City Gallery Wellington, Civic Square, central Wellington
Opens 8am weekdays, 9am weekends; closes 2pm
Muesli $15, porridge $15.50; Supreme coffee, 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 popular and noisy but between 8.15 and 9.15 am on a Saturday I found it pretty quiet.
The muesli is not too heavy and the portion size just right. It has a good mix of coconut, grain, some nuts (not many) and seeds. It did have a vaguely animal fat taste. Not sure where that came from – some cross contamination? It was served with a dollop of the usual tasteless Zany Zeus yoghurt and poached pears (see the Aro Café review for my complaints on this score). I had to ask for milk and was given a choice of soy.
The music was rather loud to start with but was turned down after a while. The Americano coffee was served in a regular cup and was average.
On a later occasion I had English Breakfast tea and a cheese scone. These scones are legendary, and rumour has it that some people reserve them in advance to avoid missing out. I’ve had them a few times here and can confirm that they are probably the best in Wellington. Certainly they set the standard by which all other cheese scones must be measured. They are crisp and crunchy on the outside, while light and cheesy within. Perfect. And they are reheated in an oven, not (argh!) a microwave. They might be a little smaller and more expensive than other café’s, but too much scone eating will only pile on the kilos.
The tea was nice enough, but served in a coffee cup. It was less than hot and rather strong. Asking for an extra jug of hot water solved the last two problems, but they should have been prevented at the outset. The pot poured well and held two to three cups. The tea was leaf, not tea bag. In summary, the tea was OK, but a pity it didn’t match the standard of the scone.
One thing I like about Nikau is its light-toned ply-topped tables. They help give a light 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 of the space. It has also been partly squeezed into a bit of left-over space, so the end nearest the gallery (first photo 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 (photo below, with reverse shot below that).
The café is housed within the City Gallery Wellington building but if you turn up before the gallery is open, never fear. There are a couple of exterior doors opening directly into the café at the harbour end of the building.
With its reputation for good food I was expecting something better from Nikau. It’s not bad, but there isn’t anything special enough about the muesli to entice me back again. The cheese scone is an entirely different matter though.
Except I have to, um, add a postscript from Nov 2020 to say that the scone was not so good. Not bad, but no better than other good Wellington cheese scones. I feel let down.
Reviewed May 2019.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.