Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Le Cafe, the Arts Centre and Christchurch post-quake

While in Christchurch last weekend we went to Le Cafe for brunch, as I had heard it was open and was keen to check out an old haunt. Le Cafe is in the historic Arts Centre (the original Canterbury University site), and the complex is all beautiful gothic stone work and was built between about 1878 and 1923. Despite the gradual additions the buildings are all built in the same style, and as the university was shifted to its current Ilam site in the 1970s, this site is now held by a trust, and hosts an assortment of artists and craftspeople in its nooks and crannies.

I was a bit concerned about it after the big quake, since stone isn't the most flexible of building materials, and though I was somewhat reassured by the lack of footage (you can be sure the media would have been all over it if it had crumbled to bits!) I expected a moderate amount of damage. Apparently the Great Hall has suffered significantly, as has the Observatory, but the majority of venues within are back to normal operation, which is fantastic.

Good to see these pillars still standing firm - we made good use of them in April, along with all the other grads:

We arrived at Le Cafe at about 11am, and it was bustling - I imagine this is pretty normal as it is a popular spot. I hadn't had breakfast there for years - our frequent visits were usually post-dance class gatherings, since Le Cafe is one of few cafes open after 10pm in Christchurch. We used to regularly arrived at about 10.30pm on a Monday night with crowds of up to 25 (I'm sure they hated us! Normally it was more like 10, though), and sat for an hour or so over hot chocolates, chai lattes, and iced chocolates, plus a few bowls of fries and the odd dessert. Today is a different story - it's just the two of us, and our bellies are rumbling so we check in with the waitress, get some menus and go upstairs to the mezzanine. I love this little area as you can see down below and watch the baristas performing their magic.

Just as well we had something interesting to look at as it took some time for our food to come - actually we were quite disappointed with the service speed. Mr Cake ordered a coffee and I ordered an iced chocolate (for old times' sake - 11am isn't too early for ice-cream, is it?), but his coffee came, was drunk, and we waited quite a while longer before my drink came - and then that was well gone before our meals came. It also took a good 15 minutes just to get the water we had requested.

However, the iced chocolate was delicious as ever - this is a particularly fine specimen of this drink, with a generous hunk of ice-cream and thick, chocolatey liquid. So good! It did feel a little wrong having this before my breakfast, but, dear reader, such are the lengths I am willing to go to. ;-)

My pancakes were fluffy and hot, though the bacon was a bit on the chewy side and I didn't enjoy it at all. The syrup was quite nice - we're pretty sure it's not actually maple syrup but it didn't taste as bad as the normal fake stuff (which I hate!) - had a subtle citrussy flavour.

Mr Cake's porridge was pretty nice, but he found it to be a bit on the cool side - all in all we were disappointed, mainly because we spent about 35 minutes waiting for our food, and it was a bit average after all that. They used to have spectacular brioche French toast, but I am talking maybe 5 years ago, so not surprising that the menu has changed. It does seem to me, though, that cafe breakfast menus are getting pretty same-y - is it possible to get pancakes with something other than banana and bacon, for instance? Oh well - I think Le Cafe may stay in the late-night fries/dessert category for me!

We also stopped off at Fudge Cottage. This is a long time favourite of mine, and the ladies are always smiling and always have bowls of samples for you to try while you stand gazing at the array of fudgey goodness, wracked with indecision. I love the Baileys flavour, though I have never tried a flavour I didn't like! It's always tempting to take advantage of their discounts - the more you buy the cheaper they become - but I managed to hold back and only bought one packet on this particular day.

So while the Arts Centre has fared pretty well and all the businesses are still open (yes, the Dux de Lux is also fully operational!), what about those whose buildings have been damaged?

(photo from

Alvarados was the upstairs restaurant which became the favoured backdrop for news presenters in the few days following the quake, and they responded to the boost in publicity fairly quickly with a remarkably spirited sense of humour. Have a look at their website! They are currently looking for a new premises so keep an eye on that.

The building adjoining Canterbury Cheesemongers' premises was sadly damaged beyond repair, so the whole complex had to be demolished. However, they are now having "garage sales" every Saturday from 10-3, at 10a Medway Street, Richmond, and have also borrowed a van so they can be at the Christchurch Farmers' Market (at Riccarton House) every Saturday as well.

I was sad to see that Xocolatl, which we visited the weekend before the quake (and I wrote about just a few hours before it hit!) have suffered damage and are unable to use their store. However, their website offers sales so for your chocolate hit you can check them out online, and we also spied them at the Riccarton Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, so you don't have to miss out! Their website proudly boasts "Earthquakes won't keep us down!" on the front page. I'm glad an earthquake isn't enough to stand in the way of chocolate making!

Burgers and Beers are feeding the masses out of Malbas Bar - though you'll have to visit their Facebook page for details as this doesn't seem to have made it to their website yet. Simply Catering, whose shop has vanished altogether from the Christchurch streetscape, is still providing their yummy food to the hungry people of Christchurch, even if the rumours are true and they are based out of a caravan. 

Fortunately many businesses were mostly unharmed - I imagine a great deal lost some stock and equipment, but for the most part they are still able to operate and those who have suffered the most are working hard to thrive despite the circumstances - so if you're heading to Christchurch (if you live there you probably I'm guessing you've already figured out life goes on) don't be put off visiting all the good spots, even if some of them are temporarily relocated.

If you know of foodie businesses who've been affected and are operating from alternative premises please share in the comments.


  1. Three Boys Brewery are releasing a special beer, "Aftershock" - possibly-not-coincidentally its 7.1%. The Twisted Hop are doing something similar, but using the same batch of beer (so maybe that's cheating).

  2. The thing I am still noticing is how hard it is for stores to keep things in stock. I went to New World today to prepare for some baking, and the baking shelves were quite empty. They only had 1 cup size packets of cocoa in Cadbury brand (normally a fine brand, not so good with the cocoa as it is weak and contains gluten), and no other brands of cocoa, when normally they have 3 brands in multiple sizes. It was the same with chocolate chips, not so good for my baking. They also seemed short on pasta's when I was there the other day.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. * sorry about that - had to fix a spelling mistake!

    Great to see the Arts centre is holding up well(-ish). I must admit, all reviews I've ever read about Le Cafe make mention of the slow, and sometimes snarky, service there. Which is a shame really, as they could have something wonderful. I'll never go back, as it's just not worth it to wait half an hour for a coffee!

    I've thought of some places for you to try: Salt on the Pier have great desserts, Addington Coffee Co-op do a good brunch, and a friend has recommended the (I think) Victoria cafe - in the bottom of the Crowne Plaza.
    Anyway I forgot you don't live here any more! Though you're down so often :)

    Ps. Husband said "what kind of person would buy porridge at a cafe?!?!"

  5. Thanks Michelle - always good to have recommendations, especially for great desserts! And we're down often enough that I can make use of them, too.

    As to the who would buy porridge comment, he'd been for a run and wanted something reasonably normal - and I had actually promised him porridge from the farmers market but the stand wasn't there - so Le Cafe was a compromise to him (actually he would have happily gone home and made his own, but I had my heart set on a breakfast out, especially since I starved while he ran...)


Theme Design by Quentin de Manson Web Design