A bite of the best cafe culture

By Libby Nicholson-Moon

Libby Nicholson-Moon selects a few cafes worth seeking out among Auckland's many.

Little & Friday cafe in Belmont. Photo / Bruce Nicholson
Little & Friday cafe in Belmont. Photo / Bruce Nicholson

Neighbourhood cafes are the modern-day version of the neighbourhood dairy of yesteryear - a place to wander to for refreshment and a chat with local friends and neighbours at the weekend, or to start the day during the week. Many of these tucked-away cafes indulge in the freedom of adopting the feel of their suburb - bohemian, traditional, modern or just plain groovy. We've chosen some we think are worth a trip across town for.

The Fridge
507 New North Rd, Kingsland, ph (09) 845 5321, open Sat-Sun 8am-4pm, Mon-Fri 7.30am-4pm

The Fridge is something of an institution on the strip in Kingsland, and owners Ann Maree Rowe and Chris Faithfull are seriously passionate about making your visit here a positive experience. The food is fresh, wholesome, and nutritious, the Karajoz coffee excellent, and the atmosphere is buzzing. The deli cabinet is packed with a wide range of flavoursome wraps, paninis and salads, with gluten-free and vegetarian options. The extensive breakfast menu contains all the usual suspects, with eggs benedict on homemade hash; and the omelette features as a favourite among the locals.

If you're hankering for a pie, this is the place where pie dreams come true. The Fridge is famous for its take on the pastry delight, with 10 fillings ranging from chicken, creamy mushroom and pesto, and steak and cheese, to Moroccan lamb, and many more. There's an extensive range of sweet treats to choose from, including their homemade lamingtons. Dining areas include a downstairs courtyard for morning sun, or upstairs in the large spacious dining room, with a vista of the city.

Florentine Tearoom
51b Ranfurly Rd, Epsom, ph (09) 630 0478, open Sat 8am-3pm, Mon-Fri 7am-3.30pm

In this pretty cafe nestled in a quiet corner of the Ranfurly Rd shops, iced cup cakes, lemon meringue tartlets, macaroons, cone-shaped lamingtons, and dainty club sandwiches are displayed under glass covers, beside old-fashioned teapots and teacups. The interior of the Florentine Tearoom has an old-worldly European-style atmosphere, with large mirrors, marble-topped tables and French Louis XVI-style chairs. Owners Margie Stone and friend Jilly Green say they have endeavoured to create an interior style similar to that of a European cafe. Florentine Tearoom has two courtyards, while a long communal table stretches the length of one wall underneath the large, opulent antique mirrors. This little cafe is a haven of elegance.

Good One
42 Douglas St, Ponsonby, ph (09) 360 5040, open Sat 8am-3pm, Mon-Fri 7am-3 pm

One of Ponsonby's best kept secrets is Good One Cafe on Douglas St. The cafe is the front to the Auckland office of Supreme Coffee, and is the kitchen table of one of New Zealand's oldest and leading coffee roasters, based in Wellington. The vibe is friendly and warm, and the cafe has a faithful following among locals. Jane Ormrod manages the cafe, and Al Keating who supplies the machinery, support and training in the art of coffee, oversees the coffee side.

The interior of Good One is crammed full of an eclectic array of coffee related paraphernalia and memorabilia. The menu is equally as eclectic, beginning with staple breakfast choices such as muesli and yoghurt, and "toast and stuff", to toasties, breakfast pie, smoked fish pie, corn and bacon fritters, sardines on toast, and their legendary ham cheese toasties - that good honest Kiwi staple. There are also treats from the fridge or drawer. And their "longest drink in town" milkshakes bring back memories of my teenage relationship with the corner dairy.

Next Door
589 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden, ph (09) 638 9676, open Tues-Sun 7am-4pm. Fully licensed.

Mt Eden has a new kid on the block, the recently opened Next Door cafe, owned by Angie and Carlos Atkinson, and is literally next door to their restaurant, Bowman's. The space is decorated with an eclectic array of Angie's grandmother's furniture, art deco mirrors, and various knick-knacks from eras gone by, and utilises Bowman's existing restaurant facilities, including the kitchen. The predominantly organic and free-range menu, which Angie describes as classic cafe fare with restaurant flair, changes regularly but includes mouthwatering breakfast choices such as smoked salmon hash and French toast with bacon, strawberries, and maple syrup. Or for lunch, asparagus risotto with crispy shallots and parmigiano reggiano or smoked chicken salad. The L'Affare fair trade organic coffee is excellent, and whether you dine inside or out in the sunny courtyard there is a very neighbourhood feel about this cafe, which is exactly what Angie envisioned.

The Apothecary
The Antique Shop Ltd, 27 Picton St, Howick, ph (09) 534 7020, open Sat 8am-4 pm, Mon-Fri 8am-4.30pm.

Gillian O'Brien and cousin Belinda-Jane Brown have combined their talents and opened The Apothecary Cafe, in an antique shop in Howick. The Antique Shop is owned and operated by Ted Waters, who bought the fit-out on Trade Me, then shipped it from the Netherlands to NZ. A chance meeting with Jill and Belinda subsequently resulted in the 1950s chemists interior becoming part of a modern day cafe. It has an industrial feel amid the antique surrounds, with apothecary containers and bottles scattered between old sugar containers and mis-matched antique cups and saucers. Belinda's background in catering has taken care of the food side, while cousin Jill is front of house. The food is simple and delicious. The Supreme coffee blend, Boxer, is the icing on the cake, so to speak, for this unique experience of dining amid antiques and surrounded by history. Even some of the furniture you sit on is for sale.

The Pah
The Pah Homestead, 72 Hillsborough Rd, ph 09 624 1215, open Sat-Sun 10am-4.30pm, Tues-Fri 11am-3.30pm

The historic 130-year-old Pah homestead in Hillsborough is steeped in history. If you visit, you will undoubtedly become informed of the story behind this iconic piece of land and residence. Recently fully restored, the homestead is now the new home of the Wallace Arts Trust and its extensive collection of New Zealand art, including paintings, photography, sculpture, film, and installations. Also recently added is The Pah cafe, which is owned by Auckland caterers Dawsons. The cafe is the perfect complement to the homestead, and offers counter food, an a la carte menu, and a wine selection. The weekday menu progresses from poached eggs with asparagus, watercress and hollandaise to include, among other things, the Pah platter, fish'n' chips, chicken salad, and field mushroom gratin. The weekend menu extends into breakfast fare. There's also an inviting array of cakes, and sweet morsels to enjoy with your Vittoria coffee. A stunning painting by Jeffrey Harris creates a dramatic backdrop behind the counter, and is joined by several other equally beautiful pieces on the cafe walls. Relax inside, or dine on the tiled verandah, while you enjoy the surrounding sculptures, set against stunning park views. A stroll on one of the walkways in the park, accompanied by the song of native birds, will be a perfect end to your visit.

Little and Friday
43 Eversleigh Road, Belmont, ph 09 489 8527, open Tues-Sunday 8 am-3 pm.

Kim Evans' Little and Friday cafe on Auckland's North Shore has a huge following. The cafe is in a small group of shops, down a quiet suburban street. This place is all about food, and community. Kim's childhood inspiration was her mother Laurel Evans, who was a home economics teacher, so in their family Sunday was always baking day. Nothing much has changed for Kim, as she has been baking ever since, including a stint from 2000- 2004 in Devonport with her cake shop Ice it.

Little and Friday's kitchen is committed to food that is baked fresh each day, using only free range and organic ingredients. Everything is made from scratch. Brioche filled with spinach, feta and sundried tomatoes, glorious cup cakes, including orange and rosewater, passionfruit and boysenberry, and carrot with peanut brittle icing. The cabinets are overflowing with an abundance of delectable creations; flaky pastries topped with walnut pesto with leek and haloumi, or caramelised onions, portobello mushroom and buffalo mozzarella. Try the lamingtons, or their amazing doughnuts filled with cream patisserie and home-made raspberry jam. Peanut brittle, lime and pistachio fudge with freeze-dried raspberry, and choc fudge are also waiting to be devoured. Kim's family work alongside her, with daughter Holly and son Izaak helping front of house and in the kitchen. This cafe is definitely a local hangout as well as drawing customers from across Auckland and out of town.

It's obvious Kim's philosophy of baking to make people feel good is working. Local customers donate cutlery, cups and saucers, and even teapots to the cafe, because they feel so much a part of what Kim is doing. Supreme coffee puts the finishing touch to the amazing food. Like one of Kim's favourite movies, Like Water for Chocolate, this cafe is all about food that has been made with love.

- NZ Herald

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