This popular cafe on the former post office site is now called The Exchange. It has had a name change, and a modern refurbishment but remains possibly the central-Queenstown cafe that captures the most natural light and warmth inside and out with its perfect positioning and glass surrounds. Local artwork, friendly faces and a glimpse into the busy kitchen give it a correspondingly warm vibe.
We were pleased to see the basket of children’s toys remained and happily grabbed a seat in the sun while Miss 4 had a game. Less happily, she stepped backwards into the oil heater suffering a minor burn (red, but no tears). We pointed this out to the owner who offered any assistance necessary (not required) and made noises about moving the heater (a good idea we think). There is a breakfast menu from 7am until 3.30pm with 14 main dishes and lots of variations and sides to choose from – not what we were after on this day but sounded perfect for a long brunch.
The lunch menu (served 11.30am to 6pm) was more to our taste for a Friday lunch. Karl selected the Stewart Island Blue Cod, served with salad greens, lemon-caper aioli and fries ($23). Being a creature of habit he was not too sure of the chopping board presentation – apparently concerned any lemon squeezed on this meal might spill over the side and onto his lap. I thought it looked great, except for the obviously overcooked fish.
In the mood for a bit of comfort food myself I struggled to decide between the seafood chowder (house specialty, $15), the Croque Madam, Sauce Mornay (grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg and mornay sauce, $17) and, my eventual choice, the Thai Green Chicken Curry (kaffir lime scented rice, stir fried bok choy, $21). The bok choy was an absolute highlight. Yum, yum and yum.
I also enjoyed the curry – it lacked any heat in the spice but the lime was sharp and refreshing.
The fluffy, non-stick rice had nice flavour but led me to muse on the obsession with rice that doesn’t stick to its fellow grains. Sure no-one likes big blobs but how would millions of Asians eat rice with chopsticks if it didn’t contain starch?
From the moment we walked in the door Miss 4 knew what she wanted and headed straight to the cabinet to order a large, homemade, sausage roll ($10). Thank goodness it was still on the menu. I was concerned it would come out with a big bowl of relish but fortunately the accompaniment was tomato sauce, the perfect addition for this child. So enamoured was she with her delight she didn’t even notice the chunks of onion.
We were drinking coffee and hot chocolates on this day but the long list of craft beers and local wines was appealing.
From the beginning staff were attentive and helpful. Upon ordering we were asked if we had a local’s card. No, we didn’t. Never mind, we were given a card and the 10 per cent discount.
As we waited for our meals we were advised there was a hold up on the kitchen and it would be a little longer than normal as we were at the end of a lunch time rush, which we appreciated. It took about another 15 minutes, which did seem to be a while for a week day lunch, and it wasn’t a full house.
The Exchange retains many of the positive attributes of its predecessor and it’s hard to beat it for a spot in the sun for a work day lunch or coffee.
It was not perfect when we visited but showed lots of promising signs, including a delicious menu, and we wish the new owners all the best.
The Exchange Address: Ballarat St, Queenstown Phone: (03) 442 8238 Hours: 7.30am to 9pm
Deep fried: Blue Cod and Chips at The Exchange.