Plating the wooden platter – such a second-decade-of-the-New-Millennium issue
This blogisode isn’t quite what I had planned so ambitiously after Episode 14 A. But hopefully it will be a readable interim romp through some cafes I often frequent in my inner Brisbane urban habitat. Many are great, though some I have certainly found wanting.
Firstly, a few days ago I had a late breakfast at the good old Moray cafe. I was slightly alarmed to find that they now plate the vege brekkie/brunch on a wooden board. The different ingredients are very artistically arranged a la Masterchef, although it is rather intimidating and difficult to work out where to start. While you valiantly engage with and ultimately desecrate this work of art, bits and pieces do tend to move around and threaten to slip off the wooden slab quite alarmingly. As Dorothea said to me only last weekend, when she finds herself again at certain places that are about to serve her meal on a trendy wooden board, she intends to request that the food be plated on an ordinary plate. For her, the flat piece of wood is a step too far.
For many of us, that ‘step too far’ related to eating out includes super-noisy places where you can’t hear your companion across the table, indifferent service, smug plating of tiny morsels, impossible menu descriptions with ingredients that require you to have to beg a definition regarding what on earth the dish is….
Perfect French decadence
The French patisserie in Barker Street New Farm poses yet another consumer hazard, far worse than the embarrassments of feeling awkward while chasing slippery food around a flat wooden platter, or not understanding the title of an elusive ingredient. I really need to be given an electric shock every time I am about to order and consume the rich gorgeous delicacies at Chouquette. I am sure that just about everyone queuing up at the counter, viewing the multitude of potentially deadly but completely irresistible temptations, feels much the same. The customers also try out their school French and fantasise at the same time that they have been teleported to an actual Parisian patisserie. This is definitely soul food.
What’s in a name?
One cafe around the corner from Chouquette is Ponycat, also a relatively new establishment in New Farm. It is open from early mornings till about 3pm. At least Chouquette has the decency to stay open til 5 pm from Wed – Sat, for those late-ish afternoon teatime treats. I overheard the Ponycat owner explain the reason for the rather odd name. Apparently one of his friends chose it when she was stoned – at least I think he said that. I will stand corrected if anyone knows an alternate truth. The food here is pretty good, the service ok, and they serve acceptable coffee I understand.
Aside: Not being a connoisseur of coffee I am afraid that I cannot be the judge on that fundamental ingredient for any of these cafes. Hence I have to confess that I am an unreliable cafe connoisseur. Shock, horror, I even order decaf and I am becoming a connoisseur in that department – an unrecognised and unappreciated talent. Yet I am often made to have an alternative such as chai latte. Sigh. Still nice people don’t mind being seen with me at cafes.
Ponycat also serves breakfast and lunch throughout the day; as far as I’m aware there is no limbozone gap between breakfast finishing and lunch beginning. Many a cafe used to present with such a gap, which my friends and I have often encountered, although more and more places are now doing the overlapping meal roster which is very heartening. For instance, the Moray Cafe used to be rigid in its division, but now has breakfast til 3pm and lunch from 11.30 a.m., so no yawning hungry gaps occurring there.
Waltzing at the Strauss – a very inner-city adventure
Hence my surprise in the City recently (yes, I sometimes leave New Farm), when I disovered that the very trendy cafe Strauss has a deadzone from 11 − 11.30 a.m., when no food is served. Hopefully they will work out how to get around this dilemma soon, although, maybe, from their business perspective, this issue isn’t a high priority. I have enjoyed coffee at Strauss – well chai latte – being purists they don’t serve decaf. Also I have enjoyed their late afternoon wine with a lovely cheese platter. My friend Catherine had the charcuterie platter. It is also heartening to see sought-after cafes opening up in lane ways, giving the inner city and the Valley a welcome Melbourne/Parisian feel.
Cruising out of the Cru Bar
On the other hand, regarding the gaping hole factor, I always remember with fondness being thrown out of the Cru Bar in James Street with several friends, because we complained when they wouldn’t serve us any actual food between 11am and 12 noon, due to issues with the kitchen and the chef. I have become very tired of that excuse.
We also wear that Cru Bar expulsion incident as a badge of honour (no photo of Cru Bar…I don’t wish to promote it).
A double treat: Double Shot and the Sourced Grocer
The very popular cafe in Oxlade Drive, Double Shot, opens from Wednesday to Sunday from 6am to mid-afternoon. This is run by two guys originally from Melbourne, and the quality of the food, drink and service is very high. As with one of my favourite restaurants, Beccofino in Teneriffe, they don’t take reservations. But they do graciously bring me whatever I order for my delight into the hairdresser next door, which is much appreciated.
At least the Moray Cafe and the Little Larder in Moray Street do allow bookings, which can be very handy sometimes, especially with large groups. Double Shot, like The Sourced Grocer in Florence Street, also serve many of their meals on wooden platters. Crushed herbed avocado on toast is a recurring theme at both these establishments. While I find The Sourced Grocer/Cafe a tad pretentious, I really want to like this establishment, as many of my friends swear by it. You can buy organic produce there as well in the tempting grocery store at the back, which is a bonus.
Quite a find with sunny service and good food
Pablo, another quality place, is fairly new, situated in Brunswick Street in Merthyr Village, opposite the hardware store. I find it hard to resist the mushroom and parmesan dish there. When I told the featured person (below) that I was taking the photo because I was doing a blog on cafes in New Farm (I didn’t want him to think I was taking the photo solely of him for some fetishistic purpose), he said that Pablo was the best in the suburb. I am not sure I can go that far, but it certainly is a very pleasant place to be, both inside and outside, and I haven’t had a so-so meal there ever.
And now: carving up the New Farm Deli
Over the road in the Merthyr Village itself stands, of course, the New Farm Deli, quite a famous establishment in Brisbane. Many people come from far and wide to partake of their goodies. The Ascot set, for instance, turn up regularly in their best linen garments and newly coiffed hair, to see and be seen, sitting triumphantly right beside the carpark, feeling the special buzz that apparently comes with slumming it. When two such over-dressed and excessively be-coiffed women encountered a long term New Farm resident and old friend of mine relaxing there one morning in his tracky dacks, they visibly recoiled in horror. He responded succinctly to their nasty uncalled-for snobbery, requesting quietly but firmly that they ‘Get out of New Farm and go back to Ascot!’ I am very proud to know him in the ‘hood, heroically keeping such intruders at bay.
Aside: My ‘tracky dack’ friend’s verbal expression was not quite as forceful as what was cried out by the carload of fired-up lesbians driving by the startled first rash of customers at the interloper Coffee Club in Boundary Street West End – ‘Die, Yuppies, Die!’ But I guess there was a hint of the same sentiment.
Being a local, I am a bit over the Deli – I can take it or leave it. I do wonder how consuming all those car fumes enhances the flavour of all that food and drink. Nevertheless, I confess that I enjoy the occasional special lunch there with the inimitable Ms Wren, Sir Lancelot and Prince James. We tend to have their very acceptable spaghetti marinara for lunch, although of course this dish never can measure up to the epic spaghetti marinara of yesteryear, served back in the seventies and eighties at the old Coronation Motel restaurant. Ah food nostalgia – that superlative pasta dish has literally never been bettered, despite much comparative testing of this dish over the decades in establishments around the world. What was that chef’s fabulous secret ingredient I wonder?
Fossicking at the Little Larder
The Little Larder, situated even closer within my immediate hood, has been a pretty reliable place for a pleasant enough brunch or a quick coffee whatever. There have been some ups and downs with changes in management and staff over the years. I recall a wanna-be theatre director being quite rude to me, while supposedly taking my meal order. But he will remain nameless. I am glad that I didn’t go and see a play he recently directed – happily the play got very mixed reviews…Rumour has it he was actually sacked from Little Larder, but not sure regarding the veracity of that rumour.
On a brighter note, how delighted I was about a year ago to see, over quite a few weeks, a couple of splendidly pushy chickens who had escaped from a pen nearby, strolling up the street and onto the footpath outside Little Larder, happily pecking away at the crumbs on the ground, and not so happily, fouling up the footpath. A friend’s dog was scared out of his wits, and cars braked suddenly at this unexpected sight of poultry on the loose in this inner urban precinct, wandering along in the supposedly ‘most liveable street’ in Brisbane (obviously they were very smart chickens). They have since disappeared, although management assures me that they didn’t end up in any chicken pies.
Bagel bliss at the Banneton
Another fairly regular haunt of mine is Banneton, a little cafe tucked away in Brunswick Street, more or less opposite the health food shop. They do serve bagels to die for (they probably are slowly killing me), though their pastries are a bit stodgy. The Chouquette up the road in Barker far outdoes them in that department. I do like the Banneton because it is usually a pretty quiet haven, with the grotesque News Limited daily papers available to flick through – a guilty read, though I pride myself on not having paid money directly to Rupert Murdoch for these papers.
Fronting up in Chester Street
Each time I have been to Dello Mano, which has quite an attractive setting, the place has just missed the boat regarding service, food and drink…important elements needed to be very satisfactory in order to score a high rating overall. Also despite the quite pleasant setting, the sun always seems to be blinding my eyes there. This is a shame, but I tend to give the place a miss these days. However, I am looking forward to sampling the Chester Street Bakery and Bar down the road instead. I have popped in once for takeaway there, but because of parking problems in the vicinity during the day, I haven’t been able to linger.
Vue – fading from view
Another currently disappointing place that I have visited quite a lot over the years in the Merthyr Village is Vue. It used to be pretty good – nothing to rave about, but very handy and acceptable for a drop-in catch up with a friend. One day we had diabolical service with one meal never arriving, and another time there was further confusion…two times fail and you’re out for Bella and me. Luckily we found Pablo around the corner.
Mixing with Law enforcement
The last cafe on this list is the highly reputable Bellissimo Coffee in Wandoo Street, Fortitude Valley, near the James Street Market. More and more, this classy popular place is being overrun by cops, and now security guards being trained for the G20 are swarming there as well. This is all rather off-putting. However I can’t really blame them, as especially great coffee is served, or so I understand. This is yet another elite place that won’t serve decaf..and I guess the coffee joke is on me. At least they aren’t rude and supercilious when they say no.
This Brisbane-centric blogisode has just brushed the surface here in my hood really, and I haven’t done a proper survey. As with hairdressing and yoga instruction establishments, new shiny cafes are opening up all too regularly around me. I have most probably missed other people’s favourite cafe in my locality – please post any comments if you wish. Also any plugs for your favourite places in other localities around Australia and the world are most welcome.