For most foodies, photography at the dining table has pretty much become part and parcel of our eating ritual. Depending on your company, camera action can range from a quick up top snap, or extend into a full blow, plate swapping and "avoiding shadow" photo shoot. I have an immense amount of respect and admiration for how recipe blog writers are able to create and photograph such wonderful settings and sometimes, I wish I had the same luxury! Being a restaurant writer definitely leaves you more exposed to the elements and sometimes missing the perfect shot is inevitable, due to hunger, politeness or horrid lighting! The beauty of meeting and befriending fellow foodies, bloggers or food photographers, is that there's a common understanding when it comes to the pre-eat shoot. Yes, sometimes it does mean lukewarm food or a little bit of a squeeze around the table - but we're all very willing to make the sacrifice!
I first met Martine of chompchomp.com.au earlier this year during a blogger's dinner at Fuku and someway, somehow, a few months later...I found myself being abhorrently late to our brunch appointment at Vans Cafe in Cottesloe. It had been a horribly busy Monday morning for me and I was overrun by panic for having nearly wasted poor Martine's day off! After reaching Vans and apologising profusely, we finally got around to catching up whilst deciding what to have for brunch. The Van's menu is a little complicated, but once we got our heads around the little abbreviations; Martine chose from the LB (Late Breakfast) and * (Gluten Free) dishes and I settled for the Pulled Pork Sandwich after discovering that my first choice of the Lamb Burger was unavailable. We ordered two glasses from Vans' guest wines list; a bright Villa Quintay Clava Sauvignon Blanc from Chile ($11 per glass) and regrettably, there is no photo because we both proceeded to chat away until our food came!
I'm always a little disappointed when I see only one egg on a breakfast plate. In all honesty - $23 elsewhere could have gotten us two eggs and a whole lot further than what was presented here. Having said that, the single egg was perfectly cooked and it's impossible to not appreciate yolk porn. However, Martine did also say that the potato cake was bland and that the lemon butter was watery. Although this was not my breakfast, I thought that on appearances alone, it lacks generosity and it's a let down that two main components were poorly executed.
One of my housemates and I have seen every Man. V Food episode to date and we have a slight obsession in uncovering the best Pulled Pork Sandwich in Perth. I was hoping to add Vans' rendition to the list, especially since the pork had been braised in masterstock! I was imagining my grandmother's exceptional braises which always managed to be rich and sweetly spiced with a slightly "sticky" sense to the meat, which best of all - would just melt away in your mouth. I was impressed that the chilli jam actually packed quite a punch; as a jam, there wasn't much sweetness but the spiciness was definitely right up there with what comes out of a Singaporean hawker centre.
The would be hero, the masterstock pulled pork - was a complete let down. Unfortunately, there was no rich "masterstock" qualities to the meat; the pork was bone dry and lacked the sweet and salty flavour combination that makes a great Pulled Pork Sandwich. The Asian slaw was very fresh and even though I don't like cilantro, it was actually a pleasant combination and was the only highlight of the sandwich. I added the chilli jam to every mouthful and willed the slaw to carry the dry pork through - it was definitely a disappointing dish.
The saving grace of the meal for me was actually the homemade chips. Each one was incredibly crispy but had a great fluffy potato interior. They were perfectly seasoned and I happily dipped each chip into the well balanced aioli. Along with the Tuck Shop and the Beaufort Street Merchant, Vans have definitely set themselves as has having some of the best chips in Perth. The extensive menu at Vans has many interesting additions and a great combination of Asian influenced dishes and also an array of classics that you'd expect for any brunch cafe. Dishes like the Duck Mapo Tofu and the Massaman Venison curry definitely grab my attention, but because of how both our mains fell short, it does instil some hesitation for revisiting.
After looking over the initial dessert menu, we discovered that there was no gluten free option. The waitstaff were great about arranging the Creme Brûlée dessert for us, which was gluten free and part of a separate set menu. I love rice pudding and I love creme brûlée - combining the two together was pure genius! The edges of the brûlée weren't completely caramelised and the grit of the raw sugar did counteract slightly with the smoothness of the rice pudding filling. But for the better part of the dessert, the crisp brûlée topping went beautifully with the rice pudding and the cold, smooth ice cream.
Completely unbeknown to us, by the end of dessert, we had actually stayed in Vans for a little over three hours. The weather was absolutely horrid that day and just as we got up to leave, a stream of rain flew past Napolean Street. We sat back down and thought, what the heck - we're rained in at Vans with good company; let's stay for a round of coffee. And again, regrettably, I didn't snap a photo of my Long Mac ($4.80) but I definitely have an opinion to share about it.
When I first cupped my hands around the latte glass, I already knew that the coffee was well over the usual 60-65 degrees mark and definitely bordering over 70 degrees. After taking a sip, I wasn't able to pick up any of the notes from the coffee, which instead carried an incredibly harsh, burnt charcoal like taste. I had a few great Crema coffee experiences during #CoffeeOfPerth and appreciated it's rich, bitter flavours. Martine also had a taste and agreed that it just wasn't right - we flagged down the waitstaff and I let them know that the coffee was burnt. The staff initially apologised, telling me that they'd be happy to replace it, but then added, "just so you know, a Long Mac has two shots in it.".
That was a wrong move, but it wasn't worth kicking up a fuss over and I took that condescending statement with a pinch of salt. Generally, staff probably shouldn't assume that a customer has no idea; especially when it comes to the coffee that you order every day. You never know who your customer might be and it's definitely not the right way to handle a complaint. The second cup of coffee, regrettably had roughly the same characteristics but I was quite happy to just let it be. Another member of staff came over and asked me how the coffee was this time, stating that he had a try of my previous coffee and could assure that there was nothing wrong with it.
I told him truthfully - I'm not happy with the coffee, but I'm alright with just leaving it be. He insisted on making me a third, adding that Crema was naturally bitter and they've never had any complaints about their coffee before. When the third coffee was set down at our table, I apologised for causing any inconveniences. Again, the response I received just seemed like a backhanded way of telling me that I knew nothing about coffee. By the end of it, Martine and I were quite thrown by the whole situation and I just decided to drink up for the sake of not causing anymore drama.
In circumstances like this, I'd rather just pay for a coffee I'm not happy with than put up with bad attitude from service staff. It's an area of grey, because yes, on paper, the situation was handled well - the coffee was replaced and it was still civil. The one thing that doesn't sit right with me still, is just the all round condescending attitude. It definitely put a dampener on our visit and it's concretes the fact that I'm very unlikely to return. We tried all three cups and concluded that all three were just off the mark - assuming that we both have no idea what we're talking about was rather insulting. Not only was the food for the better part, quite underwhelming - but the service that we received at the end of the meal was largely uncalled for.
After four and a half hours, Martine and I officially called it a day. We brushed off the negativity quickly and in truth, it was an absolutely wonderful meet up. Vans in itself has a great concept and a great vibe, but it fell short with average food and down right poor service. This is probably the more negative service experiences I've had, but such experiences are unfortunately a given in any industry and as much as it does bother customers - dining options in Perth are plentiful and in the end, it's where else your feet will take you that does the real talking.
Monday - Thursday, Sunday from 7:00AM - 10:00PM.
Friday and Saturday, from 7:00AM - 11:00PM.