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First Look: Willow

Jun 17, 2014 Cafes

Words: Catherine McGregor. Photos: Ken Downie.


From the heart of the CBD to an Albany office park is quite a readjustment, but one Natasha Macindoe and Roy Bell were happy to make. The Grassy Knoll, their Shortland St café, was a success straight from the get-go (we loved it so much we included it in our Top 50 cafes of 2012) but after 18 months in lawyer-land they decided it was time for a change. “We loved it there, but realised we’d taken the business as far as we could, says Roy. “Being up here gives us a lot more space to grow.”

Their new venture, Willow, is in a hard-to-find spot down the back end of a Tawa Drive business park. Inside, it’s a calming, light-filled cube, all white tile and pale wood. Outside, there’s more seating and a pergola stretching across the north-facing courtyard.

The menu is a mix of healthy-ish (steel cut oat and chia seed porridge with house-made fruit jelly and cream), indulgent (a swoon-inducing brioche and chocolate ganache French toast with whipped honeycomb butter) and interesting. Their eggs Benedict are served on a Japanese pancake made with gluten-free rice flour and perked up with a dollop of wasabi hollandaise. Mince on toast is a comforting, East-meets-West dish of beef mince and smoked paprika-spiked labne (strained yoghurt).

Twice a week they do a lunch run to local offices, with Thursday’s hot meat sandwich special – meatball subs, organic pork belly rolls and the like – proving a winter-time hit. Their chicken is free-range, milk and eggs are organic, and they’ll whip you up a cold-pressed juice or berry-beetroot-greens smoothie faster than you can say “my body is a temple”.

Roy, a former coffee rep in Sydney, chose Auckland’s own Millers for Willow’s house blend. He says his time in the coffee business was the ideal prep for a café career. “I spent all day visiting some of Sydney’s best cafes for work. And when Natasha and I realised that this is what we wanted to do, the people there were so happy to share their experiences and advice. It’s such an awesome community to be part of.”

42 Tawa Drive, Albany.

Email to join the Willow office lunch run.


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