Cafe review: Midnight Espresso

AS GOOD AS EVER: There's heaps to eat, drink, read and watch at Midnight Espresso.
AS GOOD AS EVER: There's heaps to eat, drink, read and watch at Midnight Espresso.

About 25 years ago, childhood friends Tim Rose and Geoff Marsland caught up on an overseas jaunt to Canada where they were inspired to buy a coffee machine and bring it back home.

Taking over premises on Cuba St in 1988, the young entrepeneurs launched Midnight Espresso which quickly became a day and night haunt for everyone from sex workers to suits. While Rose and Marsland have since sold the cafe to their friend Hamish McIntyre, Midnight Espresso is still true to its name – open past midnight, serving strong Havana coffee and cheap, reliable, mainly vegetarian food to a melting pot of customers.

Midnight Espresso... is one of the city's most established cafes and a Cuba St icon. It helps to sport at least one tattoo or a piercing to truly fit in here, but everyone seems welcome. There's almost too much food to choose from, with the counter bursting with things like rhubarb raisin cake, caramel slice and dogz rolls. The blackboard menu is also crammed with options, such as Midnight's legendary nachos ($11 small, $15 large).

The interior is... like a grungy gallery space. Fliers are tacked on to the wall like wallpaper, a pinball machine occupies pride of place and the barstools are covered in vinyl leopard skin. Papier-mache sculptures, rows of Coke bottles and glowing signs are like art work and a mural runs along one side of the wall. Even the counter food is attractive to look at: a tortilla stack and chocolate cake are adorned with flowers. If you want a slick, minimal space to drink your coffee, then Midnight Espresso isn't for you.

I'm tempted by the... mousetrap ($7). I first discovered this years ago when I was at university and I used to venture to Midnight Espresso when the library closed and I needed a hot chocolate and a food hit. It's as good as it was back then – toasted bread covered with mushrooms and melted cheese. I'm thirsty so I try one of the juices, opting for the "blush" - apple, pineapple and banana ($4, small). It's healthy and good value.

My friend orders... a toastie ($7). Two toasties fall off the plate for that price. Vogel bread toasted with tomatoes, cheese and ham. Tasty and filling.

The service... lets the place down. The waitress is surly and abrupt and seems to be annoyed that we're in the queue. When I go back another time for coffee, the friendlier barista seems to be running the whole place.

The coffee is... Havana. Strong and divine.

The sounds are... too loud. It's almost impossible to have a conversation over The Doors album playing while we're there. But if you're looking for a mid-afternoon pick me up, the cafe will wake you up.

We're surrounded by... students, a couple of young women with a child, and an older man who places his "regular" order. Like me, he's probably been around since the early days too.

You can read... several copies of the Dominion Post and fliers on the walls. There's no shortage of interesting people to watch too.

If I went back again... I'd order the vege hash stack ($16.50) if I was hungry, or a vege tofu bun ($8).


Midnight Espresso

178 Cuba St, Wellington Central.

Phone: 04 384 7014.

Hours: Mon-Fri, 7.30am–3am; Sat-Sun, 8am-3am.

The Dominion Post