Monday, March 14, 2011

A Biased Review by Poppet...

Coffee Darling: A Home away from Home

Disclaimer: I worked at Coffee Darling for nearly five years. This is a completely biased review.

Note: the owners have since sold Coffee Darling. You will now find Bill and Faye hanging around their son's new restaurant, Hawthorn Common, in Burwood Road. 

Address: 2 Darling St, South Yarra.

Phone: (03) 9867 2488

Opening hours: 7 days, 6.15 am - 5.30ish pm

“Coffee, Darling?”

Faye’s signature call rings through the bright and airy South Yarra café, travelling from the frosted white birds on the window to the decorative sliding black panels of ‘the cage.’ Eager to serve, she begins to improvise a personalised song, bubbling compliments as she invents her tune. It’s just another day at Darling.

“How are you Faye?” The business person/bike rider/shop owner/designer /mother/student/local replies from red-flushed cheeks.

“All the better for seeing you, little love,” she gushes.

Faye fusses over everybody equally; although some days she admits that boys are her favourite. She believes in the magic of family and friends, and with the atmosphere she creates at Coffee Darling, the customers feel as if they have fallen into a fairytale.

After almost seven years working full time at the café, her contagious energy rivals even her international sports star customers. By her side and constantly renewing her liveliness with a short macchiato is her husband, Bill. Few couples complement each other as perfectly, a classic example of Yin and Yang. But call either of them ‘boss’ and Faye will threaten to “smack your chops” and will probably follow through.

In a city famous for its café culture, where the streets heave with coffee shops and “that new breakfast place” opens every weekend, what makes Darling different? Why do the customers return time after time, even if they move to a different suburb, state or country? Coffee Darling does not try to be the ‘it’ place. Instead, Coffee Darling keeps it real.

They will not charge you $16 for a lukewarm piece of toast, smothered in an unrecognisable green substance that has commonly become known as avocado and fetta ‘mash.’ Nor will they only attend to you if you are hipster locals. They would not dream of selling you an orange juice for $7 or overwhelm you with an over-the-top apple-coconut-banana-kiwi-raspberry smoothie. Darling would never make lunch with yesterday’s ciabatta or allow your teeth to touch Coca-Cola. They will not even print out a bill unless requested. Keeping it simple is their forté.

If you are hungry you will be served perfectly poached white spheres atop the freshest layers of ham, cheese and tomato on thickly cut toasties. A fresh orange juice will be squeezed before your eyes or you can try their pink grapefruit granita, exclusive to Darling. Their baguettes, ciabattas, and wholegrain and rye sandwiches are specially designed to tease every tastebud, and sit inside possibly the most attractive and tempting glass display cabinet in Melbourne. Regulars also anticipate their sweet bircher muesli, homemade soups and famous tuna-rice salads as fervently as they do the latest iPhone. Once you have satisfied your hunger and have been served a generous side of sociality, Faye and Bill use an honesty system when you pay, demonstrating Darling’s utter faith in their customers by trusting them to recite their bill.

But when paying up at the counter you will spy the sweets. Oh the sweets! Basically all are homemade and cannot be found elsewhere. It is necessary to get in quickly before they are eaten by the staff or given away to Faye’s favourites. The most popular are the macarons, which are not garishly coloured hot pink and bright green but instead are naturally delicious. Soft and crunchy at the same time, they come in vanilla bean, salted caramel, chocolate, espresso, choc-orange and more. But it is difficult to choose between them and the soft fairy cupcakes; vanilla with flower-pink icing, dark chocolate crowned with an edible silver ball, or flavoursome passionfruit made with real pulp. Or for a fairytale touch, try one of the magic meringue mushrooms, which are regularly confused for the real thing.

And of course, there is the Genovese Coffee. Even members of the Genovese family come to Darling to get their caffeine fix. Bill can have your coffee ready before you sit down and will even make the half-skinny-milk-half-whole-milk-decaf-cappuccino-in-a-mug-with-no-chocolate you order when anyone else would look at you like you had just asked him or her for cocaine. “Bill/Sam/Rich knows how I like it” is usually how one orders, and they are always right.

Coffee Darling strives and succeeds to be a second home for its customers, while Faye and Bill are surrogate parents for them all. The café is a familiar and old friend to many, epitomising the kindness of human nature. Darling is also home and family for loyal staff, who can be seen sporting water pistols on hot days, swinging children around playfully and kissing customers hello. Sometimes they hang around for hours after they finish up for the day, and they are guaranteed to pop in on their days off.

But Darling wouldn’t have that touch of magic without Faye. She has seen babies come into the world and grow into mirror images of their parents; she has been a matchmaker and attended her regulars’ weddings; she has counselled customers through divorce, disaster and disease; but most of all she has made lifelong friends. Faye has the compassionate ability, incomparable to anyone else, to always be there.

Coffee Darling makes you feel special because both Faye and Bill are wholly empathetic people-lovers. They adore everyone who walks past their daily chalkboard quote and in through their front door. When you combine this with unmatchable service, genuine care and permanent smiles, the Darling family have discovered the perfect recipe for success, but it is Faye who is the secret ingredient.

After all… what is coffee without good company, darling?

*Happy Birthday Faye – for everything you have taught me that I will keep forever.

Coffee Darling on Urbanspoon

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