What could be easier than running a cafe, right? You set up shop, you serve coffee and food to people and the rest pretty much takes care of itself. Sadly this just isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not rocket science by any stretch of the imagination, but with the sheer amount of competition within the Perth café scene these days you have to give customers a real reason to choose you over the multitude of other places they could go for a cuppa Joe and some chow. As such I was intrigued when I received a tweet from Dimattina Coffee WA spruiking the opening of Solstice Café on Cambridge St in Wembly last week. According to them it had a great fit out and a focus on “coffee, breakfast and lunch”. It was, I was assured, “going to become a staple”. Well, with such big claims being thrown about then what else could I do but go down and put their assertions to the test.
Arriving at around 11am on a weekday to meet with a friend, I have to say that I agreed with them on the fit out straight away. Open and airy with a good use of a pale blue colour scheme, polished wood, effective exposed brick and strategically placed plants it was everything you’d want from a new suburban café. Also, in an age where hipster chic and ironic kitsch seem to be the dominant forces in café design it was kind of refreshing to see them playing things with a somewhat straighter bat. No vintage bicycles on the wall or household items used as light shades here, just a pleasant and inviting place to sit and enjoy your breakfast or lunch. It seemed the Dimattina tweeps were on the money about the décor at the very least.
I kicked things off with an Earl Grey tea while my friend went for an orange juice. I’m a stickler for loose leaf tea it has to be said, and while it was one of the posh, silky type teabags the sight of the string and tag hanging over the side served as a constant reminder that what I was drinking wasn’t the absolute real deal. The tea was decent though, definitely passable. The OJ was a different story however. Overly pulpy and lacking in taste, they either had something wrong with the juicer or were using seriously sub-par fruit. Overall a mixed start to proceedings.
In addition to the standard café fare of quiches and toasted sandwiches Solstice has a small but interesting “All Day Menu” consisting of various breakfast and lunch type items. Points are awarded here for the serving breakfast all day, because some times you just need Eggs Benedict at 3pm after a night, if you know what I mean. Being as I’ve been trying to eat more healthily of late I was seriously tempted by the sound of the baked ricotta with thyme and garlic mushrooms and balsamic spinach salad ($14.5). However my inner caveman ended up winning out and I ended up ordering the Solstice ‘Manwich’ of 5 hour melting beef, beetroot relish, slaw and wedges ($17.50) while my friend was a little more restrained and opted for the tagine of ham hock and bean cassoulet with poached eggs and crusty bread ($18.50). The cassoulet had hearty beans, nice chunks of ham and a good tomato based sauce but was a bit lacking in the seasoning and herb department. This aside it was an interesting breakfast dish that showed a lot of promise. The Manwich, however, definitely wasn’t lacking in anything. Jammed between two hefty chunks of focaccia and accompanied by a hefty side of potato wedges, the tender beef was loaded with spices and well complimented by the coleslaw and beetroot relish. Relatively simple but well executed, it’s more than enough to satisfy the carnivorous cravings of even the most testosterone-fuelled fella.
So far it was a tick in the fit out and lunch boxes but next up was perhaps the trickiest and, in my view, the most important: the coffee. Even though coffee represents a pretty small fraction of your total spend when you go to a café for lunch, it’s hugely important because it’s a draw card that will bring people through the door and have them spending on other items. With Perth coffee drinkers becoming more educated and discerning with their choice of brew as time goes on I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that the quality of coffee on offer can make or break a new business pretty quickly. As such there was potentially a lot riding on the double shot flat white that I ordered and sat down to wait for with eager anticipation. Sadly, I was to be dissapointed. Murkier than a politicians promise and more bitter than a drunken voicemail left by and ex-boyfriend at 3am, it was not what one would call “good” by any stretch of the imagination. Added to the frustratingly bad coffee was the shock I received when ordering it, a latte and two small squares of gluten free orange and almond cake and being told that the whole lot came to just over $20. Apparently removing gluten from cake is a very expensive process and thus they were $6.50 each, but seeing as there were no prices on anything this nugget of information escaped me until I was just about to hand over my hard-earned. Admittedly the cake was very nice and the staff did feel bad about it and ended up giving me the last slice left for free, but the whole situation could have been avoided if they’d just splashed out on a few price tags.
So, in summing up, I’d say that Solstice has a lot of promise but definitely needs to tighten up in a few areas if it’s going to become the staple that I was assured it would be. I’ll allow them some leeway on the slightly shaky service, the lack of seasoning in the cassoulet and even the absence of prices on their cakes as they’ve only just opened and are still working out the kinks, but sadly there can be no excusing the standard of the coffee. It’s frustrating to see people expend a lot of money and effort opening up a nice venue like Solstice and then not putting on someone who knows what they’re doing behind the coffee machine. It’s oversights like this that can severely affect a new business, and with the highly competitive nature of the café scene today, even prove fatal in the long run. Fingers crossed then that they sort it out and that Solstice has a long and fruitful life providing sustenance and comfort to the good people of Wembley. It certainly has the potential to.