106/108 Chestnut St
Mon-Fri; 7am – 4:30pm
Sat-Sun: 8am – 5pm
Coffee: Seven Seeds
“A.A Gill is a British writer/journalist best known as being a cut throat restaurant critic. For one reason or another, editorial desks have encouraged such writing style without any boundaries. Such loose reign makes him ruthless in the restaurant review game. Admittedly, his writing style is executed with such elegance and pompous; as readers’ -including myself – get wrapped into the lines of his latest controversy foodie tale. However, providing scathing reviews doesn’t necessary educating readers in whether they should attend or not. A negative food review comes down to either being a poor quality experience or expectations not being met in line with the perceived experience.
Coming out on the front foot, I didn’t have a great brunch experience at Denis the Menace. The recently opened industrial styled cafe – located in the tiny suburb of Cremorne – looked like a strong contender in delivering a great Sunday brunch. With the brunch giants of Top Paddock and Pillar of Salt just a short walk away; in my mind I hoped Denis the Menace could have been the cafe to stir something up.
Appreciating the fact that cafes – and restaurants – require sufficient time to nail down their processes to achieve a seamless operation, I am ‘ripping up the script’. This post will be segment into two headings, one being what I liked and the other of what I disliked.
What I really liked
The space and character of Denis the Menace is something special. Looking at the design and build of transforming a once vacant and dilapidated warehouse, the team have created a vibrant and energetic space. There are numerous elements that make this space alluring and attractive; including the indoor mandarin trees, the up-cycle wooden feature wall or the natural sun rays piecing through the PVC roof sheeting – the space is visually impressive.
Denis the Menace has carefully retained its industrial theme, but also adding a playful element with toys and kid art cues that are reminders us of our own childhood era – tasteful, but not in your face. The seating arrangement is well aligned with the overall space with the barista and kitchen in the middle, giving a natural welcoming setting for incoming customers. It’s a safe assumption that I really like this space.
What I really disliked
I like to think I have an acceptable tolerance level when it comes to service. I’m not going to fly off the handle if the waiter doesn’t serve my table within a certain time period; nor will I make a scathing Zomato review if no one knows the single origin offered. But when you having to wave down a waiter to order for coffee AND food, it is a different story. There was also an unusual long wait time for both coffee and food. Food I can understand – being 45 minutes – but coffee taking roughly 1/2 an hour is a concern.
Now, before you write off Denis the Manace, I need to make it clear that it was a Sunday. They may have been short staff and perhaps the kitchen is still learning its process. But fundamentally, my biggest peeve was the standard of food and the service around it.
The menu is expressly divided into two main sections, one being the smaller meals and the other larger. The items on the menu are very progressive and innovative – even the classics have a twist. This is something that Brunch Addict has champion for many years, but it comes with a caveat. It’s all good and well to have a cafe with an exciting menu that has found its own individual feet, it’s another to have the resources and equipment to perform what it promises. Sadly, this is where Denis the Manace falls down. With the large space that it occupies, it’s presumed that the kitchen is large enough and well-equipped to meet such demand.
With what took a long time, my meal arrived, Watashi Wa Denis Japaneses omelette: spanner crab, shichimi, mung bean shoots, alfalfa, shiso, miso sauce, tabiko, fresh herbs and a seawood salad [$19]. Having already finished my long black [$3.80] that was too hot for my liking with a poor head of coffee, I couldn’t help but think that I was a little cheated. Being classed as a ‘big meal’ and with only a few bites I was already half way, I knew I wasn’t going to be satisfied. This dish was trying too hard to be brunch.
There would have been a number of processes to get the dish onto the plate, with the final result being okay. The crab was nice; combining with the alfalfa and other Japanese related ingredients was nice on the palate. It just that this dish isn’t suited for a cafe environment and waiting that long wasn’t worth it.
In contrast, E’s dish looked like a compliant brunch – Something Fishy is going on here – garden pea puree, topped with asparagus, avocado, steamed spinach, crispy red kale and hot smoked trout w/ poached eggs [$17]. And while being oddly plated to one side he was satisfied with the flavour and portion.
A lot can be said about a poorly managed operation. For the food and overall experience created within the beautiful decor I do believe there are some improvements needed.
“As you get older you can’t help to get nostalgic. I’m sure many of our readers are thinking, “What is she on about?! Brunch Addict are young!” Well, true as that may be, as we approach our 30s and kids born in the 90s become more prominent (i.e. now graduates in the workplace) I can’t help but reflect on the things I grew up with; Rugrats, Sailormoon, Police Academy and Dennis the Menace. Those were some (amongst many) fantastic pieces of television. So when Mr LB suggested we try out Cremorne’s new cafe, Denis the Menace (one ‘n’ intentional), I was excited to see how the concept was interpreted.
I was expecting a more literal interpretation of the movie in the venue decor through a sense of playfulness and cheekiness, however, the awareness focused more on sustainability, with plants throughout the space. There were a couple of small references to the movie though, with a giant wooden slingshot in the corner of the venue, toy trucks and a worm farm. Cleverly, there were also “Mr Mo” and “Little Miss Bad” cups used to hold the table condiments, referencing Dennis and his older, grumpier neighbour with his fantastic mo, Mr Wilson.
The menu here is broken into three main sections: small appetite, breakfast or lunch and provides clear guidance on options that are vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, egg free, dairy free, nut free, no added sugar and soy free. What was interesting was how widespread the influence on the menu was – from Mexican quesadillas to Japanese omelettes this menu had a nice balance of old favourites and new twists. Each dish had an array of differing ingredients and there was little re-use between menu items.
We were seated in an indoor courtyard out of the sun with Sonika and E and service was slow. It took almost 30 minutes before someone took our coffee orders and I ordered an Iced Coffee [$5.50] served as an affogato. Again, orders took a long time to come out but it was beautiful, rich and creamy. Perfect for a hot day.
For mains, I ordered the Wild Child, a salad of seared cauliflower and wild rice, with golden raisins, pepitas, mint, parsley, mizuna & pistachio dukkah [$15] + slow roasted lamb [$5]. Sonika ordered the Classic Stuff, Eggs Benedict with ham, tomato and gruyere cheese on sourdough, napped with bearnaise [$17].
As we soaked in the atmosphere, which was calm and relaxed, we couldn’t help but notice how tiny the kitchen was for such a large venue. As we discussed the menu, we realised that with such an array of complex dishes and such a small cooking and preparation space – it was no wonder service was slow here. Eventually our food came out, mine first, Mr LBs last. When his dish came out we all stared at it, until Sonika broke the ice and joked, “I think they forgot half your meal!” Especially for the price.. Yikes.
My dish, on the other hand, was delicious. The cauliflower was thinly sliced and the nut and raisin mix within the wild rice was beautiful. The raisins were juicy and the pepitas brought a beautiful nutty undertone. The added slow roasted lamb was definitely worth it. The meat was juicy, tender and just melted in my mouth.
Having a sample of Sonika’s brunch – Classic Stuff, Eggs Benedict with ham, tomato and gruyere cheese on sourdough, napped with bearnaise [$16] – the bearnaise was simply divine. The ham didn’t look particularly off the hock, but she assured me it was beautiful. The only problem with the dish was an eyelash hair in the sauce; “If I wasn’t so hungry I would send this back”, she said, moving the eyelash off plate, “although, all in all it’s tasty.”
Denis the Menace is an aspiring cafe. All the right elements are there for a great brunch experience, however, some tuning of the menu, service and staff numbers are still required while they perfect their service.”
Final thought: “Some improvements needed, but offers strong promise. Be prepared to wait.”