There are two different things that I think a restaurant or café has to get right to have done its job: the cooking and the feeling. Those are, after all, the two reasons that you visit a restaurant or café (I’ll just say food place from now on, I think that’s easier), for the food, and for an enjoyable time. You don’t want to go to a sewerage plant for dinner, even if they brought in the chef from a hatted restaurant. Likewise, you don’t want to eat poo wrapped in thistle leaves, even if it is under the Eiffel Tower during a full moon with a string quartet serenading you.
So when J and I visited Max Brenner and the Lindt Café in Sydney recently, our opinions of them fell into these two categories.
I’ll start with Max Brenner first.
What I thought: There were hits and misses.
The waffles we got were awesome, but not very chocolate-y. I also had waffles just as good for two thirds the price at a normal food place not too long before this, and they were much chocolate-y-er.
The soufflé was also amazing and definitely the star, but I was overcharged for it since I ended up paying for the ice cream when it should have come with it according to the menu (plus, $3 for a teeny scoop of ice cream?).
We also got a chocolate dome mousse thing, and it was not so great. For all its richness, it was much of a muchness to me. Also, there was no perceivable taste difference between the dark chocolate mousse and the crème brulée centre, which was weird.
I got a milk chocolate frappé which was powdery and once again, not very chocolate-y, and J got a cappuccino which I can’t comment on since I don’t really like coffee anyway. Also I didn’t try it. It looked alright though.
Finally, the actual chocolates that you could buy to take away. We got some plain milk chocolate and a slab with nuts. The plain milk chocolate was very delicious, like a slightly thicker furry friend. Funnily enough though, I think I’d probably prefer a furry friend all else being equal (the packaging was pretty cool so that could interfere a little if I were truly making that decision). The nutty one was even nicer though, and far more unique. It had crispy bits and smooth silky chocolate, and it was so hard to stop eating it. We didn’t buy any little truffles or things like that though (except for a little box for J’s Aunty) because honestly, I couldn’t find any that appealed to me. I wasn’t really feeling the dark chocolate at that point (it’s something I really need to be in the mood for) so that was 70% of the selection gone right there. It was also a fairly small selection to start with. The dome thing with the mousse centre that we had gotten earlier had put me off mousse centres, so that got rid of another few choices, and in the end I just gave up.
J’s Opinion: For a chocolate bar, there wasn’t as much chocolate on the menu as you’d expect. Then again, I once went to the Taxi Club in Sydney and there where very few taxis so I suppose a name isn’t everything. And don’t get me wrong, there was still a lot of chocolate. Moreover, once you got over the slightly less amount of chocolate than expectations dictated, the food was of a high standard. The waffles (or waffle as it were; T only let me order one to share; we ‘had to save room’ supposedly) were excellent. They were light and crisp served with fresh ripe strawberries and banana, and creamy ice-cream. Every thing had a depth that only comes from quality ingredients. The next thing we had was a round ball. It was made of mousse I believe. It was nice as well, rich however. In fact it had the overt dark-chocolate-richness that is trendy in modern dessert. But while it may be sophisticated, I am a man of simpler tastes, homey tastes, clear, sweet and nice. This brings me to The Soufflé (uppercase intended). First of all, it was not really a soufflé but it was a light cake that they had reheated in a microwave. Secondly, it was brilliant. It was spongy, almost rubbery around the outside and fudgy on the inside. With the ice-cream, it felt really warm like a hug. It melted in your mouth and gave you a gentle chocolate-hit.
With a very serviceable coffee, it was quite the experience. Overall, I thought the food was, if not something you must write home about, something you should definitely post on a blog.
What I thought: I wasn’t a fan.
I’ll admit, some of the decorations were cool, like the swirling vats of what they claimed was chocolate.
But it was really the staff that got me. They were young and clearly meant to be giving the place some sort of hip, cool, down-to-earth sort of vibe. But what they actually gave the place was the sense that they didn’t want to be there. I doubt they would have been less happy if they were working in McDonalds. The woman at the shop section seemed just vaguely irritated by my presence and how long I spent looking and making up my mind so I hurried and didn’t buy nearly as much as I would have otherwise. I just felt like browsing, but I don’t think she felt like it.
J’s opinion: Max Brenner wants to share his love with you. And, if you go to one of his cafés, he will. His love is chocolate of course. I know this because it is written on the wall of the café we went to. When we entered the café, we were greeted with large vats of melted chocolate. Pipes were attached to these vats. These pipes made their way up to the ceiling over to the counter where they dropped down. T and I had a debate about whether they were practical or ornamental, but whatever the case may be, they were certainly whimsical. Slightly less whimsical: the colour. There are lots of browns in this café, as it seems, there are in every café today. Again like most cafés, there was a mild friendly buzz. The staff were more or less competent. And everything was adequate. The problem, from my point of view, is that there wasn’t enough whimsy. I wanted more big vats of chocolate. Hell, I wanted a lake of chocolate, inhabited my mystical chocolate mermaids who enticed me into the chocolate lake where I chocolated their chocolates while T watched, while eating chocolate. Really, it’s just another café. A nice one I’ll admit so I suppose, if you wanted a place to hang for after-work treats or a particularly gluttonous lunch, then this is the place. Otherwise, it lacks a sense of occasion for a tourist.
So that’s Max Brenner: nice, but not a magical fairy-land. I hope you’re all enjoying J’s little visit, I’m told his inoffensive niceness is a refreshing change from my almost constant vulgarity. Tune in on Monday for the second half of this series on chocolate food places: The Lindt Café!