Shop 2 and 3, 257 Given Terrace Paddington, QLD 4064
Seeing the crowds of mostly young women congregated on the footpath, I wondered for a moment if Justin Bieber (who was in town) might have forsaken KFC for something more nutritious. But, it turns out they were just here for lunch.
Apparently the numbers on a recent midweek afternoon at Paleo Cafe at Paddington, Brisbane, aren't unusual. Each time I've driven past since, the place is packed, with a line snaking out the door.
So, in the cafe-wealthy suburb of Paddington, what is the big draw? Unusually, it's probably what it doesn't offer as much as what it does. The name pretty much says it all. If you've not heard about it, the premise of the popular paleo diet is that we need to go back to basics and have a diet closer to those of our palaeolithic ancestors – eschewing grains, legumes, dairy, sugar and processed foods.
Paleos eat a diet of plants and animals. It seems a fair enough premise, provided you get enough calcium.
The Paleo Cafe provides for those who follow the diet. It offers none of the verboten foods, apart from cow's milk for coffee. The menu is also gluten free and provides for the lactose intolerant.
The first Paleo Cafe opened in Cairns in October last year, and I suspect this one will be among a number of franchises. The model is the same – orange chairs in moulded plastic, bright orange walls and sealed concrete floors, right down to the branding and menu.
Unfortunately, when it's packed, as on our visit, the pared back decor makes it quite noisy with sound bouncing all over the hard surfaces.
But sit back, sip on your beetroot, apple and lemon juice and get into the groove – this is the health-food cafe re-imagined for the new millennium.
Don't settle in too much though. While there are menus on the tables, you'll have to order and pay at the counter, which in some ways accounts for the queue. The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch and is ridiculously well priced. There are not too many places in Paddington where you could get a main course of fish or steak for less than $20.
Unless you're consciously looking for it, you don't really notice there are no grains on the menu, which would be at home in a lot of cafes.
Portion sizes are generous but while our coconut and lemongrass poached chicken was tender and unbeatable value, there was no discernible coconut or lemongrass flavours and it suffered from a lack of seasoning. The most flavoursome thing on the plate was the cauliflower rice.
There are three salads which you can supplement with various proteins.
Kale, fig and maple-glazed pecan salad with pomegranate dressing and an optional serve of salmon was good but, as my dining companion said, you can eat only so much kale and there was an awful lot of it.
The sweet potato chips were a little limp, although the rather runny lemon aioli perked them up.
There are no alcoholic drinks, of course, but there's a good range of fresh and bottled juices, smoothies, tea and coffee.
There is also a sweets cabinet, with mainly raw food desserts. But we stood by it for a while in vain as staff buzzed around but in the end had to forgo those.
If I worked in the area, I would be thrilled to have Paleo Cafe within walking distance. It's cheap, healthy and would be a welcome change from the usual. If some of the food is a little bland, it's probably a worthwhile sacrifice.
Menu: Sugar free, grain free, dairy free, generous portions.
Value: Surprisingly well priced.