Brisbane Cafe Review: Pompidou, Balmoral

Pompidou is a quaint French themed cafe in the leafy suburb of Balmoral.

It’s a Di Bella account, and they do an admirable job of producing drinkable coffee from their 2-group Wega. My double shot flat white was strong and rich, Di Bella style. I’m starting to think that Di Bella probably works best as a single shot. It can be quite overpoweringly full bodied if prepared well as a double. My dinepanions said their coffees – a cappuccino, and a piccolo, respectively, were tasty.


The coffees were good. The breakfasts were fantastic.

What follows are pictures of my pork belly with poached egg, spicy relish, haloumi, bread, and baby spinach, with a hash brown on the side, the “pan meal” which is pretty much the ultimate big breakfast, a ratatouille with bacon and eggs, and an Eggs Benedict, with the hollandaise on the side. Each meal was delicious, and well worth the price of admission.

We’ll be back on the strength of the food alone, and the coffee wasn’t too shabby.

Brisbane Cafe Review: Shucked Espresso, Newstead

I’ll be posting my year ending cafe rankings for Brisbane some time around Christmas, and there’s a new contender for the top five in the house. Shucked Espresso in Newstead sits in a commercial district, surrounded by car yards and a light industrial vibe. It offers a pretty nifty little food and drinks menu, and the espresso/brewed coffee combo Brisbane snobs have come to expect…

This is actually a handy rule of thumb. If a coffee shop has the words “single origin” on a board somewhere, and sells the Aeropress or Chemex (stay tuned for the 2011 Christmas Gift list that’ll include those coffee toys, and more) then it is probably worth the effort.

Shucked definitely fits into that category. Its cute. Its quaint. Its eclectic. And in six months its established itself as having game when it comes to the Brisbane scene – taking out Map Magazine’s award for Best Cafe this year, and sharing the runners up prize with perennial Beanstalker.com favourites, Dandelion and Driftwood, for best coffee in Brisbane. These competitions are opt in and rely on votes – so the results can be skewed by a bit of populist campaigning and a loyal fan base – but you don’t get that sort of fan base without quality output.

Shucked is a converted warehouse type space, with a graffiti alley for those who want the full on Melbourne vibe. Inside its littered with found items (including some old school salt and pepper shakers), an eclectic mix of wooden chairs, comfy couches, a big wooden communal table, and a striking wooden work bench which holds the La Marzocco. The barista had the appropriate hipster cred with tattoos and genie pants. And the alt. country/folk soundtrack made breakfast conversation pleasant and relaxed.

One must also mention the wallpaper. It was striking. Retro. And not tacky. The Courier Mail profile of Shucked reveals the wallpaper was purchased from New York.

The staff were friendly. Service was quick. And the food was sensational – I had the French Toast with Maple Syrup and some cracking crispy bacon. My wife had the delicious French Toast Croque Monsieur.

Sensational breakfast. But this is a coffee blog. Above all. So what about the coffee.

The Shuck ‘N Awe blend, named by a Facebook competition, lives up to its billing. Its well balanced, sweet, and better as a flat white than as a piccolo. It delivered the promised creamy finish in spades, and a sweet and fruity complexity up front. The temperature and texture of the milk was first class. I love a rich dark dash of crema, even in a medium roasted coffee…

The latte art on coffee number two – made on the single origin Costa Rican (UPDATE – via Facebook I found out that this was a Costa Rica La Lapa)- was better, and this coffee was sensational. Maybe it was the effect of being coupled with insanely good bacon. Maybe it was some maple syrup lingering in my mouth (though I did have some water) – but this was perhaps the best single origin I’ve ever had. It tasted like a lemon meringue pie, or like a sweet lemon butter with something caramel. It was amazing. And herein lies my only criticism of the trip to Shucked. There’s a bit of a lack of transparency in terms of what exactly is in the blends (and who roasts what) – even the description of the Single Origin was limited to the country of origin and a couple of tasting notes. In my mind its complete transparency that separates the big specialty coffee players and educators from the also rans. Its part of the process of creating informed and enlightened customers and raising the bar for coffee production and consumption. There were bags from BlackStar (and their signature Revolution Blend is on rotation), and I spied a bag marked Plantation Coffee (which I assume is from Plantation Specialty Coffee in Melbourne – though I could be wrong).

But that’s relatively minor. I’d say Shucked is well on the way to winning over a pretty substantial place in my coffee loving heart. And I’ll definitely be taking friends there in the future and heartily recommending it.

You can follow Shucked on Twitter and like them on Facebook to stay in the loop.

Brisbane Cafe Review: Pourboy Espresso, Brisbane CBD

It’s a luxury having so many good cafes opening at the same time – last week it was the Corner Store Cafe, this week it’s Pourboy Espresso. On Wharf St. In the Brisbane CBD.

I took a stroll from Southbank to check this place out. And it was worth the walk.

The smell of fresh enthusiasm was in the air. There was a buzz. The barista, Sebastian, was obviously thrilled with how the first day was going and there was a bit of banter between the staff that showed they were really enjoying working together. And it made for a pleasant mood in the breezy glass box that Pourboy calls home. It feels modern and chic.

I mentioned the tattoo on Kane from the Corner Store’s wrist the other day, and I think Sebastian has him beat. You can just make it out in this photo from the Courier Mail’s review

It’s a bit like this exploded Portafilter shirt from the other day. It wins on points in the best barista tatt I’ve seen in Brisbane stakes, because it is unmistakably coffee. A rosetta is all well and good, but it could be easily misinterpreted as a pretty pattern. The portafiller tatt gave me a sense of confidence in the commitment to good coffee Pourboy is showing, and the food is meant to be pretty good too. Sorbet, pastries and quiches are baked on site. I enjoyed a cinnamon scroll with my coffee that was fresh, tasty, and delicious.

Pourboy Espresso is using beans from Mecca. Mecca only use beans that are graded at 90+ (in a specialty coffee hundred point scale – this means they are good. We’re talking top 50 coffees in the world, so Sebastian told me with a bit of enthusiasm – which is also a winner when you’re picking a cafe – talk to the barista about coffee and if their eyes light up you’re probably on a winner).

I had a double shot flat white on the Dark Horse blend. Which, pulled on the Synesso Cyncra, came out thick and creamy.

In an attempt to supply meaningful “tasting notes” – not the industry talk that require a supertongue – I’d describe it as low acid, rich, strong and smooth with a mellow and pleasant aftertaste. The milk was perfectly silky and textured. There was no bitterness in the taste, or the aftertaste. It was superb.

I followed that up with a piccolo on the featured single origin – a Guatemalan, I didn’t get the specific variety – but Mecca sell an Acetenango which sounds about right. This one was a little fruitier, a little more sparkly, with a slightly dulled-down sweet aftertaste. Really good stuff.

The downside – the coffee is expensive. Drinks start at $4 a cup. Perhaps due to transit costs for getting the beans from Mecca – that involves a double handling that roasteries in Brisbane aren’t paying. And their lease is doubtless more expensive than other operations in the specialty coffee marketplace.

If they keep serving up coffees like they were on the day one then their coffee is worth paying the 50c extra for anyway.

You can follow Pourboy on Twitter

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * * * ½

Brisbane Cafe Review: Campos, Fortitude Valley

We’ve been meaning to get back to Campos for some time. The food there is just amazing. One of the best cafe breakfasts I’ve had – it is like Campos have created the optimum crossover point between breakfast quality and coffee quality – in some places the food is significantly better than the coffee, in others the coffee is significantly better than the food. At Campos, food and coffee are on par. It’s an attractive package.

The coffee jumps out at you on first taste, it rounds out on the tongue and has a lingering chocolatey aftertaste. On previous visits the coffee has been hit and miss. This one was a hit. My first trip to Campos I got there as it was closing, and all I got was a takeaway, and for some reason it was just too hot. It was so hot it was almost undrinkable, and the taste in a takeaway cup is always a little less pleasant than in a nice porcelain cup.

I love the atmosphere at Campos. It’s a place that just smacks of coffee. There are carved rosettas on the wall. And two La Marzocco machines on the counter. The cake cabinet is full of pretty amazing looking sweet goodies. But I haven’t tried them yet. I love the fans (which you can’t quite make out in this picture).

I love Campos, and highly recommend it as a breakfast stop. But I do think there’s a trade off that comes with being a bigger operation. They lose some of the intimacy on offer in some of the other cafes I’ve reviewed here. Some people I’ve spoken to have suggested that Campos are a little too coffee snobby – and they do have a legendary reputation for taking snobbery to new levels in Sydney. That’s not a critique I think is valid. I want my coffee makers to be as snobby as possible, so long as they’re also able to stay human. Legend has it that in the espresso bar setting Campos baristas don’t even speak to each other. They communicate with dice and spoons. And these dice, and spoons, are there. Sitting on the counter.

I love this place.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * * * ½

Brisbane Cafe Review: Stellarossa, Milton

Just down the road from Bunker Coffee on Railway Terrace in Milton was this rather sharp looking Stellarossa Cafe – it’s the central warehouse for a Brisbane franchiser specialising in Di Bella Coffee. Its spacious, trendy, and modern fit out offers a stark contrast to Bunker Coffee. There’s heaps of room to kick back, comfy seats, and plenty of tables… sadly, the coffee also contrasts Bunker Coffee. It was depthless. Boring. Though not unpleasant or bad. It didn’t need sugar. It just didn’t set the tastebuds alight like the Blackstar Beans on offer at Bunker (Bunker Coffee also have “guest roaster” slots on Wednesdays – this week they’re featuring a single origin from Cup).

The coffee was probably slightly too hot – though having just enjoyed a couple of coffees at Bunker our palates were probably a little fatigued. I need to learn my limits for the number of coffees I can adequately review in a day – because there’s no doubt this suffered by comparison.

I did like the Rip Curl latte art.

And the hanging, framed, coffee bags.

On the plus side, there’s plenty of food on offer in the cabinets, and the shiny Nuova Simonelli is more than capable of producing good, drinkable coffee. The service was friendly, though I’m always slightly concerned when a barista offers to put sugar in my coffee.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * ½    

Brisbane Cafe Review: Bunker Coffee, Milton

Bunker Coffee. Brisbane’s smallest cafe? Maybe. Converting an abandoned bomb shelter/garage with street frontage into a little hole-in-the-wall cafe is a great use of space. And if you add vines that camouflage your shop front with real leaves – you’re just one step away from classy. The final piece of the puzzle is great coffee with friendly service. Bunker Coffee in Milton has it all.

Here’s our first round of orders – a picollo latte and a flat white.

They use Blackstar Coffee, and serve up a storm with real chocolate used to dust cappuccinos and hot chocolates – this place is worthy of a trip by its own right. The swiss chocolate comes in big blocks that they grate. The hot chocolates are well worthwhile. Fantastically rich and smooth.

The “Goblin” and “Milky Goblin” are in-house specialties. Basically a cross between a long black, a macchiato, a picollo and a flat white. Or something like that. Think a Macchiato with a little extra milk, or a picollo with less froth…

All coffees are pulled on doppio ristrettos so they pack a little extra punch and you get a pretty full bodied experience. I love Blackstar coffee. So I love Bunker Coffee. I also noticed a kilo bag of Cup Coffee on the shelf. These guys seem pretty well connected.

A nice shiny La Marzocco and beautiful double walled Bodum cups make drinking in a pleasure. A $24 six pack takeaway iced coffee/iced chocolate seems like a pretty good deal. And I love the liberal smattering of [square brackets] repeated from the logo on the menu board. The place feels cool, add the bicycles leaned against the viney wall and you’ve got a fun little stop right out of an Enid Blyton novel. Their webshop also sells Aeropress for $5 less than I’ve seen them elsewhere (a bargain at $49). You can also follow them on Twitter, and a few “coming soon” bits of their website look exciting.

If there’s a cyclone or an air raid threat I know where I’ll be heading to stay safe and enjoy good coffee.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * * *  

Cafe Review: Milany, Racecourse Road, Hamilton

On Friday night, after downing a duck stir-fry and a beer (or two) at the Newmarket Hotel, we headed out to Racecourse Road with our dining companions for some after-dinner gelati and coffee. Otherwise known as Dessert. Our destination Caffe e Gelato Milany, one of Brisbane’s cutting edge vendors of all things gelati. Owned by pole-vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva (the search terms that pop up when you search for Cafe Milany on Google are indicative of some SEO shenanigans)1 They’ve won awards for their iced delights. And it shows.

But their coffee left a little to be desired. I ordered my standard double shot flat white – which came with the foam of a poorly made cappuccino. It was a little bitter. But not the worst coffee I’ve ever had. And it was, on the whole, pretty drinkable. I’d say it was a two sugar coffee. Or perhaps a one sugar coffee (provided you’ve ordered some gelati to offset it – the gelati really was amazing). Which I’ve decided might be an appropriate metric for assessing coffees when we’re not at the specialty end of the equation.

The temperature was adequate. It was slightly better with the crema stirred through properly. Which is, incidentally, why latte art makes for better coffee.

But who am I kidding – nobody is really going there just for the coffee. It’s not the main attraction. This is:

1 The results in the description block on Google read: “things to do, crapes, waffle, Belgium waffle, pan cake, fun, liqueur, Plamen Milanov, Tatiana Grigorieva, milany, pole vault, chocolate, sweet,”

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * ½    

Brisbane Cafe Reviews: Bellissimo Coffee & Spoon Deli @ James Street Markets, Fortitude Valley

My wife Robyn and I went for a bit of a breakfast/coffee jaunt on Australia Day, a public holiday. And we were keen to head to Campos – because they do the food/coffee combo pretty well. And last time I went there the photos I took with my phone weren’t so good, and I thought I could take some more and post a review. But alas. They were closed. Which left us in a predicament. We needed coffee. And breakfast. Stat.

The coffee situation was addressed more than ably at first by Bellissimo Coffee. Who admirably solved the problems presented by my caffeine withdrawal headache. And their coffees were cheap – perhaps to celebrate their recent storefront opening (they’ve been operating as a boutique roastery online for a bit longer). Mark, the owner, was fun to talk to and I’m liking the look of their approach to coffee and to customer service. The coffee, produced on their award winning blend, was good, close to great, but perhaps would have been better another day post roast. It didn’t quite pack the same mouthfeel as offerings from Cup, or the complexity and sweetness offered by Dandelion & Driftwood, it perhaps sat nicely between the two. Which is not a bad place to be.

The breakfast situation was a little more serious. The James Street Markets were our only hope. So we headed to Spoon Deli. The food there is quite expensive, especially if you’re there looking for breakfast after 11.30 – we settled for $20 late breakfasts (which run until 3pm).

The food was sensational. My bacon and egg panini with avocado and special sauce was great. Robyn’s Eggs Benedict fantastic.

The coffee left a lot to be desired. Acrid. Bitter. Stale tasting. Over extracted. Nasty stuff with bubbly foam. And too hot. I finished the double shot flat white I had ordered for the purpose of scientific analysis. No more, no less.

I hit up Google looking for their website – and the page title says “Good Coffee”, I’d have to give them another chance to prove themselves, but at this stage I’d say: “nope”. There’s much better coffee to have nearby. But breakfast was a winner. And I was able to get rid of that taste by heading back across the road to Bellissimo.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it (Bellissimo):

* * * ½  

Brisbane Cafe Review: Cup Coffee, West End

If you’re a coffee geek and you want your coffee to be made by coffee geeks with an absolute commitment to coffee that’s 99% good not 90% good, if you want your coffee made by people who sweat the small stuff, then head to Cup in West End. It’s a coffee geek’s paradise.

Cup serves up coffee from one of the world’s most advanced machines. The Slayer. The first machine to experiment with pressure profiling – which means they can fiddle with the amount of pressure the water is being pumped at while they pull your shot of coffee. Coffee geeks around the world are excited about what the fruits of being able to control such a variable might be. Cup offers living proof. The coffee is excellent. Beyond excellent.

Cup’s roastery/cafe is in a little garagey warehouse tucked off West End’s main street. They’ve got a giant remote controlled robot painted on the wall, and they’re fast earning a reputation in competitions, not just for their latte art – though for trophies for such achievements adorn their walls.

They offer light meals, which I haven’t tried yet, and heavy, almost viscous coffee that’ll take your breath away. I promise. It’s amazing.

Their attention to detail, and their quirky, typographically driven design on take home packs of beans and other paraphernalia, makes them an absolute favourite in my books. And my wife and I are locked in a long debate on whether or not their coffee is better than Dandelion and Driftwood. I say yes. She says no. Perhaps Cup’s coffee is more manly. It certainly packs a punch.

Here’s a little video from their website to give you a taste:

CUP SPECIALITY COFFEE from PSN CREATIVE on Vimeo.

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When I was there last their signature blend included Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, and any use of that bean is a winner in my book. Basically, if I walk into a cafe and can spot the word Yirgacheffe anywhere I feel a little bit of calm wash over me.

They change their house blend regularly, based on season, another mark for quality in my books.

You can follow them on Twitter, and their website is one of the best looking coffee sites going round.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * * * ½

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