Steve Braunias: The man who ate Lincoln Rd finds tranquility at Mitre 10's café

Steve Braunias is on a mission to eat at each one of the 55 food joints on Lincoln Rd in West Auckland. • Episode 17: Mitre 10 café
It's an excellent café, although the food is probably the least attractive thing about it.. Photo / Michael Craig
It's an excellent café, although the food is probably the least attractive thing about it.. Photo / Michael Craig

The man who ate Lincoln Rd led a delegation of satirists for morning tea at the Espresso Garden café inside the Mitre 10 Mega Store on Lincoln Rd on Monday. The three of us all write occasional satires to earn our keep, and we travelled to Lincoln Rd in appropriate circumstances - a laughable Honda Civic.

There was plenty of parking out front and in fact I wouldn't be surprised if Mitre 10 made it even easier for customers one day by opening up a car park inside the Mega store. The big orange barn has a high stud; I can imagine a ramp leading up to a carpark, with stairs but also a range of ladders and ropes taking the driver down to the shopfloor.

• Episode 14: The Coffee Club
• Episode 15: Subway
• Episode 16: Carl's Jr.

Mitre 10 is a mancave. It's the masculine ideal, a zone of industry and laconic behaviour; down these wide aisles a man must go, a good keen do-it-yourselfer who wants to conform to rigid societal norms and to feel the power of a DeWalt brushless impact driver with three-speed torque settings.

But the three satirists, with their soft hands and their aloof manner, trotted past the timber and plumbing departments to find the Espresso Garden café opposite the wheelbarrows.

June and Ben Yin have managed the café since 2009. They've earned some good reviews on Zomato, some bad - scandalously, a woman who actually works for Mitre 10 wrote a savage review, because of an argument she had with Ben over her unpaid account.

It's an excellent café, although the food is probably the least attractive thing about it. Two of us got an enormous sausage roll with salad, and the other order was for a steak and mushroom pie, also with salad. There were two espressos and one tea. Total cost: $44.30. The sausage roll was the most expensive item at $7.50, so how the hell does that add up?

Everything is home-made. You can kind of tell. The macaroni cheese looked...interesting. The beef lasagne looked...challenging. Sign above the counter: WE USE FREE RANGE EGGS. Also: SMOKED CHICKEN HAS NOW BEEN CHANGED TO CHARGRILLED CHICKEN.

So there was a spirit of adventure going on. Sometimes it was reckless, as with the dry salad coated with a shake of bottled Thousand Island dressing, which looked more like dressing from Three Mile Island after the disaster. But the sausage rolls were a rich, tasty feast, although with rather soggy pastry, and the pie eater declared his meal "darned good".

Where the café absolutely triumphs is its ambience. It looks out onto the Mitre 10 garden centre, so the whole place is filled with light, and feels kind of tropical. There were pretty landscape paintings by Marion Sutcliffe. Gentle, chiming New Age music played on CD, and sounded as relaxing as one of those little babbling fountain statues that plug into the wall.

Strange that Mitre 10, with its promise of howling electric saws and hammering hammers, should house such a lovely space of peace and quiet.

"It's an oasis from the rough and tumble of Lincoln Rd," said Toby.

"Not so much an oasis," said Dave, "as something adrift."

Toby said, "Like a life raft? Or a lilo?"

"It's something in that way, you know, where you're in the middle of the water and something comes along which, you know, seems unlikely," Dave raved.

I said, "Life rafts, an oasis - both of you are bringing up the theme of water, which I find interesting. There's definitely something pure about Espresso Garden.

"But we should also explore its relationship with Mitre 10. Is it a colony of the Mega Store? Or is it an independent republic?"

The question was left hanging. At a nearby table, a quiet woman sat with a copy of the New Testament in Greek. A man in a business suit parked his shopping trolley with curtain tracks in it, and ordered a plate of creamy mushrooms.

The music flowed like water; the flowering plants breathed in and out; no one felt the need to talk, no one wanted to move. Three content satirists, quiet at last.

Espresso Garden rating: despite the food and the bill, 7.5/10.


• Episode 1: Entering heart attack alley
• Episode 2: Moto sushi
• Episode 3: Sierra
• Episode 4: Sal's Pizza

• Episode 5: Langtons On Lincoln
• Episode 6: Nando's Chicken
• Episode 7: The man who ate Lincoln Rd's doughnut dilemma
• Episode 8: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Eves Pantry
• Episode 9: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Burger King
• Episode 10: Bad times at Burger Fuel
• Episode 11: Mr Burger
• Episode 12: Saaj
• Episode 13: The little guys on Lincoln

•All views expressed are the author's.

- NZ Herald

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