I met up with some good friends today from out of town. It’s the holidays, specifically Saturday 27th of December, so a lot of places weren’t open. I wanted to show them somewhere cool, maybe a lil bit hipster since they live in Melbourne. I checked a bunch of places online to see what was open.
There was a limited selection so I went for Reuben Hills in Surry Hills. I’d been there before and really liked it. Unfortunately, when we arrived there at 1pm, the place was packed and there was a crowd building outside the cafe. The wait time was 40mins. Sigh. So we decided to trudge to Crown St about 5mins away where there would be more options. We were all hungry and I could tell, especially since we’d been walking from Central. My friend Anthony, keenly spotted Rapha across the road. It looked cool from the outside, so we ventured across the road.
As we got there, I noticed that there were a some bikes and bike equipment inside. The tables looked really cool. These were glass tables and you could see that each table had a cabinent inside. Inside each cabinent were some bike stuff. One table had bike socks for example. Another had other bike gear inside.
Where’s the service?
I stood outside the cafe for a minute as there were no available tables inside. I was waiting for an opportunity to approach the wait staff as they were buzzing around serving customers. Then one of the tables cleared up. I took a few steps inside and again waited for the wait staff to approach me. The waitress looked at me, but kept going about her job. I would have waited there for 5 minutes as she was whizzing around either making coffee, carrying food and responding to other customers, or upstairs and not on the cafe level.
At one point, I walked towards her and said “excuse me” to the waitress as she walked past, but she must not have heard me. So I was more forceful and approached her again and asked if we could have a table for 3 people. She smiled and said sure, let me wipe up the empty table. She then said “Would you like to be seated outside or upstairs”. I was like “what? there’s tables upstairs?”. I thought why make us wait there for 5 minutes when there were more free tables upstairs?!
I made a vow. If I was ever in similar position and I saw potential customers standing around, I would approach them, greet them and ask if they wanted to be seated. I’m not being pedantic or mad, as I’m normally a very calm person. It just makes you feel really awkward when you feel like you are being ignored.
I’ve been in customer service positions before. I worked in my parent’s store part-time for about 15 years throughout high school, university and when I graduated. I’m not saying I’m great at customer service, just that I’ve been on the other side so I know what its like. Whether its food or retail, I would want to treat that person like I would want to be treated. I was on the verge of going to walk away to another restaurant.
After we were seated, I noticed later that other people had the same problem. They had come in off the street and were standing halfway inside the shop. They weren’t sure what to do either and looked confused in no man’s land. Some of them just walked up to the coffee machine where the waitress was and spoke to her. So clearly, I wasn’t the only one feeling a bit weird. I’d like to point out that this is not a mini rant. Just an observation.
I have to admit, after we were seated, the service was very good. I just assume that the place was busy, and there was only two wait staff, that interacted with us. There was one main waitress downstairs.
If there was one thing I’d tell the owner of the restaurant, its to ask their customer service to every now and then to approach the people that are standing up and waiting for a table. Just acknowledge they are there and see if you can seat them at an empty table! Is that too much to ask? The problem is that the coffee machine / counter is buried slightly at the back of the cafe, and the staff seem to be whizzing around serving current customers and ignoring future ones. I wasn’t sure what to do – should I sit down at the empty table, ask to be seated, etc….
Now the food!
There is a limited selection of food at the restaurant. Perhaps a dozen food items or so and 6 drink specials. I’m ok with that. In my opinion, the better cafes like Single Origin have a very limited selection. They’re saying “we only do these things and we do them well”. The problem with some restaurants is that they have too many things on their menu and it CONFUSES THE CRAP out of the customer. There’s very few places that have an extensive menu and do all the items very well. Pappa Rich is an example. They have the biggest menu list I’ve seen. Its friggin confusing as there’s too much to choose from. Even the drinks section blows my mind. So I just end up asking them for recommendations and go for those ones.
There was clearly one item on the menu we ALL wanted to eat. It didn’t matter that there were another 11 items on the menu. Our eyes and stomachs lit up when I saw the “sweet potato waffles”. So we got them!
The pic above is the sweet potato waffles with ham, hazelnuts and creme fraiche. Its really good. It wasn’t what I expected. I was expecting something really sweet with maple syrup. I had to admit that it was a lot better than what I expected. After I got it, I thought it might be like the chicken and waffles you get in US. I had them earlier this year when I was in San Francisco. However, this is not as sweet. Its savoury because of the ham and creme fraiche. I like the green stuff (I can’t remember what it was). Get a bit of ham, waffle, creme and green onto your fork and its delish! I love waffles. I eat them occassionally, generally with ice cream, froyo and/or strawberries. The waffles weren’t sweet, like they didn’t have sugar put onto them. I assume they were a lil bit sweet because of the natural sugar already in sweet potatoes.
I highly recommend this dish. I can’t remember the price, but I’d say it was about $14.
Something else, I need to mention is that the cutlery that was given to me was dirty. It had bits of crusty food on the knife and fork. I assume it was because they use a dishwasher and it hadn’t fully cleaned it off. So I notified the waitress and she immediately gave me a new set. I never mention things like the service and the cleaniness of the cutlery in my food reviews, because its never happened before or perhaps it hasn’t bothered me before. I understand it can happen from time to time. Surely, there is some quality control that goes in to see what I saw was plainly obvious – there are BITS OF FOOD ON MY KNIFE AND FORK!
This cafe is super cool. On one side of the wall is a big cycling club timetable. It looks like you can sign up to and join the cycling club. Also, Rapha based on my understanding is a cycling brand. Some of my die hard male cycling friends on Facebook post pics and status updates about it. I was wondering one day why they were so estatic about “Rapha” and I assumed it was about the tennis player “Rafael Nadal”. Upon some further Facebook photo investigation, the bike equipment looked nothing like the tennis player.
It reminds me of the bicycle cafe in Richmond Rush Cafe in Melbourne. I’ve been there a few times and its uber cool. Even though I’m not a bike fan, combining the idea of retail and cafe is awesome. It makes the customer feel relaxed, they come there for the cafe as much as the other retail items. It gets them going there more frequently. They build up a brand, a lifestyle and a community around it. There were customers leaving their bikes outside on the bike rack, as well as people inside in bike gear.
So what’s the sauce?
I want to give this place a higher rating. I really do. As the food was really good. The coffee was great (the beans are from Allpress Expresso). The service after we were seated was really good. The waitress were very friendly.
Since I only give a simple rating based on out of 10, I have to incorporate it. My previous reviews were primarily based on taste. But that’s because the service level & cleanliness was acceptable – I didn’t notice it. Perhaps I need to have another dimension to my review separating cleanliness and service. However, I have to be honest and incorporate it into the existing system for now. I have to be true to the blog and to my audience to describe the total experience.
Based on the overall experience, I have to give it 7.5 out of 10. If they fixed up those two things, it would be much higher. Those little things are part of the experience. You begin to notice more and more things, like when the waitress brought over a small bowl of salt we requested. She accidentally spilled half the bowl of salt onto the table. She joked that “its one of those days”, and it was fine. Then you think about the dirty cutlery, being in an awkward position when you are waiting around and no one welcomes you when you come in.
If it was one of these things it would be ok. As more of these things happen, you start to wonder about the quality of service. Whether its because its busy (which I assume is the case) or is it due to something else? I assume that this place sells high quality bike equipment and is relatively more expensive than normal bike equipment. It goes by the slogan on the website: “The world’s finest cycling clothing and accessories“. I would believe that the brand would want this to be reflected in the cafe experience, from the food to the service. It represents the brand. I’d say from my personal experience with the cafe, there’s a mismatch with the brand.
I would definetly come back here as I like the decor of the cafe and the sweet potato waffles. I would like to compare my notes on the service for next time. Let me know how you find your experience with the cafe in the comments below.
Sauce Meter rating: 7.5 / 10
Rapha Cycle Club Cafe
Address: 410 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Phone: (02) 9380 9717
Mon to Fri – 6am to 7pm
Sat – 8am to 7pm
Sunday & Public Holidays – 8am to 6pm
Its taken me about 1.5 hours to write this blog post. I really care about food, eating out with friends, entertainment and writing about it. If you like what I do, sign up to my mailing list at the top of this blog. Its really simple and I’ll notify you of new restaurants I try out.
Have a good break and a happy new year!
Matthew Ho aka The Sauce Master.