Childhood friends Ela Ledua and Lorraine Patterson met in Class 1 at the International School in Suva. Some 26 years later, they’ve launched The Mad Hatter Hut, a child- and family-friendly café down the road from Victoria Tennis Court on Disraeli Road in Suva. It’s a small but bright and airy space once occupied by a neighbourhood corner store better known for its steel bars and dark and dingy interior. People still rock up asking for packet noodles and recharge, says Ela, whose illustrator husband Tui has lent a hand with hand-painted art for the café’s walls. A DIY approach runs throughout the cafe’s quirky interior: tabletops were fashioned out of wooden shipping crates, tea cups and saucers found at a St Vinny’s in Brisbane were turned into hanging lights at the counter by Lorraine’s husband Athony, while classroom chairs were sourced from Toorak-based school furniture maker Rattans and painted by hand. The cafe’s menu also displays a similar DIY ethos. Alongside the usual café standards (coffees, teas and other drinks and eats), the duo has introduced their own signatures with an emphasis on local ingredients. Their Kailoma smoothie uses Batiri orange or boiled pineapple juice as a base to which pawpaw, pineapple and banana is added. Buresala Coboi is offered hot or iced, the lemongrass comes fresh from the Patterson family farm on Levuka via boat each morning to Suva. Savusavu Bliss is a nod to Lorraine’s mum’s hometown. It’s their take on a layered coconut slice where a sponge base is topped with grated coconut and finished with caramel sauce and a dollop of fresh cream. For the health-conscious, the duo has introduced wraps, salads, overnight oats, wholemeal dried-fruit muffins and is slowly introducing gluten-free options like chocolate chip brownies. Thankfully, the Mad Hatter Hut is fussy about coffee. Baristas Lesi and Max (familiar faces from the café scene in Suva) make beautiful coffee using double-filtered water and Australian Piazza D’Oro espresso beans. Despite being somewhat out of the way, people have been making the trek since the Mad Hatter Hut opened its doors on March 13. Besides families and children, you will find grandmothers, freelancers and office workers in the mix on any given day. The inspiration to create a space that caters to families and children came from their own lives: both women are mothers with three kids each, all under 10 years old. Lorraine, who moved to Brisbane 10 years ago, says once a month she takes her seven-year-old Aurora on a motherdaughter date. “We go to a café where I get a cappuccino and she gets a hot chocolate. Then afterwards, we go buy her a costume or a dress,” she says. “It’s a chance for us to connect and bond and I wanted to offer something similar here in Fiji.” One side of the cafe is lined with clothing, costumes, swimmers and shoes for kids aged 1 to 12, to which the women plan to add locally-made tropical things for kids.
The Mad Hatter Hut, 22 Disraeli Rd, Suva. Opens 9.30am to 5pm Monday, 8am to 5pm Tuesday to Friday and 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday. Closed Sunday.