Museum of NZ Te Papa Tongarewa, 55 Cable St, Wellington
Opens 9am daily; closes 5pm
Muesli $9; L’affare coffee, Twinings tea
As of early-October 2020, this muesli is not being served, though it appears on the online menu. A jar of yoghurt topped with a small quantity of the same muesli is offered instead. The situation may change according to how the market is affected by Covid restrictions.
Te Papa Cafe started out as Foodtrain when the museum opened in 1998. It was intended to serve fast food to the hoi-polloi while the well-off dined in the exclusive Icon restaurant on the floor above. Icon has gone now and the ground level café has grown in sophistication as it has broadened its target market. Now there are Scandinavian-look light-toned wooden tables and chairs, gluten-free and vegetarian food options, and the venue opens an hour before the museum itself, cleverly allowing early arrivers to come in out of the cold and hopefully spend something while they wait.
I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the muesli bowl when it arrived (they call it granola, but no). It was a very attractive presentation of toasted muesli with honey-sweetened, fairly runny yoghurt, a berry mousse, and chopped fresh fruit, all on a rustic-looking black bowl. It didn’t come with milk but some was provided when I asked.
The muesli itself was quite a dry mix (hence the milk), which is good, as it indicates a low quantity of oil and/or sweetener was used for toasting, and indeed there was really no sweet taste left in the milk after it had soaked through. The composition was fairly standard, but not overweight in any one area, neither nuts, oats, seeds or coconut flakes. Some of the oat grains were clumping, so I will concede that you could call it granola.
Regular readers will know my dislike of dried fruit in muesli/granolas when you have the fresh version. So I did have to pick it out, piece by piece, in order to keep my sugar intake down. The fresh fruit was a good combination of sweet and sour, but smaller pieces would have been better. A lesson could be taken from the Chinese cooking rule that each piece of food is small enough to be eaten whole in one bite so no cutting is needed at the table.
I had tea on another occasion to see whether they could manage to improve on the usual poor offering of what passes for the beverage in Wellington eateries. Not really. On the plus side, the tea pot held about two cups (which is a minimum requirement I feel) and poured well. On the minus, the tea was teabag tea from Twinings. And it was quite strong and no hot water offered. The cup was the ubiquitous coffee cup which NZ cafés usually serve tea in today too.
The coffee at the café is not bad. And it is often reckoned to be better than that served at the more upmarket-appearing Espresso café on level 4.
A venue like this might have been called a cafeteria once – as a place where you queue to collect your food from displays and then pay before taking your seat. But the word seems banished from our vocabulary these days, probably because of its associations with poor quality food. Nevertheless, Te Papa Cafe operates in this manner, presumably in order to achieve throughput on busy days.
The café is very child friendly, with a play area at one end for the little ones and doors leading to an outdoor courtyard where older kids can be let loose. Wailing toddlers are a potential distraction hazard near the play area, but overall the space is big enough for you to to move out of earshot.
As noted, between 9am and the museum’s opening at 10am the café is mostly populated by visitors who turned up early, so there are not too many people. When the sun is out it can be a pleasant place to sit. It will get busy later in the day, especially during school holidays and weekends, but there is always the less frequented outdoor seating you can escape to.
No newspapers are offered for reading.
Unexpectedly good muesli, well presented and remarkably cheap to boot. Could be improved by cutting fresh fruit smaller and reducing or leaving out the dried fruit. The café doesn’t open quite early enough to suit many breakfast diners, but nevertheless is open an hour before the museum displays.
Reviewed June 2020.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.