Thursday, January 22, 2009

Three Monkeys Coffee and Tea House

Three Monkeys Coffee and Tea House
58 Mollison St, South Brisbane

We all have places where you walk in and things just feel 'right'. Understandably, everyone has different reasons for liking/disliking certain things. Sometimes, it depends on the day and on your mood. Maybe it's the music, the layout or the shopfront. It could be the staff and service or the store philosophy. You might just like a spot because it's familiar.

This doesn't just apply to places where we eat. I feel uncomfortable going into stores like Supre because of the loud music, messy layout and (generally) young, snobbish staff. The same goes for super posh restaurant or shops; I can't help but feel judged, anxious or intimidated walking in.

Obviously, I've never been one to restrict myself to the same-old cafes or eateries just to stay comfortable. Whenever I 'dine out' at any place that's got a more formal atmosphere, I'm there for the food and experience, not to chill out.

In the past, I always took it for granted that cafes let you use their space for as long as you like, provided you order some food or drink. Then, one time I got a rude shock. I was at Bean Scene Cafe on Hawken Drive in St Lucia studying for exams. I always order enough cake and drinks so that I feel like I'm entitled to be there. In other words, I never just order a bottle of water and sit for 5 hrs (although, in my ideal cafe, this would be fine). I was going through a 'phase' of reading notes at cafes and I had studied at Bean Scene before with no problems.

On this day, however, a very rude waitress plonked my bill on the table before I had even finished my coffee. The way their system works is that it's all table service so the bill is not supposed to come until you ask for it. I am 100% sure she was hinting for me to leave. All the times I'd eaten there in the past, this had never happened. I had noticed one waitress was stern and unfriendly but I had always been served by other waitresses. This time, I guess I wasn't lucky enough and she called the shots.

There are situations where I think that kind of rudeness is at least 'understandable' if still not 'acceptable'. But to answer any of your queries, Bean Scene was EXTREMELY empty that day; I had ordered quite a lot of food there; I wasn't strewn out across 3 tables with my bags and things all over the floor, I only had a few sheets of notes that I was reading through. I understand that some posh cafes have a reputation to uphold and maybe they want to discourage a very obvious student clientele in order to attract more office workers. Even if that was the case, I would still think of kicking customers out as unprofessional and discourteous. For Bean Scene, this excuse is out of the question. They should not kid themselves; they are located 5min walk from the University of Queensland.

After my embarrassing and horrible experience at Bean Scene, I began to take the matter of cafe ambiance more seriously. From the perspective of a cafe owner, I can empathize with the fact that brooders in your cafe can be annoying if you're very busy or you are past closing time (or maybe if they're rude or smell bad). Nonetheless, if a cafe is bold enough to encourage that kind of casual atmosphere where people can stay as long as liked, they are right up there in my books.

McCafe (don't laugh) is one such place. Now that many branches have WiFi too, McCafe has become a definite option for me to study or get a relaxed cafe fix. It is a bit uncool for hanging out with friends though so for a more elegant choice, I have Three Monkeys.

Finally, you see I have gotten to the main story of this post. I had to go through the ranting because it is by comparing Three Monkeys to places like Bean Scene that you can truly appreciate its atmosphere.

I have read other reviews for Three Monkeys online and a repeated comment is that Three Monkeys lets you sit there for as long as you want. I've seen people play chess, chat for hours (all the food they ordered long finished with only empty plates and cuts on the tables), read books and just listen to music. The place is so relaxed.

As soon as you walk in, the style of the cafe surrounds you. It's sort of dark but in a good way: cozy, not creepy. There's pretty much always people in line. If you're unlucky, there's A LOT of people. I've been there on several occasions and on one rainy weeknight, the line was so far out the door that I got discouraged and went elsewhere. That's right. On a RAINY WEEKNIGHT.
Last night, I chose to go to Three Monkeys for dessert after our meal at Bretts Wharf. There was quite a line when we got in but amazingly, still plenty of free seats. Throughout the cafe, there's probably no 2 sets of matching tables and seats (not that I've checked). The seating areas are mostly comprised of private nooks and crannies so that even though the spacing is cramped with quirky artifacts (and other customers), you feel like you're in your own world. I love that. There are tables out the front in the porch and at the back, there's an open-air courtyard space with more tables.
Now that I've carried on for ages about how wonderful the layout and space is, I'm DELIGHTED to tell you that the cakes and drinks are equally as fantastic. I'll spell it out for you: if Bean Scene had the kind of cakes that Three Monkeys did, I may find it hard to boycott them, regardless of how rude I think the waitstaff are.

The best thing about the cakes at Three Monkeys is that there are so many to chose from. If you go to most cafes at 8pm at night, they are either closed or trying to pawn off the measly remains of their display cakes. To this day, I don't know when Three Monkeys closes (I've heard rumors that it's somewhere around 2am) but I do know that when I got there late last night, the cake display was not wanting for variety. There were so many to chose from and because people in the line in front of us were blocking my view, I kept scooting forwards and running back to report to Charlie the labels of cakes that I could see.
"Oh!! They have a citrus passionfruit torte!"
"A banofee pie!"
"Raspberry and chocolate flan!"
Very much a kid-in-candy-store moment. All the cake slices I've eaten at Three Monkeys have been brilliant. If I thought one was better than another, it was due to my own preference for flavors. I've never had anything that tasted stale either (which is not something I can say for a certain Swiss roll at Bean Scene; OK, I'll stop picking on them now).

I'm getting to this point with cakes and desserts that if I go to a restaurant or cafe, I don't want to order things that I think I can make at home. That's not a problem at Three Monkeys because I wouldn't dream of making most of their cakes. You know how sometimes, you can think to yourself about a dish "I wonder how this is done"? The cakes on display are so beautiful that I don't even bother thinking about it.

The price for cakes, slices and biscuits are equal to most other good cafes around. You're looking at $6-7 for a generous piece of cake and $3-$4 for mini slices. I feel as though the drinks are dearer than elsewhere but it's not substantially so. I've never ordered savory food from Three Monkeys so I can't comment there.

Last night, we ordered a white chocolate, raspberry and almond torte, a triple chocolate slice, an affogato and a hot malt drink.

The torte was fabulous. It looked like it would be ear-achingly sweet but it wasn't. The sweetness of the raspberry was nicely countered by a sour quality to the white chocolate.
White chocolate, raspberry and almond torte

This was also the case with the triple chocolate slice. I imagined the body of the slice to be like a caramel slice - all sugar and ooze. I was therefore surprised (pleasantly so) to discover that the white inner layer of our slice was like a cheesecake. As you would expect, the texture was gloriously melt-in-the-mouth.
Triple chocolate slice and hot malt drink
Bubbler in the corner

The affogato was different to those I've had before. Rather than serving the espresso and ice-cream separately to let you combine them yourself, we got 2 balls of ice-cream swimming in a soup of espresso. Charlie had an ice-cream craving so he devoured the balls quite quickly. I'm not expert at judging coffee, especially in espresso form, but I did think the coffee was aromatic and 'good quality' (don't know the appropriate coffee terms to express myself).
Affogato with espresso and vanilla ice-cream

The bitterness of the espresso also helped us to intercept the sweetness of the cakes and allowed us to enjoy the dessert more easily without passing out from sugar overload.

Once again, I'm pleased with my experience at Three Monkeys. Just when I was starting to get over the West End scene (it was boring and scary the previous time I had visited - many stores don't open on Monday), I'm reminded of what I liked about it in the first place. Laid back and quirky. Charlie probably still prefers the Milton/Rosalie cafe district but there's nothing wrong with mixing things up a bit.

Three Monkeys Coffee & Tea House on Urbanspoon

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