Mimi V is the founder and director of Mum's Place, a space for mums to be.
Published October 26th 2012
Not for the impatient, or the disorganised
Everything is pleasing to the eye @ The Grounds of Alexandria. Photo: The Grounds
Oh, The Grounds, how I love thee. Well, I say love, it's actually more like worshipping from afar. It's not that I haven't been there, quite the opposite, I have frequented there many times. It's more that sometimes the idea of the place is better than the reality, at least from a logistical perspective, anyway.
I adore the grounds of The Grounds - that beautifully kept garden is a haven for kids and dogs, and as I have both (one of each), it makes it a great spot for us to be able to hang out as a family. I love the shabby chic/French provincial styling, the attention to detail and the relaxed atmosphere of the place. I love the coffee. I love the fact that they are quite obviously crazily passionate about food, amazing ingredients and top notch coffee. I love the fact that they run gardening classes and monthly produce markets. I love that this funky venue has breathed new life into what was a stagnant corner of Alexandria. These are, I'm sure, all the reasons that people come flocking there from far and wide. However, the list of things I don't love is growing with every visit.
It's all in the details @ The Grounds of Alexandria
The first time we went there, we were unable to order breakfast as they had run out of eggs. A schoolboy error in my opinion, for a place that is a hot destination for brunch. I have to point out that this was during their opening week though, so I chalked it up to teething problems and didn't hold it against the place. This was also before they offered outdoor food options, yet one of the owners kindly made an exception for us (we had aforementioned canine and mini person in tow) and personally delivered our meals for us to have outside. A nice touch that didn't go unnoticed.
We have since visited on a few weekends and during their monthly market, and have vowed that if we ever go on the weekend it will be early in order to avoid the ridiculous crowds. It's just not my idea of fun to queue for upwards of 15 minutes even for just a take away coffee. The other inconvenient thing about the weekends is that the takeaway menu (items that can be consumed in the gardens) is pretty restricted, so it's mostly cakes and breads, as opposed to during the week when you can get salads and sandwiches (these can also be pre-ordered for collection). However, if you want to sit in and eat in the restaurant, you're staring down the barrel of a 40 minute wait (you can only book for groups of 6-12 people). At least.
Coffee making is an artform @ The Grounds of Alexandria
We did once decide to break our 'early at the weekend' rule and venture there on a Sunday for a spot of late (okay, I admit it, very late) lunch. Alas, it wasn't to be. We arrived at 3.25pm and were told that we couldn't order food as the kitchen was closed, even though they are open until 4pm. Our friendly waitress advised us that we could have coffee and a cake or slice, but that was all. Right. We politely declined and left. Oh well, next time maybe.
We made it back again a few weeks later, this time on a Friday morning. We arrived at 11.35am. The restaurant was busy but no bursting at the seams, and we were seated immediately (a table near the back with plenty of room for both highchair and pram). So far so good, we thought, and couldn't believe our luck. We were handed menus and began flicking through them. Mr V quickly noticed that on the top of the breakfasts page it said that breakfast was served until 11.30am. Doh, bang goes our brunch. So we flicked to the lunches, only to see that on the top of that page it said that lunch is served from 12.00 pm. By this time it is 11.40 am. So where does that leave us, in No Man's Land? Yes, actually, that's exactly where we were.
We called over one of the wait staff and asked him about it and he told us (none too politely), that yes, we were correct. No breakfast after 11.30am, no lunch before 12.00pm, and that's just the way it is. When we declined the offer of cakes and breads in lieu of lunch or breakfast, he stalked off leaving us firstly irritated, secondly, not sure if we could actually get a cooked meal. We didn't wait too long before one of the owners came and saw us and reiterated firmly, but a lot more politely than the previous guy, that the kitchen needed the half an hour window to change from breakfast to lunch and could not serve anything in that period. Nuts, in my humble and hungry opinion. He was apologetic and took our lunch order, suggesting that in the meantime we ordered coffees, which we did. Mr V's double espresso came at 11.57, about 30 seconds before our food. My latte never came. The manager also brought us out a little placatory cake for the bub, which she devoured with the gusto of a starving person. Much appreciated.
I ordered the burger, which was delicious. It comes on a board with succulent beef patty served on a soft and slightly sweet brioche bun, and is dripping with a light mustardy dressing. It is accompanied a side of fries, which are actually more of a crispy (twice cooked?) fat chip, that both the toddler and I love and devour enthusiastically. Delicious all of it, and just what I was in the mood for, even though I am not generally a burger person. The serving was generous, but not OTT, and having shared some of the chips with Little Miss V, I am nicely full afterwards. Mr V has the lamb parpadelle, the same dish he ordered on the day that we couldn't have breakfasts due to the lack of eggs, but this time found it slightly less tasty, and the lamb slightly less succulent. Perhaps a feature of the fact that we managed to get food out of the kitchen before 12.00pm? In any case, it was still very tasty, and had he not had it before, he probably wouldn't have had a bad word to say about it. He would have preferred one of their legendary breakfast boards, of course, but we won't dwell on that.
To finish we ordered another round of coffees for the two of us and, a babycino for mini us. The coffee is sublime, it has to be said - almost sublime enough for me to forgive the fact that they tried to charge us for the original latte that never arrived (they were very gracious in correcting the mistake, so no biggie). The little lady loved her "coffee" too.
Patience is a virtue as queues are inevitable @ The Grounds of Alexandria
Well, that was a bit of a whinge fest, but I have to say that overall, we are still big fans of The Grounds, it's just that it comes with a few caveats. If you're prepared to wait for what you want (or come back several times in the hope of getting it), and memorize the list of do's and don'ts (and be organised enough to fit in with them), then you'll be a fan too. If patience is not your strong suit, I'd give it a miss.