Right now Aucklanders have the opportunity to go and drink delicious coffee or have brunch while watching the restoration of one of New Zealand's most important historic buildings. Its a bit of a strange experience, but the food is great and the coffee is even better and seeing the artistry of the restoration coming to life is an interesting and wonderful experience.
For any Aucklander with a sense of the historic importance of the St James, walking into the foyer and finding it not only restored, but also reinvigorated by the presence of a cafe is a special experience. This building, which has been derelict and denied to us for so long is truly a jewel of Auckland. Designed by architect Henry Eli White and built in 1928 the building has hosted some of the most important guests that the city has seen over the last century - including the Queen and Sir Laurence Olivier.
If you walk into the St James lobby today you will likely be greeted by the still-ongoing restorations as they happen. the building is being repainted with the original colours from the 1920s, and the space - even though it's unfinished - is already stunningly beautiful. However, if you're settling in for a meal you might find that the still-under-renovation feeling of the cafe as it currently is takes something away from the ambience. Music is played through a single speaker, which is surely temporary, but hardly adequate for the space.
The staff are extremely accommodating, friendly and doing their best to offer a premium experience in less than ideal circumstance, however, if you are one who likes clean, quiet vibes, I would wait a couple of week to a month for them to get a bit more set up before going and trying it out for the first time.
The St James Theatre Cafe are serving up Atlas coffee with skill and flair; you might even find a foamy puppy looking up at you from the top of your flat white. The food is also very nice, although the menu is very limited at the moment, with little more than a range of eggs benedict and toasted sandwiches on offer -although both of these are done very well using Vienna bread.
The long term plan, according to the cafe's manager, is that the St James Cafe will have a full brunch and lunch menu and will offer a range of old-time treats, ice cream sundays and the like. After cafe hours, a bar will run out of the same space in the evenings as an after-work-drink spot.
Once this is all up and running the St James Cafe will be something really special. In the meantime it is a interesting place to have a coffee and watch the history of this important building continue.