178 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington
Opens 7.30am weekdays, 8am weekends; closes 2am
Muesli $9.50; Porridge $7.50; Havana coffee, Twinnings tea
Midnight Espresso is a legend in the Wellington café scene. It was founded by Tim Rose and Geoff Marsland in 1989 and, along with Espressoholic, marked the modern beginnings of the espresso-based cafés that have become such a fixture of the Wellington scene. A few years after starting up, Rose and Marsland also began their own roastery business on the top story of the building. Their brand, Havana, was first made from beans sourced from Cuba.
I tried the super-cheap porridge at Midnight a while ago, and it was OK, so I thought I’d better also give the reasonably priced muesli a go too. As you can see, it was piled with a fruit salad and yoghurt. Somewhere underneath was the muesli, but it took a while before I got there.
It was far more nutty than I was expecting for the price. It had peanuts with their skins on, something I’ve not seen in a muesli before. Also walnuts, almond slivers, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds. There was a very small amount of dried fruit – raisins and apricot. The oats seemed very lightly roasted and bound together like an under-done granola. A light dash of honey appeared to be through the mix.
The dish was accompanied by a huge jug of milk. I reckon it might have held half a litre at least. And what’s more, it wasn’t even necessary with all the runny yoghurt. For an extra 50 cents you can have a vegan version of this muesli, but I’d be surprised if you would get that quantity of a more expensive plant milk.
Once upon a time this café would have been the place to go for coffee in Wellington. But today it serves a pretty ordinary and very variable brew. Last time I had a rather watery Americano in a glass. This time a small version in a coffee cup. I reckon it was just a long black. At just $3 it is cheap though.
There’s plenty to see at Midnight. Posters and a variety of reading matter along one wall (including the daily newspaper), a pinball machine, a Space Invaders table, framed Pasifika photographs by Glenn Jowitt… And on the other wall is a steadily evolving wall mural. Against this are tables that have been with the café so long (from 1989) that the Formica pattern is worn right off in some cases; and what must be the first café seating repurposed from NZ school chairs.
And do check out the toilets. They are full of graffiti, but the main attraction is the ante-chamber where fantasy murals glow under ultra-violet light.
And look up while you are at the counter and you will see a sculpture by super-popular Wellington artist of the 1980s, Debra Bustin. This place really is a time capsule.
Note the speakers up here too. Classic hits pump out here at fairly high volume, but the great thing is that the volume recedes as you get towards the front of the café. No speakers following you around here. And the front is the best place to sit anyway, as you can take a seat and look out onto Cuba St as street life in all its varieties passes by.
Midnight Espresso doesn’t have a website and there is no menu on its Facebook page, so click the link for my photograph of the August 2020 food menu. There is a weighting towards vegan and vegetarian food, as well as to catering for food allergies.
Good value and fairly healthy muesli a café where you can always get something to eat no matter the hour, your attitude, or how you look. And have the satisfaction that you are experiencing part of Wellington’s café history.
Reviewed October 2020.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.