136 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington
Opens 7am weekdays, 8am weekend; closes late except Mon, Tues (3pm), Sun (8pm)
Porridge $12, Muesli $12; Grinder coffee, Simpli Ci tea
Around April/May 2021 SaMick Cafe and Bar (named after two owners, Sam and Mick it seems) was purchased from the owner of Espressoholic and renamed. So disappeared a long running institution that first opened on Willis St in 1989. It was part of the new wave of cafés offering espresso coffee in the 1990s and rivalling Midnight Espresso as the grungy cool place to hang out. From 1991 to 2009 it was in Courtenay Place in the premises now occupied by Enigma, before taking over a continental bakery in Cuba Street just above Cuba Mall.
However, the SaMick owners decided to stick with the existing menu and made only minor changes to the décor. The existing formula of early-to-late opening hours and plain and filling food in a high foot traffic location was probably worth keeping if they were to continue attracting a varied clientele united by a desire for something to eat at any hour without spending too much.
The porridge seems to fit with my characterisation of plain and filling. It was more than generous in volume, nice and hot, and really perfectly fine, but I am struggling to remember any distinctive qualities. All I can say is that it was made from rolled oats and it was smooth and creamy – clearly made with milk.
The dish is billed on the menu as ‘served with honey and berry compote’. The compote was delicious. It included apples (I think) along with berries and was not too sweet. When I was here before the eatery changed hands I was asked if I wanted honey drizzled over the top. Nice. But the option wasn’t offered this time. Still, there wasn’t too much honey to worry about anyway.
The Americano coffee (no filter) was good. The Grinders coffee served is ‘Brazil style’ for espresso according to their website, and roasted in Auckland.
The décor tries hard to be something, but I don’t know what that is exactly. A lot of it is coffee themed, but in a rather incoherent way, as though graphics have just been pulled off an internet site and stuck up. It is a long way from the grunge-chic days of the café’s time in Courtney Place as Espressoholic.
The strangest thing though, and having little connection to the main section, is the side room with a large colour photo mural of a Dutch canal on one wall and coffee or wine-related graphics on the others. I’m reminded of graphic art sample books of the pre-internet 1970s and 80s. The ceiling panel lights are super bright and exposes patrons to a clinical glare. If the coffee business ever flags and cannabis is legalised this would make a good growing room.
The oddest part of this is a narrow room glassed off at the very front of it which has three stools and a concertina window. I guess it is the smoking section. On a warm day it might be the best place to sit if there are no smokers. You can feel part of the street without actually being in it. (My photo shows it with the previous Espressoholic sign outside, but otherwise nothing has changed.)
One thing I appreciate at SalMick is that they don’t throw yesterday’s papers away. So if you want to read the more meaty Saturday paper on a weekday there is a reasonable chance you can find it. Beats having to put up with the dire Sunday Star Times on a Sunday too. And if you like music from a certain era, there was a fairly random selection of James Taylor, Talking Heads and Jimi Hendrix (Purple Haze) playing when I was there.
A pretty straight-forward porridge with minimal embellishment. You can get similar porridge with the same or more topping at other places like Arabica and Urban on Manners, not to mention Espressoholic’s original rival Midnight Espresso just up the road.
Maybe it’s the early opening hours, low patronage, no-nonsense food and the previous Espressoholic name, but I can’t help thinking of SaMick’s as the sort of place you would want to recover from a hangover. If only it wasn’t for those bright lights.
Reviewed July 2021.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.