Thursday, 9 October 2008

Cafes - good vs the abominable

I've had the odd day off over the last few weeks, and I have put those days to good use by going for a spin on the pushy. After two hours of wheeling around the countryside, I really need a feed. Cycling is a great way to provide the best excuse for eating out. The body needs fuel and coffee, and where better to get that than a local cafe.

The first place I tried was Bar Napoli in Five Dock. I am usually a bit suspicious of the eating houses around here, because all of them have disappointed me so far. But Bar Napoli is new, and their coffee is not bad, so I decided to give the food a go.

Boy, was that a mistake.

I wandered in around 11am and asked for Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon.

Now the meal that I would expect to get when ordering that would be as follows:

  • a warm, toasted English muffin, cut in half
  • two lightly poached eggs, with runny yokes. Also warm to hot. (If you don't like bits of wagon, you can also have runny yolks. Or, in the deep south, running yokels).
  • some spinach (if the chef is feeling generous)
  • a few slices of finest quality smoked salmon (well, at least the best farmed stuff you can get)
  • a rich hollandaise sauce, either on the side, or lightly covering the eggs and salmon
Here is how Wikipedia describes hollandaise sauce:

Hollandaise sauce is an emulsion of butter and lemon juice using egg yolks as the emulsifying agent, usually seasoned with salt and a little black pepper or cayenne pepper.

Hollandaise sauce is well known as a key ingredient in Eggs Benedict.

Hollandaise requires some skill and knowledge to prepare; care must also be taken to store it properly after preparation.

Properly made, the sauce should be smooth and creamy.

The flavor should be rich and buttery, with a mild tang added by the lemon juice and seasonings.

It must be made and served warm, not hot.

I have also been a complete thieving bastard and lifted this photo of what eggs benedict should look like.

So, even if you have never had this delectable dish for breakfast, you should now have a reasonable understanding of what it looks like, and how to prepare it.

My breakfast at Bar Napoli was nothing like this.

The muffins were not toasted at all. They were cold and raw.

The eggs were poached, but also cold. There might have been a touch of heat in them once, but otherwise, they were approaching the heat death of the universe.

The salmon was not bad.

The hollandaise sauce was the worst - the worst - hollandaise that I have ever had, and I have eaten this stuff all over the world. But that is not what made the meal so stupendously awful.

I could have accepted the meal if they had followed the custom of some establishments and served the hollandaise in a small receptacle on the side. Then it would not have mattered how foul a concoction it was - I could have ignored it after the first taste.

But they did not follow that custom.

Imagine a pint of beer. Or a pint of Guiness.

Now imagine that as a pint of bland, flavourless and bright yellow butter sauce - totally devoid of the lemon tang that this sauce requires to lift the palate.

Now imagine taking two halves of a cold, raw muffin; topping them with salmon and cold poached eggs; then pouring a pint of bland, flavourless and bright yellow butter sauce over the top. Imagine pouring on so much sauce, the muffins begin to float - like some ghastly version of the Titanic, freshly launched from the shipyard.

I am not even going to try and describe the bright yellow butter sauce as hollandaise, because it clearly failed to get anywhere near the generally accepted characteristics of hollandaise.

Even though I did my best to scrape the worst of this execrable emulsion from the remainder of my breakfast, it still left an Exxon Valdez-like coating of thick, yellow goop on every bite. Now I know how the penguins felt.

To cap it off, the staff were more interested in sitting outside having a smoke than serving the customers.

I give it minus one star.

It would have recieved minus three stars, except that the coffee was good.

I can only think of one reason to go back. Let's say that someone really annoys me, and I feel the need to vomit on them. Ingesting some of their bright yellow mock-hollandaise would be just the thing to create a particularly loathesome and putrid puddle of puke.

Contrast that with a visit to Tank in Drummoyne. Unfortunately, due to kitchen restrictions, Tank cannot create for me a breakfast of bacon and eggs. I had the next best thing, which was a croissant filled with ham, tomato and cheese.

Now that might sound like a very simple breakfast, and one ripe for horribleness. But it was not. The croissant was fresh and light and crispy. The ham and cheese were of superior quality. The tomato was flavoursome and did not leak water over everything else. It came attractively presented on a plate with a garnish and some finely chopped grape tomatoes. It was a completely delightful breakfast, served by friendly staff. The coffee was excellent too. They also look like they do a good line in gellato. I give Tank four stars. If you want a quick, simple meal with little fuss and bother, and good coffee, think Tank.

Guess which one I am going back to after my next ride.

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