Sugar at Chelsea Bay
100 Colonial Rd, Birkenhead
(09) 481 0834
7am-4pm Mon-Fri, 8am-4pm Sat-Sun
$79 for two adults and two children.
Set up and site: The Gothic pink facade of the Chelsea Sugar factory has haunted the dreams of generations of Auckland children who have glimpsed it from the harbour bridge and assumed it to be the real life home of evil wizard Gargamel. Is there any other Auckland landmark that has loomed so ominously for so long in such a beautiful location?
The newly-opened cafe should change that: a waterfront-perched, elegantly-landscaped, grass and glass wonderland, with views across to the bridge and city skyline that can justifiably be called incred. There's a nice playground for the kids. It's a nice place to be, and a week after it opened the bulk of Auckland already appeared to know it.
The cafe is part of a development, including educational and interactive exhibits, which the manager of New Zealand Sugar Company estimates will draw 60,000 people in its first year. The Saturday morning we visited, one week after it opened, the cafe alone appeared to contain roughly 10 times that number.
Sustenance and swill:
The chilli scrambled eggs ($18) were elegantly laid among a sprouty arrangement and came with fried shallots and dry-cured chorizo. There were generous splashes of chilli oil. My wife wanted the eggs benedict but they'd run out of rosti so she had bacon and eggs ($16).
We ordered extra bacon (at $5 each) and were pleased we did because the free-range streaky rashers were smoked to within an inch of their fatty lives and opened out beautifully, flavour-wise. The poach on both eggs was good. The sourdough toast was good. Honestly, the food was all very good, but it was just hard to enjoy because the overwhelming sense was of the struggle of humanity under extreme pressure.
Service and other stuff: We came as part of a group of three families. Our hopes of sharing a table were absolute zero. Our hopes of finding a table for even a single family appeared only slightly better. We established a beachhead at a table for two, then sought to advance as adjacent tables were vacated. Once we had claimed two tables alongside each other, I asked a staff member if we could put them together but was told no, due to health and safety regulations.
It's hard to say how long our coffee took to come but it was somewhere between "This is getting ridiculous" and "Should we just go?" It was hard to get menus or water or just to find a staff member not already doing 12 things at once. Staff were not run off their feet so much as they were swept away by the king tide of humanity.
As this review went to press, it was announced that an extra coffee cart is being planned for the grass immediately outside the cafe. Let's hope that it eases the pressure because if it does, this could be one of the very best brunch places in the city.