Saturday, March 05, 2005

Babka, Fitzroy

Excuses, excuses, excuses. Here's a tip for anyone hoping for a good review. If you do something to annoy the customer, don't make excuses. And don't leap to the conclusion that anyone who dares to complain is an inconsiderate dead-beat who wouldn't know good service if they tripped over it. Self-indulgence like this just ruined my breakfast at Babka, 358 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, +61 3 9416 0091. Which is a pity, because the food was great.



I blame the queues. With a steady stream of punters lining up for a table, it must be tempting to think that you're wearing the pants. But this is suburban Fitzroy, not communist Russia. The punters can go elsewhere for their brekky, and if you give them lip, they will. Queues today, gone tomorrow.

Let me explain what happened. We sit down. 5 seconds pass. Chick #1 takes coffee order. 2 minutes pass. Chick #2 tries to take order. Not ready yet. 1 minute passes. Chick #3 tries to take order. Still not ready. 30 seconds pass. Chick #1 comes back to take order. Sorry, still not ready. Another minute passes. Chick #4 arrives. We succumb to the pressure, and order some eggs. We also ask to keep hold of a menu. Big mistake. 30 seconds later, chick #2 is back trying to take order. Sorry, we just ordered. No, you can't take the menu, we're still looking it over. 20 seconds pass. Chick #3 tries to take order and again tries to steal menu. Slightly annoyed, I point out (politely) that we've ordered, we're keeping the menu, and that she's the third person I've explained this to in the past 2 minutes. Well... she says, when we see a menu, we assume there's an order to be taken. Walks off in a huff, muttering "I'm just doing my job".

But why stop there? When my eggs arrive, courtesy of Chick #3, she's gone before I can ask about condiments. Now that I want some service, it's nowhere to be found. 5 minutes pass. Eventually, with some arm-waving, I capture the attention of Chick #3, and ask for some HP. Too precious to deliver the bottle herself, she sends Chick #2 back with a bottle of Worcestershire. I didn't order that, I asked for HP. Oh... don't blame me, I didn't take the order. Hmmm, does that make it my fault?

Despite the best efforts of Chick #3 to ruin Babka's reputation, the food saved it. My poached organic eggs were flawless, the Georgian baked beans were the best I've had (deep red, thick and tasty), and the bacon, mushies and toast all good. The menu also had some unique and tempting offerings. Russian blintzes filled with sweetened cottage cheese and sultanas with a citrus sauce. A special of grilled Scottish kippers on buckwheat pancakes with horseradish cream. Rounded out with a variety of toasts, croissants and pastries, this bakery cafe has a pretty good range, albeit with a few gaps (no wheat-free bread, no eggs benedict, no fresh fruit).

Despite being cramped, Babka has a very cosy feel, and deserves its reputation as a top tier brekky venue. At just over $20 for my eggs and two good coffees (Grinders/Wega) it wasn't cheap, but the beans and eggs will probably lure me back. With a bit of luck, Chick #3 will be gone by then. I live in hope.

14/20 "best beans"

24 Comments:

Blogger marilyn_buck said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

13/4/05 00:54  
Blogger Mer said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/5/05 22:17  
Anonymous Anna said...

Hi Mr. Jamie Wodetzki,
I’ve got just one question to you. Why do people, writing something about Russia or Russians, always use those stupid stereotypes? Your expression about “communist Russia” does not make any sense regarding this café. One reason is that the owner (hostess) has never lived in communist Russia. She was born in Harbin, China, where Russians used to live. They settled there before the revolution and kept the traditions of pre-communist Russia. Besides, she’s already been in Australia for a few decades. So she’s related to communist Russia just as you are to communist Poland. Another reason is that your service problems might occur at any other café in Melbourne which are not Russian at all. But you purposely exaggerated the problem only because that café is Russian.

30/3/06 13:16  
Anonymous Anna said...

Hi Mr. Jamie Wodetzki,
I’ve got just one question to you. Why do people, writing something about Russia or Russians, always use those stupid stereotypes? Your expression about “communist Russia” does not make any sense regarding this café. One reason is that the owner (hostess) has never lived in communist Russia. She was born in Harbin, China, where Russians used to live. They settled there before the revolution and kept the traditions of pre-communist Russia. Besides, she’s already been in Australia for a few decades. So she’s related to communist Russia just as you are to communist Poland. Another reason is that your service problems might occur at any other café in Melbourne which are not Russian at all. But you purposely exaggerated the problem only because that café is Russian…

30/3/06 13:20  
Anonymous Anna said...

Hi Mr. Jamie Wodetzki,
I’ve got just one question to you. Why do people, writing something about Russia or Russians, always use those stupid stereotypes? Your expression about “communist Russia” does not make any sense regarding this café. One reason is that the owner (hostess) has never lived in communist Russia. She was born in Harbin, China, where Russians used to live. They settled there before the revolution and kept the traditions of pre-communist Russia. Besides, she’s already been in Australia for a few decades. So she’s related to communist Russia just as you are to communist Poland. Another reason is that your service problems might occur at any other café in Melbourne which are not Russian at all. But you purposely exaggerated the problem only because that café is Russian…

30/3/06 13:24  
Blogger Jamie Wodetzki said...

Thanks for your comment Anna. Once would have been fine. But I suppose posting the same comment 3 times leaves me in no doubt about how you feel.

The quick answer is that service was crap on the day I was there, so I made a comment about the kind of service you might have got in communist Russia. Rumour has it that service in those days wasn't all that flash.

You are correct. I could have said communist Poland, communist China, North Korea, blah blah blah. Apologies if you think I was unfair to pick on communist Russia.

I just hope the service improves next time I'm there. The food is great.

6/5/06 20:41  
Anonymous Jason said...

You have been very unlucky with the service. I've never heard of that happened and it's certainly never happened to me in the +50 times I've been there.

I used to frequent Babka every second weekend and I have had the service less than really good once, and she was obviously new. In my opinion the service at Babka is far better than most place I have been too, aside from the queue. But you know, you queue for 10 minutes and then you get a great breakfast.

You should really go back with an open mind (maybe not at 11 on Saturday morning!) and I think you'll really enjoy yourself.

12/5/06 00:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been to Babka a couple of times recently and enjoyed the food, coffee and service. There did seem to be one, maybe two, sour looking waiting staff there. Having said that, we were attended quite well and all went smoothly.

16/7/06 10:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gday,

Jamie i was reading your review nodding my head the entire time...i agree!! the service CAN BE shocking!! now, due to being subjected to the lack of hospitality, i myself am unfortunately yet to indulge in Babka's dine-in delights (have taken a croissant away a couple of times) but yes I've heard nothing but constant praise of the food. Just such a shame that this level of praise can not be matched by the service. I shared a very similar experience upon attempting to eat a meal there and after being seated and waiting a solid fifteen mins without so much as eye contact from any of the staff, who were clearly attending to other patrons who had just arrived, we ended up getting up and leaving, still with no acknowledgement...actaully, we did recieve acknowledgement, and that was in the form of a sour, 'don't-give-a-shit' expression from one of the staff members. Now, there ARE a couple of friendly smiles there so i can't knock it totally, but yes, there is a lot of room for improvement. And your review isn't the first time i've heard this of the service at Babka. Conversely, I've had a very good friend mention that she's never experienced any trouble at all...i dunno, but there certainly is inconsistency if this is the case.

Anyway we hopped across to World Wide Wash and indulged in savoury crepes with a sweet crepe to follow and they were incredible, a must try.

That's all.

27/7/06 15:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gday,

Jamie i was reading your review nodding my head the entire time...i agree!! the service CAN BE shocking!! now, due to being subjected to the lack of hospitality, i myself am unfortunately yet to indulge in Babka's dine-in delights (have taken a croissant away a couple of times) but yes I've heard nothing but constant praise of the food. Just such a shame that this level of praise can not be matched by the service. I shared a very similar experience upon attempting to eat a meal there and after being seated and waiting a solid fifteen mins without so much as eye contact from any of the staff, who were clearly attending to other patrons who had just arrived, we ended up getting up and leaving, still with no acknowledgement...actaully, we did recieve acknowledgement, and that was in the form of a sour, 'don't-give-a-shit' expression from one of the staff members. Now, there ARE a couple of friendly smiles there so i can't knock it totally, but yes, there is a lot of room for improvement. And your review isn't the first time i've heard this of the service at Babka. Conversely, I've had a very good friend mention that she's never experienced any trouble at all...i dunno, but there certainly is inconsistency if this is the case.

Anyway we hopped across to World Wide Wash and indulged in savoury crepes with a sweet crepe to follow and they were incredible, a must try.

That's all.

27/7/06 16:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the service used to be much better when the joint first opened. i believe you're right jamie, in that they think they are the bees knees these days. and as u say, lucky the food tastes good. the blintzes are a bit too thick for my tastes, but u can't beat the escargots, shoofly buns ... basically any of the baked goods!

23/10/06 18:32  
Blogger crowtrapper said...

We live out of Melbourne (a long way out) and being country mice we are usually in bed by 8pm, so no eating out at night - but we love to have brunch when in Town. We had heard of Babka often - what a disappointment it was.
I had a hot chocolate (barely tepid) and my companion had a cappuccino (excellent) and a rocket salad - which turned out to be a pile of rocket leaves on a plate. That's all!
And the service was terrible. OK it was crowded - although a weekday - but my companion's complaint about the "rocket salad" was met with a stony face which seemed to say "what did you expect, and anyway we have more customers than we need."
OK then. We won't be back, so that should keep everyone happy...

17/4/07 09:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shame you had such a bad experience coz I loved my breakfast at Babka & would go back in a flash for a repeat experience. :-)

28/4/07 16:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to disappoint you but i'm pretty sure that the eggs at babka aren't organic, i think they are "barn laid"...whatever that means, and as for the service, like, give them a break, y'know waitressing isn't what they really want to do with their lives, its just a part time gig until their acting/art/music careers take off.

30/4/07 21:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, yes, I was surprised when you mentioned that the eggs at Babka were organic. I clearly recall the times that I have visited there have been piles of boxes of barnlaid eggs in the walkway outside of the bathrooms. (Not saying that this is where they are stored, perhaps they had just been delivered!) but they were certainly not organic. Perhaps they have changed? It would be great if they had.

15/5/07 18:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to go to Babka for breakfast weekly about 3 years ago, and thought that both the food and service were fantastic. Since moving to Fitzroy again, everytime i have been back to get bread or breakfast, i have found the staff to be rude, and short with not only myself but others. There are a few of the same staff that were there since i first started going and they still seemed pleasant enough, but not as welcoming as i remember. The waitressess now seem more interested in chatting to each other than serving you. It is a shame, because the staff's lack of service and smugness are the only reasons i have chosen to boycott Babka. The food and bread are awesome, but i have now found other little gems that are more than suffice.

12/2/08 19:28  
Anonymous Not the tri-posting anti-Jamie Anna said...

To start on a positive, I absolutely love the bread and pies (the relish is devine!!)at Babka and so far I've had no real complaints with service, it's perfunctory, but it's a busy place and the waitresses keep their cool!! Now for the bad, I haven't been back for breakfast after ordering the big brekkie and being served good eggs, okay mushies, but 2 miserable shriveled burnt strips of bacon and a very brown avocado!! Also my advice is rock up early for lunch, or like me, on at least 3 occasions, risk the disappointment of half the menu being sold out!! Nevertheless the pies will keep me coming back, but only for takeaway!!

As an aside I've always wondered, why only girl staff??

30/4/08 17:58  
Blogger Elle Darko said...

i used to go quite a bit 2004/2005, then went overseas and went back and was pretty well disappointed when i came back. the lemon tart has completely changed (it went from being one of the best to merely adequate), but the main thing was how bad the service was. I went there when it wasn't busy at all, yet these girls were not attentive at all (it was always rather good 2005ish (when i went). And when you are paying that kind of money, you totallly NEED the service as well as the food. Overall, I was bitterly disappointed by my overall experience, and have not gone back. This is a shame as it was formerly a place I would unhesitatingly go to. Then again, presumably they have more than enough devotees to see them through.

28/6/08 15:13  
Blogger JSB said...

Having lived in post-communist Russia, I can say the comment was entirely valid. Customer-service levels are increasing at light speed in said pinnacle of pleasantness, but they're still abominable.

Reading your story, however, it sounds like you got stroppy with the waitstaff and they got stroppy back. Which to be honest... well no, it's not good service, but it's understandable. Have you worked in a cafe/restaurant? If there's a menu sitting on the table you Do ask if people want to order. And if people have had their meals delivered you tend to leave them alone to eat. Being gone before you barked at her is unfortunate (for you), not bad service. As for another girl bringing out the sauce? - chances are the first girl did have something to do at the time (or 40 things to do), and had quite possibly given up on you as a customer worth looking after. I'm not saying the service was good, but your story makes it sounds like you contributed.

14/5/09 01:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been a few times and recommend the french toast - delicious!

But the service is average and they could do with losing one or two tables. When you have people needing to get out every 15 mins it ruins the enjoyment of the meal.

22/12/09 12:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think calling the waitstaff 'chicks' is pretty inappropriate, regardless of the quality of service they provided.

13/2/10 00:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is russian menu???? It is just crap !!!!!

27/10/12 13:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Chick 1', 'Chick 2', 'Chick 3'?

OK, you found the service sub-standard, but this kind of sexism is inexcusable.

4/5/14 08:38  
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