February 20, 2013 6 Comments
Mon – Sun: 7:30am – 4pm
See our previous review of Pope Joan here.
“Watching The Matrix many years ago has made me acutely aware of the fact that humans multiply aggressively (and that we can also be used for energy!). I believe the specific term used was ‘cancer’, but figures don’t lie. It was projected in 2010 that our population of 20.7 million will increase to 35.5 million in 2056 and 44.7 million by 2101. These figures are alarming and raise serious issues that will need to be faced now and in the years to come. However, there is one first world problem that can’t be avoided – babies. And more specifically, babies at cafes. On one end of the spectrum, some believe that there should be total prohibition, while on the other there are people who have embraced and created food blogs dedicating to finding awesome kid-friendly brunch spots.
Personally, I can see when it can be inappropriate such as when a pusher is blocking the only exit from a restaurant. Overall though, I don’t see the issue. If you’re on baby-minding duties, an escape from the baby fortress would be nice. Hell, it would even be nicer if you could consume great coffee and munch on something delicious. There is one place that is not only decked out to cater for babies and little kiddies, but creates an environment where the adult can feel comfortable while assuming the position of coffee in one hand and baby in the other - Pope Joan.
Since our last visit not much has change in terms of decor and setting. The big change is the opening of The Bishop of Ostia, which has a more enclosed and intimate experience, providing a features wall made up of patterned bricks. Not only are you able to have brunch, but now you can also have a cheeky beverage too.
We had arrived late in the afternoon and with a little luck we were seated within tens minutes with an Allpress Long Black [$3.50]. On this occasion my long black had started strong with a nice fruity overtone. While it was enjoyable at the start with soothing coffee aromas, by the end of it the bitterness did come through.
There hasn’t been any radical changes to the set menu from what I could tell, and nothing had really grabbed me. Lucky for us we were situated smack bang in front of the specials board. I have been perfecting my homemade gnocchi recipe lately, and so when I noticed the Potato gnocchi w tomato, basil sugo + fresh ricotta [$17] I couldn’t resist.
The gnocchi itself was perfectly shaped and sized like little pillows - light and fluffy on the inside but had a fantastic crunchy texture on the surface. The sauce didn’t dominate the dish as it provided the right subtle flavouring of lemon emanating from the zest. Instead of the ricotta being mixed with the gnocchi it was nicely decorated around the plate. When combined with the other elements, it provided greater depth to the meal. The dish didn’t have to try hard to bring multiple flavours together, but the simplicity made it so enjoyable that I didn’t want to put my fork down.
Pope Joan’s ambiance, decor, coffee and excellent standards in delivering various brunch dishes demonstrates that a café can cater for both young ones and their hipster grown-ups. There is no need to sacrifice coffee and food quality, or provide a layout which feels more like a baby minding facility than a café. Pope Joan has yet again hit the mark and no matter the age group, you’re in for a treat.”
“If there’s one thing in life I never really saw the attraction to, it is androgyny. The theme is prominent in this modern world of ours. It’s in the forefront of the fashion industry, with women who tout long scraggy hair, masculine jaw lines and boy-like frames as pin-ups for our generation. Celebrities like Tilda Swinston (The Chronics of Nadia, We Need to Talk About Kevin) emanate the look, blurring the reality between masculinity and femininity. Mr LB and I recently spent our New Years at Falls Festival and while watching a great nostalgic band known as Beach House and spent a good 15 minutes trying to work out whether the lead singer was male or female. Her (yes, her) voice hit the low notes a little too well.
It appears that androgyny is not a new fad and has been around longer than we can even comprehend. The legend of Pope Joan, a medieval leader, was treated rather harshly for lacking feminine features. Her true gender was only disclosed when she gave birth to her son, Bishop of Ostia, in public on horseback (unmarried too)! That sure puts public scenes like Britney Spear’s meltdown into shame.
It has been two years since we have reviewed Pope Joan (wowsers!), and we thought it time to see how she has matured over time, found her feet, and how she’s changed her look. The first thing we noticed upon arriving is that they now have a small car park dedicated to patrons across the road. Handy! The next thing that we noticed was that The Bishop of Ostia, their trendy bar counter-part was also in full swing with beautiful, large open windows that reached from the floor to the ceiling. Quirky stencil art at the entrance added the final Brunswick East touches.
Upon entering the venue we noticed there was also some goodies for sale for the fans. Head chef Matt Wilkinson certainly wasn’t afraid to spruik his goods, with copies of his cookbook “Favourite Vegetables” on sale in store. As we turned the corner we noticed that the Bishop of Ostia was connected to the interior of Pope Joan and had a cute bar-front serving beverages to their brunchers. Great idea!
There was very little wait time for a seat and we perused the menu soaking in the outdoors atmosphere. Like any good cafe that has appreciation for produce in season and ‘keeping it fresh’, the menu had changed and everything looked delicious. It was the specials board, however, that particularly sparked my interest. Asian drunken chicken salad, roasted sweet potato, spring onion, chilli, leafs + nuts [$18] seemed to be calling me, and so my mind was quickly made up and the waitress took my order before I could it.
While I waited for my meal I couldn’t help but be reminded as to how utterly peaceful Pope Joan was. With the sun shining and groups of people giggling over the weeks events, this place is a little of heaven.
When my food came out I was quickly snapped back into reality. Pope Joan mightn’t have had very feminine features but the dishes she threw together smelt and looked like they were made with the expert hands of a well-trained mother. The wafting scent of my salad was just incredible and the scent of the chicken and potato made my mouth water. The plating of this dish was superb. The sweet potato and crushed peanuts created a vibrant atmosphere against the sophisticated yet muted plate, which acted as a canvas for the dish. The sweet potato was perfectly cooked – easy to cut and tender without falling apart on my fork. It was sweet and had a slightly crisp layer of skin that was lightly marinated in some gentle spices.
The drunken chicken was exquisite and maintained a beautifully crispy, salty skin that protected the soft white flesh inside. It was juicy and tender and the crushed nuts just added that perfect peanut flavour to tie in the various green, white and orange elements together. The drunken salad was a dish perfectly inspired and well-executed.
Mother and son have certainly been busy. Like all good leaders, they have taken the bull by its horns and challenged the perceptions of what a cafe can deliver. Pope Joan and The Bishop of Ostia have raised the stakes and, if their competitors aren’t careful, will quickly rule the cafe scene for the Brunswick / Brunswick East territory.”
Final thought: “An excellent ‘unch’ / lunch option”