Fidel's was incredibly packed last Saturday. This wasn't much of a surprise, since the veteran Cuba St cafe is a favourite for the weekend brunch crowd. But this time it was busier than I've seen it in a while, the atmosphere decidedly frenetic. While E and my visiting brother pounced on a just-vacated table, I joined an awkwardly snaking line punctuated by harried-looking waitstaff and waited for my turn to order.
"Have you got a table yet? Because we're pretty full right now and..." No sooner had I nodded than the girl at the counter handed me a number for my coffee and the peach, raspberry and cream cheese brioche ($5) that I ordered. "Oh and it'll probably be a while for your coffee, too," she said, before turning to the next person in line: "Hi! Hi! Excuse me!"
I didn't mind having to wait for my coffee. After all, it was the weekend and it wasn't like I had any big plans. Plus, it gave me time to slowly pull apart and nibble at my brioche.
One of the Fidel's big drawcards for me is their selection of brioches. Fluffy, buttery, eggy: they're definitely rich, but the bread itself isn't too sweet as most of the sugar content has been directed into the fillings. My favourite is their boysenberry-custard filling, but the peach-raspberry-cream cheese variation was just as divine. And the generous sprinkle of sugar crystals, especially on that characteristic little doughball fused to the top, sent my tastebuds into ecstasy.
By the time my flat white ($3.50) arrived, my brioche was long gone. Which was fine; it gave me the opportunity to focus on my coffee. Fidel's is another cafe serving up Havana coffee. I'm a big fan of Havana beans, normally getting my fix at Deluxe. This particular coffee had the whole smooth, frothy thing down pat. But it was a little more front-of-tongue bitter than I'm used to, though not unpleasantly so. I wonder if they use a different blend, or if it's related to how the coffee is made? (Coffee experts, please enlighten me!)
My brother ordered the bean and scrambled egg burrito ($16). Filled with Fidel's chilli black beans and a good portion of cheesy scrambled eggs, it was a respectably solid meal. It came topped with tomato salsa, sour cream and a mystery drizzle of what we guessed was red pepper coulis. I had a bite and couldn't really taste any chilli, but my brother reported that it was the kind of heat that builds up slowly instead of searing your mouth.
(I can't help thinking, with the ends left unfolded, doesn't this burrito look more like a dosa?)
The one disappointment of the morning was E's soup of the day (leek and potato, $10). While it looked and smelled delicious, it was curiously devoid of salt. I'm not talking a little bit undersalted, either: there was no salt to be found. I'm going to put this down to kitchen error, since I'm usually quite happy with Fidel's food. Luckily the problem was remedied using a nearby salt shaker, and the accompanying toasted ciabatta bread was fantastically chewy and crisp, great for dunking into the soup.
Despite the Cuban-themed decor and a couple cursory nods to Cuban cuisine on the menu (black beans and sofrito chicken come to mind), Fidel's isn't really a Cuban cafe. Most of what you get here is pretty standard in cafes across Wellington. But, importantly, their coffee is reliably good, and the food is satisfyingly tasty (salt-less soup snafu aside). Plus, they make their own fresh fruit juice, though I haven't had it in a while.
And despite Fidel's tendency to get madhouse busy on weekends, the atmosphere doesn't suffer too much. Once you sit down with a coffee or pastry you'll forget all about your jumbled attempts to grab a seat somewhere, and relax while reading the newspaper or watching people walk up and down Cuba St.
(I had to give it a little extra boost for the brioche - so amazing.)
234 Cuba St