City Gallery Wellington, Civic Square, central Wellington
Opens 8am weekdays, 9am weekends; closes 2pm
Porridge $15.50, Muesli $15; Supreme coffee (incl batch filter), t-Leaf-T tea
Nikau Café has been going since 1998 and is a perennial favourite, especially amongst art gallery goers. It is renown for its cheese scones and kedgeree. It is usually popular and noisy but I found it nicely quiet first thing on a Saturday, before the day had fully got underway.
The porridge is extremely creamy, white and slimy. The organic oats are clearly cooked in milk. I don’t want to put you off, but the texture is a little strange. It falls off the spoon like thick PVA and has an interesting immiscible boundary with the fruit syrup pooled around the sides of the bowl. I couldn’t resist puddling with this for some time to see if they would mix. I was reminded that milk is used to produce casein glue. Let me hasten to add that there is nothing wrong with the texture in the mouth: it just looks a bit unusual for porridge.
The dish is topped with poached spiced pear and slices of golden kiwifruit. The pear was nicely firm. And over everything was a sprinkling of toasted almond slivers and (coconut?) sugar. As usual, I could have done without the sugar, or be left to add it myself, but it did make an attractive topping.
I had breakfast at Nikau five months later, and he had the porridge (above). Now the apple and kiwifruit were replaced by cooked tamarillo halves but otherwise it all seemed the same as the version I had.
The bottomless filter coffee was excellent. It would have been nice in a mug that matched the pottery porridge bowl, but I’m not complaining. Just to get filter coffee, never mind an endless cup, is a bonus in a Wellington café.
On another occasion at Nikau I had English Breakfast tea and a cheese scone. These scones are legendary, and deservedly so. They are crisp and crunchy on the outside, while light and cheesy within. The tea isn’t up to the same standard though and was pretty much the usual for Wellington eateries. Maybe one day somebody can start running a course on how to serve tea for barristas! You can read further comments on the scone and tea in my review of Nikau’s muesli.
And above is the other Nikau specialty, kedgeree, a dish of rice, hard boiled eggs and smoked fish of Indian origin. It is a reliable winner that has been on the Nikau menu for years. A vegan version is now also offered. It is not on the online menu but is on the hardcopy version (as at July 2020).
One thing I like about Nikau is its light-toned ply-topped tables. They help give a clean and modern feel to the cafe. But it is a pity that, like so many cafés in Wellington, no effort has been put into sound deadening the venue. It has also been partly squeezed into a bit of left-over space, so the end nearest the gallery (view to counter and reverse shot to gallery above) is a bit grim, with a low ceiling and no daylight, but the wedge at the other end, up and opposite the counter, is quite a pleasant space and opens to a courtyard that is popular in fine weather.
The café is housed within the City Gallery Wellington building but if you turn up before the gallery is open, never fear. There are two entrances opening directly into the café at the harbour end of the building. One is on Civic Square (below).
The other entrance is around the back on the ramp up from Harris Street:
Interesting porridge that is cooked to a paste with milk. Good fruit topping that is not, on the other hand, overcooked. There’s more sugar spread over the top and in syrup around the edges than I like. Toasted almonds offer a welcome crunchy contrast to the smooth porridge. Good filter coffee, and it is bottomless. Nice environment on a sunny day when its not too busy and noisy.
Reviewed July & December 2020.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.