Uncovering a newly re-polished Hidden Gem in Ultimo!
See, this is the problem of compiling a 100+ restaurant/café must-try list 6 months ago, because by the time you get around to some venues they’ve unfortunately closed down or completely pivoted from their original concepts. In the last month alone I’ve struck-off from our list 2 restaurants because they’ve closed down, and when we showed up to Brainwave Café we didn’t find a Thai fusion café, but we did find a Modern Vegetarian Café. D’oh!
Located down an alley off Harris Street (tripping distance from George St) is Brainwave Café; what initially drew me to the place were Zomato reviews which spoke of funky interiors, and tales of Massaman pulled pork on fries; Green curry hot dogs; or Thai milk tea gelatos.
The shop is still as funky as advertised i.e. the upstairs loft seating area still has the couch in one corner where you can chillax with a cup of coffee while browsing on your phone (courtesy of their free wifi); there is still a bookshelf with a few titles (but more prominently displayed was the collection of polaroid pics of diners of yester-year); there is still a piano keyboard where people can hold an impromptu jam-session (although it was now unplugged and lying on its side); and from the loft you can see right down into the kitchen (seeing all the goings-on as your meal is being constructed).
But it was only when we were seated and studying their menu, did we realise that the entire menu and the concept of the store had changed. As all meal options were now vego (which isn’t a problem as who isn’t looking to eat healthier in 2019), but we were so prepared for fusion burgers and fries with real meat in them!
However we settled on the Chiang Mai BBQ VgPork Burger for me ($15); the Nugget Burger for my wife ($15); and a Blue Avo smoothie to share ($6.50). And when you’re ready to make your orders/payment, just head back down to the service counter.
So as we waited for our food, we started to speculate if Brainwave Café had newly changed hands, and if this new menu was a recent change (as all signs were suggesting that this change was only recent, as they were sprucing Grand opening specials and the physical menu looked pristine with typos corrected by hand); not to mention it was pretty quiet- it was a Saturday lunch time and for the majority of the time we were there, we were the only patrons (however the place still had atmosphere, as their modern-stoner music filled the entire store). But I found out later on, after checking out their website and Facebook page, it seems that only the week before Brainwave had their soft launch, becoming a vego café in the process. So you can either say that we had timed our visit perfectly, or we just lucked out on trying their old menu (which I have to admit seemed more enticing). **Note: In addition to their 5 burgers, they have a creative breakfast menu (served before 11.30am), Thai vego dishes, some Japanese vego bowls, and other plant based dishes to share.
Our smoothie arrived first.
It was really tasty and refreshing. It contained avocado, blueberry jam, honey and milk (you can opt for coconut milk if you’re a vegan), and when you drank through the straw, you got little bits of preserved blueberry from the jam. Yum! But if we had to be critique-y, it was a bit watery for a smoothie and it could have done with some more avocado, considering it was the namesake of the drink?
When our food arrived, the first thing which greeted the senses was the smell of the thick cut fries. Mmmmmmm.
The burgers were served on this thin rough tile (hate to think how many of these they’ll break when cleaning them) and according to the menu my Chiang Mai burger consisted of a House Chiang Mai Chili Relish on Potato Bun, Vg-pork marinade in Hickory smoked BBQ sauce, Crispy Onion Rings, and fresh apple vinaigrette. With Crispy Chips and Chili Mayo on the side.
The burger was pretty tall, so my wife watched on in interest when I made my customary bite-a-bility test, and when I picked it up I was already cringing as the bottom bun was already soggy (sorry, pet hate when it comes to burgers). But I did manage to wrap my teeth around the buns (I had to compress it a bit), and with the first bite the sauces and apple cubes already started to flow out the back. Don’t get me wrong, the burger was tasty, but it was just hard to put your finger on the exact flavour of the burger? As it had the Chiang Mai chilli relish (not much of a chilli hit); the faux-pork was meant to be marinated in a smoked BBQ sauce; and there was meant to be the sourness from the apple vinaigrette. But when it was all incorporated, and you have a cross section of all of it in your mouth, it just became a jumble of flavours? As much as I love fruit in savoury food (as that is what my own weird recipes often become), I think the burger could’ve done with one less flavour/element. For me, I’d probably remove the apple vinaigrette. Probs minus that, and the sauce would be less runny (as it was quite watery for a sauce, so much so that by the end of the meal I had sauce right down to my elbow, using 4 of their serviettes to clean myself up). But the burger was still tasty, and surprisingly filling for a vego bun-stack, methinks it was from the potato bun?
While my wife’s Nugget burger consisted of V-Chicken nugget, tomato, red onion, house chili mayo, and maple yuzu sauce in potato bun, served with crispy chips and chilli mayo sauce on the side. And from all accounts she was pleased, the faux-chicken nugget was quite chicken-like!
And the fries were good, they were thick sliced and seasoned with a dusting of a tasty red powder, and the dipping sauces were tasty as well. Perhaps the kitchen had ESP or we were on the same “Brainwave” as them……oh come on! It was right there, I had to take the proffered joke….. But my wife was just commenting to me that the serving of fries seemed a little small (mind you we were sitting upstairs and nowhere near the kitchen). But 10 minutes later one of the chefs came up to our table, and gave us a complementary bowl of green salad, apologising that they hadn’t prepped enough potatoes that morning, and told us that the salad was to make-up for the lack of chippies. I have to admit, this was the first time this had ever happened to us, so our responses were stunned politeness (that’s when you just keep smiling and nodding, not knowing what to say); but after he left and the surprised wore off, we agreed that it was real nice of them to make that gesture. And my wife loved the salad!
And when we were nearing the end of our meals, one of the crew (from their website I’m thinking it’s Henry, the brains behind all the creations) came up to us, and asked how we found our meals and impressed on us that all meats were faux-meats and created from plant based ingredients; and he was real keen to see us again. Which was a nice touch, as hardly anyone in Australian hospitalities actually asks how you found the meal- so we appreciated that rare human-interaction with the kitchen. In conclusion, I think they have something really good going on, as they managed to serve-up really tasty and creative food (considering no animals were harmed in the process). For non-vegos like us, we walked away satisfied, impressed beyond our initial expectations, and we’d come back (I’m curious to see what faux-fish and faux-prawns taste like. Hehehe).
Our score for Brainwave Café, 4.5 stars from 5. We were seriously tossing up whether or not to score them 5 Stars! And my wife even suggested scoring them 4.7 Stars (but we shouldn’t introduce fractions of stars as that’s a slippery slope to go down). But we reserve 5 stars for absolute perfection, and we think there is still some room for improvement (Henry, get that ‘thinking cap’ back-on!). However the experience was so positive and unexpected that I’m going to label them as a ‘Hidden Gem’ and add them to our register. Their store is definitely hidden away, there’s no chance you’re ever going to chance upon them; their food is really solid; and more people need to know about them! Score break-down: 2.5 stars from 3 for Food; 0.5 from 0.5 for Service; 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere; and 1 from 1 for Value for money.
Brainwave Café- Saturday 19 January (4.5 Stars)
PH: 0404 016 006
94/732 Harris Street, Ultimo NSW (it’s down an alleyway)
Mon-Fri 7am – 7pm
Sat-Sun 8am – 5pm