Lido

81 Victoria St (on corner with Wakefield St), Te Aro, Wellington
Opens: 7.30am weekdays; 8am Sat; 9am Sun. Closes: late, Tue to Sat; 3.30pm Mon; 4pm Sun
Porridge $15, Granola $15; Chia pudding $15; L’Affare coffee; t-leaf T tea

The Lido is another one of those Wellington eating institutions that has been going for almost thirty years now (and before that as the Dolphin). I remember it even earlier as a model shop with kitset models of airplanes, electric train sets and Meccano. It would have been a prime bit of real estate for a shop, suggesting how popular modelling was long ago. Like sewing. Now everything is ready made in China. It must still be a location to die for though – with floor-to-ceiling curved windows on a high visibility corner site in a heritage building built in 1961 for the NZ Racing Conference organisation.

Things got off to a bad start when I asked, as I always do, for my coffee to come together with my porridge. I want to eat and drink together. Like wine and food pairing. I don’t want the coffee going cold as I wait for the dish to arrive. The waitress seemed to acknowledge my request, but the Americano coffee still came long before the porridge, and already it wasn’t that hot.

I perked up when I got the porridge though – it was a very attractive bowl, consisting of a medium-size oat flake porridge covered with sliced bananas, cooked blueberries, toasted coconut slivers and muscovado sugar. (Muscovado sugar is made by not removing the molasses in refining, in case, like me, you didn’t know.) And the bowl itself was an attractive piece of ceramic ware. As you may know from my other reviews, and my Health page in particular, I am not keen on having sugar forced on me, but I have to concede the sugar was delicious. If you are going to have sugar on you porridge then this richly flavoured stuff is clearly the way to go.

I was surprised the porridge didn’t come with milk. Porridge and milk kind of just go together, don’t they? But I was given some when asked. As I’ve commented elsewhere, warm or hot milk would be a great accompaniment with porridge and easy to supply via espresso machines these days. I don’t know why it isn’t offered.

The environment was pleasant, with padded mid-century design chairs, some couch seating, and plenty of light. Well, that is, the seating area is nice but the counter and the walls behind are a style disaster and quite out of keeping with the modernist architecture of the building and its heritage value. A real wasted opportunity.

In fact, I once decided I would never set foot in the place again after the old interior was refurbished several years ago. It had the most amazing lino squares flooring (as per my photo of 2015 below). They got rid of that?!

Apparently the architect specified only the highest quality materials be used in the building, and they were. And so cleverly thought out were the tiles, using blue tinged ones of different colours to suggest a blue weave. Can you believe that the current owner (presumably) of the café decided these tiles were to go to the tip! Is that cultural vandalism or what? (To be fair, I don’t think the rest of the interior was worth worrying about and probably dated from 1990 when the Lido started.)

I find it hard to continue when I think about that destroyed floor, but duty calls…

There were four or five people there at 8.30 on a Saturday morning and only a slightly greater number by 9.15. So plenty of seating options, though it substantially fills up for lunch and dinner.

The huge windows might suggest it’s a good people watching venue, but the opposite is kind of true – as you walk past you get a clear view of every single person seated inside, but somehow when you are seated you don’t notice these passers by. Maybe its because they are too close. The architectural report I’ve linked to above summarises the environment nicely: “The overall effect of the curved building elements is to create a comfortable, transparent space that is somewhat akin to both a cave and fishbowl.” So not a place for a secret assignation.

As I paid for my breakfast I was asked how it was and I mentioned the less-than-hot coffee. The waitress seemed genuinely interested in my feedback and we discussed whether the water added to my Americano wasn’t hot enough. So that compensated for my complaint about the coffee coming early and I left thinking that I wouldn’t now mark the place down for service.

Conclusion

Great porridge, coffee could have been hotter. Nice, light-filled environment that is freighted with an unfortunate refurb history.

Reviewed September 2019.

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