A top-end-of-town cafe is nudging its way up in the brunch market
Once Strangers Cafe
SET UP & SITE
I love Symonds St. It’s the gritty, surprising edge of town where you can buy a kite surf, have dinner at the French Cafe, buy a bike or visit a pawn shop and a whole lot other interesting in between. Right at the end — the K Rd end, that is — is a cafe that seems slightly out of step with the predominantly grunge-vibe: a pristine, humble little place that feels, well, like the Pollyanna imposter. It’s like stumbling into somewhere holy in the middle of Kings Cross at 2am. Once Strangers has all the right “ticks” in terms of being on trend (terrarium, lots of white, white chairs, clean) but it’s very bright and stark. Host-wise, you couldn’t ask for more. All smiles. Miles of them. But it’s 11am and so quiet that you an almost hear the crisp white walls whispering “where is everyone?” Parking is a bit dodgy, but Benedict St is a good option if you don’t mind a stroll around the corner.
SUSTENANCE & SWILL
I order “eggs benny” with housemade potato rosti, and my companion orders tacos — with monkfish. I order a soy flat white (coffee is Altura), asking for strong please, and Suzi orders an english breakfast tea. As good as my eggs are, perfectly cooked, I kinda FOMO-out about the cottage pie and the pork bao. Suzi reckons the tacos aren’t really great in terms of freshness. My eggs are great. So stick with the basics here. Though, you could argue, it’s hardly a stretch to expect fresh fish when they offer it. The glass cabinet is a bit lonely and in need of friends. There are bland-looking paninis and croissants.
SERVICE & OTHER STUFF
Super-friendly. I walk in and think about where to sit. The waitstaff are charming and helpful. Water is brought. Orders are taken. It’s a hard ask to stand out in the brunch market. I mean, this town is crawling with cafes. But “Strangers” is giving it a good nudge, they have a great barista and I want them to succeed. They are the opposite of studied cool you often find at Auckland cafes, and that alone is really a nice thing to be among, on a grey winter morning, when all the world can seem a bit hostile.