Sometimes you just don’t mess with a formula. There’s a reason why a thing is a thing. My own cooking is an example. Recipes passed down from generation to generation end up downloaded from the internet, or pulled out from one of those complimentary take home magazines in the airplane seat pocket, and wind up on my kitchen bench only for me to look at it and think “hmmm…. only two cloves of garlic, let’s make that four…” and then have my guests tell me that something just doesn’t taste right.

Take those airplane magazines themselves. You can virtually guarantee the neighbouring passenger that – even before you open the magazine – there will be a holiday destination article that month featuring either Montmartre, Valparaiso, or Broome.

Don’t mess with the formula.

I stumbled across a CXpresso cafe at the Joondalup Shopping Centre recently while needing a fix of caffeine. From what I can tell, this is a relatively new operator local in Western Australia who is wanting to take their brand further afield through franchising opportunities for punters like myself. And let me tell you – I liked what I saw.

The cafe I visited was dressed to impress. Located in one of the food hall areas within the shopping centre, CXpresso comprises a small seating area spread around a serving counter and a modest, yet well equipped, food preparation area which is on show for anyone passing by. The glass cakes cabinet was well laid out and the cafe was manned by a couple of young, cheery, courteous staff members. The entire cafe was built around clean lines, decent pricing, tried and true retail items, and bang up to date decor featuring a striking colour scheme of gloss white, shades of black, dark timber grains, and yellows.

Despite feeling like I had entered into a caramel slice topped with a marigold flower, the whole outfit seemed unashamedly formula driven. Which means that somewhere not too far away there would have to be a caramel slice.

Sure enough, inside their cabinet was the most fascinating caramel slice I had ever seen. In fact, there was a choice of regular, or salted caramel. I ordered a small skinny flat white coffee and a regular caramel slice to have there and found a table free. This was the first caramel slice I would have eaten in perhaps four or five weeks; and I was looking forward to it.

CXpresso - slice coffee

While waiting for the coffee and slice to arrive, there was something different about this cafe that started nagging at me. In my mind, CXpresso is undoubtedly modeled on the same safe cafe formula as some of the bigger, other well known brands that I have reviewed before in these pages. But nonetheless there was something that really started nagging at me – like something missing. As the coffee and slice was served it dawned on me. Where was the self-promotion??

Where were the billboards saying how great they were, or life is better because you had one of their coffees? Think of it: you go down to (insert cafe chain name here) and you are bombarded by their brand from before you walk in the door, to the moment you leave. There are signs, advertising, specials and cafe fun facts all designed to sell their brand to you. How subliminal. If you’re lucky you will even have their own ‘radio station’ being piped in live from head office to tell you that the world wouldn’t exist without them.

But not so at CXpresso: A minimal amount of self promotion makes for an absolutely wonderful, and peaceful, visit.

But from my one experience, while the formula at CXpresso is safe, it could do with tweaking. Take for example the coffee. Mild and pleasant, not overly milky, but not overly powerful either. I accept that we all like our coffee different way, but on this visit this coffee wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.

The caramel slice was structurally perfect. Not a square or rectangle, and not roughly cut out as if by hand from the tray – this was a funky four legged starfish shape with clean lines that looked perfect in every way. I just hope that the shape had been optimised to create a repetitive pattern that avoided wastage when cut from the preparation tray. Not a hint of ever being frozen and thawed, it must have been fresh that day. This could have been a three quarters of an inch slice of heaven – but that is where it stopped.

The biscuit base had the perfect texture, but lacked taste. Oh so sad. No buttery taste, no taste of grain or sweetness, nothing that you could build a perfect caramel slice upon. The caramel coloured fudge filling was obviously the reason why this was called a caramel slice, but yet no flavour whatsoever on my tongue. The chocolate topping looked perfect and gave the slice a beautiful looking hard shell, but here again the taste was virtually non-existent. The more chocolate I ate, the more the flavour built up in my mouth –
but the same couldn’t be said for the caramel flavour.

Now, I’m aware that one experience doesn’t make a cafe, but the caramel slice formula was broken that day I visited. I view the caramel slice as the simple test of a cafe’s ability to create sweet treats, just as I view a simple egg dish being the test of their elemental savoury abilities. If they get these two simple tasks right, then I have no doubt that the rest of the baking, and cooking, should be right.

I believe that CXpresso have got the right stuff going in order to succeed in a crowded formula driven marketplace. Just don’t play with the formula. Others succeed for a reason, and I think that CXpresso have got enough uniqueness to succeed as a franchise, even without changing the formula of the caramel slices.

Next time I visit Western Australia I look forward to seeing a great deal more CXpresso stores out and about.

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