Down a quiet side street in Auckland's Devonport is Lily Eatery, a café that’s big on flavour and small on size. Set up by husband and wife duo Lily and Jason Ng, in what was previously a workshop space, this is a welcome addition to the North Shore’s food scene.
Jason – who designed the interior – is front of house when he’s not working his day job at a bank. Lily – as the name suggests – is the chef and mastermind behind the delicious menu and, in particular, the exceptional baking.
Lily was keen to create a menu that was different to other “generic” café offerings. It’s small but changes often. “I get bored easily,” she says. She’s focused on having gluten-free fare (not just the baking) as many of her own family members are gluten-free.
Her signature savoury dishes include Corn Fritters with Labneh, Harissa, Fennel, Mint and a Poached Egg (GF) and the Ora King Salmon with Herbed Eggs, Walnut, Sumac, and Fennel Salad (GF). The fritters are not your-run-of-the-mill variety. Aside from corn, they have soft pressed courgette, heaps of herbs and parmesan cheese, making them moist and melt-in-the-mouth. Although it wasn’t mentioned on the menu when we visited, the salmon dish also included a delicious home-made chunky eggplant kasundi. Lily added this after it went to print because “it completes the dish.” Like so much of what Lily Eatery has on offer, both the harissa and the kasundi are home-made. The salmon is cured on site.
“I cook what I like to eat,” she says. “I want to do simple food well.”
Alongside the in-house menu there is also a Cabinet of Curiosities, which features monster-sized sausage rolls, salads, muffins, pies, and buns stuffed with bacon and egg. And then there are the pastries, slices and cakes. It is here that the trained pastry chef really excels. Picture slabs of ginger crunch, fresh out-of-the-oven pineapple carrot cake with butterscotch icing, rich dark chocolate brownies and custard tarts topped with fruit; lemon curd and passionfruit or chocolate and caramelised banana.
Lily's favourite, the plum custard loaf, is outstanding and our top choice too. “I’m not a fan of sweet so my baking is not super sweet, not full of sugar,” she says.
With so much – if not all – of it made from scratch by Lily herself, it’s no surprise that she regularly clocks up a 100-hour working week – such is her passion. Her hard-working history includes stints at Baduzzi, Stafford Road Wine Bar and Clarence Road Eatery in Auckland, along with Hippopotamus in Wellington.
The interior is a distinct nod to the building's industrial heritage, with simple metal and wood furniture and concrete floors with old oil stains – but it’s homely, not cold. “We brought a lot of the furniture from our own house,” Lily says. There is also an outside area with tables and umbrellas – and it’s dog friendly. Oh, and the staff are friendly too.
12 Wynyard Street,
Opening hours: 7am-4pm, seven days a week