Presenting the inaugural Tonka awards for the top five cafes that we have come across so far in our travels.
And the best to date ARE…
Steam, in Oamaru.
Good coffee (8/10), a really good range of baking with lots of vegetarian options. We visited on a wet Saturday in March and the place was full of locals doing catch ups (the most heard phrase was “Dahling! I haven’t seen you for years!”), as well as a few tables of tourists like us. The cafe is housed in a heritage building at the edge of the touristy historic precinct. They have an impressive collection of old coffee pots but otherwise the decor is refreshingly kitsch free.
And… Mrs Clark’s Crib Cafe, in Riverton
The coffee is good here too (8/10, Havana, from Wellington), as their baking. We had a 85% dark chocolate and pear muffin there today which was one of the best muffins we’ve ever had. Vegetarians are amply provided for, which is saying something in Southland. There is a substantial local clientele who are greeted by name by the Front of House person. She’ll remember your order perfectly, nothing is relegated to paper or other fancy digital device. This place is done out in 1960/70s retro (lava lamps, velvet pictures, mismatched laminex tables and chairs), and the music is authentic to the period.
They are also the only place in Riverton that sells pizza. And that’s Friday and Saturday nights only, which strikes me as odd given this is a seaside town even if it is at 46 degrees south.
And at Number 3, we have 2Stags in Timaru.
Another 8/10 for coffee (Supreme from Wellington). Its food offering is quite restricted but the muffins we had there were perfectly fine. Our Timaru insider (Julia) confirms that it is the best coffee in Timaru.
Number 4: Hydro, in Twizel.
Underground coffee which we rated at 7.5. We reckon we are capable of making 7/10 coffee using our stovetop in Tonka so anything better than that is worth paying for. Again, a good range of baking and good vego options. When we were there it was doing a roaring trade with the cycling types who were presumably in the area to do the Alpine to the Sea. It is next to the inestimable Jake’s Hardware shop.
[Actually, given the present rate of hideousization of Wanaka and Queenstown I reckon there is no need to travel further west than Twizel. There is good skiing at Ohau (did anyone mention the carrot cake at the Ohau ski field canteen? Or the quality of the coffee?), and fishing and tramping/bush walking and cycling. Shawties, across the square from Hydro, has a Wellington standard range of beer and does good pizza.]
No 5 goes to Home in Blenheim. We had coffee there early on our first morning and it was wonderful. Another 8/10. Sorry, can’t tell you much else about the cafe and we don’t have any photos. We were a bit of a wreck on that first day!
Honorable mentions go to:
The Thomas Green Public House and Dining Room in Gore. This is an old pub that has been done up in part English country house and part bordello. I can’t say anything about the dining room but the public house part is kitted out with leather sofas and you can easily sit there and yarn the day away, as we did recently with friends Heather and Andrew from Hobart. Staff are very accommodating. The coffee is fine. There is an impressive range of teas. It’s worth ordering if only for its presentation.
Heather was boggled by the decor of the ladies’ loo.
And Andrew and Dave are doing their Gentlemen on Sunday act.
The Yesteryear Museum and Cafe in Tuatapere, recommended for a technically perfect scone, the sort your grandmother used to make. The background music will probably be The Seekers.
Finally, the Addington Coffee Coop in Christchurch. OK, Christchurch is not regional, and this cafe does not belong in this listing, but the slices from this place are worth traveling vast distances for. We tried three: raw snickers, a raw avocado (that tastes like coconut ice) and a salted caramel. We were otherwise underwhelmed by the coffee and by the salad we ordered for lunch, but perhaps we struck them on an off-day. This place has a Reputation and there were long queues at lunchtime.
So as you can see, Dave and I are easy to please. All we want is properly made coffee, fresh and interesting baking, and good service. And we expect this standard to be maintained every day. Simple really, just like maintaining the dunny block at Knobs Flat.
Our coffee sampling has slowed down a bit given the amount of truly dreadful coffee we’ve come across. I’ve had too many flat whites that taste like the smell of a month-old filthy dishcloth. We were going to do a comparison of regional raspberry buns but the first sample made Dave sick. We might do a Cheese Roll Round Up for May/June instead. Don’t worry, we’ll think of something.