Press Hall, 78 Willis St, Central Wellington
Opens 7am weekdays, 10am Sat; closes 3pm except Thurs, Fri (7pm)
Porridge $14; bircher $15; Mojo coffee; Noble & Savage tea
The Lab has four branches in Wellington: the big one in the XXCQ building on Customhouse Quay, one on the corner of Victoria and Ghuznee streets, a small version at Victoria University (where they started out), and this one, in the Press Hall food court off Willis St. I saw porridge on the menu a couple of years ago, but then Covid came along, and like many eateries, the menu was slimmed right down. The bircher muesli at the XXCQ branch is excellent, so imagine my joy when I saw porridge appearing again at Press Hall.
Not only was I pleased to get a chance at last to try porridge at The Lab, but I involuntarily gasped ‘wow!’ when the waitress brought the dish over. Can porridge look beautiful? Would you even think this was porridge?
That’s fried banana on top, with slivered almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds spread around, and crushed nuts in the middle beneath a sprig of mint. And cows milk around the edge. Underneath is a salted caramel sauce. And that turned out to be the defining characteristic for me, though not in a good way.
Many people seem to think that porridge needs two things to make it tasty: salt cooked into the oats and sugar or syrup on top. So salted caramel could be a winning feature of this porridge for many. I don’t need the salt and sugar myself, but I will tolerate it, up to a point. And that point was well exceeded in this case. I probably ate about a desert spoon-full of the stuff before I had enough, but there were still about four or five to go. I would have felt sick if I’d eaten those as well.
The seating environment is somewhat cafeteria-like, as you would expect of a food court. So not really somewhere to pleasantly while away a relaxed hour. But most customers are business types catching up on emails or having work-related conversations. (In the table next to me a man was briefing a woman on a new job she was either applying for or had just been appointed to. She seemed keen and eager to please, so it must have been something she wanted badly.)
There are other food outlets in the court, but they are not operating at breakfast time, which makes the place seem a bit desolate. Things jump into action for lunch though. The plant-based food at Aroha I saw at a later lunch hour looked amazing.
The Americano coffee (no filter available) was a very generous serve and tasted good. There is single-origin espresso coffee on the menu that costs $1 extra. No newspapers (and none at the Victoria St branch either, but I did pick up one at the XXCQ location, though it may have been left by a customer.)
Fantastic looking porridge, but the eating experience was spoiled by way too much salted caramel sauce hidden within the porridge. If there was a just a fraction of that it would have been acceptable, but I can’t recommend this dish except to people who love (and can stomach) sugar in large quantities. I see that the Victoria St branch of The Lab now offer porridge – with ‘almond coffee butter’ instead of the caramel, though the bananas are not fried and there isn’t the sprinkling of almond slivers.
The environment is not a comfortable one either, and there are no newspapers nor filter coffee. The only thing that might make me return is the bircher. This is very good at the XXCQ branch and it is $2 more expensive here. Is it $2 better? Perhaps not. It is $1 more again ($16) at the Victoria St branch and not as good there (Oct 2022) as when had it at XXCQ, though things may have gone downhill there since (and that was 2019).
Reviewed September 2022.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.