2021 you can have a ‘Petit pancake breakfast bowl’ from the menu. I’m not sure what this is, but the components are listed as ‘petit pancakes, cacao nibs, kiwi fruits, orange, Greek yogurt, port wine poached pear and granpaBBs muesli.’ So perhaps it has the same muesli base as the one I had two years earlier.
A nice thing about hotel breakfasts is that you can drink as much filter coffee as you like. And in this case there is no additional charge for it. The waitresses were constantly topping up my cup. I couldn’t fault the service. There were newspapers available in pre-Covid times, but not at present.
Pre-Covid (November 2019) I checked out the buffet offerings to see if that might be a better way to go in the future, but you can see in the picture above that the cereals were the pretty standard set. Is there someone, somewhere, prescribing cereals for hotels? Maybe staff learn at hotel school that you have to have cornflakes, wheetbix, nutrigrain, coco pops, and bulk bin style muesli. Children’s food really. There didn’t seem to be the range of fruit and so on to add to your cereal as there was at the James Cook Hotel’s Whitby’s restaurant. Though there were small glasses of bircher muesli and chia pudding, as well as berry smoothies.
The place only had a handful of people dining at about 8am on a weekday, but this may change as Covid travel restrictions ease. Nobody was sitting at the baroque end, the ideal place for high tea. Maybe it feels too overwhelming for breakfast? Wait staff tend to usher you to the other end anyway. It is closer to the kitchen there, so suits them better.
The view is not bad. Te Papa and a carpark occupy most of the foreground but beyond is a glimpse of the sea and a marina.
Nice enough atmosphere, if a little starchy. It’s not a place where you can really lounge about. The granola is expensive, but you get what you pay for and when you consider the complimentary bottomless coffee it doesn’t work out much more expensive than a coffee and muesli/granola at your average café. I thought the granola was pretty good, though a little on the sweet side. I think I will give the ‘Petit pancake breakfast bowl’ a go sometime.
Reviewed November 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.