Old Bank Arcade, 233–237 Lambton Quay, Wellington
Opens 7:30am weekdays, 9am Sat, 10am Sun; closes 5:30pm Mon-Th, 6pm Fri, 4pm Sat, 3pm Sun
Granola $16, bircher muesli $16, porridge $16; Supreme coffee, t-Leaf-T teas
Smith the Grocer occupies a light-well in the beautifully restored Old Bank Arcade on the corner of Lambton Quay and Customhouse Quay. The BNZ building has occupied the site since 1901 and there was a smaller bank before that. So no actual grocer tradition here, and I don’t think there are any groceries on sale. Nevertheless mural-size photographs featuring historic grocery scenes line the walls and in the downstairs section there are vintage grocer’s scales and so on. Nice, but inexplicable.
I had porridge here almost a year ago and it was good, so I thought I’d come back to try the granola. The online menu was out of date last time, and its been renewed, but still out of date. Porridge has gone, but there was both granola AND bircher muesli on the physical menu. Which to have? I plumbed for granola since one of my breakfast companions chose the bircher.
The granola was described on the menu as cacao maple nut granola, and it certainly was brown. So much so that I couldn’t really see what was in it. Walnuts, pumpkin seeds and almond slivers were all I could identify with certainty. And it was bound together in sweetish crunchy chunks, so definitely a granola. Personally, I’m not a big fan of chocolate granolas or mueslis as the chocolate dominates all the other flavours. So it didn’t do it for me, but it might for you.
As you can see, it was very attractively presented with a poached pear, a berry coulis (says the menu), a very small amount of coconut yoghurt and some cornflowers. I don’t know I’d call the berries a coulis, as I understand that means a puree. Here it was more like frozen berries thawed out. That is, with no sugary syrup, which I rate as a plus.
The bircher muesli was the exact same formula of accompaniments. The muesli itself was a bit slight in volume but tasted fine and wasn’t too sweet. It was made with organic oats and chia seeds. There were pumpkins seeds in the mix as well.
Another companion had the avocado and tomato on five-grain toast with dukkha and herbs. The bite I had of it was very nice. A real cut above plain avocado and tomato on toast.
There were plenty of newspapers to read (as befits a CBD eatery, where people do want to keep up) and inoffensive but pleasant enough music played in the background: ‘Build me up buttercup’ sang The Foundations back in 1967, while Martha and the Vandellas were ‘Dancing in the street’ (1964, crikey, that’s before even I was old enough to be listening to pop music!)
The Americano coffee was fine and was served in the standard Wellington manner in a coffee cup like a long black with the extra water already added. The long black and latte ordered by my companions were judged very good.
I had tea and a cheese scone here on a previous visit. Both were OK, but not outstanding. See my porridge review for details and photo.
The main part of the cafe where you walk in to the counter is a lovely light-filled atrium, though suffers a little in being a thoroughfare to said counter. Best to try and sit to the corner at right. But you can also eat in the arcade outside, where tables are laid out. It’s also a pleasant space in itself, but again operates as a thoroughfare, only more so.
If you do want more seclusion there is a section half a floor down, with the kitchen, a few tables and a magazine reading desk. It is cosier down here, but a bit dungeon-like too. I’m not sure if the wait staff come to and fro through here to the upper level carrying the à la carte plates. Probably.
Excellent presentation of both bircher and granola. Quantity of bircher served was a bit small. And with chocolate put in practically everything these days I’d prefer my granola without it. There remain ethical issues around its sourcing, so lets reduce the pressure on growers to produce. And breakfast seems an occasion to start the day with wholesome, natural dishes, not something like a dessert. Having said that, both the granola and bircher seemed admirably low in sugar.
In other respects, Smith the Grocer offers a pleasant environment, good looking counter food and OK Americano coffee.
Reviewed April 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.