20 April 2010

Pranah Cafe, Newtown

I've been trying to get out and about in the suburbs more now that I've got a car in Wellington. High on the to-visit list was Pranah, one of my favourite unfrequently-visited cafes in colourful Newtown. It's a quirky little vegetarian joint with plenty of vegan and gluten free options - but don't let the lack of meat put you off, as there's enough variety and freshness on the menu that you'll probably forget about the bacon.

I don't normally go for the "big breakfast" options at cafes (mostly because they're expensive and too big for me to finish anyway), but the hoe down ($18) reeled me in with its adorable name and a slew of foods I couldn't resist the sound of: poached eggs, sourdough, spinach, hollandaise, roasted tomatoes, rosemary potatoes, chilli beans, chutney.

The potatoes were a bit dry, but I loved the mountain of fresh baby spinach piled on top, gradually wilting with the heat of the food underneath. The sourdough managed to stay wonderfully chewy even as it soaked up the egg yolks and hollandaise. With so many components all on one plate, most fun of all was coming up with different combinations - my favourite was tomatoes, potatoes, and chilli beans with a dab of chutney.

E's banana and almond pancakes ($12, vegan) came in a stack of three adorably lopsided pancakes, loaded with banana slices, plum, yoghurt and maple syrup and topped with a crunchy sprinkle of sliced almonds. These were a treat, though they did get a bit soggy towards the end (perhaps not in a bad way; the plum juices & maple syrup were delicious).

The sticky date & ginger slice ($3, vegan) was moist and chewy, laden with chopped dates and candied ginger, and served with yoghurt. It was zingy and sweet and not as sinfully rich as the words "sticky date" sometimes suggest. I'd go back for more.

Pranah's banana smoothie ($5), a lightly spiced concoction made with bananas and milk, tasted clean and simple, sweet and milky. Not too thick, with a frothy, bubbly surface, I might go so far as to call it delicate. A smoothie-as-beverage rather than smoothie-as-meal, and all the better for it.

One of my favourite things from Pranah (and probably the thing that keeps me going back) is their ginger hot milk ($3.30) (closely followed by their tumeric hot milk). Smooth, foamy steamed milk, sweet and spicy, with a gingery warming sensation that lingers in your mouth long after the heat of the drink is gone, it was slightly reminiscent of the hot, sweet, milky ginger teas I had in Singapore and Malaysia.

E's flat white ($3.80) was of a generally high standard, with an elegantly smooth layer of froth. Pranah uses Newtown's own Peoples Coffee beans, which are fair trade and organic.

This place is refreshing. Light and airy, popular but not chaotically busy (not anytime I've been, anyway), it's a perfect place for a coffee or bite to eat. And you won't even miss the bacon.

Pranah Cafe
120 Riddiford St
(04) 389 8100


Open Mon-Sat 9-4:30 and Sun 10-4:30, kitchen closes at 2:30 (this is what it said on their door - their website says 9-5 daily).

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16 April 2010

PhuThai Esarn Restaurant, Cambridge Tce

Just a quick post for today on the lunch E and I had the other day at PhuThai Esarn Restaurant on Cambridge Terrace. I was going to wait to blog about it till I'd been back for dinner, but I'm eating leftover takeaway pad thai right now*, and it's making me want to write about this place.

I'd wanted to try PhuThai ever since I noticed it at its old location on Majoribanks St last year. When I got back from my travels overseas I was pleasantly surprised to see it had moved closer to my house, replacing the old Thai Panom restaurant that used to be at that Cambridge Terrace spot. They've spruced the place up quite a bit, with red walls and colourful decorations. An inviting space, but even more inviting the other day was the sign out front advertising their $10 lunch menu.

So, in we went. It was a bit empty** but our waiter (the owner, perhaps?) was friendly, prompt and attentive, and we were able to place our orders right away.***

E's basil chicken ($10), stir-fried chicken and vegetables with fresh basil leaves and hot Thai chillies, tasted fresh and flavourful. He had requested it to be spicy, and wasn't disappointed - the fresh chillies gave it a satisfying, lingering heat.

I ordered the tom yum goong ($10), a decent lunch-sized portion of hot and sour soup with mushrooms, onions and prawns. I want to say that this was the best tom yum soup I've had outside of Thailand, though to be honest I usually stick to curries and other non-soup dishes at Thai restaurants so I can't really say if it's the best in Wellington.

Regardless, it was undeniably good. The combination of lemongrass and lime juice flavouring the broth gave it an almost hauntingly sour-sweet hit and there were enough sliced chillies in there to make my brow sweat and my eyes water (NB: I had requested it spicy) but that didn't stop me from finishing every last drop. The prawns were succulent, not overcooked, and the mushrooms plump and juicy.

Both lunch dishes came with complimentary rice and salad, which was a nice touch. I'm excited to go back and try their dinner menu; they specialise in Esarn dishes (from Northeastern Thailand), of which I'm a particular fan. And I can verify that my takeaway chicken pad thai from last night was of a good standard. It probably won't be long before I blog about this place again!

(I'll reserve the rating for when I've been there more than once, and have tried their dinner menu as well)

PhuThai Esarn Restaurant
35-38 Cambridge Tce (former Thai Panom Restaurant; previously located at 21 Majoribanks St)
(04) 801 5006


Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner: 7 days 5pm-late

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*Leftovers for breakfast = sometimes the best kind of breakfast.
** It was not at all empty when I went in last night around 7:30 to pick up my takeaway, however.
*** Because the worst thing when eating in an empty-ish restaurant is when the staff lose focus and forget that you're there.

13 April 2010

Mojo, Wellington Airport

Lately it feels as though I've been away from Wellington more than I've been home, and I've been no stranger to the airport. While I used to be one of those people the airlines probably loathe, always running late and checking in at the very last minute, over the past few trips I've been making a habit of arriving with time to spare and having breakfast at Mojo's Wellington airport cafe.

With both a downstairs area in the main terminal serving counter food and coffee, and an upstairs lounge where you can enjoy cooked meals, it's certainly a lot more relaxing than rushing through check-in and security. This past Easter Sunday was no exception: E and I arrived in plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast before our flight to Christchurch.

E's brioche French toast with bacon & maple syrup ($14) was pretty much everything you could ask from a French toast. The brioche slices held their own against the eggy batter, perfectly soft yet still sturdy, and the maple syrup and crispy bacon provided that sweet-savoury hit that fuels my French toast obsession. After a few bites of this, I was almost regretting not ordering it for myself...

Almost, because if there's one thing that I love more than French toast for breakfast it's anything covered in a good hollandaise sauce. And as soon as I dug into my eggs benedict with spinach ($12), I knew I'd made the right choice.

Two poached eggs perched daintily atop a bed of spinach and toasted English muffin halves. With a generous (but not excessive) serving of hollandaise sauce and a sprinkling of chopped chives, this was a luscious Sunday morning treat. Although I found the spinach somewhat bland, this was countered by the lemony zing of the hollandaise, and the eggs were cooked beautifully.

Because there was still a bit of time before our flight, and because the colourful sprinkles had caught my eye, I headed downstairs to the counter to get myself a Belgian biscuit ($3.50). A layer of jam was sandwiched between two buttery, faintly spiced biscuits, topped with a smear of icing and gorgeously bright hundreds and thousands. Who says you can't have dessert after breakfast?

For coffee we had a flat white ($3.80) each. We're both normally fans of Mojo coffee, but this one seemed like it had been left out for a bit before being served, the froth somewhat weak and dissipated. Perhaps they were understaffed due to it being Easter, as I've had better on previous visits.

For an extra dash of caffeine before the flight, I ordered a piccolo ($3) after my meal. It was somewhat slow in coming out, but the strong coffee flavour tempered with a bit of milk satisfactorily fulfilled my lingering caffeine needs.

Mojo already has a strong presence on the Wellington coffee scene, with several cafes all over town (each with its own slightly different character). Although I usually frequent their cafe on Kent Terrace, I'm most grateful for their airport location. Finally, a good option for airport food and coffee.* I'm starting to change my mind on the notion that one should spend as little time as possible in airport terminals.

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Mojo Airport
Wellington Airport
04 831 1231

Open from 4:30am till late - perfect for those early international flights


*Although Wishbone isn't bad, and isn't badly placed either, with its seating area overlooking the runway...
**4:35PM: updated to add map.