Karaka Café

2 Taranaki St, Te Aro waterfront, Wellington
Opens 7.30am weekdays, 9am weekends; closes at dusk every day
Porridge $14; Havana coffee, t-Leaf-T tea

Karaka Café is right on the waterfront opposite Whairepo Lagoon. It presumably 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. It is made from oat flakes and comes 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 was attractively presented with a couple of flowers on top of a dollop of berry compote and there was (not too sugary) toasted steamed pudding crumble spread over the porridge surface. The compote was the best I’ve tasted in any eatery so far! The menu says it is boysenberry, apple and rhubarb. It was not too sweet and tasted very distinctly of the boysenberries. What’s more there was a quantity of it at the bottom of the bowl, so dig down to find the gold!

The only downside with my eating experience was that no milk came with the porridge. I asked for some and got the comment, ‘Oh yeah’ and was given a good sized jug-full. Sounds like its absence was just an oversight, but it was hard to say. And the guy who took my order in the first place didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked if they had filter coffee. So service, while pleasantly casual from one perspective, was a bit lacking from another.

The seating comprises mainly padded orange chairs or couches. Very comfortable. I am very surprised that the seating doesn’t take account of the water view – there is only one table where you can see outside. Other cafés would give an arm and a leg for the view opportunity provided by the location, yet this is just wasted. You could sit outside on a nice day, but the sun won’t reach the seating until after mid-morning at least. (It is quite remarkable that there are almost no cafés with a waterfront view in Wellington.)

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 Americano was fine. Came in a regular cup without extra hot water.

Karaka cafe tea

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.

Conclusion

Generous 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.

Reviewed August 2019

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