Ben and Sam’s Cafe and Bakehouse

Marco Pierre-White once said that it doesn’t matter how you go about getting a result; as long as you get the result that you’re going after. Who am I to argue with that. Consequentialism plays out in all forms of life, and when it comes to cooking where taste triumphs over appearances and method, it seems rather apt that this principle is discussed here.

However though, it seems rather at odds with classical cooking techniques based on formula driven recipes: Pull together the set list of ingredients, follow the method and you should (should) have exactly what the author or creator had in front of them at the time of documenting the procedure. It’s a good theory, but doesn’t allow for many variables when a fixed goal is in mind.

But how does my introduction today link in with Ben and Sam’s Cafe and Bakehouse?

Well, while it resembles any other ‘me too’ cafe on the outside, Ben and Sam’s (to us locals) certainly isn’t. There is a different, and rather special, vibe about this place that I have heard about for quite some time now, and decided that it was time to see for myself.

First up, Ben and Sam’s is located in the ground floor of a rather unique and historical building in the Palmerston CBD. It is within the entrance to the main foyer of the first commercial building in the city, with cafe access from the street and from the building’s internal foyer. Blink and you’ll miss it though; this is not a cafe that relies on self promotion for trade. In this day and age of cafe websites and online menus and chefs profile pages, you will not find a website dedicated to them (well, I couldn’t) and their facebook page appears to be only spasmodically updated. The cafe facade is rather non-descript and venturing inside reveals a rather plain interior. The uniqueness here though is the range of house-made pastries on offer in the display cabinets.

I’m hazarding a guess here, but I would say that most of their custom comes from the five (?) floors of office workers located directly above them. The cafe is ideally suited to walk-in and walk-out traffic, for those grabbing a bite on the way to somewhere, or back to their desks. The seating area is not huge, and it is supplemented by a few odd tables and chairs located in the nooks and crannies of the building’s articulated frontage.

Next up, the menu is traditional cafe fare, and very reasonably priced. You won’t break the piggy bank here. Neither will you find anything out of the ordinary on the menu to mention to your family and friends. I also found it hard gauge popular consensus on the quality of the food here as I couldn’t find any recent web reviews – most of the available reviews were anywhere between two to four years old.

On the day I visited I was greeted by a team almost too busy to stop and serve while darting in and out of the kitchen. I was eventually greeted by a cheery cashier with whom I ordered eggs florentine and a small skinny flat white. I was then given a number to take back to my table.

Now, this is where todays principle really kicks in. The coffee arrived first, served by another cheery server who gently placed down the cup on the table. But, there was no flash pattern or motif in the coffee foam – just poured coffee, and the cup and saucer were even chipped and cracked. But my oh my! The coffee was wonderfully rich and pungent and smooth. It was the perfect ‘wake me up’ cuppa.

Shortly after the eggs florentine arrived. Again delivered by a pleasantly courteous server, the dish looked like – well – just like two poached eggs on a bed of wilted spinach atop of two slices of sourdough, and smothered in hollandaise. Sure, it was plain, rustic, colourful and humble – this was a step above home cooking at it’s best. There were no sprigs of microherbs or anything else fancy, just plain, simple, honest cooking.

Working down from the top of the meal, the sauce was smooth and velvety with a slight tang to it. The eggs tasted fresh and were served with soft whites and golden yolks that were still hot and runny. A simply wonderful execution of a poached egg. The spinach still had bite to it, not cooked down beyond recognition, and the sourdough… well, what would you expect from a bakehouse, it was fresh and toasted perfectly. A touch of salt and cracked pepper – albeit from paper sachets – complemented the meal.

And so, back to my original premise; it doesn’t matter how we got a perfect result, just as long we achieved what we set out to achieve. In front of me was a meal (and coffee) which were lessons in perfect execution. The cutlery and dinnerware wasn’t the flashest, neither was the decor or branding… but that didn’t matter. The staff were friendly and chatty, and the prices more than reasonable. This was a value for money meal served up promptly and without fuss.

At the end of the day there is just one simple criteria – taste.

Why there isn’t more online chatter about Ben and Sam’s Cafe and Bakehouse I’ll never know. But I’m glad I visited, especially now I know there is a range of pastries to keep me going back for more…

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