It’s a roaring new start for the cafe at Wellington Zoo, which has been taken over by the team behind one of the capital’s top restaurants.

Tom and Kate Hutchison and Cheryl Jolly of Mount Victoria mainstay Capitol are now overseeing a house-made, seasonal brunch and lunch menu for zoo-goers and Newtown locals. Before, it was owned by Mojo Coffee for nearly 12 years, and the new direction heralds an expansion beyond coffee, ice-cream and cabinet food (although you can still get those, too).

The Zoo’s CEO, Karen Fifield, is a Capitol regular, says Kate. “They loved the idea of us running it. They have a vision to have a really good family restaurant at the zoo, not just a canteen.’’

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The cafe is now called Rex Tremendous. Rex means “king” in Latin, with the name a nod to the “king of beasts”. The inspiration also came from Tom and Kate’s personal love of Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K. 626, which has a section called Rex Tremendae.

A renovation has spruced up the interior with sunny yellow and deep blue paint, bringing together the wood on the high, angled ceilings, the burgundy window frames and the concrete floor. A floral painting by Wellington artist Jane Blackmore hangs on one wall and Faye Williams’ handmade wooden lampshades dangle overhead.

The menu is designed to complement the zoo’s values of conservation and caring for the environment, while also appealing to the wide range of people who visit. While you can get hot chips and dishes with eggs and bacon, there’s also plenty of gluten-free and vegan food. “Part of our contract is to minimise waste, too.’’

The team is looking at it as another facet of Capitol, which is renowned for its seafood and seasonal dishes with local ingredients. Capitol stopped serving brunch and lunch during Covid, so Rex Tremendous is an opportunity to create similar dishes again for a more diverse clientele.

Tom says the guts of Rex Tremendous’s menu is “Capitol brunch’’. There are buttermilk pancakes with homemade berry jam, and Capitol’s signature grilled sirloin steak, herb butter and ripped chips is back – just in a different setting.

Beyond that, you can snack on house-made focaccia, and the scrambled tofu comes on seven-seed vegan toast. There’s a Thai green grouper curry on jasmine rice, and a chocolate and orange chia pudding with Christmas spice-poached tamarillos. Every day, the culinary team makes super cheesy scones and either pork and apple sausage rolls or vegan (and gluten-free) cumin lentil rolls – plus raw slices, gluten-free brownies and raspberry chia slices for the cabinet.

There’s no separate children’s menu. “This place isn’t all about the kids”, says Kate. “Come in and have a Bloody Mary with your brunch on a Sunday.”

The cafe has a drinks menu of organic wine and local beer, and cocktails made with New Zealand-distilled spirits. And Rex Tremendous can also be accessed from outside the zoo, so you don’t have to pay an entry fee to experience one of Tom’s delicious dishes.

Rex Tremendous
200 Daniell Street, Newtown, Wellington

Daily 8am–5pm

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