Name: Cream Café and Bar
Address: Canberra Centre Shop FG10/ Bunda St, Canberra, 2600
Ph: 02 6162 1448
Hours: Monday – Friday: 7.30am – late. Saturday: 8am – late. Sunday: 8am – 4pm.
Cream, get on top.
Cream, you will cop.
Cream, don’t you stop.
Cream, sh-boogie bop.
These somewhat nonsensical lyrics from Prince’s nonetheless deeply sexy 1991 hit may seem out of place in a restaurant review, but there is logic to it past the obvious similarities in name. Because Cream, viewed through the large windows on the corner of the Canberra Centre, often seems like a music video as much as it does a restaurant.
This bright, clean room is populated by wait staff who echo the sleek, sexy lines of the décor. Lithe women in impossibly tight jeans and tussle-haired men in low-cut t-shirts flit between the oddly arranged tables with surprising speed an efficiency, overshadowing even the hordes of micro-skirted club hoppers that invade the place on the weekends to perch at communal tables and drink and nibble.
The room itself is beautiful, particularly the lighting, with a rose-like patterned light set into the roof, and a row of shaded globes hanging low over the pass (though I’m not if the lamps on booms facing the wall are quite what I would have gone for). There is a clean, sharp marble and tile bar in the middle of the room, although it misses its purpose, as it is too wide for the room, and too low for sitting at the bar.
It might feel that I am spending a lot of time talking about the appearance of the place, and being too superficial. But Cream is a bit of a superficial place. Yes, it is beautiful, but there’s not too much behind it. If it was a pop music video, it’d be more like a Katy Perry song. Sexy, but only in a surface way, without the undercurrent of eroticism that comes from Prince’s music. It also lacks that extra level of talent.
While everything looked great, the food was sometimes a matter of concept over taste. Take the dish Yuk Sung, their take on san choi bao. Have you ever eaten san choi bao and thought to yourself, “Hey, I wonder how this would go with a floppy piece of cos lettuce instead of iceberg?” No? Neither had I, and there’s a good reason for that. It doesn’t work. Trying to wrap large piles of minced chicken in a limp square of greenery caused a mess, leading eaters to revert to their cutlery, which misses the point somewhat.
Flavour wise, an overwhelming experience of hoi sin sauce made the whole thing very one note. Even when you did get the bite of pine nuts, it didn’t quite gel. A topping of crispy noodles was redundant, adding no flavour and being less textually interesting that the bean shoots.
For main course I decided to prepare myself for an upcoming visit to New Orleans by having jambalaya. I would question the validity, however, as I doubt that the traditional version has such an abundance of spring onion, and I could find no trace of the Creole Trinity of onion, celery, and green capsicum. It was a bland dish, made more disappointing by some mussels that didn’t seem to have opened. I’m expecting better when I hit the Big Easy.
A side of shoestring fries delivered what it was meant to, being thin, crunchy, and tasting of potato rather than oil. With it came an aioli that managed the balance between you being able to taste garlic, but not having the hottie you pick up at the club later tasting it too. That said, I should mention that this only counts as a side if you happen to be a family of eight, as the serving was enormous.
Dessert was a chai panna cotta, with a pleasingly tottering wobble and a taste of smooth cinnamon and clove. Sadly it was overpowered by the sharp sweetness of a citrus salad beside it, and could have been improved by something less astringent.
Here’s the thing about Cream. I don’t love it. But that’s ok, because it’s clearly not for me, or probably for many of my regular blog readers. This is not a foodie joint, a place to marvel over and savour what has been served.
Instead, it’s for people who wants to meet their friends and have some food and drinks, and don’t really care if the food is too good, as long as it isn’t too bad. These are people who don’t want the food to be so remarkable that it might stop their conversation.
This is a place that explicitly caters for hot young things wanting a meal to start their night before heading to Academy. It’s a place to see, be seen, and perve at the staff. And yes, the food is not particularly challenging, but (aside from the mussels), nothing was actually bad. You’re not going to love it, but you probably won’t hate it either. In fact, you’re probably going to struggle to remember it the next day.
There are a lot of things to like about Cream. It’s just that the food isn’t one of them. And that’s fine.
Having Katy Perry out there, with all the fans who love her, doesn’t stop me from listening to and enjoying Prince. The people who want Cream can keep it. I’ll stick to a quick glance at the beautiful people through the window on my way to somewhere much more interesting.