Brunch at The District

Ye-Gon: I love me some brunch – or I should say, I love the idea of brunch. What I romanticise as a feast of tantalising flavours to wake up the senses, taking in the late morning sun in plushy outdoor couches, in the presence of friends looking sharp and bantering even sharper, topped up with excellent coffee, usually turns out to be a choice between the same old fry-up or a boring muesli that more resembles breakfast for my cockatiels, on uncomfortable furniture under harsh indoor lighting, with people who are half-asleep, hungover, or both. (Usually the coffee’s still okay, though.) Sleepy people and drunk people I can’t change, but what I do have a say on is the venue and the food they serve. So, how does The District, a Te Rapa local favourite, fare?

While the cafe is tucked away from the main stretch of Te Rapa and the only visible signpost shares real estate on a tall mall-type sign with its co-tenants, it seems to enjoy a fair bit of foot traffic, or at least a general awareness amongst the public, thanks to the 24-hour gym that lives in the same building. The exterior is best described as subdued but classy and contemporary, and it’s a look that mostly carries indoors past the really heavy door which I remarked upon both entering and exiting. Some would consider dark and dingy, but I think it carries a nice sense of style, if perhaps a little bland. The full service bar behind the counter is a nice splash of busy colours, although predictably it wasn’t in much use at 10am in the morning.

The coffee at The District isn’t half bad. If you like your coffee stupidly strong, this isn’t the place for you. But while it’s not really full-bodied or intensely aromatic, my opinion is that many places just overdo it with acrid and acidic pulls that don’t actually make good coffee. It’s okay to take a pinot noir instead of a shiraz all the time, and this one is smooth, lightly fragrant and has a subtle nuttiness that keeps your palate intrigued.

The eggs are served poached by default, which is an interesting choice. I don’t mind my eggs poached, and it makes sense with the benedict, but perhaps not so much with mince on toast where a bit of crispy texture from a fried egg would have been a nice contrast. It seems The Monty also comes with poached eggs, and I’m not sure if there’s an option to swap it for scrambled.

Speaking of the eggs benedict, it’s a bit different; the eggs and hollie on one side, and thick grain toast, grilled haloumi, wilted spinach and chunks of hot-smoked salmon on the other side. Is this different for the better? I don’t know. In my opinion, the star of a traditional eggs benedict is the hollandaise, and every other element on the plate is there to improve the sauce. (This is also why I don’t usually order bene; most cafes don’t bother the trouble of making proper hollandaise in house) I don’t know if the texture of chewy haloumi or spongy toast does an adequate job at that. On the other hand, if you’re talking about half the plate as a different composition altogether, then that makes a little more sense, although I’m still not sold on it. The house-smoked salmon is great, I should add.

The eggs make a return for the mince on toast. It’s another peculiarity that one would expect to see more on the lunch menu, but that’s cool. The toast is thick and lightly buttered, and the mince is nicely flavoured without being over-seasoned. The mince does surrender a runoff of liquid that hasn’t emulsified, and while it’s not a major problem, it makes for a slightly messy plating and poking the egg results in the runny yolk being tragically diluted.

And what to say of the French toast… The flavour combination is faultless. It’s not very sweet, but I think that’s okay for something that’s going to be soaked in syrup, dipped in chocolate and eaten with poached pear and whipped cream. The problem is the brioche itself; it isn’t thick enough nor soaked with enough egg to achieve that fluffy and custardy texture. The serving size also leaves something to be desired, and the price tag doesn’t match the four half-slices of bread nor the few slivers of pear on the plate.

So, is this a place that I’ll return to? I’m not sure. They have a couple of items that do a fine job at standing out from the rest, I just don’t know if those changes and differences can be classified as necessarily better. None of their food is harsh or over-seasoned like so many places, and it’s all presented with a level of attention and delicateness that exudes simplicity at its finest. And the great moments are indeed great, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s enough.

The District is located on 19 Home Straight in Te Rapa. They’re open every day from 7am till 3pm.

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