27 September, 2010

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

So the saying goes. I had to question that theory yesterday, however, as we once again navigated the seating, ordering and paying chaos that is Green Refectory.

I love the place - as an eating establishment it has a helluva lot going for it. The salad plates alone are worth elbowing your way to a distressed timber table - pick any three salads for an assemblage of more veg than most can put away comfortably in one sitting, and it's about $8.

But on a day like post-GF-Sunday (or actually, any weekend around mealtime) it's an absolute bunfight. The cafe has a couple of small tables and a big communal one in the front room, in front of the counter. It's prime position for ordering, since the menu is only available via a blackboard behind the counter, and the aforementioned salads, along with a plethora of sweet and savoury baked goods, are only perusable visually. It's also bloody hot out up front, as staff heat up pies, sausage rolls and pasties, and you're definitely going to be crowded out by the throng ordering at the counter, since there's no table service.

A smaller room is past the counter, with another room out the back, which is sometimes quieter, but you do wonder how anyone will find you! The Green has one of the longest backyards in Brunswick, rammed with rickety ironwork tables and narrow benches that are fine for coffee but too narrow for food. If you do score a table at the back, schlepping back in one by one to check the menu and then order doesn't make for a great start to the visit.

Yet, it works, and I can only assume that the ongoing level of patronage means the owners see no need to make adjustments. Sticking with counter service is their prerogative, as is saving money by not printing menus, but...it's a cafe, it makes and serves food, so giving customers access to choose from what's on offer is a pretty important overhead.

Thankfully, the latest rash of newly opened Brunswick cafes haven't copied their ordering method. New Day Rising, at 221d Blyth St, can probably get away without one since it may be the smallest cafe in the inner north. It's so small you need to go with someone you're happy to talk to, as there's no guarantee you'll fit in a book and food! They do offer a Toast feast, however, with a range of toppings that you may not have on hand at home, such as Persian fetta, quince paste and tahini.

Just around the corner at 120 Nicholson St, Milkwood (owned by the same folk as Cafe Rosamond on Smith St Collingwood) have printed up a nice three-pager, offering delicious breakfasts such as porridge with rhubarb, roasted macadamias and brown sugar crumble, as well as baguettes for lunch. Their housemade lamingtons are awesome - first bite barely gets you past the chocolate coating, but persevere for the moist sponge, smeared with just a hint of jam. Milkwood fills the Sunday void when Piano is closed.

On Glenlyon Road, Kitchen Kultcha have taken the Brunswick Model perhaps a little too seriously - their front room is a mess of reclaimed furniture, looking on to the back of the prep area. It's much nicer sitting at the back, in the 'takeaway area', where you get the heads up that the sandwiches, offered on both printed and blackboard menu - come from a display. Try their pumpkin bread with passionfruit curd for a morning tea with a twist.

Looking at this latest crop, it seems another saying is just as true of the Greater Brunswick Area: if you build it, they will come.


  1. Good to see you back! Have you tried another little gem in North Fitzroy. Called "Julio" in Miller Street I believe. Highly recommend the baked eggs and the Turkish breakfast. A top meal to share.

    Happy Brunching...


  2. It's been a while ;)

    I do know Julio, and we used to pop by there to get their amazing doughnuts. Not sure if they're doing them as regularly these days. I also love their breakfast plate, with boiled eggs and other goodies.

    Good tip on the share breakfast :)