39 Webb Street, Mount Cook, Wellington
Opens 7am weekdays, 8.30am weekends; closes 4pm weekdays, 3pm weekends
Muesli $12; Peoples coffee, t-leaf-T tea
Preservatorium lives in a non-descript office sort of building just off the top of Cuba St, yet it has a very much bohemian Cuba St vibe. Its curious name comes from the fact that it apparently makes and sells preserves, though I didn’t notice them. The food sits in the ‘good value’ category: nothing too fancy, but all the usual Kiwi favourites, from eggs on toast to burgers, nachos, hash stacks and French toast. Plus there is counter food of sandwiches, lasagna, sausage rolls, etc.
The muesli was pretty much your standard off-the-shelf type that someone must be selling to cafés. It had large-size oat flakes, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, a few sliced almonds, coconut flakes, and dried raisins, cranberries and pawpaw. Fairly ho-hum really. Interestingly, yoghurt, honey and a berry compote were all served in separate dishes, which was nice, as you can decide how much you want of each, if any. The only fresh fruit was sliced banana, which I’ve grumbled about in other reviews (Goods, Seashore Cabaret) as being too much more bland carb to add to oats, but taste varies on this issue.
I had tea on another occasion. It included a proper teacup and a heavy ceramic pot (good for keeping tea warm) filled with tea at just the right strength. The expensive cafés can’t manage these few basic aspects of serving a decent cup of tea, so well done! I had a corn fritter with beans and my companion had a quiche. We thought they were both good, and very modestly priced.
It’s the environment that is the most distinctive thing about Preservatorium. There is a cornucopia of vintage bits and pieces pretty much on every surface and in every corner. It is not studied with an aim of creating a nostalgic Kiwiana atmosphere, like Maranui or Seashore Cabaret, but more like a second-hand shop. There is some aesthetic rationale to the selection and display, but mostly it is just bric-a-brac from the past. (I had originally assumed that the name Preservatorium was a reference to collecting and preserving such stuff.)
This eclecticism extends to the serving ware. Nothing matches at all, but that’s the idea. I received my delicious Americano coffee in a nana-mug on a dark brown coffee-cup saucer, the milk was in a willow-pattern jug and the muesli in a heavy brown bowl that might have come from the 1970s. Its a bit like what you would expect in a student flat or the sort of staff tearooms where people bring along their own cups.
Speaking of student flats, I think the location near Massey University, the modest prices, studenty food (burgers, fries, nachos) and boho retro atmosphere all make Preservatorium popular with students. I have to say that it was pretty deserted at 8am on a weekday, but this was during student vacation time, and even when not, 8am is hardly a student hour.
Fairly ordinary muesli but good coffee and a comfortable environment that is extraordinary for its density of stuff from the 1950s to the 80s. Never mind the food, eating here is a sensory overload where the past makes its presence felt.
Reviewed February 2020.