Tuesday, 23 February 2016

February - The Glass Den

On Saturdays when lassitude and embarrassment don’t completely overcome me, I go to adult beginners’ ballet classes. Or at least, I did so intermittently last year before taking a few months off. The classes, slightly mortifyingly, don’t seem to be attended by beginners as I see them, rather, women who have done quite a bit of ballet in their past and are now keeping it up in adulthood. Whereas I have not danced, and am very much proving that not only can you not teach an old dog new tricks, you can’t teach grace to a person who has had a lifetime of clumsiness programmed into their cerebellum.

There are also two consequences of ballet that I didn’t really anticipate. One, is that it is mentally very taxing. I have a hard enough time getting my feet in the right place, let alone arms, posture, head, core, and trying to look graceful. The first class left me as drained as when I sat the GAMSAT. The other consequence is physical - I am not really aware of getting a work out, per se, when doing the class but the following day I am acutely conscious of muscles I didn’t really know I had.

This being the case, I feel that brunching is a very reasonable way of following a class. Since the school has moved from Brunswick to purpose-build studios in Coburg, this gave me an excuse to try out The Glass Den, a cafe in the old Pentridge Prison redevelopment that apparently caters well for those with awkward dietary requirements.

The cafe occupies one of the old bluestone gatehouses, renovated and with a pleasant covered area out the back which would, I imagine, be rather nice in the evening. The menu offered various temptations, including black sticky rice pudding, and some rather spectacular-sounding vegan, gluten-free pancakes. Were I not still persistently “off” sweet food, I would’ve been very tempted by the latter, as it’s unusual to get pancakes that are vegan and gluten free.

I prevaricated over the menu, seeing elements of different dishes that interested me but accompanied by others that were less interesting. I asked if I could build something out of the “sides” selection, only to be told that sides had to be ordered with the eggs-and-toast option.

Why so prescriptive? One, I was going to have several sides, equivalent in cost (to me) to one of their complete menu items. Two, it is, in fact, my lunch and if I am to eat it perhaps it should be at least slightly to my liking? Three, isn’t the whole point of the hospitality/customer service industry to serve the customer?

In general, I found the staff disengaged at best. I realise that working in a cafe might not appeal to everyone, but at least pretend that you don’t loathe or resent the customers. I repeatedly had to walk over and get more water for the table because no one was keeping an eye on this. It’s not as though the cafe was very busy.

I was semi-prepared to order the avocado dish but was quickly advised that it was now $20, on account of avocados having gone up in price. (Note, I don’t see why said cost of fruit should be equivalent to $4; and while I’m at it, paying for avocado at a cafe is a massive rip-off given the total lack of preparation and labour required to slice it and put it on a plate. This is why I usually don’t order the avocado thing.)

I turned to plan B. The confit pumpkin with beetroot relish toasted sandwich. It looked a bit small and sad, and the bread was absolutely not toasted enough (the beetroot made it unpalatably soggy - a huge crime against sandwiches) but it was pleasant. I did have the feeling that it was missing something from the filling, though, and the rocket didn’t add much. 

The plate was excellent, though.

My mother had the brioche bun burger thing, which was more like a large steak, with some spectacular piping hot chips. One of the disappointing thing with chips is that they are often rather tepid and lacking in bite, so she was impressed with these.

It was too late in the afternoon for me to risk coffee, so we paid and left.

The Glass Den should have a lot going for it, particularly with all the vegan and gluten free options, but I felt a bit let down today.

ETA: Since drafting this I have seen Johanna’s extensive review, including her account of having ordered the same vegetable sandwich that I had. I was pretty miffed to see that mine was a sad and diminished version. I don’t think this was just because I had asked for gluten-free bread.

Incidentally, cafes of Melbourne, if you are going to put a significant mark-up on GF bread at least make it decent. There are good options out there. Moreover, not substantially more expensive than a decent gluten bread - certainly not enough to justify the additional dollars. How I miss the Mule cafe in Brunswick that charged $4.50 (the normal rate!) for a very generous helping of Black Ruby's seeded toast.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

January brunching - Smith & Daughters

What better way to see in the New Year than to meet up with friends for brunch at Smith & Daughters. It had been over a year since my first and last visit, and a slightly tweaked menu had been introduced.

I was unsurprisingly flummoxed by the tyranny of choice, which is probably the only down-side of eating at a vegan restaurant. This necessitates a certain amount of strategy - one, don’t order what other people are having if they will let you have a bite; two, don’t order what you could probably do yourself at home; three, maybe try something you wouldn’t normally eat. Sometimes these conflict with internal drives, like cravings or health considerations.

I have a long-standing desire to try the mushrooms, but thought it was a bit wintery for a bright, sunny day, and ended up opting for the corn-jalapeƱo hotcakes and coconut bacon, with the maple butter on the side. I thought this might be a sweet-salty-savoury combination but - to me at least - it was just very, very sweet. I tried a variety of the hot sauces on the table (none of which were hot enough for me - ! - though I appreciated the opportunity to try the Diemen's sauce I was considering buying) to no avail. 

The pancakes were enormous and in triplicate, largely very good (emphasis on large) but with a slight cornflour-y/baking powdery aftertaste which seems common with vegan GF pancakes. The maple butter was pretty excellent, but I’m glad I had it on the side. As for the coconut bacon, maybe I was just so overwhelmed but I couldn’t really detect anything smoky about it and it went pretty soggy with all the syrup. Nor could I discern the jalapenos, but then I am virtually desensitised to all but the most ludicrous of Scoville ratings.

I had to get one of my dining companions to eat the third pancake as I could not find room. It was an achievement to manage two, but I couldn’t bear to see the third go to waste.

For those who love pancakes, I’d certainly recommend these. For me it was probably a case of bad ordering, and I should’ve known better. Next time, and there will be a next time, those mushrooms!

I must also make sure I get myself to the Deli soon