First Look: Cali
Words and photos by Alice Harbourne.
I bought a 1997 Toyota Starlet with a brand-new cam belt precisely to avoid breaking down in a 15-minute-only car park on a random side street in Greenlane, but on a windy Tuesday morning luck was not on my side. It could have been a lot worse, sure, but a skipped breakfast, the early throat-scratchings of a cold and a tight schedule never fail to warp perspective.
The contrast of breezing into Cali, the new all-day eatery that has replaced Macs Brew Bar on Nuffield St, was overwhelming. The head-clearing horizontal space, the offer of a paper to read in lieu of company, the swiftness with which a glass of water arrived. The host even lent me a phone charger, providing a sense of security I should probably be more ashamed of.
The morning’s troubles were forgotten, though my lingering hunger meant I failed to skip past the first item on the menu, the Bulgogi Reuben. A reuben sandwich to my mind is defined by corned beef, so this is really a Korean pretzel roll, but a fantastic one at that. Soy and pear-marinated beef (uncorned) is topped with melted emmental and kimchi salsa, piled inside a Bread and Butter Bakery bun. My sore throat ordered a spinach, kale, mango and coconut water smoothie and seeing it beside the loaded sandwich I suddenly understood the name – what represents the clashing forces of greed and asceticism better than the American state of California?
Cali’s owner Kate Prangnell (ex-Pack and Company) has spent a lot of time in L.A, and is inspired by the food culture of Malibu, Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Venice Beach. “Californian cuisine is many things,” she explains, “it’s tacos and fresh juices, burgers and seafood, and more recently about eating seasonally, which is how we’ve always had to do it here in New Zealand.”
Prangnell has worked in hospitality since she was 18, here and overseas. Her formative years in the industry were spent under the instruction of Tim Whelan in 1990s Christchurch. “With 500 covers a night, the Lone Star on Manchester St was an intense place to work” she says. “Tim taught me so many little things I still pass on to my staff today, like placing bottles in the bin instead of throwing them so they don’t make that horrible sound.”
Her staff have clearly absorbed her wisdom, already operating as a well-oiled charm machine two weeks after opening. It’s pretty essential for an all-day eatery; the food and the mood need to change with the time of day, but the service needs to be consistent. But it looks like Cali will succeed on both fronts, with four menus – breakfast, lunch, dinner and grazing – each catering to both ends of the healthy-eating spectrum. There’s a kid’s menu too.
Newmarket – and especially Nuffield St – has needed a place like this for a really long time. There was that novelty Hello Kitty cafe around the corner for a bit, that was fun. But all those cool international retail stores and local designers deserve somewhere that encourages shoppers to hang around. Cali delivers, I know because when I returned to a parking ticket and an unresolved car battery issue, I wanted to run straight back.
23- 27 Nuffield St
Open 7 days, 7am-late.