cnr Norrie and Parumoana St (in the Pataka complex), Porirua
Opens 9am daily, closes 4pm weekdays, 4.30 pm weekends
Porridge $15; Havana coffee, Dilmah tea
Kaizen is Japanese a concept famously implemented by Toyota in the 1980s that encouraged workers to suggest incremental improvements. I’m not sure if this has applied to the operation of Café Kaizen, but the fact that it is a long-running family owned and staffed business is an situation where it could easily be so.
I have visited Kaizen occasionally over the years and always enjoyed the food, especially the cake. The cakes still look delicious, and there was a tempting treat of fry bread with golden syrup on the counter when I visited recently. However, I try to steer towards healthier options these days! So, to porridge, and what good porridge it is.
The porridge has a topping of sliced banana, coconut yoghurt (the dish is billed as vegan), almond butter, granola and a single half strawberry. All good porridge toppings, though personally I would like a bit less banana and more strawberries.
The granola consists of coconut shred, pumpkin seeds, almonds, dried cranberries and toasted oats. I really liked the way the toppings were spread across a wide bowl so you could either eat each separately with the porridge or mix them up according to your desire. Much better than those eateries that serve the porridge in a deep bowl and heap everything on top, so you have to work your way down to just get to the porridge.
I also had tea at Kaizen. The brand, Twinnings, didn’t inspire me, and it came in a tea bag. But the rare and wonderful thing is that it was served with extra hot water without my having to ask. And with a proper tea cup. Someone else at my table got a differently shaped teacup, a pot with a longer spout, and a better pouring milk jug, so expect some variability.
Other food was eaten and approved of by my companions but I only got a photo of one item, smashed peas and avocado on toast with a poached egg and feta cheese. It was pronounced good, with niggles that there was not a lot of avocado and the toast was a fairly plain variety. You can read my copy of the menu as was in July 2020, since it is not online.
The café is situated within a complex that includes the public library, Pātaka Art + Museum and a Japanese garden developed to mark Porirua’s sister city relationship with Nishio. I guess the garden could explain the Japanese name for the café, but I also note café branding with the word split into ‘kai’ (Māori for food), and ‘zen’ for, well, zen, as in the contemplative religion. But then the Japanese word itself is already derived from the same two halves as characters for ‘change’ and ‘good’ respectively, so maybe the cross-cultural play is about good food rather than meditative food, or am I reading far too much into things?
Anyway, in pre-Covid times you could eat at tables on the decking in front of the garden but apparently there is now a city council directive against this. Nevertheless, you can sit in the main thoroughfare looking out onto the garden as the café spills out of its own small space. And the internal area near the counter is itself greened with a remarkable number of pot plants.
My visit was at lunchtime during the week, and it was fairly busy. Google figures suggest that it is pretty quiet from 9am to 10am most days, but weekends are certainly very popular from 10am. I didn’t check if there were newspapers to read.
Surprisingly good porridge in a popular and busy café right next to a Japanese garden. Staffed by a largely Māori team who really seem to enjoy working with each other behind the counter. Recommended.
Reviewed July 2020.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.