Martha, Arthur and the Apple Tree
A new café has sprung up on Upper Cuba St, located in the 112-year-old Edwardian residence at number 272. The building has a whole new outlook on life since it was shifted across the road to make way for the inner-city bypass, and given a new coat of dashing Nelson Red.
Arthur’s is attended to by the Ladies McLeod – Anita, Ondine, and maitre d’ Mary – whose roots in this neighbourhood descend back several generations. In a fitting tribute to this lineage, they’ve been running the city’s sweetest little café at their great-great-aunt Martha’s place at 276 Cuba St since 2008. Martha’s Pantry is prettily dressed in pastels and florals, and serves tea in fine bone china.
In playful contrast, manliness is the order of the day over at Arthur’s place. The tables are clothed in brown plaid, while pipes suggest a whiff of tobacco smoke, wafting through a well-waxed mustache. A collection of McLeod family treasures fills the rooms, including antique furniture and ornaments. The first-floor parlours have a gallery air, their walls hung with replica works of colonial painters such as Heaphy, Fox and Barraud. This all adds up to a charming combination of history and hospitality that feels like a most appropriate use of this precious remnant building.
New Zealand heritage finds a place on the table, too, through Temuka and Crown Lynn crockery, and in pork crackling snacks and ‘Dunedin’ cheese rolls.
Comfort food dominates the all-day-breakfast menu, which proffers the likes of porridge, jam & toast, egg & soldiers, and mince on toast. In concession to our 21st century, super-size appetites, Arthur’s Big Breakfast ($20.50) loads up a modern conglomeration of ingredients, sauced with hollandaise and garnished with parsley. Harrington’s sausage puts in an appearance, as does thick-cut bacon, roasted tomatoes, a lovely large flat mushroom, and bubble ‘n’ squeak. This I demolished with gusto, right down to the last baked bean and mop-up of molten, golden yolk. I rate this Full Monty every bit as good as Fidel’s, the benchmark of the big fry-up in my book.
The lunch menu features pie, a Ploughman’s, and a steak sandwich, and the dinner menu (Thursday to Saturday) a roast (hooray!) and fish of the day. A short list of puddings includes the venerable Pav, and rhubarb crumble.
A short but decadent drinks list boasts Veuve Clicquot and that delicious Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc. I fancy one after the other while lingering in the courtyard, in-laid with original bricks from the Tonks works. There’s also a young apple tree bearing fruit. A young apple tree, not five metres from the bypass…
To those of you who helped save these buildings, and those who now breathe life back into them, I doff my hat to you.