Even our means of entering the restaurant should have hinted that the evening was going to be less of a fine dining experience, and more of a lengthy piece of performance art.
We follow a wooden pathway down a darkened corridor towards a half-scale projected image – a video, or perhaps a live feed? – of the Fat Duck Melbourne’s kitchen. Once we reach the image, the video finishes abruptly with a wooden door slamming, and we are plunged into darkness.
Rudimentary is the latest representation of Footscray’s stealthy gentrification-round-the-edges. Four forty-foot containers on a previously derelict block of land at the back of the shopping strip, with seating indoors and outdoors, and plenty of space for bikes, kids and growing their own veg. What’s not to like?
If you are a coffee head in Heathmont, I am assured this is the place to go for your morning long black or latte.
As a tea drinker, I’m more interested in whether they are a loose-leaf or teabag establishment than the brand of coffee they pour (loose leaf, since you ask) and whether their teapots leak when you try and pour from them (they don’t).
The thing I like about Chapter Too is that they serve breakfast right up to noon, so I can have a bowl of porridge or eggs on toast for lunch if I want (and I often do). It can feel a wee bit cavernous inside, but nab a seat by the window or outside on the pavement and it’s a more pleasant experience. The calamari salad is delicious for a light lunchtime bite, but I tend to be a bit boring and go for the poached eggs with a couple of breakfast sides.
The only thing is that it’s a bit mums-and-bubs-clubby if you get there late morning, so at times it’s not the respite from the working world I am seeking. Nonetheless, it’s a great local eatery and number one on my list when I have visiting dignitaries in the office.
I work in the boondocks, in a small, faceless light industrial estate miles from anywhere interesting. Happily, in a nearby strip mall there are two respectable places for a woman to have lunch when she needs to escape the office: Chapter Too and The Village Food Store.
The Village Food Store is all blonde wood, white tiles and bi-fold windows, a tiny eatery which earnestly proclaims its local-food, fresh-cooked approach to food on its small menu. It has become a bit of a haunt for me when I need respite from spreadsheets and reports.
The menu is as small as the premises, but everything is indeed freshly made from local ingredients as far as possible. This means you might have a tiny bit of a wait for your tangy Asian chicken salad or your sublime chorizo and bean soup. The Village Food Store has something for every season, and for the most part it’s all healthy choices. Their tea is loose leaf and their teapots large. These days I am greeted with a familiar smile every time I walk in, and I can sit in peace and solitude for forty-five minutes, eat some heavenly healthy food and head back to work feeling like I’ve had a proper lunchtime.
Over the past month or two we’ve persevered at the Lakehouse only for each visit to disappoint in some way. We’ve had a few problems with delayed food – caused, they said, by the kitchen struggling to handle large tables – but forgave each time on the basis that it was handled very well by the servers.
Next time we visited our lovely waiter recognised us and delivered Orlando’s breakfast with an extra complimentary egg to make up for the delays we had before. We were then charged for that “free” egg and another to boot. It took us three visits to the counter to get them taken off the bill.
Last weekend was the worst yet. We arrived to see a pretty big family lunch in progress – in retrospect we should have walked away at that point. We were immediately recognised and the lovely waitress, poor Natalia, told us in advance they were going a little slow, but they knew we’d had problems before so they would work hard to serve us quickly.
After almost an hour the apologetic Natalia came back and said our breakfast was on the house as we had been delayed so much. Fifteen minutes later she came back and gave us a voucher for yet another free meal as a gesture of goodwill. At that point I was fascinated to see how long it would take, so we stayed and chatted.
It took just over two hours to serve us two pretty simple breakfasts (portions a little larger than usual, presumably another gesture).
My main point is this: if the Lakehouse’s kitchen grinds to a halt with a table for forty, then they need to consider very carefully whether they should take such large bookings. If our eggs and bacon were delayed by two hours, I doubt that large table was served all of their meals at roughly the same time.
The Lakehouse has the option of limiting numbers for a single booking or offering a set menu for large tables, as many other restaurants do. Or I guess they could increase the staffing in the kitchen when they have large bookings, although that of course will eat into their profits. I am not sure if it’s greed or a simple lack of management on their part, but something needs to change.
I’ve read other reviews that compare the Lakehouse to Lazy Moe’s, and I’d have to agree. After just a couple of months and a fair amount of perseverence, the Lakehouse has become for me yet another disappointing suburban den of mediocrity. My advice to others is that if you see a table for ten or more when you arrive, turn around and go somewhere else. The food just won’t be worth the wait.
Down by the riverside in Maribyrnong a beautiful glass-fronted restaurant was built and then sat empty for a few years. We cycled and strolled past there from time to time, and wondered when it would ever open. Well, now it has.
The Degani cafe empire have taken over this place, and it opened just a few days ago. We noticed the open door on our way to Cafe Boutique, and diverted there for a late breakfast.
The restaurant is light and airy, with a full glass front overlooking the Maribyrnong River. This is going to be a great haunt for a cheeky afternoon drink in the summer, or a cosy coffee and cake on cooler days. The space is not overloaded with tables which is nice for a change. There is a stunning outside space with high stools and cafe tables – guaranteed to become a favourite spot on sunny days.
In the centre of the restaurant are a couple of banquettes and larger tables seating up to 12 or so people, but I’m sure they would configure some of the smaller tables to accommodate larger groups right by the panoramic windows.
The only decor points lost were for the two large TV screens, one showing the football and the other MTV. I’m not a fan of TVs in restaurants, and although I understand they will be handy to attract punters for the occasional big game I’d prefer if they were kept switched off the rest of the time.
To the food: the menu is a decent bistro mix of steak sandwiches, parmas, fish and chips, lamb shanks. You know the drill. They also have a pizza menu but I shall reserve judgement on those until I taste them. Actually, the whole menu reminded me very much of the newly-renovated Plough Hotel, another great new local eatery.
Breakfast was (mostly) generously-proportioned, tasty and good value at $41 for two. My side of mushrooms consisted of just two mushrooms which I thought rather miserly, however O’s bacon and smoked salmon more than made up for this slip.
Tea is served in large mugs (good) made with decent tea in bags (good) however no teapots are to be had (bad). Given the fancy-schmancy coffee machine behind the counter, I fear this cafe focuses on coffee heads and forget the tea drinkers, like so many places in Melbourne. If you are reading this, Degani’s, please buy a few decent-sized teapots for your regulars – we will thank you!
Service was friendly without being over-familiar, and the occasional hesitation was forgiven in place open only two or three days. The neighbouring Cafe Boutique is fine, and will remain on our standby list, but in just one visit I think the Lakehouse has just become our regular Sunday destination. I am looking forward to coming back of an evening to try out their dinner menu.