The veg friendly challenge

Finalist: Mary’s
It’s the great Ponsonby News Veg Friendly Challenge, in which Ponsonby-area cafes and restaurants line up to be judged on their vegetarian friendliness.

We’re going to name the cafes and restaurants that cater well to vegetarians and vegans, whether or not they’ve also got meat on their menus. Each month, we’ll review one of our favourite ‘veg friendly’ eateries and, at the end of it all, we’ll name an overall winner, in our coveted Veg Friendly Challenge Top 10.

The name is just too good. I don’t know what possessed Tim Tohill to name his new cafe Mary’s, but there’s no denying either the gorgeous simplicity or its innate appropriateness. I mean, it’s just down the road from Three Lamps. Saint Mary’s Bay Road, that is. So, Mary’s it is then!

Mary’s has come alive in the distinctive heritage Ponsonby Fire Station building, which has hosted a long line of fancy restaurants over the years, the last being the celebrated - but seemingly under-patronised - fusion Japanese eating house, Soto.

I thought it might feel a bit odd as a daytime-only cafe, but has been adapted well to suit Mary’s needs, and those of her customers, and its large interior splitting into several zones makes it more interesting than the classic square or rectangular seating arrangement. The only downside is the typical one: the acoustics can clash horribly if the cafe is full of babbling customers.

So really, this is Tim doing what Tim does so well: choosing a site that has a point of difference that makes customers want to spend time in the space, and implementing his as always impeccable standards of service and food. Anyone familiar with Jafa in Richmond Road - another of his creations - will get it straight away. There’s the friendly and informed table service, and a menu that has an absolutely scrumptious array of all-day breakfast and lunch choices. But Mary’s goes considerably further than Jafa in the extent of vegetarian choices on its menu. There is a preponderance of eggs on those vegetarian choices, but we were able to find a couple of non-egg choices that both wowed our taste buds and satiated our hunger.

Martin chose a kind of burger or bap which contained both exquisitely tasty haloumi cheese and tofu, as well as a beautifully designed array of avocado ($17). This high protein dish kept a happy smile on the editor’s face while he was regaling me with stories.

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Our waitress announced herself as vegan (very handy!) and was able to direct me to the closest thing to a plant-based dish on the menu - one of the daily specials, Indian pumpkin soup ($13). Coming with sourdough bread and a dish of yoghurt, it was

a spicy delight that perfectly fitted my mood, although it was perhaps too hot for the average Kiwi - closer to the legendary ‘Indian hot’ that will have you reaching for that cooling-down agent, the yoghurt.

We also both tried smoothies. Martin loved his peanut butter smoothie ($8), and my berry smoothie ($8) also failed to put a step wrong.

I loved this place and will definitely be back for more. Cafes that just get it all right first time are still few and far between in Ponsonby, and I can’t imagine coming away from Tim Tohill’s new venture with anything less than the sense of contentment that comes when everything is right with the world. Or in this case, a cafe. 

Hail Mary’s! Open Mon-Fri 7am-4pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm.

MARY’S, 13 Saint Mary’s Road, T: 09-360-7260.

Do you run a cafe or restaurant in the Ponsonby/Grey Lynn area that does vegetarian really well? If so, let me know on the email below. We’ll be sure to check out your eatery.

And don’t be shy, okay?

Gary Steel is an Auckland-based journalist who runs online vegetarian resource He can be contacted via