I have often walked past the empty strip of shops on Pearson Street West Brunswick, with the Grandview Hotel on the corner and a dentists, and wondered when a café would open its doors in this location.
Like many strip shops, the story of their decline is not unique. Their fortunes declined as incomes rose and people’s access to cars increased. People flocked to bigger shopping centres such as Northland in my part of the world, and neighbourhoods lost their local butchers, greengrocers and pharmacies. Now many contain a single, lonely milk bar clinging on for dear life.
So when John Gorilla opened up on this strip back in August I was excited. Cafés opening up in these locations often herald a revival. Other businesses tend to follow, providing a turn-around in their fortunes. And good cafés opening close to Melville Road save us a trip to the Nicholson Street side of Brunswick, as much as we love places east of Sydney Road.
Finding myself at home one weekday last month, I decided to try give this café a try, hoping that early in the week it wouldn’t be as crowded as it looked on the weekends when I had driven by. By all accounts John Gorilla is proving to be a popular café with the locals and it is receiving positive reviews from all the usual places. It has a pedigree – the owner previously ran the popular Mart130 in Middle Park, it’s serving the ‘right’ products – such as Padre coffee, Daylesford & Hepburn Mineral Springs soft drinks, and Pacdon Park pork products, and echoes ever so quaintly the Melbourne street art scene with a mural by Beci Orpin.
The menu features a range of café standards such as porridge, french toast, steak sandwiches, salmon-filled bagels and shredded chicken rolls with aioli. Vegetarians are well catered for at breakfast with a couple of options available for lunch. There was a special of Vietnamese chicken salad on the day I was there. For lunch I ordered the baked salmon fillet served with green beans and rice pilaf and a soy latte.
I was underwhelmed by my lunch, I think mostly because of the lacklustre appearance and taste of what was presented to me as pilaf, which is the reason why I ordered the dish. I expected something a bit more colourful and flavoursome than white rice cooked in stock: Some nuts or dried fruit perhaps? Or maybe a little saffron to liven the dish up? It was not pilaf as I know it. Perhaps living in Brunswick and Coburg has raised my expectations as to what a pilaf can be. And while the steamed greens (which turned out to be beans) and salmon were well cooked, overall the dish just didn’t excite me. It was quite lack lustre. And at $19.50, it didn’t represent value for money.
While service was efficient it wasn’t particularly friendly or welcoming. This, coupled with my underwhelming lunch dish, resulted in a disappointing experience at John Gorilla. The menu didn’t excite me and neither did the fit-out of the cafe. Overall, it all felt rather safe, ‘whitebread’ and contrived. Perhaps this is a style of cafe that worked well with the customers of Mart130, and perhaps it will work well with some of the gentrifying demographic moving into Moreland. This style just isn’t my preference for a cafe when there are others in the area doing more interesting things at a similar price point. I really wanted to like John Gorilla but I didn’t. I’m sure it will continue to do well but it will be a while before I go back.
What I had:
Baked salmon fillet with rice pilaf, steamed greens, remoulade & lemon $19.50
49 Pearson Street