39 Abel Smith St, Te Aro, Wellington
Opens 8.30am weekdays, 9am weekends; closes late
Muesli $13; bircher $14.50; Havana coffee; Fine & Dandy loose-leaf teas
The Southern Cross Garden Bar and Restaurant was a pub for many decades before being turned into a multi-purpose venue offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. It hosts bands and runs child-friendly activities. Indeed, it is quite a family place in the weekends and it is not unusual to see birthday parties celebrated there. What I especially like is the wide range of seating options: from the large garden space out back to booths in the middle and tables in the front window.
The Cross has a special place in my heart because it was here that I experienced one of my first ‘wow’ experiences with muesli – bircher muesli to be precise. It was spectacularly presented and tasted great. It was also where I was interviewed by Radio NZ for an item on this website. I ordered the bircher on this occasion and was embarrassed to discover on air that it wasn’t as good as previously. A few months later, like an under-performing layer hen, they culled it entirely.
Porridge was offered after bircher. I tried it twice. Big disappointment. Like the second time bircher, the nuts (walnuts) listed on the menu were missing (both times). It was so underwhelming and I felt so much affection for the Southern Cross that I decided not to review it. I never do this. And now porridge has vanished from the menu too.
So I wasn’t holding out much hope for the 2021 successor of the declining quality bircher muesli and under-delivered porridge.
So what do we have then? It is listed as granola, but there is definitely no crunch or clumping, so I’m calling it muesli. The topping consists of a mixture of cooked and spiced apple with raw Granny Smith apple* and orange pieces. Underneath this is coconut whip and then a ‘house-made preserve’; that is, a fruit compote. I found the latter a bit too sweet and jam-like.
As for the muesli itself, it was quite powdery, which doesn’t make for a great eating experience. You need lots of milk to wet it and the texture is reminiscent of, well, sawdust. I could see finely shredded coconut and dried cranberries in the mix, plus walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
But I’m not sure what the main base was, as the menu says it’s gluten free, and oats (which contain a type of gluten) were certainly not evident. It is also tagged as vegetarian, yet not vegan, which seems strange, as I got soy milk (I think) with it and the yoghurt whip was coconut. Why isn’t it vegan if there is no dairy component?
Filter coffee is not served but you can get an Americano in a mug. I like that.
By far the best thing about the Cross is the relaxed, mixed-retro feel and the great many different types of spaces where you can sit. You can easily find a corner so private you have to let staff know where you are. Yet the large open spaces are entirely comfortable before the brunch crowd has arrived. Unlike some eateries, it is never hectic before late morning. And on a warm day there is the lovely garden space out back.
I think its time for me to stop feeling sentimental about the Cross after my very first wonderful experience. If I am charitable, I would describe the food as uneven. But I still love the many spaces and it is never busy in the first hour or so of the day. Unfortunately it opens too late for breakfast on the way to work, and even later in the weekend, making it unsuited to early risers.
* Fun fact: in checking whether Granny Smith is capitalised I discovered that there was indeed a real Granny Smith. Maria Ann Smith, known as Granny Smith in later years, propagated the variety from a chance seedling in what is now a suburb of Sydney in 1868. Today it is grown throughout the world and is valued for its late and long picking season as well as an extended storage life due to its low off-gassing of ethylene.
Reviewed July 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.