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The best buns in town
On a new breakfast gem in Christchurch, the country's best-tasting water and a garlic-heavy soup.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter produced in partnership with Boring Oat Milk. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
When it opened in March last year, central Ōtautahi cafe Tom’s became an instantly beloved stop for a snack and coffee. Situated in a teensy, playful, light-filled spot on Southwark Street, its menu, designed by owner-operator Tom Worthington, relies on a near foolproof equation, taking lunchbox classics – peanut butter sandwiches, pink buns, ham rolls – and making them really, really good.
Last week, just 14 months since opening his first spot, Worthington opened his second cafe (on the same street), Estelle – a sophisticated older sister to Tom’s. There are fewer sandwiches, more opulent-looking toast options. Less jaunty cobalt blue, more cursive writing. I had a chat with Worthington about Estelle one week in.
CML: What inspired you to open this new place?
TW: It happened so quickly and randomly. It was a cafe before us – Grain Cafe, they would have been there for around six years. A few months ago, one of the landlords approached me and said they were looking to fill the space. Immediately, I was like, “ah no, definitely not”. But then I went home that night, and I just couldn't stop thinking about it. Something about being on the same street as Tom's was cracking me up. I thought it could actually work quite well. The cool thing about it is that we didn't have to do too much to the space, we've actually kept all the fitout and things – it’s a really nice canvas. There’s a new coffee machine and there's two really lovely artworks by friends, Emma Fitts and Billie Culley – it’s amazing what nice things on the wall can do. We've obviously changed the food up here too. We're mainly doing things on toast and then these really lovely, slightly sweeter options too. Rice pudding, which at the moment is served with tamarillo – delish. And a real yummy butter cake with crème fraîche and feijoa.
The menu feels very different to what I’m used to in Ōtautahi, was that something you were aiming for?
We’ve definitely been missing a more lush breakfast offering in Christchurch. We wanted to be different. Will Lyons-Bowman is a good friend and he's head chef here, so it's things that we would both really want to eat if we were dining out. Will has definitely made it what it is – he is just incredible. People are coming in and feeling a bit rattled by it: there's no eggs benny, and I guess smoked fish with pickled currants and rhubarb sounds pretty whack.
This is the most boring question that always needs to be asked – what’s behind the name?
Not boring! It’s named after my niece. Estelle is the only grandkid in our family at the moment. So it’s pretty cute, pretty special and a great name.
Both Tom’s and Estelle are on the same street – how close are they exactly?
Literally 50 metres away from each other. A 30-second walk.
I mean, my initial thought was that you’ll be in competition with yourself – why did you see that proximity as a positive?
I’ve never seen an issue with good cafes being close together. Think about Ponsonby or Karangahape Road, it’s like bang, bang, bang. I also see Estelle as being very different to Tom’s. Tom's is still a lot more fun and chill. I still want Estelle to feel casual but I think it'll probably end up being somewhere people will come for cute little occasions as well. The other thing is that Grain was a really great cafe and super popular and because it's in the same building as a shared workspace, there are people coming in and out all the time. At one point, Will suggested a sandwich at Estelle. And I was like, “definitely not, we're not doing sandwiches, that's Tom's thing”. And we've already had some Tom's regulars come into Estelle and then walk out and be like, “oh, we actually might go back to Tom’s”. And I think that's just so good – it's kind of ideal. They're two very different places. I guess the other thing about them being so close together, if anything goes wrong it's just a very short sprint down the road to fix it.
Opening a second cafe just over a year after opening your first place feels pretty bold, how are you feeling about the pressure of it all?
I definitely have my days. In the first week of running two cafes it was feeling a bit like “what the fuck” but it’s becoming more normal. I’m definitely just trying to have fun with it. I'm also realising that I’m good at it too. Now that we're a week down, definitely feeling in the swing of things already and hoping the days will start to get a little bit shorter than they have been, especially for Will – he's been doing some pretty big days. Estelle definitely wouldn't be what it is without him. But I've got some really great staff too, which is just amazing. I feel very very lucky to have been able to open Estelle and not being too worried about Tom's down the road because Fran and Sarah [Tom’s staff] have got things down there.
The classic iced pink bun you serve at Tom’s has become kind of synonymous with the space. Has Estelle got an equivalent?
Estelle actually has a bun too. Will’s been making maritozzi [Italian cream buns]. So I think they're probably going to become the pink bun of Estelle. You've got to have a bun.
Estelle is located at 19 Southwark St, Christchurch Central.
Open Monday-Friday 7am-3pm
The Boil Up is brought to you in partnership with Boring Oat Milk.
Boring Milk's New Zealand oats live their whole life here, never leaving. In fact, they've never even been on holiday, their passport probably lives down the back of the couch.
Click here to read about their trip from South to North, where they meet their destiny as a bottle of New Zealand-made oat milk.
New Zealand honey producers have been dealt another blow in an ongoing sticky stoush surrounding the term manuka honey. Since 2015, the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society has been working to protect the term from being used by honey produced overseas, arguing mānuka is a Māori word and therefore a distinctive product from Aotearoa. But the Australian Manuka Honey Association has been appealing the efforts, arguing that honey produced in Australia should also be able to be called mānuka. In a decision released last week, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand found the society's certification mark bid to trademark the term did not meet necessary requirements. In 2021, the UK rejected a bid by the Mānuka Honey Appellation Society to trademark the term “manuka honey” in the UK.
Goat milk in place of oat milk. Super Wines instead of gingernuts. Coffee beans in lieu of plunger coffee. Do you feel utterly bamboozled by the lucky dip-esque substitutions that turn up in your online grocery orders? Spinoff deputy editor Alice Neville is too, and she’s had a gutsful. Read all about her journey into the chaotic world of online grocery substitutions here.
The Otaio water supply from the Waimate District in South Canterbury has been awarded the prestigious title of “New Zealand’s best-tasting tap water” in this year’s National Water Taste Test. Slightly ironic considering the name Waimate refers to slowly moving, or even dead, waters. The annual competition, organised by the Water Industry Operations Group and decided by a panel of expert judges, is open to all municipalities, both councils and utility operators. While this year’s judging was a “close competition”, it was also “unanimous”, according to Stuff. Congratulations to the water operators and water drinkers of Waimate.
Join us for another instalment of Boring Breakfast - Wednesday, May 31
We'll be joined by Minkyu Lee (Ockhee, Swings) and Polly Markus (Miss Polly's Kitchen) to discuss how they've found their place in the food world and how they chase success while still maintaining a balance between their professional and private lives.
RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org
The weekly snack
Pocky Choco banana flavour, $1.49 from Jadan: One of the most frustrating things a food critic can do in a review is disclose that they don’t like, let’s say, duck, explain that they ordered the duck ragu anyway and then criticise the poor duck. Well, today unfortunately I am that “critic”. Bananas, and especially banana-flavoured foodstuffs (Binggrae banana milk is the only exception), unsettle me. Pair it with chocolate – even worse, chocolate flavour – and I am very much in a space of culinary purgatory. If I can do my best at being impartial for a moment, the sticks, while satisfyingly crunchy, were wanting for a stronger chocolate flavour. The banana outer layer was forcefully artificial, almost a caricature of the banana, to the point of having a slight bubblegum-esque edge to it. You may be unsurprised to hear that these chocolate-flavoured biscuit sticks dipped in a banana shell haven’t inspired a change in heart toward the choc-banana combo. Of course, if you are a banana-head, tear up this review and try these yourself – in fact, I have almost an entire packet left which I’m happy to share.
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What’s on the stovetop?
Something to make and then eat.
Buying garlic by the netted bag is far cheaper (often around $3.50 for 10 at my regular fruit shop), and perhaps even more importantly the sheer abundance means I never feel that I have to be stingy with the number of cloves tossed into a dish. The other side of the coin is that without fail, at least three or four of the bulbs will begin sprouting green shoots before I have a chance to use them. Even I can’t eat garlic that fast. But now I have a solution: this otherworldly garlic soup, which helpfully uses three whole roasted bulbs of garlic. Beyond roasting and then squeezing out the garlic (fun!), the rest of the process is decidedly easy, with a brief list of ingredients that if you don’t have on hand, you can likely sub out – surprising considering how luxurious a bowl of this feels.
Notes: To lend the soup some brightness, add a tablespoon of vinegar (preferably malt or sherry) near the end.
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte