2 Taranaki St, Te Aro waterfront, Wellington
Opens 7.30am weekdays, 9am weekends; closes at dusk every day
Porridge $15; Havana coffee, t-Leaf-T tea
Karaka Café is right on the waterfront opposite Whairepo Lagoon. It takes its name for the young karaka trees planted out front (see photo below) and in a grove at the back. It is a popular site in summer evenings for lounging outside on beanbags between the café and the water. But what really makes the place unique is its Māori-run nature. It is part of the Te Wharewaka o Pōneke complex that stores waka (Māori canoes) and contains a functions venue. The food includes Māori themed dishes (and you can order hangi-style food in advance for takeaway).
There is no muesli or granola on the menu, just porridge, but it’s not bad at all. I’ve had two versions, one in 2020, and one in 2019. I’m featuring the 2020 one here, but also touch on the earlier version.
OK, the photo doesn’t seem to show porridge, but no, I haven’t posted the wrong image. The porridge is completely covered by a layer of berry compote, coconut yoghurt, toasted coconut shred and toasted muesli. Below you can see what we you get when I had eaten part way down. The porridge is made of whole grain oat flakes, and as such is quite chewy and heavy. So I think its quite a good idea to try and balance that in some way.
The compote was not too sweet and tasted great. The muesli wasn’t at all crunchy. That was a bit disappointing. I think the steam from the porridge had softened it. Maybe it was standing for a little too long before being served, or maybe I spent too much time taking photos before digging in. It was good tasting, though had quite a lot of dried fruit.
The bowl was served with a jug of sweet plant-based milk. Maybe oat milk, I’m not sure. The whole dish is listed on the menu as vegan.
The photo above with the flowers is the 2019 version. It was made from small oat flakes and came in a very generous serving. It tasted rather sweet to me, so I’m not sure if it included added sugar. It may simply be that it was cooked with milk, as milk has about 5g of sugar (as lactose) per 100mls.
The porridge had a steamed pudding crumble spread over the porridge surface. The compote may be the same as 2020, and it was amazing to find it layered at the bottom as well – like finding gold after digging through what miners call the overburden.
The seating comprises mainly padded orange chairs or couches. Very comfortable. I was surprised that the seating didn’t take account of the water view when I visited in 2019, but maybe they read my comments to this effect. The sort of bar counter you can see in the above photo has now been shifted, giving more seats a view of the city and lagoon.
The place was fairly full at about 8.15 on a weekday, but noise was not a problem as the acoustics are not at all echo-y. I think most of the patrons were people having a coffee before their conference or whatever started. Contemporary Māori music was playing in the background slightly louder than I like, but it was pretty chilled, often reggae-influenced, so easy to live with. There were plenty of magazines to read, but they don’t get newspapers 😦 No filter coffee either but the Americano was OK, if rather a small serve (on both my 2019 and 2020 visits). I wonder if they didn’t know you add hot water to a long black and simply gave me the latter.
I had English Breakfast tea on another occasion. It came attractively served on a metal platter. The tea was leaf tea, but I’m afraid I find t-Leaf-T a bit so-so. The pot held just under two cups and poured well. The tea was in a coffee cup, undercutting the sense of specialness of being served on a tea tray. The music was a similar type and volume as last time – just a tad loud for me.
You could sit outside on a nice day, but the sun won’t reach the seating until after mid-morning at least. It does become very popular on late summer afternoons/evenings.
Generous and novel serving of porridge, excellent compote, nice presentation, very comfortable surroundings. No newspapers but there are plenty of magazines. Tea and coffee a bit ho-hum. Sustainability practices, including composting food waste, are listed on the menu.
Reviewed August 2019 and June 2020