There’s nothing new about the McCafé.
But a McDonald’s hipster café serving quinoa, single origin coffee and serving it on chopping boards? That’s pretty ground breaking for this fast food giant.
It’s no secret that the traditional McDonald’s format has been losing fans over the years. No matter how many salads and yoghurt cups they introduce, it’s hard to see beyond two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.
They had to do something drastic. And it seems that move was to turn a former McCafé in Sydney’s inner city suburb of Camperdown into a ‘learning lab’ – a testing ground for new dishes and service styles.
I’m not a Macca’s customer (unless it’s 3am, I’m hungry and it’s the only viable option) but this concept instantly piqued my interest. Plus I love the fact they chose Sydney to trial it, no doubt because we punch well above our weight in the hipster stakes.
A Sunday night recce was the perfect opportunity to scope it out; just me, my trusty friend Marty and a handful of harried nurses from the adjacent RPA Hospital.
The McDonald’s branding is so slight that if you blink, you’ll miss it. There’s just a small McCafé logo under the main entry sign and a few references in the menus. Although I think most people would recognise the distinctive light brown tiles in the kitchen (didn’t everyone take a tour of the kitchen during a McDonald’s children’s birthday party at some stage?).
At first glance all the hipster café signs are there; doggy parking, an outdoor herb garden and plenty of ‘super foods’ like quinoa and kale.
There are stations for salad, protein, sweets and coffee, along with a wall of pre-packaged goods that could have been lifted straight out of the UK’s EAT chain. A set of cute, step-by-step illustrations demonstrate how to build your own box from the selection.
I went for a mix of salads including kale, pumpkin and tahini; Lebanese lentil; and roasted eggplant and pearl couscous. To this I added chipotle pulled beef which had been slow-cooked in a smoky barbeque-style sauce. There were half a dozen sauces to choose from to finish it all off and I somehow found myself ordering the Big Mac sauce, despite knowing full well it’s just a reversioning of thousand island dressing.
It all came presented in an aluminium Ikea dish which felt more suited to a camping trip but did the job. And the taste? Pretty great actually. The flavours in each salad were very complimentary, they didn’t go overboard on the dressings and the pulled beef literally pulled it all together. It was $10 very well spent.
One big hipster fail was the complete lack of gluten-free items. I was surprised at this oversight, especially as the café is within sight of the hospital.
That aside, I can see why it has become a new local for nurses, doctors, students and of course hipsters in the area and it’s hard to imagine it was ever a set of big yellow arches. I’ll be very interested to see if any of these dishes are drip-fed into the standard McDonald’s menu in the near future. I’ll definitely look out for that on my next 3am visit.
Good review Alex. This is around the corner from me and I’m intrigued by how it will fair with so many great cafes within 5mins of the area. But your blog has inspired me to give it a chance, and I am also impressed with Macca’s getting healthy. It is a good sign for eating habits of Australians. Also, a trivia note: There was a McDonalds in Newtown about 25yrs ago (where the Kelly’s on King is now), and got shut down due to community action and lack of business.
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I had no idea there was once a Maccas in Newtown, it’s encouraging to hear that the community won that battle. I wonder if this cafe model will replace some of the classic McDonald’s fast food outlets over time?
How interesting. I wonder if the entire concept will catch on? Don’t see this gaining too much ground in The States except in very select markets. The building that they set this one up in certainly complements what they’ve done inside (or perhaps the other way ’round?). You mentioned EAT, but my first thought was Pret a Manger, only (and I can’t believe I’m about to say this) better. Love the idea of their outdoor herb garden. As you mention, it will be interesting to see what trickles down. Though, since I haven’t set foot inside a MacDonald’s in decades, it would have to be the full deal to bring me inside.
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I think this concept would win over a well travelled palate like yours. Who knows, it might be Canada or Asia next!