Late in December the McCafe next to Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital changed its name to The Corner, removed all the Golden Arches and started selling kale salads and tofu. It's Macca's response to consumer demand for healthier food and quality coffee and it's the first of its kind in the world.
There are no backlit menus, no visible nutritional information and the place is a lumberyard of soft timber. The staff (who at best estimate have an average age of 20) wear linen aprons over chambray shirts.
However, The Corner is still nothing like the kind cafes found in Surry Hills and Fitzroy staffed by bearded blokes with knee-length T-shirts. It feels like an airport kiosk and at 1pm on a Friday it's full of frazzled looking doctors and folk seeing how far away from an inpatient facility it's socially acceptable to wear a hospital gown and compression stockings.
I am certain I'm the only person who has travelled more than 100 metres to eat here.
The Corner is divided into different stations. There's a help-yourself wall of pre-wrapped wraps ($8), fruit salad ($5) and plastic tubs of tofu and vegetables ($4). A pastry cabinet is filled with lots of chocolate, spongy things and a coffee counter sells corn fritters with avocado and feta ($7) at breakfast. For $10 at the lunch station you can choose two out the four salad options and one serve of meat.
The food isn't terrible. It's mostly mindless fare engineered to be eaten with a smartphone in one hand. Pearl couscous with roasted eggplant and capsicum is gluggy but completely edible and better than anything from a Coles deli. A Lebanese lentil and chickpea salad has a good bite and wouldn't be out of place at any family picnic in the park.
The "Moroccan chicken" protein choice isn't a fall-off-the-bone tagine of slow-cooked chook but inoffensive chicken breast covered with spices that might have been turmeric and cumin in a past life. The chipotle pulled pork, though. Geez, McCheese. It's full of flavour and brilliantly seasoned. On a soft roll with coleslaw? Habooyah. Hopefully it sticks around (The Corner is also acting as a test lab for these Macca's new recipes).
McDonald's is selling Ethiopian single origin coffee now too! I order an espresso ($3) and it tastes like a burnt log.
Whether The Corner concept is rolled out nationally, or indeed internationally, remains to be seen. It's easy to have a dig at McDonald's for appropriating modern cafe culture, however, if cafes have been doing their version of a burger and fries for decades, is it such a bad thing for Macca's to make a kale salad or two?