So, Broadsheet have opened The Broadsheet Restaurant, an 8 week popup on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. Reactions on social media have been as expected, ranging from “OMFG, totes amazeballs” to declarations that the end of the world is nigh. The truth, well as is often the case the truth lies somewhere on the spectrum between these 2 extremes.
The Broadsheet restaurant certainly ticks all of the expected boxes – it’s located in a popup space occupying what used to be a hardware store that is turning into high end apartments in the rapidly gentrifying Fitzroy, everything about the operation is slick, and items like kale and baked eggs can be found on the menu. What then, is The Broadsheet Restaurant all about? Broadsheet state that “From the coffee to the cocktails, the fit-out to the furniture and most importantly, the menu, The Broadsheet Restaurant represents the best of Melbourne”. A bold claim that exhibits much grandeur indeed.
Designed by Therefore Studio, the space utilises materials fitting of a temporary operation, such as unfinished timber boards and uneven table tops and bench seating. The result is a space that is clean and simple, and makes good use of the natural light streaming through the large windows. It’s quite Swedish in its sensibility and an impressive effort given the 10 day turnaround required to put the thing together.
Moving onto the food and drinks, again I shall quote directly from Broadsheet; “Our team of restaurateurs, bartenders and cafe operators have created an experience that combines everything we love about dining in this city: our favourite dishes, our best-loved coffee and most creative drinking.” Indeed, the menu reads like a who’s who of big hitting names in Melbourne’s food scene, with each contributor providing an item for the menu – Estelle Bistro, Five Points Deli, The Town Mouse, Top Paddock, Coda, Huxtable and Tivoli Road Bakery are just a few of the names involved.
Coffee is provided courtesy of Small Batch Roasting Co. The filter blend was light and juicy, with a range of complex flavours coming through. The flat white was also tasty, not particularly complex but smooth and inoffensive. It’s important to note that there’s no option for skim milk, just full cream milk. In fact, there’s no flexibility with the menu at all, but more about that later.
Twice Baked Brioche French Toast ($18.00)
Our first breakfast choice came courtesy to Top Paddock, and was their highly regarded twice baked brioche French toast with fennel poached pears and burnt caramel sorbet. It is every bit as good as the description suggests, with the moist, but not sloppy brioche matching brilliantly with the poached pears and caramel. The sprinkling of rosewater and edible rose leaves adds the finishing touch that really elevates this dish. Texturally and flavour wise, this is a complex, delicious thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, Lauren wasn’t able to try it due to her nut allergy – in fact, she wasn’t able to try a good chunk of the best looking breakfast options due to the presence of nuts. Normally a kitchen is able to accommodate a nut allergy, especially as most of the time it’s just nuts sprinkled on the top that need to be omitted. The food at The Broadsheet Restaurant is prepared by a team of cooks not linked to the contributing restaurants, who have been taught how to make each dish by chefs from the contributing restaurants. Whether its a fear of “screwing up” or a quest for “purity” we were disappointed by this lack of flexibility. We were also disappointed that there were items on the menu, such as the French toast, which made no mention of the fact that they contained nuts.
In this day and age, it’s important to state allergens on a menu. The fact that the menu made an effort to disclose whether or not dishes were gluten free or vegan, but not whether or not they contained nuts was puzzling, especially given that a nut allergy is the only one of 3 mentioned that could result in death. Not a trendy enough allergy perhaps? Most people who have a nut allergy will ask before ordering, as we did, however it’s very easy to forget to ask sometimes, and to rely on the menu – risky stuff.
Toasted Reuben Sandwich ($17.00)
The toasted Reuben sandwich on dark rye with corned brisket, sauerkraut, Swiss and Russian dressing came courtesy of Five Points Deli. I’ve had this one before, and it’s one of my favourite sandwiches in Melbourne. It was Lauren’s first time trying it and she was very impressed. The proportion of ingredients is spot on and the thing is very big – you won’t walk away feeling hungry.
Drinks wise, a selection of cocktails created by Boilermaker House’s Jack Sotti is offered along with 4 classic bottled cocktails from The Everleigh. One thing I found very puzzling given the stated aim of The Broadsheet Restaurant was that with all of the amazing independent craft breweries that Melbourne has, the single tap beer was Stella Artios, described on the menu as (yes I’m serious) “Perfectly poured in nine steps, presented in a chalice”. Thankfully bottles of Sample Pale Ale, Hawker IPA, Hargreaves Hill ESB and Moon Dog American Brown save the beer list. A small, focused selection of red, white and sparkling wines from around Victoria is also on offer.
How well then, has The Broadsheet Restaurant done at meeting its lofty ambitions? For those of you who wanted to hate it I’m sorry to say, but there’s a lot here to like. The space is well designed, the food is great and the service is top notch – friendly, attentive and efficient. The Broadsheet Restaurant’s strength however, is also its weakness. Everything is a bit too “perfect” – the lack of flexibility with the menu, and fact that the kitchen is essentially outsourced makes things feel a bit cold.
In this manner, The Broadsheet Restaurant feels somewhat soulless. It certainly captures one part of what makes dining and drinking in this city so great, but it is only one part – the flashy part, the popular part, the part that people who are part of “the scene” know about. There’s a whole other part of Melbourne’s food and drink scene that’s just as important in making this city great and that’s nowhere to be found. The smaller operations, the undiscovered gems, the restaurants and bars without big marketing budgets, places that don’t have the money to pay for a feature in Broadsheet’s online and paper publications. To truly capture what’s great about this city, and hit the highs demanded by The Broadsheet Restaurant’s lofty goals, the net must be cast wider. Is this even possible to do in one place, over the space of only a few weeks? Perhaps not.
To me, The Broadsheet Restaurant is analogous to a robot. I like robots – they are new, they are shiny, they are “cool” and they do what they are meant to do with precision. A robot however, can never quite take the place of a person, just the way that a machine made piece of furniture can never match that intangible something special that a hand made piece exudes. The former isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but you can’t help but notice that there’s something missing.
The Broadsheet Restaurant is open from Friday, 5 June 2015 to Sunday, 2 August 2015.
The Broadsheet Restaurant
166 Gertrude Street
Mon – Tue: 7:00am to 4:00pm
Wed – Sun: 7:00am to 1:00am