178 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington
Opens 7.30am weekdays, 8am weekends; closes 2am
Porridge $7.50, muesli $9.50; 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 they 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 have often passed by Midnight on my way down Cuba St and noted their super cheap porridge and muesli. I figured that it might be good value but not very flash at that price, so dropped it well down my priority list for sampling.
Well, it was a bit more elaborate than I was expecting. You get a bowl of date paste as well as brown sugar to put on your porridge. So the photo just above is how it came, and the header photo is my effort to artistically arrange the paste. That was quite difficult, as date paste is pretty sticky and I couldn’t separate it into small pieces. At the risk of putting you off, it was a bit like earwax on a large scale.
The porridge itself was very hot and fairly chewy. Made from smallish grains of largely whole grain rolled oats I would say. That is, not your packaged instant oats. For an extra 50 cents you can have soy milk instead of cow’s milk in a jug.
The Americano coffee I was served came in a glass. It was quite a large volume but perhaps a bit more watery than I would like. Like the muesli, the drinks are very affordably priced: $3 for black coffees; $3.50 for English Breakfast tea for two.
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.
There’s plenty to look at in the place. 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.
A prime seating spot is of course the bench table at the front. From here you can feel the fresh air on your face when the window is up and watch the Cuba St crowd go by.
Best value porridge in town in 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.
In the daytime Midnight attracts a very varied clientele, from young Cuba St bohemians and adventuring schoolgirls in their holiday break to old guys who eat breakfast alone and read the newspaper (like me). But not so varied as to include the starchier Floriditas and Ombra crowd of these nearby eateries. And even less likely to do so by the time the clock gets to midnight I imagine.
Reviewed August 2020.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.