160 The Esplanade, Petone, Lower Hutt
Opens 7am daily; closes 5pm Mon–Wed; 9pm Thurs–Sun
Porridge $12, granola $13; Good Fortune coffee (incl filter), Ritual Tea Co. tea
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 volume 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. It is very popular with families in the weekends.
The porridge is available all year round, so far as I know. It has a ginger theme, though the menu doesn’t mention this, describing it as, ‘Winter porridge: with baked pears, spiced date syrup, pecan-oat crumble and served with Zany-Zeus pouring cream’. This ginger flavour runs through the circular dribbles of date syrup as well as in the crumble. The pears are small and with their skins on. Pears, ginger, porridge, cream: they all go together quite well.
The porridge was fairly thick and served as a generous helping. I used up all the cream to moisten it and, what with the sugar in the toppings, ended up feeling too full to finish the bowl completely.
The coffee was served in a retro-styled Good Fortune Coffee mug and was rather luke warm. You can get bottomless filter coffee for an extra $2. I had tea on my previous visit and this was EXCELLENT. I’m recycling the photo from my Seashore granola page here. 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.
There are no conventional cheese scones here, but there are caramelised onion and cheese ones, plus date scones. I took one of the latter home to eat. I’m not sure if you could call it a scone, but then the exact term escapes me. The dough is quite cake-like and is clearly made of folded layers, each with date paste spread on them.
The view, right on the beach, is expansive and looks south, right down the harbour. As the prevailing wind is from the north, you can often 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 an imitated or invented Kiwiana. I thought of those Americana diners with their stereotyped 1950s chrome and red vinyl decor and appeal to a family audience. Is this a NZ sort of version?
I also wondered about the seating. It is eclectic, with booths, high tables with stools, and conventional cafe tables with old school chairs near the beach-view section. This all offers options for the different sized groups who turn up, with booths suiting families in particular. But the barn-like space does feel unstructured as a result. Stronger lighting on the counter – which is attractive and dense with both food and retro items – would help make this more of a visual focal point.
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.
Seashore gets good marks for being a living wage employer and offering fair trade coffee. Not so responsible are the heavy sugar and fat food choices on the children’s menus: pancakes with syrup, Coco Pops, and burgers and fries.
Well balanced porridge. Personally I like more fruit and some nuts with my porridge, but it’s hard to complain about this version. Best to get here very early in the day if visiting in the weekend. Filter coffee is served, as well as very good tea. Well worth a trip.
Reviewed July 2020.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.