Queen of Spades review

(Clockwise from top left): lentil walnut beetroot burger; sage roasted pumpkin on toast and shakshuka (baked eggs).
(Clockwise from top left): lentil walnut beetroot burger; sage roasted pumpkin on toast and shakshuka (baked eggs). Photo: Eddie Jim

189 Smith St Fitzroy, VIC 3065

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Opening hours Mon-Wed 8am-4pm, Thu-Fri 8am-late, Sat-Sun 9am-late
Features Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Groups, Events
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Phone 03 9042 5777

The memo landed recently at Good Food HQ. Eating out is no longer a simple transactional experience (you know the drill: need food ... order food … eat food). No, muchachos, in this era of a cafe on every corner, we've moved at a brisk clip into the experiential dining age.

Definitions vary. The experience could be as hollow as the two-hour queue for Saturday brunch. But if you want a fully fledged concept with your cafe, Queen of Spades is a good place to start. Fitzroy's newest and, as far as we know, only board game cafe, it brings a free library of classic rumpus room delights (Scattergories! Trivial Pursuit! Mastermind!) and adds a $5-a-head premium if you want the really ritzy productions like Game of Thrones and Monopoly.

To attempt a demography via games: there's a mum, dad and two kids engrossed in Ticket to Ride; a group of friends (possibly with benefits) playing a suggestive adults-only card game; a fuss of international backpackers opting for the gaming Esperanto of Yahtzee.

Queen of Spades board game cafe and bar.
Queen of Spades board game cafe and bar. Photo: Eddie Jim

The space

In attitude and aesthetics it's very Old Fitzroy; the sort of place hammered together by a bunch of mates over a weekend. It's a place of scuffed wood and utilitarian lines. There's a small courtyard out back and a chesterfield in the window that's a good place to observe the reliable absurdities of Smith Street.

The food

Queen of Spades' strong grasp of Know Thy Customer is evident in a menu that plays a strong suit in the vego and gluten-free game without making a fuss about it. The black bean burger is just a really good burger, sans meat, with toasty strips of pan-fried haloumi sandwiched in brioche with a lick of harissa mayo. Shakshuka eggs are rubbery after spending too long under their lava-hot blanket of chorizo-studded sugo but pesto-slathered Dench toast, buried under caramelised brussels sprouts, mushrooms, prosciutto and poached eggs under a snowdrift of crumbly parmesan is a tasty panoply of the food pyramid.

At night they bust out some bigger moves. Georgian meatballs. Garlic and chilli prawns with chard. The booze list is tight. They'll mix a Moscow Mule to drink with your game of Cold War.

It takes a long time for food to arrive. By which I mean a loooong time. It makes me wonder: are the games meant to dull the pain of waiting? Trying to distract a restive five-year-old with a game of Battleship an hour after the promise of eggs is a bit like watching the German dreadnaught Bismarck bearing down (although on the plus side, the Bismarck was never placated with a flourless chocolate and hazelnut torte from the cake cabinet.)

It's a conspiracy theory that feeds upon the self-justifying, cyclical nature of Queen of Spades. At what other cafe can you experience that? A cafe with a conspiracy theory attached – that's experiential to the max.

Queen of Spades cafe in Fitzroy.

The brew: Cartel beans make a caramel-nutty latte that doesn't make much impact in the personality stakes. A tight booze list of one white wine, one red, a sparkling and rosé, a few cocktails.

Avo index: Strong. Avo toast with olive tapenade, marinated roasted capsicum, kale, labna and zaatar, $16.

Overheard: Backpackers: "Not Connect Four again."

Loving: The infectious board game geekdom.

Not getting: Why it takes so long to cook a burger.

Caffe latte: $3.80

Score: One cup (coffee 6/10, food 3/5, experience 4/5)

How we score: 13-14 = one cup; 15-16 = two cups; 17-20 = three cups