First Look: Mary's Cafe
If Tim Tohill were to trace his trajectory across Auckland, it’d come out looking like a slightly wonky chevron stripe. From Eden Terrace’s Benediction, which he ran with his brother Jon in the mid-2000s, he transferred to Grey Lynn, opening Jafa on Richmond Rd. In 2011 he was on the move again, heading east to Remuera and his next venture, Shore Road Cafe.
Now, nearly a year after selling up in Remmers, Tohill is back on the west side of town, with a new café, Mary’s, in the old Ponsonby fire station. The 1903 building has been home to a series of restaurants starting with the ever-so-fancy Raffles back in the 70s. After Japanese restaurant Soto closed last winter, the site was empty while Tohill and his team stripped walls, installed new banquette seating and redesigned the courtyard garden.
The result is spacious and bright, thanks to a coat of white paint and the light that streams through that wonderful heritage-protected window. Tables are placed a sensible distance apart – a rarity in this part of town – with plenty of space for pushchairs and toddling kids. With the Leys Institute just across the road, Mary’s is set to become a popular post-library stop off.
As for the menu, Tohill says they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. “We’re doing café classics, cooked really well.” There are nods to current trends, including a protein-packed kale salad and an Asian-inspired sticky black rice pudding, and a few dishes inspired by other local restaurants.
But mostly, the menu is the kind of food Tohill knows that café-goers want: free range eggs with a big choice of sides, homemade porridge and muesli, Croque Monsieur, steak frites, salads, risottos and more. As at his previous cafes, coffee is by Allpress. “In this business, relationships matter. You stick with the people you know – and their coffee is great too.”
He’s been doing this for more than a decade now, but says the thrill of opening a new café is still the same. “You open the doors, get behind the till and greet your very first customer, and it’s like you’ve never been away.”