There’s noth­ing like por­ridge, fancy or plain, to heat up the cock­les. Metro hits the cafes to find the best of the brunch.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents -

We’d cook it in the mi­crowave and eat it with a dol­lop of bright red su­per­mar­ket jam. Some­times we’d get dis­tracted, re­sult­ing in a por­ridge vol­cano that we’d lazily tackle with pa­per tow­els, the bowl left stip­pled with a dish­washer-averse rim of coag­u­lated oats. God, chil­dren are mon­sters. Mon­sters that can be cheaply fu­elled by hot oats.

I grew up in York­shire (which I’m sure in­stantly clouds this vignette in the mists of Wuther­ing Heights), and it seems por­ridge is of­ten as­so­ci­ated with bleak­ness: be that due to the util­i­tar­ian nu­tri­tion of child­hood, Oliver Twist, or ar­du­ous wash­ing-up. It’s also one of those dishes peo­ple love to say should never be or­dered in a cafe. Of course, it’s cheap and easy to make at home, but that’s not the point. In your own kitchen, the baller de­ci­sion to use cream in­stead of wa­ter, to add that ex­tra de­li­cious­ness-mak­ing spoon­ful of syrup, to open a packet of $15 freeze-dried rasp­ber­ries — that’s on your con­science. So, too, is the un­washed pan as you rush out to work. At a cafe, you can eat dessert for break­fast in ig­no­rant bliss and leave with the lit­eral glow of com­plex car­bo­hy­drates in chore-free peace. Plus, por­ridge has re­ally upped its game since you last tried it.

For a start, cafes are get­ting aca­demic with oats. Por­ridge purists rarely veer from steel-cut oats. They’re revered for be­ing less pro­cessed than their rolled sib­lings, and for their tooth­some tex­ture. At Hip Group’s newly opened Brit­o­mart bak­ery, Amano (68 Tyler St, cen­tral city), they’re served sim­ply with whole milk and poached winter fruit. It costs $6, is de­signed to be taken away in a card­board con­tainer and is ev­ery­thing por­ridge should be: boil­ing hot, silky rather than stodgy, and with a gen­er­ous top­ping-to-oat ra­tio. They do a savoury mush­room “por­ridge”, too, made us­ing carnaroli rice, laced with parme­san and topped with a slow-poached egg. It’s tech­ni­cally break­fast risotto; you’ll know if that’s your kind of thing.

Two types of rice and jumbo rolled oats get along very nicely in a bath of co­conut milk at Wel­come Eatery (181 Grafton Rd, Grafton). In­spired by tra­di­tional Asian con­gee, Mark McAl­lis­ter tops his sweet oat fu­sion with nashi pear, sweet apri­cot purée and caramelly cashew clus­ters. If you over-pour the ac­com­pa­ny­ing pear syrup (which I did), fine strands of in­tense mi­cro-co­rian­der have your back.

Two other Asian-in­spired dessert pud­dings — while tech­ni­cally not por­ridges — were too good not to men­tion. Bolaven (597 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden) has Malaysian sago pud­ding, made with sago pearls, co­conut milk and sesame seeds and topped with ex­otic sea­sonal fruit. It has a to­tally dif­fer­ent mouth­feel to por­ridge (in north­ern Eng­land, our ver­sion is lov­ingly known as “frog spawn”), but de­liv­ers the same in­ner warmth. Mean­while, the “Cam­bo­dian” — black rice in a moat of salted co­conut milk with ly­chee and ki­wifruit – at L’Oeuf (4a Owairaka Ave, Mt Al­bert) is mag­i­cally sweet, salty, fra­grant and tart, all at once.

And that’s the thing with all por­ridges, con­gees and risot­tos: the trick is to make each mouth­ful in­trigu­ing even though it’s es­sen­tially the same. The so­lu­tion at Beirut (85 Fort St, cen­tral city) is shards of baklava that are some­times chewy and sticky, some­times flaky and crunchy. They top a sweet soup of freekeh cooked in caramelised milk, fra­grant with laven­der oil and dot­ted with ed­i­ble petals. It’s as pretty as por­ridge can be, and for such a mor­eish dish, a steal at $8. Ca­troux (129 West End Rd, West­mere) also opt for dec­o­ra­tive por­ridge. Theirs is stained a del­i­cate lilac with one stir, thanks to boy­sen­berry com­pote and freeze-dried berries. If you like a hearty, thick con­sis­tency, their mil­let/oat mix with op­tional cream is made for you. Mean­while, Lit­tle & Fri­day (42 Dou­glas St, Pon­sonby) beau­tify their oat­meal ar­chi­tec­turally, a whole poached pear form­ing a cen­tral tower in rus­tic Houston De­sign Co dishes. Vanilla, car­damom and co­conut com­bine for a sweet and spicy bowl, but you’ve got to eat it quickly as the bowl’s flat shape means it doesn’t re­tain heat well.

You’ll want to linger at misty­win­dowed and vine-cov­ered cafe Mon­days (503b New North Rd, Kings­land) in winter. It looks like a house from a fairy­tale, which makes it the per­fect set­ting for por­ridge that is, IMO, just right. That’s ex­actly what a mil­len­nial Goldilocks would say, in ad­di­tion to, “Sorry, are there any gluten- or dairy-free op­tions avail­able?”, which in­deed there are. To my sur­prise, cashew milk and rice flake por­ridge is in­cred­i­bly tasty, es­pe­cially as pre­pared by chef Han­nah Hor­ton, who tops it with braised sea­sonal fruit (pear and rhubarb on my visit), crunchy wal­nuts and vanilla syrup. As I de­parted, it shot to the top of my list, due to my feel­ing the right kind of full: glow­ing but not sweat­ing, to put it grace­fully. It’s 100 per cent worth get­ting up in the dark for on a winter’s morn­ing be­fore work, and — our par­ents were right — you’ll be full un­til lunch.

The trick is to make each mouth­ful in­trigu­ing even though it’s es­sen­tially the same.

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