This crazy wind and drizzly rain is doing nothing for my hairstyling abilities. Any application of lip balm outdoors leads to hair blown into lips, and then balm smeared across face via wild strands of flying hair. It's not enjoyable, and walking can prove a lot more difficult than usual. Throughout this windy, temperamental spring that Wellington is currently in the throes of, those amazing can't-beat-Wellington-on-a-good-day days still peep through. We had one the other day, and I spent my lunch break bathed in sunshine.
I received a phone call during my morning coffee, and all of a sudden I was having lunch with somebody that I used to know. We met up and wandered along the waterfront, and since I'd been meaning to go there for pretty much always, I chose Nikau as our lunch destination.
Nikau is situated in Welington's City Art Gallery, and for my first experience of this iconic cafe, I was very pleasantly impressed. The doughnuts, the service and the kedgeree all lived up to the hype.
It's a small but beautifully balanced lunch menu, and all of it looked appealing on that sunny lunchtime. We had a quiet spot outside whilst the inside was heaving. I likened it to a wind-sheltered oasis out in the courtyard, the hustle and bustle indoors just disapated in that sun.
I could not resist the haloumi. I love love this cypriot cheese, but it's not always that the accompaniments will entice me to order it off a café menu. Here it was served simply with a mountain of chargrilled asparagus, a wedge of lemon and some lightly grilled fresh bread - pretty much my dream lunchtime meal. The asparagus was chargrilled to perfection, retaining its requisite crunch, and the cheese was lusciously creamy.
My dining companion asked if there was anything better than fresh bread and butter when tucking into the bread that accompanied his kedgeree. With a particular interest in fish, the famous kedgeree with smoked fish was what he ordered. Nosily eyeing it up with my fork in hand (a little annoying? probably) there was certainly no way I wasn't going to try it. And it really is delicious. Lightly spiced, beautiful soft flakes of fish, and fresh boiled eggs, with a smattering of herbs. It's a balanced and flavoursome lunch dish which was enthusiastically eaten right up.
Mikes Organic Pilsner (on tap) accompanied both the sunshine and the haloumi, and the Kedgeree was washed down with a Tuatara Pilsner. The service was relaxed but attentive, and friendly without being overbearing, a big plus being that our water was constantly topped up without us really even noticing.
Nikau has popped up a bit lately; it was featured in Cuisine magazine earlier this year and on Julie Le Clerc's TV show Cafe Secrets. Owners Paul and Kelda clearly know what they're doing: they've been here since 1998 and the systems and ethos in place prove it. Apparently an advertising agency recently anonymously donated a billboard professing its love of those famous doughnuts, and Libby over at Lovely Wee Days not only loves their porridge, but also declared the best $50 she'd spent lately was at Head Chef Kelda Haines' egg class at the Sunday City Market. A friend worked here until very recently too, and I even have a cluster of friends who breakfast club here every Friday. And just about everyone you mention this place too knows about that kedgeree, or the equally famous sage eggs.
With a little more time up my sleeve, we went all out and had coffees and homemade doughnuts filled with tangelo cream to finish. The chat was good, the food delicious, the service impeccable and the sunshine, nothing short of glorious. Sometimes, just sometimes, in weather, and in life, small pockets of unexpected positivity will show up when you're least expecting it. My favourite new find and a highly recommended treat.
Nikau Cafe, City Art Gallery Civic Square (101 Wakefield St) Wellington. Open Monday-Friday 7am-4pm, Saturday 8am-4pm.