Maple and Clove in Barton. Photo: Rohan Thomson
When you find your perfect brunch spot, it's like meeting a soul mate. The menu is full of food that understands you and your moods. It has a relaxed ambience and comfy chairs, like coming home to a friend's living room. And it transitions from brunch to a proper lunchtime menu.
Our perfect brunch spot was the old E.U. Cafe in Griffith, where hot chocolate came by the bowl and you were guaranteed to run into a friend, whether you went on Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. But it's been closed for a couple of years now and we're on the lookout for another brunch soul mate.
Can you ask to see the menu again when staff are dismantling the restaurant around you?
Could it be Maple and Clove? It's got a clever little inner-south location, tucked behind Hotel Realm in Barton. In winter, you're warmly ensconced behind glass doors at long tables. In summer, the doors are opened and you can have breakfast outdoors beside a bright green lawn. The menu is focused on organic and gluten-free dishes but, more importantly, looks interesting, with good variety. There is takeaway coffee, a fridge full of sleekly packaged Maple and Clove brand take-home meals, even a running group that meets at the cafe every morning.
Well balanced: The Prosciutto tartine with basil ricotta, roasted red capsicum, tapenade, prosciutto and rocket. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Breakfast is served all day on weekends and the cafe welcomes advance orders by email so you and your friends can get on with the business of catching up when you arrive. It's a perfect arrangement for a large group, and we've tried it a couple of times, ordering plates of creamy scrambled eggs with spelt toast, or the beautiful wooden platters of home-made chocolate-hazelnut spread and toast with strawberries.
But the lunch menu continues to intrigue, so we head out to Barton for a Sunday lunch. Maple and Clove is busy but not crowded when we arrive about 1pm, dropping into a table on a banquette with shelves behind us, filled with magazines, planters and toys for kids.
There are plenty of drinks: fresh juices, coconut water, coffee and fancy teas from an American tea company, Harney and Sons. There are also smoothies ($9) featuring Valrhona chocolate and semi-healthy additions such as dates, walnuts and bananas. For $2 you can pep up your smoothie with extras such as protein powder, acai berry powder, cacao nibs or flaxseed oil. Mix it with soy, dairy or almond milk and sweeten with agave or stevia.
Maple and Clove head chef David Revel. Photo: Rohan Thomson
But the green smoothie ($9) is surely king of them all and will give you a clear conscience all weekend. The ''lite'' version has apple, kiwifruit, celery, cucumber, mint and spinach (there's a hardcore version with kale and more vegetables), and is refreshing and filling all at once, with a summery taste.
The quinoa fried rice ($20) is billed as a healthy take on the usual Chinese dish. It's a generous plateful of quinoa, chicken slices and vegetables tossed together and fragrant with seasoning. There's a scattering of chopped chillies among the verdant greens and the chicken is tender and well cooked. It's bound together with flecks of fried egg. But a downside is that soy sauce dominates the flavours. It's also damp, rather than fluffy, and crisp on the bottom because a lot of ''wet'' vegetables have been used, such as finely chopped bok choy and Chinese cabbage. But it's still miles better than the usual generic white rice, with peas and carrots that once saw the inside of a wok for about three seconds.
My companion's prosciutto tartine ($18) is half a dozen slices of spelt toast topped with cream cheese, capsicum and cured meat. It's very, very well balanced, the prosciutto a gorgeous mix of creaminess and meatiness, deliciously rich and salty. The roasted capsicum is properly sweet, almost glazed, a perfect foil for the meat. A slightly excessive tangle of peppery rocket helps keep everything in check and cuts through the fat.
So far, so good and we're eyeing off the sundae: a confection of organic coconut chocolate and strawberry ice-cream, crumbled vanilla and chocolate macarons and cashew cream ($14). We scoop up the rest of the tartine, I can't finish the heaping serve of quinoa fried rice, and we push the plates to one side and wait for the dessert menu.
And we wait. And wait. It's nearly 2pm. No one comes to clear our plates. No one asks whether we would like dessert. No one asks whether we would like coffees or teas. If anything, the wait staff busy themselves tidying up around us. After about 10 minutes, my partner finally catches someone's eye and gets a promising smile in return. But nothing happens. Eventually a waiter comes over and starts stripping down the tables next to us and putting the chairs up on top of the tables. Someone starts to mop the floor.
In my book, the waiter putting up the chairs right next to you is about as subtle a hint as the nightclub lights coming up at 5am at Mooseheads. This is officially awkward. Can you ask to see the menu again when staff are dismantling the restaurant around you?
So we give up on dessert and head to the counter to pay up. It's about 2.30pm. Perhaps we misread the menu and the opening hours. We ask when the cafe closes and we're told the kitchen closes at 3pm but the cafe stays open until 3.30pm. It looks pretty shut when we leave.
So the quest for the perfect brunch spot continues. There's been fine service and well-executed food from Maple and Clove on our previous brunch excursions and we're more baffled than actively annoyed about the sudden early closure.
We'd probably go back again, just not any time after 1pm. If you've managed to order the sundae, let us know - we'd love to find out what it tastes like.
- 02 6162 0777
- Cuisine - Modern Australian
- Features - Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access, BYO, Family friendly, Gluten-free options
- Chef(s) - David Revel, executive chef Fabien Wagnon
- Owners - Domazet family
- Cards accepted - Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Monday to Wednesday 7am-3pm, Thursday to Friday 7am-5pm, weekends, 7.30am-3.30pm.
- Seats - 60 inside, 30 outside
- Author - Natasha Rudra