107 Lyall Parade, Lyall Bay, Wellington
Opens 7am; closes 3pm weekdays, 4pm weekends
Muesli $14; porridge in winter; Supreme filter coffee, t-Leaf-T tea
Maranui Café is Wellington’s most celebrated café. It is a winning combination of a fantastic beach-side location with elevated views, vintage Kiwi décor and great food. Popularity is its only drawback. You will be lucky to get a table in the weekend. On the Saturday morning I visited there were about 18 patrons ten minutes after opening at 7 am and it was full an hour later, with a queue waiting outside the door.
With popularity come critics, and some reviewers on sites like Zomato and TripAdvisor say the place is over rated, the food isn’t that good, service is poor, etc. So it was with only moderate expectations that I cycled through deserted streets to Lyall Bay on a fine and windless Saturday morning while most people were still in bed.
I discovered that the porridge, which had been well spoken of, had just been pulled off the menu for summer. So I ordered the muesli – somewhat reluctantly, as I have become increasingly tired of the unimaginative toasted muesli and granolas routinely served up by eateries. But, wow! What I got was in another league. It looked so good that someone sitting near me even called over to ask what I’d ordered.
Served in a nice pottery bowl was an unusual toasted muesli mix that seemed to be buckwheat heavy, but still had oats and a whole lot of other ingredients. I could see pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and chia seeds, coconut flakes, goji berries, whole almonds, dates, and dried pear, fig, cranberries and tart apricots. It was quite a crunchy, almost gritty, mix, and seemed to have no sugar, though there was a light drizzle of honey over the whole bowl.
And then there was the fruit: boysenberries(!), strawberries, blueberries, apple and rhubarb compote, and a small amount of berry compote (or was that some squashed boysenberries?) The yoghurt was OK, and you can have Maranui-made vegan coconut yoghurt instead for an extra $2.
I was pleased to be served filter coffee, and in a mug. There were three newspapers to read but they were in high demand from the 18 patrons, even though many were socialising or pre-occupied with children. As I went to leave I noticed some pretty tasty looking baking at the counter. Next time… I also went to check out Maranui’s sister food outlet Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli but didn’t have the exact address so couldn’t locate it. You can find it to the west of Maranui and up Queens Drive a little at no. 200. It has a vegetarian emphasis apparently.
I visited on another day and had tea with a muffin. Sorry, the muffin was so good I scoffed it quickly and forgot to take notes. It had coconut shred and I think oats, rhubarb and apple. The English breakfast tea was leaf tea. The pot poured well and had about 2 cups in it. The tea was a bit weak, so I had it without milk. It was unfortunately served in a coffee cup.
Maranui doesn’t have its menu online, probably because, as it says on its website, it changes all the time. But for an indication, click on the above image to see how it stood in late November 2019.
The Maranui Café occupies the upper floor of the Maranui Surf Life Saving Club. I seem to recall that when it first opened you had to sign up as a nominal member of the club in order to eat at the café, but that is all gone now. The club was formed in 1911 after a dispute within the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club, and so two clubs were formed. The Lyall Bay SLSC is a short distance away in a bunker-like building on the beach to the east. The Maranui premises were built in 1930 and a second story added in 1956. The building is on the city council’s heritage list, which means it has an online assessment about its merits.
You might assume that Maranui is the Māori name for Lyall Bay, but that is not so. According to ethnologist Elsdon Best it was associated with the western cliffs of the Rongotai isthmus, near Kilbirne and may not be a genuine Māori name. The Māori name for the bay itself is Huetepara.
Top marks! This is how muesli should be done. Fantastic location, great decor. Only drawback is over popularity. And getting there can be a challenge without a car or a bike. Bus no.3 from the city will do it, but the earliest on a Saturday arrives at 7.30am and Sunday at 8am. The alternative would be to catch an earlier bus to Kilbirnie and walk from there.
Reviewed November 2019.