39 Abel Smith St, Te Aro, Wellington
Opens 8am weekdays, 9am weekends; closes late
Bircher $14.50; porridge $13.50; Havana coffee; Fine & Dandy loose-leaf teas
The Southern Cross Garden Bar and Restaurant was a pub for many decades and then turned into a multi-purpose venue offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. It host bands and runs children-friendly activities. Indeed, it is quite a family place in the weekends and it is not unusual to see birthday parties celebrated there. The great thing though is it is a huge and complex place, with many nooks and crannies and a whole range of seating options, so if you don’t fancy sitting within earshot of wailing babies or raucous teenagers you will still find a quiet place.
Wow! I wasn’t expecting my bircher muesli to come all decoratively arranged and with so many extra features. There was a nicely tart black doris plum coulis (sauce) around the edges; toasted almond slivers also arranged at the sides; pieces of orange and sliced applies on top; some flowers likewise; and a small amount of maple syrup present here and there. The bircher itself was composed of quite large grains of oats, so not a smooth, liquid mush. I detected some threads of grated apple within it, as required in Bircher-Brenner’s original recipe, but not a lot. I don’t think the oats were soaked in apple juice but it was hard to tell.
Did it taste as good as it looked? Yes, definitively. Maybe I didn’t need the extra sugar of the syrup, but it did add an extra dimension. The whole was filling and satisfying to demolish.
As for the coffee, the Havana brand used comes from a long established (1989) Wellington coffee roasting business that uses fair trade beans to produce some of the capital’s best coffee. I was served a decent sized Americano in a chunky mug. Good stuff!
I’m showing quite a few photos of the Southern Cross interior here because there are simply so many spaces where you can sit. Most people’s early morning first choice for seating are the tables in the front windows where the sun does stream in. Some are vintage formica kitchen tables and chairs. But out the back in the garden area after the sun rises high enough (probably 10 am in summer) is pretty nice too.
On the day I was there quite a few tables at the front had ‘reserved’ labels on them, but the reservees hadn’t turned up during the hour I was there. In fact only about eight people had arrived to eat between 9am and 10am on a Saturday morning, though I do know it can get fairly busy towards brunch hour. Interesting that the similarly large capacity Prefab not far away is heaving by 10am on a Saturday. The food there does have a higher reputation overall. Or maybe most people like a more contemporary look? Answers please!
Postscript: I ordered the same dish four months later and it was no longer quite its former self. I hate to mention this, even less show a photo, as I have a soft spot for The Cross, but reviewing is all about being honest. The bircher itself tasted OK, but the almonds were entirely omitted and the orange was cut into slices, which means you have to get your fingers messy. There was more syrup too. As you can see, a lesser version of my first taste. And then a work colleague sent me a photo of what she had, about a month later. Also the lesser version. I will give them a couple more months to get their act together and if still no good will have to downgrade my ranking.
Great spaces and great bircher muesli and coffee. I have had other food here in the past and it was a bit middling, but the environment makes up for it. And maybe the food has changed – I do seem to recall the bircher of a year or so ago being pretty much just a bowl of mush. Only downside is the place doesn’t open until 9am on weekends. And it seems that food standards can be uneven.
Reviewed August 2019