I’m a big one for eating out – especially lunch. As I work from home, I figure that eating lunch in a cafe most days is really exactly what I’d do if I worked in an office, so it’s allowed. And Saturday breakfasts with the newspapers is a ritual I’ve had since I moved to Melbourne 11 years ago.
We had a horrible experience at one place, a great one at another, which inspired me to start this free-form, very amateur, completely self-absorbed review of the three cafes I go to most in Yarraville.
Cafe Urbano (Anderson Street):
okay for grown-ups, bad for kids, patchy service
Kid friendly: 6/10 (it has chips)
Ave price of meal: $10
Service: 5/10 (inconsistent – can be terrible)
Setting/atmosphere: 7/10 (you can sit in the window and people-watch on Anderson Street)
Flexibility/adaptability: 0 (eg. they charge $2-$3 for extra bread with soup!)
First we headed for Cafe Urbano. I get take-away coffee from here most mornings to kickstart my day. (Once again, if I worked from an office ...) And it’s a good Saturday spot – they do a traditional big breakfast with poached eggs, sautéed potatoes and roast tomatoes on crusty toast. I like to sit in the window and watch the world go by as I graze on the arts sections of the newspapers.
Yesterday, they pushed two tables together to accommodate the six of us: good start. But the waitress was pretty belligerent about not being able to adapt to accommodate the kids. We didn’t want to feed them a bowl of chips. They’d had crumpets at home for breakfast.
Toasted cheese sandwiches?
“Sorry, we can’t do that. We have a griller.”
Okay, no problem. Grilled cheese on toast?
“No, sorry. We can’t.”
But, you have a griller ... you do toast ... you have cheese ...
“No, we can’t. We can’t do that under our griller.”
Bullshit. Sigh. Try again. Okay, we choose the burger and chips, without the egg or onion jam.
“It’s very big,” she warns.
Oh, okay. Split it.
“Can you please cut it in half for us?” I ask.
“Oh no, we can’t really do that.”
“It’s a kind of open burger.”
So, it’s not two hunks of bread with stuff in between?
“Yes, it is. It’s on a roll. It’s kind of a big roll.”
So, can you cut the roll in half?
“No. It won’t work.” And she looks at us dumbly.
All through this tortuous negotiation, there’s no suggestions, no attempt at all to try to help. It’s as if she takes a kind of mute pleasure in popping up these obstacles. I’ve worked in powerless jobs. They suck. There’s a biggish turnover here. Maybe this is her power trip. Maybe she’s bored and tired and can’t be bothered helping. Maybe she’s stupid.
But we’ve had enough. I glance back at the menu and up again. We exchange looks around the table.
“Shall we just go?”
I look back at the waitress. “I’m sorry, I think we’d better leave it. This is too hard.”
And we all get up, grab our football cards spread over the table, jackets and bags, and file out the door, leaving out two pushed-together tables behind us. The chairs have been left out. I realise I will want to come back here for take-away coffee and – let’s face it – another breakfast, so I walk around the table and push them back in as I follow the others.
“Goodbye,” says the owner, and I smile and wave. Both of us are speaking through gritted teeth.
Hausfrau (Ballarat Street, off Anderson St):
fantastic food and service, good for kids
Kid friendly: 8/10 (it has sausage rolls)
Ave price of meal: $6
Flexibility/adaptability: n/a (never tried it out)
I come to Hausfrau often. Nearly every day, in fact. It’s an upmarket bakery cafe: stylish, cheerful and cosy; decked out with brightly coloured cushions on the window bench seat; jaunty 1950s aprons as decorations; and beautiful big floral lampshades on the ceiling lights. Much like the famous cake shops of Acland Street, St Kilda, the food is a decoration, too: especially the window of cakes behind the counter, ranging from old-fashioned treats (lemon meringue pie) to more exotic fare (chocolate torte ganache, pear and almond chocolate tart).
We sit by the door, me and the two kids along the powder-blue vinyl bench seat, the other grown-ups ranged around us. We all find something to eat easily. Sausage rolls with tomato relish for the boys, who squint suspiciously at the carrot embedded in the meat (vegetables by stealth!), but eat them anyway. Pumpkin and leek tarts for me and the mother-in-laws. A beef and mushroom pie for The Husband. And then cakes for everyone, the best part of the meal. Our meals are about $5 each, plus another $5.50 for the cakes.
So, we spend less than we would have at Urbano, get dessert, and benefit from the cheerful (and patient, I must say) good service of the staff. After we’ve eaten, the two boys push their bottoms up to the window ledge immediately and sit, hunched over comics on their lap, their feet resting on the seat. (And yes, I peel off their shoes immediately and wipe the dirt off from the milliseconds of contact F’s muddy shoes made when we leave).
While I’m reviewing it ... the daily vegetable soup (revolving flavours) is really good, and well priced. And if you get it to take away, it’s $4 for a small cup and $6 for a large. If you buy a loaf of bread to take home and cut your own to eat with it, it’s a good lunch and a good deal.
The coffee is excellent – and the owner, Christian, is nearly always at the helm of the coffee machine, making sure it’s consistently good.
And the service ... the people here are friendly, accommodating, nice to kids, and when I, bleary-eyed, do things like forget my purse and have to come back for it, they very kindly don’t blink an eyelid. And one of the women there signed F’s petition against the dredging of the bay and has chatted to him about it since, finding out what happened with it. So, Hausfrau has my heart forever, of course.
My favourite thing here is the lemon meringue pie. My mum makes the best lemon meringue pie evey year, at Christmas. Every year, we all hang out for it. Twice now, I have convinced her to make me one for my birthday. Which my whole family has appreciated: TWO chances a year to eat pie!
I took Mum here a few months ago. She tried a forkful of my pie.
"Well ... what do you think?"
"Hmmm," she said, cocking her head to think. "Mine has a bit more of a kick to it."
A month later, Dad came to stay. (He and Mum are separated - have been for about four years.) I took him to Hausfrau. He ordered the pie. I asked him what he thought.
"Mum said hers' is better. She said hers' has more of a kick to it."
"Well," he said. "She is right."
Feedback (Ballarat St, off Anderson St):
great atmosphere, great service, great food
Kid friendly: 8/10 (they’ll make grilled cheese on toast)
Ave price of meal: $10
I like to alternate Feedback with Hausfrau for lunch. I didn’t so much as pop my head in there on Saturday, but I can’t do a casual review of Yarraville eateries without mentioning it.
Feedback has the atmosphere of a Fitzroy or Brunswick cafe, transplanted to Yarraville. It’s mellow, laid-back and effortlessly hip. (Well, I’m sure there’s effort, but it’s subtle.) My latte can sometimes come with a third of a glass of froth, but the cosy setting, my favourite people-watching seat on a stool by the window and the chicken and leek pie make up for my frothy coffee. And the people here are great: really friendly and effusive but also give you your space. If you want to chat, they’ll chat. If you want to sit and look out the window or write in a notebook, they’ll take away your empty latte glass with a nod and a smile. (I’m generally a sitter, but I hear the chatters in the background.)
One really cool thing about Feedback that I just love: the walls are lined with books and magazines. Kids’ books and grown-ups’ magazines, from Vogue to Famous to SPIN to Time. And they have The Age. F has always been able to come here and pluck a book from a shelf and start reading. How often does a place provide for kids to do that? It’s special.
They do scrambled eggs. They have home-made salsa. I’ve asked them to make me scrambled eggs with salsa (hey, they do it in Mexico) and even though they laughed, they did it – and told me to tell them what I thought of it, because they were really curious. (It’s good.)
I had a lunch meeting here once with a colleague I like and mostly speak to via email. It was our day off. We were talking for three hours and didn’t notice. And nobody made us feel unwelcome. When we apologised (we’d only bought two coffees in that time), they just laughed and waved us off.
Here’s some notes I took at Feedback one day. That might be the best way to describe why I like it, because it’s less any one thing than the whole picture:
Bob Dylan is on the stereo, then some sixties crooner: a scratchy old recording. The retro laminated tables and counter are lipstick red and marbled grey. A pink-and-orange painted phoenix squats halfway up one of the buttercup yellow walls, lined with magazines and children’s books. The hiss of the coffee machine, the squirt of foaming milk, the hum of a blender punctuate the staccato symphony of conversation over food and drinks, much of it unhurried, unfurling in the warmth and calm. Outside, a youngish man in a suit opens the Age wide over his table, his pages spilling over the barrier into the street. His suit is neat, his hair deliberately messy, stiff with product. Tan trainers are on his feet. A local activist I remember seeing at a recent protest is kissing her companions goodbye on the footpath. Her hot pink t-shirt complements her spiked hair and fluorescent toenails. Garish flowers run riot up and down her legs. The dreadlocked waitress chats about dance and drumming workshops behind me. She seems, in my long, hazy experience of her, one of those socially talented people: effortlessly charming and at ease with all comers; manages to seem as if she loves her job here – something not many in the service industry manage. I turn back and my suited slacker is gone, his empty latte glass pinning his folded newspaper to the table.