There aren't many cafes that can claim to have a song written in their honour, but Verona is one such Auckland institution. It's been around for more than 20 years but this year new ownership has led to some changes. Gone are the deep red walls, replaced with a silvery grey industrial-style coat of paint which brings a feeling of more space. The menu has had an overhaul too, encompassing produce from Matakana farmers' market suppliers, where owner Anabelle Guinness has a stall.
It's a rainy, unseasonably chilly Saturday morning on our visit but the welcome is warm - the staff seem delighted to see us, as if they've been waiting all morning for us to arrive. We take a seat in one of the booths; water and menus are quickly delivered.
The breakfast menu is short but sweet, with muesli, a couple of varieties of hot pressed sandwiches, French toast and a few different egg dishes. The lunch menu has an interesting mix of what look like sharing plates judging by the affordable prices: $7 for a potato latka with salmon or beef eye fillet, $8 for a sausage in a warm roll.
I can't decide between the "Juliette" (poached free-range egg on mash with grilled buffalo haloumi, rocket and hollandaise) or the chorizo and baked bean ratatouille on toast with poached egg and smoked paprika mayo. The man taking our order steers me toward Juliette. I'm hoping Boyfriend will be my "Romeo" (a dish similar to the Juliette, but with Salumeria pork sausage instead of haloumi) but he goes for the chorizo ratatouille instead.
The egg on my plate is not quite as runny as I'd like but the slab of pure white haloumi is salty, squeaky perfection. The hollandaise is creamy and buttery, as is the generous dollop of mash underneath. The portion size is just right to leave me satisfied but not full to bursting.
Boyfriend's ratatouille is chock full of kidney and cannellini beans, eggplant, onions, tomato, capsicum and celery, with spicy chorizo and peppery rocket making for a lively flavour combination. His egg is perfectly poached and the smoky paprika mayo is the ideal finishing touch.
I'm keen for a cake to round off our meal but I just can't fit it in. I make a mental note of what's on offer: Verona's own fudge, handmade "with love", sugar mice, and a chocolate beetroot cake which looks like it deserves a tribute song all of its own.
WHERE: 169 Karangahape Rd Auckland, 09 307 0508, veronacafe.co.nz
WHEN: Monday to Sunday, 10.30am-late.
WHAT'S TO EAT: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, cakes and desserts.
HOW MUCH: $35.50 for brunch and coffees for two.
WHAT DO WE THINK: Friendly welcome, interesting menu, affordable prices, worth a repeat visit.
- Sunday Star Times