30C Laings Rd, Lower Hutt
Opens: 8am daily; closes 4pm
Muesli $15; Ripe coffee, t-leaf-T tea
Tūtaki café is a fairly recent addition to the cafés of Lower Hutt. This is welcome, as the pickings outside the suburb of Petone are very thin. It’s a brand new fit-out in a brand new Events Centre that has been added to the side of the 2017 refurbished Hutt City Council Administration Building, replacing the former Horticultural Hall. The café is large and seems very popular, so what’s the food like?
Well, first off, I was rather surprised to get my muesli as a sort of parfait. I was offered milk when ordering it, but this seemed rather superfluous and a bit ridiculous when it turned up. The milk jug was almost as big as the muesli glass. And should I pour milk into the glass?
The topping comprised crushed cashews and almonds, then below that layers of yoghurt, muesli and berry compote. The compote and yoghurt were fine, but the muesli was the dreadful stuff sold by bulk food suppliers that I’ve complained about in other reviews (Boat Café, Café Villa): large whole oat flakes, sultanas, dried pawpaw, coconut flakes, banana chips. Except if there were any nuts in it I didn’t see them.
And the remarkable thing is that they charged $15 for this. I photographed the menu in June 2000 and the ‘house-made toasted muesli with berry compote, honey and yoghurt’ was then $6. It is now described as ‘house granola’ (no, definitely is muesli) served with berry compote and yoghurt.
My Americano coffee wasn’t much chop either. It was just a shade above luke warm, but was served with a jug of hot water. Oh, goody, I thought, I’ll just warm it up. But the ‘hot’ water was the same temperature as the coffee. The server told me they would be switching from Ripe to Gravity coffee in a while, but there is nothing wrong with Ripe and that’s not going to solve the problem.
The place was pretty sparsely patronised while I was there between 8:30 and 9:30 am on a Saturday, but when I looked in later at about noon it was packed out. By thoroughly middle-class, middle-aged diners and a few family groups. I think the newness and anonymity must appeal. Not too intimate, and no worn-out table ware, doubtful hygiene or grungy toilets. But a step up in sophistication from the cafés of the nearby Westfield Shopping Plaza and a more spacious alternative to Bellbird Eatery at the Dowse Art Museum across the way.
Actually, there are a few spots down the far end which could be pleasantly intimate. When I was there they all had ‘reserved’ notices on them. For the whole hour I was there in fact. I suppose with so few people eating at this time the café could afford to have the tables out of action.
The background music was innocuous and suitable for the middle-aged audience: I heard the Supremes unable to ‘buy me love’; the Seekers never finding another you and Elvis all shook up. And as I got half way through my muesli and coffee and wondered if I should ask for my money back, Carole King taunted, ‘It’s too late baby, now it’s too late’.
It is great that the council administration building next door to Tūtaki was retained, instead of being demolished as first planned. The Horticultural Hall was sacrificed though, despite the majority of public submissions, and indeed of council votes, in favour of retaining it. The clock tower of the administration building fortunately survives as a signpost to Hutt City’s civic modernist heritage precinct that includes the town hall, library and St James’ church.
Let’s just say I was not happy about the so-called granola I was served at Tūtaki, nor with the coffee. That’s a pity, as the café is quite a pleasant place to read the newspaper (two were provided) on a sunny morning when there are few other patrons. That is, if one of the padded bench seats isn’t reserved.
Reviewed April 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.