The man who ate Lincoln Rd went for morning tea the other day at one of the dingiest pockets on the street. It's close to the motorway exit, and it's neither a fully formed stripmall nor a block of neighbourhood shops; it's just a motley assortment of businesses on a skirt of concrete. No trees, nothing ornamental. There's a bakery and a cheesecake franchise, also a money lender and a porn cave. All the basic greeds.
But it gets all-day sun. I often pass by and notice a woman sitting at a table outside the Peaches & Cream adult shop, and West City Bakery has three tables on the pavement. There's usually someone scoffing a pie in the sunshine and I always wish I were that person. Reader, I lived the dream.
Instead of pies, though, I ordered a doughnut and something very spongey and very jammy. It wasn't labelled in the window display. The Cambodian baker saw me looking at it.
He said, "I only made today. First time! I not write name for it yet." I said, "What are you going to call it?" He said, "Butterfly cake."
It had wings. It flew onto my plate, along with an extraordinary sugar doughnut; the baker had shaped it into a kind of twist. They were the two prettiest treats I've eaten anywhere on Lincoln Rd. I was a most happy fella as I took my seat in the sun and slowly scoffed the sweets.
The whole place was filled with original and delicate creations. West City Bakery ought to win awards. It does enormous lamingtons, its vanilla custard kisses are only $1.20, and you can get three little star-shaped sweets for a $1. The pies were golden. The place was clean, cheerful, and basking in sunlight. You should go there at once.
If I have a philosophy in life it's that less is not more; more is more. It's not much of a philosophy and it collapsed like a house of cards when I got up from my table at the West City Bakery and went in search of more to eat at the nearby Cheesecake Shop. It should be renamed The Cheesecake Flop.
It's a successful franchise. There are 200 stores worldwide, and 16 in New Zealand, where stores range in price from $150,000 to $800,000. Franchisors pay a nine per cent tithe on gross weekly sales, and a two per cent marketing fee. The one in Papatoetoe is New Zealand's highest performing store, with average weekly declared sales of over $23,000.
Long-term owners Paul Maguire and Carley Leddy were named "artisans" of the year at the 2015 Cheesecake Shop awards held in Sydney's Ivy Ballroom. Flash.
But the one in Lincoln Rd was a small, dark, charmless place. No frills, nothing ornamental. There were a lot of cheesecakes in the window displays. I didn't want a whole cheesecake. I just wanted a nice cheap slice. All they had were fat hunks of cheesecake for the fat price of $10. I chose the passionfruit. It came in a hunk of plastic that will take about six million years to degrade.
The cheese was gloopy and thick. I didn't mind it. But it's called a cheesecake; where was the cake base? It was baseless. It barely existed, just a millimetre or two of crumble. It was a crumble shambles.
I'm a franchise fan. There are sound reasons why fast-food franchises prosper: you know what to expect, it's a winning formula, the food's good. But the Cheesecake Shop compares badly with West City Bakery. At one, over-priced, mass-produced muck in plastic; at the other, an artist working with flour and sugar, conducting little symphonies slipped into paper bags at no great cost.
To the ratings. West City Bakery: 9/10. The Cheesecake Shop: 3/10.
•All views expressed are the author's.