Saturday, 1 November 2014

Cafe 140, Bunbury, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

During the Queen's Birthday weekend, Alissa and I joined a group of friends for a getaway in Dunsborough to celebrate the birthday of our friend Annaliese, as well as personal milestones like the end of Alissa's teaching prac, and my joy at seeing the end of the WA Day to Queen's Birthday public holiday drought. On our way home on the Monday, Alissa, our friend Ben and I decided to stop into Bunbury for lunch. In the past, Alissa and I have always popped into Benesse for our breakfast pit stop on the way Down South, but after walking to see the birds in Anzac Park we decided to have our lunch at Cafe 140, located nearby at the end of the Victoria St main drag.

Bunbury has come a long way from the sleepy city I remember it being as a child, and its connectedness to Perth and international trends is evident in Cafe 140's aesthetics. The cafe's interior was super hip and contemporary, with a large Dia de los Muertoseque mural on the back wall...

... and swings set up as cool (if not entirely comfortable) counter seating. Combined with mason jars, liberal use of organic wood grain and artisanal plates, and you'd be forgiven for mistaking 140 for a hipster cafe in one of Perth's more happening suburbs.

Having already had our caffeine fix during a brief walk around Busselton and with the weather surprisingly humid, we decided on an order of Fresh Drinking Coconuts to quench our thirst. This of course is more of a sourcing job than anything of particular skill for the restaurant to prepare, however we were delighted that they actually had these on the menu as a refreshing drinks option.

Ever the pork fanatic, Alissa ordered the Pork You Burger. Consisting of a patty of lean free range Plantagenet Pork spiced with cumin and fennel seeds, topped with melted cheddar, lettuce, aioli, grilled apple and onion, the burger hit all the right flavour combination buttons for a pork dish, and was easily the best of the three we tried. Being a public holiday, the kitchen had run out of the brioche buns usually used to make these burgers, and though brioche would have been preferable the Turkish bun used was an acceptable substitute. Pork is so rarely seen in burger patty form, and this dish was a classic example of why this situation should be reconsidered. Our only criticisms of this dish would be the stingy amount of lettuce served and the price. I think burger joints sometimes overdo the lettuce, resulting in a mess of leaves falling out of the sides, but Cafe 140 went perhaps a bit too far the way. The asking price of $17.95 also seemed a bit steep even by Perth's expensive burger standards, though I'll concede that I can't speak for the economic realities of running a cafe in a regional area.

Having ordered the Steak Sandwich when he joined us for a meal at the Merrywell in Crown Perth, it was no surprise to find Ben had ordered 140's version of this classic. I'm not so keen on steak sandwiches due to the prevalence of chewy steak, and Ben felt that while well cooked, the steak was a bit chewier than the best he's had. The addition of triple smoked Mt. Barker bacon gifted the dish was a lovely smokiness, while the fried onion was expertly prepared. As with the burger, the single, large leaf of lettuce seemed a little stingy and resulted in a less than perfect balance; missing that nice vegetable crunch. Finally, while the aioli used was tasty enough, I concurred with Ben's feeling that the sandwich could have really done with some additional tangy acidity from a chutney. All in all, an adequate if not incredible Steak Sandwich.

I'm a sucker for squid, so when I saw Chilli Salt Squid served with Fried Rice listed on the menu, I decided to forego getting a Pork You Burger for myself and try the Squid instead. Sadly, I was left a very disappointed. Firstly, the amount of squid served seemed woefully inadequate - especially considering the similar price we paid for generous portion of perfectly cooked squid at TQR in Nedlands just a month before this meal. I joked this was less Squid with Fried Rice, and more Fried Rice with Squid. Still, as a fan of degustations I know quantity isn't everything, however quality was lacking as well. While the spiciness and texture of the squid itself was spot on, the exterior was soggy and the serving temperature tepid. It made me think that the rice was not ready in time for the squid; an error in workflow planning that should have been addressed by cooking up a new batch of squid or - though less ideal - these should have been quickly refried to bring them back up to temperature and crispiness. The 'Thai Infused' Fried Rice served was interesting - it wasn't a traditional fried rice at all, and tasted like a cross between Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak and a pineapple-driven Thai dish. It was a bit weird but it worked well enough, and the grilled Peppered Pineapple on top was a nice sweet and spicy touch. Had the squid been better and more plentiful this might have been a better and more enjoyable dish, instead it was merely okay - and definitely not worth its asking price.

The Verdict: Good
Our meal at Cafe 140 was wildly uneven in quality - ranging from a Pork Burger that was bordering on excellent to the lacklustre Chilli Salt Squid. While fairly standard cafe fare, the menu showed someone in the kitchen had a good sense for flavour combinations, and with better quality control our meal at 140 could have been so much more uniformly impressive than it was. I'm not sure if the issues we encountered were to do with it being the long weekend, however I believe a cafe should put its best foot forward in such situations of higher than usual patronage, as holidays are an excellent time to grow your customer base - especially if you're going to charge a public holiday surcharge. I'd like to try their food again to give them a second chance, but with memories of meals at Benesse being more impressive and of consistent quality I think I know where we will stop over for our next Bunbury meal instead.

Cafe 140 on Urbanspoon