Sunday, July 25, 2010

Changes aren't always for the better

Cafe Sweethearts
263 Conventry St, South Melbourne 3205

I think it is always disappointing when a favourite regular is crossed off the list due to change of ownership; I think it is even more disappointing when such an event inspires and motiviates one to return to food blogging. This was the exactly what transpired out of my experience at Cafe Sweetheart today.

After hearing that Guy (previous lovely owner) has decided to move on from the industry, we thought we'd pay Sweethearts a revisit to see if the change in ownership had left any battle scars in the quality of the food, as it had always been one of my favourite places to fall back on for Sunday brunch.

Arrived at just past noon, the place was surprisingly quiet for a Sunday. By that I meant there were actually tables availble, without any signs of queues reaching out to the door. We were seated promptly and offered menus, and to have our drink orders taken. So far so good.

The chai lattes (soy and normal) arrived in an upgraded teapot, with a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon. Our meals arrived shortly after; the eggs benedict still worked its spot on hollandaise magic, albiet the scrambled egg whites were missing a lot of the smooth, creamy punch-factor. Possibly the healthier version, although I would still much prefer to have the extra taste and remain in denial about the accompanying calories.

And Then (the famous last words). And then, things started to go slightly pear-shaped. Sure the service at Sweethearts was mostly amicable, although somewhat  inconsistent and inefficient at times. Having known most of the wait staff by face, we had never had any problems with their service standards. We were even OKAY when we had to wait for 40 minutes for our meals to arrive because the waitress had forgotten to put in our order.

So this time, when we waved the waitress over and asked her if she could bring our waters we ordered at the beginning, politely using key words such as 'please' and 'if it's okay', I didn't think twice about it. But apparently, as we found out 10 minutes later when our water was brought by another waitress, we 'shouldn't snap our fingers and scream at waiters' if we wanted something. And apparently, the said waitress is now very upset and angry, and would not come to our table, so it would be good if we could 'refrain from asking her for anything for the  remainder of our time there'. 

Now, it may be a while since I've blogged, it also may be a while since I've visited a breakfast venue, but since when did the waitresses decide who the customer should and shouldn't ask for glasses of water from? Especially when they are all EMPLOYED to have that as I would imagine part of the job description!? Also when did it become OKAY for staff to start reprimanding customers for something they had complete zero knowledge of?!

I also found that feedback wasn't taken specifically well, or at all. When we tried to raise our concerns before leaving, we might as well be talking to a plate of unorganic, over-buttered, and under-sauteed mushrooms. The final nail in the Sweetheart coffin was when we brought up our 5 years of dining relationship with the resturant and ex-owner, we were told 'well, Guy's not around anymore, Darling'.

Looks like we won't be either, Darling.

Rating: 1/10
Encore: only if they lose the attitude

Monday, May 4, 2009

Walter's Wine Bar - Shop UR1 Southgate, Souhtbank

So arrived the much anticipated return to Walter's Wine Bar for breakfast. Unlike our less welcomed arrival from the half-asleep and potentially hung-over waitress at 8AM sharp during our last visit, we just scraped in for breakfast when I casually walked in at 11:27AM and asked if breakfast was still being served. Just in time, I was told. And our usual balcony seating complete with Moroccan cushions was also available. Excellent.

Having already studied the menu the evening before (like kids before camp), we knew exactly what was to be ordered: Corn cake with smoked salmon & horseradish cream ($11.50) and the Wine Bar Big Breakfast - scrambled eggs (poached on original menu), hollandaise, bacon, mushrooms, tomato, spinach, hash brown & sausage ($15.50). And of course the usual skim and soy lattes.

The coffees didn't exactly deliver, although I have found myself partial to the glassware they came in.

The scrambled eggs were nicely done and herbed, the mushrooms average, bacon below average, and the hash brown resembling something from a frozen McCaine's package. The smoked salmon came generously served and fresh, the corn cake a little doughey, then again, I suppose a 'cake' and a 'fritter' has its differences.

The food was substantial and well priced, although unsure if it's because of the time of the day, or the inherent expectations from our last visit, or because I've since been exposing myself to various breakfasts at alternate menus, there were no fireworks. A good feed but, nevertheless.

Food: 6.5/10
Coffee: 6/10
Service: Professional and friendly waiters - 8/10
Value: VERY well priced for the venue and serving - 8/10
Ambiance: 8/10

Overall: 36.5/50
Encore: Perhaps for something lighter next...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tomodachi - Melbourne Central, Melbourne

So ends my brief affair with Tomocachi due to horrendous service.

Quite sad really. I was a good, and most often, returning customer.

The story went something like this; one lunch time I casually strolled into the venue and was greeted, like previous times with a waitress and given a booth. No dissatisfaction thus far.

The waitress popped down the drinks menu and the LUNCH TIME menu next to me. I already knew what I was going to order so I scanned the menu and called the waitress over to order a Chicken Teriyaki bento box. Again, no issues so far.

Meal comes and looks slightly different to the usual lunch time bento, without putting much thought into it, and just assuming that they've changed their menus, I quite happily finished most of the my meal. Contented so far.

Then I go to pay. And this was the part that unstitched my entire association with Tomodachi. Cutting a long story short - the waitress had put the bento in as a normal bento rather than a lunch time bento. "If you told us earlier that this wasn't your meal then we could've changed it for you" - Hello? How was I meant to know it wasn't the right bento? "Well if you've only eaten half of your meal we could also change it for you" - Again, who orders their meals and only eats half so they could change their order to the one they originally ordered? Confusing I know, but nevertheless. "Well you should've specified that you wanted the LUNCH bento" - IT WAS THE LUNCH MENU THE WAITRESS GAVE ME!

Outcome: paid full amount as I was running late for meeting, but have, am, and will always recommend anyone I talk to against visiting the restaurant. Quite a pity really - the food wasn't bad, and for a mere $12 they're going to lose one valuable return customer, and the whole bunch of people that I'm going to turn away.

Food for though maybe?

Food: 7/10
Coffee: N/A
Service: 0/10
Value: 0/10
Ambiance: 6/10

Overall: 13/40 - 16.25/50
Encore: This one's on the black list with Golden Monkey...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Babka Bakery Cafe - 358 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

I have a dilemma. It's 3:49PM, and I need a place to have breakfast.

After several pone attempts to various popular breakfast diners and still no success in securing a venue which operates later than 5PM and has a kitchen which is still open after 4pm, I'm torn. Should I skip breakfast and to straight to dinner, or am I desperate enough to actually settle for a home cooked meal?

Tears were shed, tantrums (and phones) were thrown, but at the end of the day, I still decided to source somewhere to satisfy my insatiable craving for scrambled eggs.

This is when Babka came to the rescue. Known for its Russian influenced all day breakfast menu, a kitchen that's open till 6pm, and a venue that's open till 7pm, it was the ultimate, if not only, choice.

A typical Brunswick street cafe setting, the venue was quite easy to locate by the 'babka' stenciled in yellow on bright blue background. At 4:46pm, most people were having cakes (which looked delicious) and coffee, or pies (with drool-worthy fillings).

We ordered scrambled eggs on toast with a side of bacon, mushrooms, and avocado, the Cottage Cheese Blintzes - which I heard was a popular choice, and was weary of the bad service, which was also rumoured to be quite atrocious. Fortunately, or unfortunately on the last matter, most things I had heard/read about the venue proved to be true.

With tight spaces between tables and chairs, the place were filled with various waif waitresses who each tries their best to ignore your existence, whilst pretending they're too occupied with their duties to care about you in the first instance. W.W.1 (Waif Wait 1) looked startled when, after a few mins of waiting at the counters feeling invisible, we interrupted her conversation with W.W.2 and asked if we could seat ourselves. W.W.3 made it apparent that we had rudely interrupted her usual duties (which I had thought would've been serving customers) when we waived our arms about to catch her attention so we could order. W.W.4 was pleasant enough when she placed our orders down, and W.W.5 (a more elderly and less waif lady) generously allowed us to take the home-made preserves resting on the bar.

The food arrived within a reasonable timeframe (which meant a lot, given by the time we've manged to place our orders it was past 5pm and we were starving), the scrambled eggs were silky and creamy, however slightly on the soggy end. The bacons were crisp, caramelised and perfect, the mushrooms were quite lacking in flavour, and the avocado was definitely not of the Hass variety. The blintzes were nice, albeit a little short of the reputation that's been circulated around various blogs. And the most important aspect of a perfect breakfast - coffee, was off the mark.

Food: 7/10
Coffee: 5/10
Service: 5/10
Value: 6/10
Ambiance: 8/10

Overall: 31/50
Encore: Maybe the cakes and pies next time...

Dench Bakers - 109 Scotchmer St, North Fitzroy

Dench was actually a lot smaller and less polished than I imagined. Perhaps because of its reputation in the food review/critique community, or maybe it is credited to their highly professional web page. Nevertheless, it was a nice, clean, bright, airy cafe, with an equal amount of dine-in and take-away patrons.

We were greeted warmly by a young lad from Canada (judging by the accent), who amicably agreed on our self-selected seating, and asked what coffee I would like. Such a good man.

It might have been his first day, as he seemed a little uncertain when I asked for the breakfast menu; after quickly scanning the cafe, he settled on retrieving a menu from the table behind us.

They don't serve Chai latte, so I settled for my fall back - latte, of the skim variety, and Chai tea, which they do serve. My coffee came perfectly presented, almost too pretty to drink. We ordered the poached egg, w smoked salmon, potato rosti with dill mayo and rocket ($15.50), and the breakfast special - corn and zuchinni fritters, w herbed scrambled eggs, avocado salsa, bacon, and spinach.

Our much anticipated meals arrived after a brief wait, and the result was mixed. The poached eggs were runny, although when our order was taken we were given the option of specifying how we'd like our eggs poached, which we forewent. The salmon as a little rubbery, however the potato rosti was excellent. The scrambled eggs were 10/10 - perfect texture, perfect flavour, perfect consistency...just perfect. Avocado salsa was nice but may have suited better with the smoked salmon, fritters were a little disappointing, spinach was boiled and not sauteed, and the bacon - overcooked.

The owner (one of) was nice and engaged in light conversation when we asked for payment preferences, of which we were advised "cash is king". Pastries, cakes, and bread were under popular demand, as with the hot breakfasts.

Food: May stick with its signature treats next time - 7.5/10
Coffee: Upgraded for presentation - 7/10
Service: Prompt, professional & friendly; a true distnction from the likes of babka - 9/10
Value: our meals + drinks came to just over $36 - 7/10
Ambiance: casual and relaxed - 7.5/10

Overall: 38/50
Encore: I hear croissants calling...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Royal Copenhagen Ice Cream Cone Co - 15 Jetty Rd, Glenelg

"You Scream, I Scream, Let's all Scream, for Ice Cream!"

This slogan takes me momentarily back to my primary school days, where sticky fingers and ice cream smeared faces were still considered acceptable public etiquette.

And Royal Copenhagen makes me want to delve back into those youthful carefree days, where one can enjoy the simple pleasures in life without giving the slightest waffle cone about what 'other people' thinks. Even if it does involve brief periods of discomfort as you leave sugar smudges over everything you touch until you're hauled into a sink and appropriately scrubbed.

This is good ice cream. We went back twice in the shortly span of our stay in Glenelg, and it was worth every dripping fudge.

Food: This has the potential to give Melbourne Ice Creameries a run for their money - 8.5/10
Coffee: N/A
Service: The girl behind the counter was surprisingly patient with us, as we trialed our way through the three flavours we finally decided on, every time I thought she might flip she didn't. Kudos to her - 8/10
Value: They had self-serve chocolate and caramel fudge, as well as sprinkles and other toppings - 8.5/10
Ambiance: Your usual ice cream takeaway joint slightly on the shabby side - 6.5/10

Overall: 31.5/40 = 39/50
Encore: ice cream anyone?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hahndorf Inn Hotel - 35 Main Street, Hahndorf

If you're looking for a traditional German fare in Adelaide then Hahndorf is probably your best bet.

We ordered the German Mixed Grill ($28.90) with a side of German Pretzel ($4), was probably quite a pricey affair for what I thought was an over-salted, over-saturated fat, over-cholesterol meal...although I'm sure the boys will deem this a favourite!

Food: 6/10
Coffee: N/A
Service: There were 'kids' (award-waged juniors) everywhere! - 5/10
Value: 4/10
Ambiance: 7/10

Overall: 22/40 - 27.5/50
Encore: Possibly - for the culture.