170–172 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington
Opens 8.30 am Tue to Sun; closes late Tues to Sat, 2.30pm Sun
Porridge $14 (seasonal), bircher muesli $14; Supreme coffee, t-Leaf-T tea
A long-running Wellington institution known for reliably good food, Olive do porridge in the winter (weekdays only, note) and good bircher muesli year round. Post-Covid lock down, opening hours have shifted from 8am to 8.30 opening, and closure on Mondays.
The porridge is listed on the hard-copy menu (not online) as ‘3 grain porridge with salted caramel & poached rhubarb (NF, DF*, GF*)’ I asked what the three grains were: oats, quinoa and buckwheat, I was told. The asterisk means ‘available as’. So you could have another grain besides oats I guess. Nut-free is a new one on me. I had to look up the abbreviation on the online menu. The more nuts the better so far as I’m concerned, but I guess that doesn’t work for everyone.
The texture of the porridge is a little strange if you are used to rolled oats porridge. It was very pasty, rather like oatmeal porridge. And fairly bland tasting. Buckwheat tends to be like that and I think it is by far best eaten as crunchy whole grains.
The porridge was topped with several sticks of cooked rhubarb. Clearly no sugar added, so that’s good. And you do get the option of adding something sugary in the form of a jug of warmed caramel syrup. I gave in to the temptation just to add some taste to the porridge (as per my top photo). You also get a choice of cream or milk in a jug. Again, cream helps add some taste. As for what that fine brown stuff sprinkled all over that looks like an invasion of tiny ants or midges, I’ve no idea. I couldn’t discern any taste to it.
The interior of Olive is rather like the Aro Café: dark. There are a couple of small tables near the door when you come in and one in the adjoining room that look onto Cuba St. These get snaffled up first, so you have to be early. Next to go seem to be the other tables in the side room, as those in the main room are in a thoroughfare from the door to the counter.
However, Olive’s wonderful secret is the garden area at back. It is not immediately obvious, so I found myself completely alone here while the inside tables filled up. Sure, some might think it will be cold outdoors, but there is at least one heater (see above) in the semi-enclosed area and it is very sheltered from Wellington’s winds.
It’s pretty rustic and ad-hoc in the garden. I think of the south of France, Vietnam, or Cuba. None of which I have visited I confess, so maybe its just a romantic state of mind. All the same, I found it a very relaxed and pleasant place to have some breakfast, drink coffee and read a newspaper. I rate it as one of the better Wellington café environments, and akin to the Southern Cross.
Having said that, I believe it does get completely full by midday for weekend brunch, and I imagine it hums on warm evenings (there is a bar out there), so don’t assume it is always deserted.
The Americano coffee I’ve had at Olive is fine. No filter available. Tea, I thought, was a bit below par, but that’s Wellington cafés for you. See my bircher muesli page for a run down on the tea and scones.
Unusual porridge using quinoa and buckwheat as well as oats. Somewhat tasteless and pasty in consistency. Sour rhubarb, caramel syrup and cream make it a bit more interesting, but only a bit. Coffee OK, good scones, and average, or below, tea. Interior seating cramped and dingy, but wonderful garden seating out the back.
Reviewed July 2020.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.