Cafe review: Baobab's hidden charm

Murals are a feature of the garden out the back of Newtown's Cafe Baobab.
Murals are a feature of the garden out the back of Newtown's Cafe Baobab.

Cafe Baobab

Address: 152 Riddiford St, Newtown, Wellington
Phone: (04) 380 0470
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 8am to 5.30pm
Friday, 8am to late
Saturday and Sunday 9am to 5.30pm
Coffee: Supreme, 5/5
Reading: The Dominion Post
Music: Indie and world tunes
Clientele: Young, hip Newtown locals, kids, couples
One thing you should try: Roasted pork belly ($16)

When we visit Cafe Baobab on a sunny Saturday last weekend, it's a surprise to discover something akin to an enchanted garden out the back. Behind the cafe on Newtown's Riddiford St, away from the din of traffic noise, is a courtyard full of outside tables. On Saturday, every one of the dozen tables is packed with lunch-goers sitting in the sundrenched, leafy garden.

A couple of kids play in a tree, leaping up and down from the branches to take bites from their muffins and sips of their smoothies, while their parents read the newspaper in peace.

Rachel and Gabriel Johnstone set up the cafe on Newtown's main street four years ago. Rachel, who trained as a chef near Toronto, has dairy allergies, so was keen to offer vegan food, along with a wide range of other varieties.

It's a perfect day to sit in the sun for lunch, and it takes 10 minutes to get a table. We sit on a bench in the courtyard and sip water while we wait. It's a girlie lunch - a friend, Lou, is down from Napier, while Tara has left her three-week-old baby at home with her partner. 

The staff seem a bit flustered - not surprising, because the cafe is packed, and most of the inside tables are full too. A waitress behind the counter inside sprays ginger beer everywhere as she multi-tasks, taking orders, opening drinks and putting counter food on plates. Bottles of water on a table outside are empty, and we have to ask for them to be refilled. The main fault of this cafe today is that it could do with one or two more pairs of hands.

But the friendliness makes up for this lack of attention. When they accidentally bring out my berry vegan muffin before the other meals, the waiter offers to take it back. Lou orders the pork belly ($16) and when it arrives, she devours it quickly. Roasted and served with fennel, pureed cauliflower, braised silverbeet and apple crisp, she can't fault it. We've all got food envy.

Tara chooses the lentil and cashew burger ($15). The salad on the side is light and healthy. The burger is delicious, but she scrapes it off the bun, eating the homemade hummus too. She leaves the buns on the plate, saying they're a bit hard. But because her baby has a dairy allergy, she's happy to have eaten a vegan lunch.

My muffin is a tad dry but packed with berries ($4). I wouldn't race back for it, but it's a light, appetising lunch with my coffee.

Speaking of which, Lou and I both order a latte. I'm difficult to please with coffee, and I've been spoilt after drinking great ones during the years I've been in Wellington. The coffee is near perfect - hot, with the right caffeine kick.

Tara decides she'll be back with her buggy, and we agree that with easy, free parking, it's a good spot to meet on a sunny day. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons this summer, Cafe Baobab will also host DJs and local bands, extending the music nights they hold every Friday throughout the year.

Apparently the courtyard was a dump for about 20 years before the owners turned it into their space, expanding it further two years ago and linking it directly to the cafe (for a while, cafe goers had to walk outside to get out the back).

While they've got plans to do more planting, there's something nice and rustic about it being a little bit imperfect. A mural on the brick wall adds to its bohemian charm. Cafe Baobab is a place you'd expect to find on Waiheke Island, not a stone's throw from busy Riddiford St.

The Dominion Post