597 Mt Eden Rd
8am - 3pm
Wednesday - Saturday
8am - 3pm, 6pm - 10pm
8am - 3pm
It’s open and light and crisp and fresh. There are cakes on the counter, flowers on the tables and eighthirty coffee in the flat whites. There are shelves filled with jars of ingredients that reach right up to the ceiling, and a central light fitting that looks like a collection of baskets. It’s a relaxing place, thoughtful and quiet, and yet it has elements of mystery. Bolaven is familiar, and yet it’s completely unlike anything Auckland has seen before.
Bolaven is named for an agricultural plateau in the mountains of southern Laos where the French planted coffee and rubber in the late 19th Century. The South East Asian influence here isn’t immediately obvious, and that’s deliberate. Owner Sip Mounlath explains that first and foremost, she wanted Bolaven to be a lovely place to come for good food and good chat. Secondly, she wanted it to be a place to experience Lao cuisine, which is still relatively unknown and hard to find in Auckland. Apparently, many of the dishes we know from Thai and Vietnamese cuisine have origins in Laos. The country is best known for its sticky rice, intended to be eaten with your hands. At Bolaven, you can have sticky rice with fried eggs for breakfast – cutlery is optional. The menu is a lovely mix between the familiar and the less so. You can go for simple eggs on toast, homemade muesli or brioche french toast, or you can try a warming beef pho or spicy chicken larb salad. There are daily specials and freshly squeezed juices and smoothies as well.
As with all cafes that I immediately fall for, the joy is in the detail – the plates, the teapots, and the ginger butter that comes with your toast and jam. My favourite thing about Bolaven lies implicit in that thoughtful approach to every detail: it’s not trying to be vastly different from everything else we know, it’s just being its unique self – and succeeding.