By Jodi Bryant

It was a miserable, wet midday in Whangarei so stepping into the cosy bustle of Essence Café was a welcome relief.

There are plenty of tables to choose from – either at the front where you can watch the city life, or out the back for more privacy. Alfresco dining is also an option but not this rainy day. This day, the tables were occupied for a mix of business meetings, general catch-ups, or by those taking a quiet moment and reading from the range of publications on offer.

The cabinets were brimming with choices, not to mention the blackboard menus, so it was a process of elimination, eventually whittling it down to the creamy mushrooms on toast ($14 served with a poached egg) or the roast chicken and camembert panini for $11.20.


I opted for the latter, along with a moccaccino and a slice of cheesecake pecan pie, $5.50 for afters.

My dining partner ordered the 'Eggs Benedict Essence Style', which is served on toast ciabatta, topped with baby spinach, two hash browns, poached eggs and homemade hollandaise for $16.50 or $20.00 with bacon. This was followed with a slice of vegan, gluten and dairy-free Snickers Slice, $5.50.

The blackboard includes menus for both breakfast and lunch (Essence is open until 3pm fyi), a kids' menu, plus a specials menu, which includes a choice of custom-making your own big brekkie by adding sides to the bacon and eggs.

We seated and our waitress asked the order in which we would like our food served, which was nice. At some places, you're bombarded with everything at once so some of it goes cold, or it is delivered in the wrong order.

While the mains were cooked, I sipped on my mocha, which was seriously delicious! I've never had such a creamy moccaccino – yum.

The mains were brought out at just the right time and were beautifully-presented. Actually, everything was. Even the eggs benedict plate was decorated with a paprika swirl pattern, perhaps in a nod to Matariki?

The serving of bacon was generous and the consistency of the eggs, mixed with the hollandaise sauce was perfect. As well as roast chicken and camembert, the panini came with tomato, red onion, spinach and with spicy plum sauce on the side. I definitely made the right choice here!

The waitress delivered our sweet treats and this was a treat alright – eating cheesecake during the day and with a topping you wouldn't find in a supermarket variety. Both were delectably-creamy and caramelly infused with a nut flavour throughout.

It was a struggle, but I was brought up to eat everything on my plate so did. Plus, I cannot waste top-quality food like this. However, dinner that night, if any, would be very light indeed.

The setting is pleasant, as are the staff, the menu extensive and well-priced and the food is staggered at just the right times. Oh, and it's filling and scrumptious!