My friends like to have a little dig at my inclination to gravitate towards sweeter the breakfast options than the savoury variety. One friend even commented that I was only allowed to have French toast for breakfast if it was served with Gallic bacon, which seemed like a tall order at the time, until I discovered The Meeting Place Café.
Nestled towards the back of a small arcade off Toorak Road in South Yarra, this café has a distinct European ambience with a row of French bistro-style chairs and tables outside the entrance and a large ornate garden urn. It would be easy to imagine that you had been instantly transported to a village in France, rather than in inner city Melbourne.
Beneath the warmth of the outdoor heaters and market umbrellas, I had a fantastic view of the comings and goings of the arcade in both directions and was treated to an impromptu Thai cooking class from Marion Grasby showing on the TV screen directly in front of me, inside the café.
The coffee is made with roasted beans from Sensory Lab; sweet, creamy and subtle flavours of chocolate in the blend.
The all-day breakfast menu is eclectic with a variety of traditional dishes but with some interesting inclusions. Having found a café that served a style of French toast that met my friend’s brief, I felt that I had license to order the French toast with cinamon poached pears, crispy bacon and maple syrup (sic).
I’m someone who usually cannot tolerate poor spelling. The menu, temporary signage and the blackboard specials at the café have quite a few spelling errors which would normally make me cringe. But with further reflection, the service at The Meeting Place is extremely friendly and attentive with a customer focus, and the chefs appear to be putting their heart and soul in creating delicious food rather than directing their efforts elsewhere, so with that in mind I continued to enjoy the European odyssey and overlook the obvious.
When my French toast arrived, the presentation of the dish was spectacular. Two thick slices of battered bread, wedges of poached pear, fresh strawberries, a rasher of bacon decoratively wrapped around a quenelle of cream, decorated with a fresh sprig of mint and artfully drizzled dollops of maple syrup, and a fine layer of cinnamon dusting over the top.
There were a few unexpected taste elements in the dish, both good and not so good. While the toast was served hot off the grill, the poached pears appeared to come straight from the fridge so the extreme difference in temperature came as a complete surprise when pairing the two together, but only for the first mouthful. The French toast was well cooked and delectable especially when mixed with the maple syrup and cinnamon. The bacon was also delicious, not overly crisp, and went well with the bread and the sweeter options on the plate. I was expecting the cream on top of the French toast to be mascarpone or crème fraiche, which would have been unobtrusive in terms of flavour, but discovered it was actually sour cream. Quelle horreur! Sour cream unfortunately has a distinctive flavour and the taste was overbearing which didn’t pair well with the other sweet and savoury flavours and textures. Aside from this, my breakfast was substantive and enjoyable.
The next time I need a budget-friendly European escape for breakfast, I have my eyes set on the Nutella & banana pancakes with roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custurd (sic).