14 Jessie St
Ph: 385 2263
Open Mon-Fri 7am-4.30pm, Sat 8am-4pm
Price range of meals: $12-$19
Cost: $35 for two (excluding drinks)
'We're in it for the lifestyle rather than the money," those in the hospo industry are wont to say, to which the cynic might rejoin, ah, but you wouldn't stay around very long if you won Lotto.
By selling their cafe, artisan roastery and brand to Cerebos Gregg's for a reported $25 million in 2006, you might say Caffe L'affare founders Jeff Kennedy and Bridget Dunn effectively did win Lotto - several times over. And certainly for the next six years, the couple did stay out of the cafe business.
Whenever I met Jeff I'd hear of his newfound life of leisure - about touring the scenic South Island on his motorcycle, and the beautiful women who'd served him and Bridget at exclusive shops in Europe.
Yet, at the same time, the couple were quietly building their new brand, Acme & Co - as in Acme coffee, Acme bread, Acme bratwurst, Acme cafe crockery and Acme olive oil, from a Wairarapa grove they'd bought as an act of benevolence, fully realising how little money was to be made in that industry.
All these products now come together beneath one roof, with the opening of Prefab, their fab new cafe-roastery sited not 150 paces from their old cafe, right next door to the boldly signposted Caffe L'affare barista training centre in Jessie St. Hilariously, there's absolutely nothing Cerebos Gregg's can do about it, due to the expiry of a restraint-of-trade clause.
So, now the rulers are back at the old game of ruling. With a certain fuss of pleasure and huge tacit pride, Jeff tips green beans into his roaster. "I threw out about 100kg of beans learning to work this new machine, and to be honest, I only perfected it about a day and a half ago," he told me.
Dressed in her trademark apron, her pen poised above her pad with her never-failing smile, Bridget corrals her staff - a combination of hand-picked hospo identities and pretty young things.
Just as at Caffe L'affare, the service here is totally sussed.
The very instant one of the youngsters wrongly delivers me a long black (Me? A long black? Never!), Bridget shouts "There!" and points to another table.
Prior to our review, I'd called in one afternoon to purchase a crusty baguette, still warm from the oven on account of the bread being baked at four-hourly intervals during the day, rather than the night before.
"This place seems to be going off," I commented to chef Jonathan England, who'd wandered over for a chat. "Like a firecracker," came the reply. Despite seating 130, at lunchtime the queues reach out the door.
Reported by The Restaurant Association of New Zealand to have cost an estimated $4m, Studio Pacific Architecture's refit of the 1000 sqm former warehouse is in total contrast with Caffe L'affare.
From the old coffee cave, we troglodytes emerge blinking into the light: the new premises face northwest, with floor-to- ceiling glass wrapping around three sides of the dining room, making this the ideal spot to hang out during those irritating Wellington days when the sun shines but the wind precludes sitting outside to enjoy it.
Famously opposed to hospo industry pretension, Jeff has stripped every last embellishment from the wording of Prefab's menu.
Two machines churn out every permutation of espresso, yet the coffee menu bluntly reads: "Black $2.50, White $3.50, Bottomless filter $3.50."
I ordered "Fish" - at $19, a steal - a generously sized, spanking fresh fillet crisply fried with the skin on, a simply but beautifully dressed lettuce salad and more of that lovely house- made bread.
Unusual, but delicious, is a salad of beetroot and walnut, laid over cold dressed leeks with a scattering of fresh chilli.
When I complimented Jeff on the coffee, it was clear that such feedback mattered: as Confucius said, find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Actually it's a margherita, flavoured with a goodly jolt of oregano in addition to the basil, and with a thin base, crunchy on the bottom yet soft in the middle. Perfect!
- The Dominion Post