Here's a tricky question: Which cafe has the best view in Auckland? Takapuna Beach Cafe, St Heliers Bay Cafe and Waiheke's Wai Kitchen have the gorgeous beachfront views sewn up, while The Lunchroom above Prada on lower Queen Street boasts a birds-eye perspective on one of the CBD's busiest intersections.
And then there's Bestie, the cafe at the back of St Kevins Arcade on K' Road, with an outlook – through giant floor-to-ceiling windows – across Myers Park to the city beyond. That glorious view is just one of the things that attracted Emma Lyell and her partner Tane Williams to the space, which for more than 20 years was home to the Auckland cafe institution Alleluya.
“We were living in Napier and looking for a site for a cafe there, thinking we'd never find something suitable in Auckland,” Emma says. And then Alleluya owner Peter Hawkesby announced he was selling up.
The rumour mill went into overdrive: supposed replacements included Eighthirty Coffee Roasters (they're now Bestie's coffee supplier) and an offshoot of Coco's Cantina, where Lyell once waitressed. But in the end Bestie “just slotted in”, says Emma.
Although that's not to suggest it was easy. For two months the couple operated from an on-site coffee cart while renovating the space. They replaced the counter, ground back the concrete floor, and brought in new wooden tables and colourful stools by Italian designer Martino Gamper. One thing that stayed? The potted palms, a well-loved relic from the Alleluya era. “We wanted to keep some of the Alleluya vibe, but with a little bit more of a streamlined look.”
Tane, an experienced designer and illustrator whose work has appeared in the New York Times, GQ
and Metro, took the lead on the look of the cafe. “He's the one who put it all together,” says Emma. “I'm good with ideas but when it comes down to it, Tane knows how to execute the concept. We work so well together because we've such different strengths. I honestly could not have done it without him.”
Bestie's menu is short, seasonal and simple. They do dishes that people know and love, but make them unusual enough to feel special: olive oil in the waffle batter gives Bestie's sweet waffles a subtle peppery hit and their fluffy ricotta doughnuts are accompanied with a dollop of whipped white chocolate. Savoury breakfasts include spiced lentils with chopped boiled egg, flat bread and labneh.
While Bestie finds its feet, the rest of St Kevin's Arcade is undergoing a rebirth of its own. Over the summer new owner Paul Reid took on a major regeneration project, which included installing a new slate floor, replacing the tiling, and restoring the woodwork and windows. Meanwhile, the arcade's tenants are changing too. Across from Bestie, chef Samir Allen (ex-Baduzzi and The Grove) is preparing to open Gemmayzeh Street, a modern Lebanese restaurant named after a bohemian neighbourhood in central Beirut. And more independent food outlets are on their way in the coming months, including a gourmet burger and craft beer joint.
“Once all the food places are open it's going to be a really vibrant all-day hub at this end of the arcade,” says Emma. “It's so exciting to be here at the start.”