160 The Esplanade, Petone, Lower Hutt
Opens 7am daily; closes 5pm Mon–Wed; 9pm Thurs–Sun
Muesli (granola) $12, porridge $12; Good Fortune coffee (incl filter), Ritual Tea Co.
The Seashore Cabaret is above the Petone Rowing Club, right on the foreshore. It is in many ways a Hutt Valley equivalent of Lyall Bay’s Maranui café, and indeed was founded by the same people. It too features vintage signs, children’s ride-on amusements and retro-styled menu graphics. Its density of vintage decor makes Maranui appear sparse by comparison though. There is even a set of playable pinball machines and at the top of the stairs you are greeted by the voice of a fortune teller mannequin.
Like Maranui, there is a great selection of counter food (I recommend the pesto brioche). And some aspects of the granola measure up well (they list it as muesli on the menu, but it is highly toasted and the grains clump together, so I am calling it granola). It is a great mix, with sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, almonds and macadamia nuts, coconut and dried apple pieces. There looked like some chia seeds in there too. I was pleased to find it very free of sugar.
The granola was topped, in an unusual touch, with a couple of tart dried apple slices. This was accompanied by a delicious, tangy rhubarb and berry compote, Greek yoghurt (I suspect Zany Zeus brand) and a sliced banana. The last part really let the dish down. Banana is a bland, starchy fruit that can certainly do with accompaniments to make it more interesting. But this doesn’t work so well the other way around. Granola needs something acid and refreshing like orange or strawberries to go with it, and a few slices of banana can offset these nicely, but the gluggyness of an entire fruit can really weigh things down.
I had both filter coffee and English Breakfast tea. The coffee was served in a retro-styled Good Fortune Coffee mug and was good. You can get bottomless filter coffee for an extra $2. The tea was EXCELLENT. If you want to know what good, plain tea should taste like, this is it. The tea pot was a good pourer and had enough for two or so cups. The only downside is that the tea was served in a coffee cup. And no extra hot water was offered.
The view, right on the beach, is expansive and looks right down the harbour. And being to the south, when the prevailing winds are from the north, means you can sit near the open French windows, if not on the narrow decking outside, without getting cold.
At first I just loved this place for its vintage bric-a-brac and the cleverness with which a vintage look was re-created in some places – especially with the graphics on the coffee cups and the signage relating to Good Fortune Coffee.
But I did start to feel uncomfortable about imitated or invented Kiwiana. I thought of those Americana diners with their stereotyped 1950s chrome and red vinyl decor; the romantic theming of the Cuban revolution at Wellington’s Fidels Café; and the 1920s/30s picture palace recreation at Miramar’s Roxy Theatre. The latter was created in part by Weta Workshop. How much of our past do we want simulated by Weta and their ilk? And why is theming of experience so popular? Those who have forgotten the past are doomed to invent it?
Like Maranui, the Seashore Cabaret is a victim of its own popularity. You need to arrive within the first hour (or perhaps two) of opening on a weekend if you want a good seat and avoid a long wait for your food. Expect to queue by mid-morning. The people you can see in the doorway below are the tail end of a queue that goes all the way up the stairs as people wait for a free table. On Tuesdays two-for-one breakfasts are offered, so this can be a popular day too.
An entertaining venue with plenty to look at, and as such is best experienced outside of peak times (which are most of the time on the weekend). Very good granola mix and compote, but could do with less banana as a topping. Filter coffee is served, as well as very good tea. Well worth a trip.
Reviewed December 2019.