Tag Archives: cafe

Full circle

Perhaps I am stronger than I think.
~ Thomas Merton

Have we all gone Hobbit-mad around here? Perhaps…

I rather like our airport looking this way (see above), really. Heh heh heh! :-)

I confess that my attention on Hobbit premiere day was less focused on the red carpet and the stars than on the blistering sun, general crowds and the people sitting atop Hope Gibbons (note tiny human silhouettes below)… anyway, it was really nice to see everybody in such high spirits even if I don’t tend to get manic about things like that myself.

Hobbit-ness aside, one thing I truly love about New Zealand is the way, well, anything goes. Perhaps I say this because I spent four years in Dunedin, a period filled with fond, challenging and bizarre memories… previously I would never have considered wearing socks over my shoes, sliding down frosty paths on a garbage can lid or wearing a cow suit down a main street.

Perhaps I would never have had a neighbour who climbed on to the roof and mooned me (he graced my previously spotless skylight with his unprotected bottom) or met anyone with a car with doors that had to be shut in a synchronised manner (the driver’s door would fly open when you slammed the passenger’s door shut, and vice versa). I could have done without Nude Day… but I guess you’ve gotta take the good with the bad.

So here I am in Dunners now, my first time back in about four years. Reflecting on life, working remotely and having a great reunion with my good friend Michelle, who I haven’t seen in far too long. Taking some time to lower my current stress thermometer reading… hopefully…

Have a great weekend, all :-)

P.S. Mmmm, Capers pancakes! Big and fluffy and stuffed with fruit and yoghurt / cream. Just as :-) as ever.

Capers Cafe – 412 George Street, Dunedin – Phone: 03 477 7769

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Moustache

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
~ Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

What do you remember of your childhood?

I recall abstract details… my first hula hoop; the pain of piping hot cheese toast scorching the roof of my mouth; the excitement of hiding backstage waiting for the curtain to go up. If I concentrate with my eyes shut, I can just about remember what it was like to be 6, 7, 9, 12…

These days, I find myself learning how to be a child all over again.

In recent years, life has (necessarily) involved plenty of ‘growing up’ (whatever that really means!) – a big shift from School to a world that is largely about Money Job Romance House Marriage Kids Plans Politics Catastrophes Choices Vacations Service ItDoesn’tEnd Etc Etc.

It’s exciting and necessary.

But in many ways, it’s really not everything.

All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy; it kills him.

Perhaps the more ‘growing up’ we do, the more we need to remember what it is like to be small, to wonder, to love without complications. To enjoy whizzing down a slide without thinking about how to announce your slide ride on Facebook. To be able to tell someone “I don’t want to play with you today” or “let’s be friends!” – just like that. To eat when hungry without worrying about getting fat.

Perhaps we could place equal importance on Big Decisions and Small Things.

Perhaps we could, every so often, leave our suits and aprons at home in favour of donning milk moustaches and eating delicious cookies.

This is Deanna, whiz and powerhouse behind Moustache. I had already heard many good things about Moustache through media and friends – this morning, I got a chance to experience the goodness in person. Yay! As I tucked into a glorious cinnamon cookie and cold fresh milk, I enjoyed getting to know the face and story behind this Cookie Wonderland.

Like so many good things, Moustache is built on passion, genius, the pursuit of excellence and a lot of hard work. I admired the staff’s friendly and calm countenances and the yummy cookies more and more as I learned the realities of building this dream and running this business.

What you see now, a concept that seems simple enough (milk, cookies, the child in all of us and a glimpse of Deanna’s childhood) – is the result of months of brainstorming and resourceful thinking done in pockets of available time. Strings of early mornings and late nights. Careful budgeting. Setbacks and victories.

Blood, sweat, tears and laughs.

Every cookie is baked fresh, on site, with good ingredients like cage-free eggs and generous bites of Whittaker’s chocolate. On that note, I discovered why the peanut butter cookies Kath and I bought yesterday at 4pm were positively glowing with everything melting in just the right places… the cookies tasted like they had just emerged from the oven because, in fact, they had. The Moustache team sends fresh trays of cookie dough into the oven every half an hour to ensure customers get a constant supply of fresh cookies!

Things I love about Moustache: the way it is so bright and user-friendly – walk in and your eyes and nose automatically know what to do. Its warmth and fragrance. The option of buying gift boxes along with your cookies. The menu. The smiling staff. And, of course, the cookies – preferably enjoyed warm with cold fresh milk.

Pop in on weekdays for morning coffee or an afternoon pick-me-up, Saturdays for a treat, or before a show at The Civic (conveniently located a stone’s throw away).

If you miss your childhood, Moustache is an excellent place for reminiscence – if you never had a childhood, make up for it here.

Thank you, Deanna, for a lovely morning!

Moustache – 12 Wellesley Street West, Auckland

Yes to Arthur’s

Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.
~ James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

I look forward to visiting Arthur’s again.

Perhaps it was the gingham tablecloths, or the fact that they had two dining rooms, or the way every part of the place was beautifully furnished (including the bathroom). Perhaps it was the friendly women, the fresh mint on the table, the striking art on the walls, the candles in the stairwell… oh, it’s hard to say. How shall I describe it? Can a place feel charming, dignified, historic, manly and playful all at once? I feel like Arthur’s is all of these things. It also feels familiar… walking in feels like going home, except the place (sadly) isn’t yours.

My dining companion and friend, Herman, and I met in Dunedin – so of course we had to order a plate of their “Dunedin cheese rolls” to share! Warm cheese oozed out of these snug toast blankets… thoroughly satisfactory with their homemade relish.

Trying to decide what to eat was a capital challenge – so many lovely-sounding options. Eggs and soldiers, Ploughman’s Lunch, pie of the day – I was spoilt for choice. In the end, I followed my stomach and ordered poached eggs served atop bubble and squeak. I wanted comfort and I got a double dose of it :-)

Herman enjoyed his pie of the day quite a lot (cottage pie).

I know it’s not the done thing to take photos in the bathroom, even when you reallyreally like the decor. I did it anyway (see below).

Arthur’s – 272 Cuba Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 385 7227

Gipps St Deli, Karori

But some secrets are too delicious not to share.
~ Suzanne Collins

I have long forgotten his name, but I remember well the weight of his words. Something to the effect of: “you’ve got to make at least 500 coffees before you can even start practising being good at this. You know why? If you serve even one bad coffee – that customer will tell three friends, and each friend might tell another, and then your business will go bust. Now can you please tip what you just made into the sink, and start again?”

A few years ago when I graduated without a clue as to what to do next, I waltzed into a cafe and asked a man to teach me how to make coffee, just ‘cos. He thought he only taught me the basics of how to steam milk, make a good espresso and make a leaf pattern thing on the top of a latte; the truth is, my milk-steaming talents (?!) could do with a lot more work… but I learned a lot more. Practice practice practice. Passion. Skill. Craft. Successful business. Quality. Pride in one’s own work, even if it’s ‘just’ coffee. Keeping customers, not just getting them in.

One valuable thing about business he taught me then, that is so simple yet so often overlooked, is the importance of always being sincere and always making every last thing you sell bloody good so people come back, with their friends, again and again, always. (I imagine that feeds back a thousand times into one’s own soul and life too, loving people like that… love breeds more of the same, right?)

See, people talk about the two degrees of separation in New Zealand – it’s true. Everyone knows everyone (I began to experience this even in my first five years of living in this country). And word travels fast… always sooner rather than later.

Case in point: without the two degrees of separation and people-sharing-the-best-with-their-friends thing, I would probably not have embraced gusty unfamiliarity (windy Karori) and discovered Gipps St Deli. You see, way before I stepped through their doors, I heard one rather passionate review about Gipps St Deli’s brownie. So when a lovely friend of mine suggested an afternoon catch-up at the place, I jumped at the chance.

We stumbled into the place after a sunny and very gusty walk from the bus stop, and were met with a delightful looking spread of goodies. Light streamed in; I saw colourful cushions and white tables, a smiling girl behind the counter, art on the walls, and other things which made me feel instantly glad to be there. Perhaps it sounds cheesy to talk about liking a place at first sight. But that is how I felt.

We may have ordered a little too much for us two, but it was all very delicious and we had a substantial amount of roast veg left over which made a yummy meal for me today. Salad with crisp sweet apple matchsticks, a tasty risotto, perfectly seasoned and roasted vegetables, and slices of baking that were a pleasure to eat. See, I was so eager to tuck into the food that I was too impatient to take a proper photo:

Particularly dangerous was the coffee and walnut slice. I really don’t want to be addicted to ANY slice… but if I were ever to become a hopeless slice addict… this might well be it.

We polished off the brownie and slice between us. Too much sweetness, especially since I am partial to savoury flavours these days – but I lacked the willpower to leave any of it behind.

I know that before long, I’ll be closing other two-degree gaps with songs about the slice and sunshine at Gipps St Deli ;-) … starting with this post!

Gipps St Deli – 4 Gipps Street, Karori, Wellington – Phone: 04 476 4741

Kith Bistro, Park Mall

Design is thinking made visual.
~ Saul Bass

Evening falls like a blue silk dress, smoothly and elegantly. A sweet breeze from ceiling fans above courses softly through my hair like welcome whispers. Traffic sounds and birdsong merge and mingle into a track for “Sounds of the City”. The tables around me look inviting with the soft, warm glow of candles. I soak in the pleasure of being outdoors on a summer evening, breathing in fresh air. Ahhh…

It occurs to me, briefly, that I am in a busy city with over five million people packed into a piece of land equal to the size of Lake Taupo – but the thought dissolves as I relax into my chair and a smiling waiter hurries over with menus for us.

I am at the outdoor area of the recently opened Kith Bistro. The place is far from sprawling and this is no idyllic resort, but its feel and layout create an effective illusion of spaciousness and play: I feel like I’m in an airy outdoor living space with room enough to breathe and relax. The furniture* here is simple but tasteful, and I spot a colourful corner for kids to play in. It’s a place to visit with friends, or alone with a notebook and good ideas. When I look up, I see a bouquet of leaves and branches – like a pretty silhouette against the evening sky (see above).

It is far too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so we get food perfect for the occasion of ‘in-between meals’ (the menu appears to cater well for all times of day!). Between us, we share a few tasty morsels, coffee and a very refreshing fresh juice. Everything arrives beautifully presented, and polishing off our plates is a pleasure. When we pop inside to pay after our meal, I visually feast on the yummy-looking array of cabinet food and the charming chalkboard menu… I already look forward to trying out their brunch menu sometime!

* Some of the great furniture here can be found at Xtra, conveniently located next door to the cafe. Well worth a browse is all I can say, even if furniture isn’t usually your thing. Xtra is a celebration of art and excellence, a perfect place to get inspiration (and great pieces for your home, if your budget allows for it)!

Kith Bistro (Park Mall) – 9 Penang Road, #01-01E Park Mall, Singapore – Phone: +65 6338 861

A few good places

If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.
~ Dag Hammarskjold

Wishing desperately (fruitlessly) for central heating and/or home insulation to become a priority and norm in New Zealand. I’m in Auckland, warm by comparison to other regions – but for some reason I don’t remember ever feeling this weak or encountering such disgusting germs when I lived in other colder cities. Yes, my brain knows it’s not THAT cold… my body has certainly been saying otherwise.

I have been thawing out in four main ways: overly hot showers, brisk walks, a scalding hot water bottle on my lap, and, on occasion, in cafes. I don’t suppose you’ll want to hear about the first three things, so here’s a post on a few places I visited in recent times:

Ironique

Mount Eden is one area which redeems Auckland for me – primarily because of one funky bookshop and Circus Circus (home to a fun atmosphere and my favourite waiter :-P).

I serendipitously discovered Ironique a few months ago – when a friend and I had no luck trying to get a table at two cafes nearby, and had to find somewhere else to go. At Ironique, we found a relaxed, homely place to hang out; friendly staff; lovely food served with a smile and plenty of care. Recently I visited again with my friend Cam, and we were pleasantly surprised with our personalised (and very delicious) hot chocolates! Little things make ALL the difference :-)

Ironique – 448 Mount Eden Road, Mount Eden, Auckland – Phone: 09 623 3450

Zarbo

This place is always busy, and for good reason – a well-stocked gourmet deli with treats for self or friends, fresh cabinet salads and sweets, and a menu with plenty of options. Recently I found one more thing to like about them: the fireplace!

Zarbo – 24 Morrow Street, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 520 2721

Savour & Devour

I don’t venture to Grey Lynn much, since it’s quite out of the way for me – but when I next go, I’ll be making a second trip to Savour & Devour to do exactly that to their tasty-looking food. When Tracey and I visited, I restricted myself to just having coffee as I was going to lunch shortly afterwards. Loved the heaters and relaxing atmosphere… a place where you can hang out with your friends and little children (I don’t have the latter, but if I did, I would bring them here).

Savour & Devour – 478 Richmond Road, Grey Lynn, Auckland – Phone: 361 2631

Imperial Lane

I had heard so much about Imperial Lane that I almost didn’t want to go… in the way that I don’t like going to places just because everyone goes there. But I’m glad a few people dragged me there in the end, ‘cos it really is a pretty cool space. Downstairs I feel like I’m in a hidden fancy underground garage, and upstairs I feel like I’m in a lively pop-up dining restaurant somewhere rather foreign – except they’re all speaking in English. Yes, those descriptions make little sense… but you know you’re somewhere special when you can’t quite explain the way being there makes you feel good and somehow transports you to somewhere else. Also, their decaf coffee is excellent.

P.S. The picture above is awful and doesn’t do them justice… you’ll just have to go there now to see the place for yourself.

Imperial Lane – 7 Fort Land or 44 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 929 2703

Little & Friday

This place is a pocket of sunshine! Everything from its mint-infused water in jars, jolly animal-shaped table markers, excellent coffee and wonderful display of treats… spells whimsical fun and delicious comfort. Since attending a talk by the super woman who started it all, Kim Evans, I have also increased in respect for her and the passion and toil she has poured into her work, which now brings so many Aucklanders joy! Kim has also written a great cookbook so people can attempt to recreate some of the Little & Friday magic right in their own homes. Fantastic :-)

Little & Friday – 12 Melrose Street, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 524 8742

Teed St Larder

I’ve never seen this place empty whenever I’ve passed by. My first trip there, though, did not satisfy – I remember dry bread and a waiter who came so many times to ask if we were okay that I began to wave my hands and shake my head whenever he started to hurry over (again).

I’m glad to say that this impression has now been swiftly replaced by a better one. So good was the food on one recent visit that my friends Carmi, Jacqui, Fi, and I all exclaimed in one way or another… my order of “grilled squid, chorizo, avocado, agria, gremolata” left me satisfied and tempted to lick my plate at the end.

Funny thing about the waiters though – on this trip, our waiter was sooo elusive we were all clamouring for his attention in a manner that reminded me, just lightly, about the time in high school when I made the huge mistake of accompanying a friend to see a boy band… and witnessed in horror the sort of boy-band-crazy-teenage-girl behaviour I am not a natural at.

Teed St Larder – 7 Teed Street, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 524 8406

P.S. Don’t forget…

L’Assiette

Être comme un coq en pâte (being like a rooster in dough – it means feeling cosy and pampered, being in a state of absolute contentment, with one’s every need catered to).
~ French idiom (see Clotilde’s post here)

When people say the French are charming, they aren’t exaggerating. I may, like the most adamant of the anti-French, associate them with the quality of arrogance, or French food with wide hips (never mind what Mireille Guiliano says), or parts of Paris with depressing and dirty streets; but when it comes down to it – I often say oui before non.

Can’t help it.

Some of the richest moments I have experienced would not have been possible without the French. I can testify to the lyrical beauty of their language; the charm of their men (okay, maybe just one, once upon a time); oh, and everything they say about their pastries (when you find a good place) is true.

See here a humble-looking slice of tarte aux pommes? I bought this in a tiny boulangerie-pâtisserie in Paris when I was there with Nish in December… the lady squinted at me, but then burst into a beam when I muttered some form of an order – I think I said “Je voudrais une tarte aux pommes, s’il vous plaît” (some day I will learn how to speak French) and I know it’s just a tart – but this is one of the fondest memories I hold of Paris. Magic on a paper plate.

I probably love tarte aux pommes in Paris as much as some women love the idea of falling in love in Paris.

So anyway, where was I? See, I’m losing myself again. Oh, right. L’Assiette. I was going to blog about L’Assiette. Yesterday, the sky sighed with grey and pregnant clouds so Tracey and I ducked into L’Assiette for brunch. What a good place to hide :-)

Located on Britomart Place, this whimsical little cafe boasts a fun and simple menu covering the essentials like crêpes, terrine, a hearty breakfast, and croque monsieur – along with an attractive selection of cabinet nibbles. I was glad the menu wasn’t too long, because it would have been impossible to decide what to order. It all sounded delicious!

In the end, Tracey and I both opted for croque madame, and cups of coffee (Tracey – mocha, me – long black). Coffee arrived, strong and robust, with a Hershey’s kiss on the side… which made me like them even more (such a nice touch when coffee comes with a little treat on the side!) – and the croque madame was just what I hoped it would be. Observers might have called my brunch a perfect ham and cheese grilled sandwich, crowned with mornay sauce, a fried egg and plated alongside crisp balsamic-kissed lettuce… but I’d say that croque madame, well done, is not quite plain ol’ ham and cheese toast. It’s comfort, comfort, comfort, hugging you tight.

We ended our meal with a sweet macaron each before it was time to leave and run errands…

And now I know that while my next trip to France is probably many months away, I can pop into L’Assiette for a dollop of French sunshine whenever. Or rather, whenever I can find a seat – it’s been full the last few times I walked past!

L’Assiette – 9 Britomart Place, Auckland – Phone: 09 309 0961