Via VeronaFebruary 15, 2011
Verona Road. Road to Verona. Whatever. Kew Junction, just above the NAB. I’ve been going to this place for as long as I can remember being alive. Every year in February we’d go with mum to Bob Stewart’s to get school uniforms, and then to Toscano’s for fruit and veg, and we’d ALWAYS have lunch at Via Verona: ham and cheese toastie and ferrero rocher ice-cream. It was daggy, full of middle aged ladies and school kids, and it was fabulous. It had heart.
While I was away, the place underwent a serious renovation: they knocked down the dividing wall, opened the front with floor to ceiling windows, new glass cabinets, wooden shelves in lieu of the menu scribbled on blackboards, new paint-job (dark, modern), new lighting (woven), new tables (dark wood). First things first, let me list my initial observations of the place. There’s now table service, and the waitresses of the old cafe have all been entirely replaced with new people in uniforms (…), there’s a (new?) hot menu, although I only noticed this when the table next to me had calamari arrive. The food? Honestly, as I gazed down into the glass cabinet I found a boring green salad, and about two dozen bread-based sandwiches/bagels/foccacias/baguettes/piadinas but hardly any of them were appetising. The strips of eggplant and zucchini on one looked positively raw. The cakes were good-looking enough, I suppose, but they too appeared sort of boring, sterilized. And my ham and cheese toastie? Replaced by a ham and cheese croissant. Don’t try to tell me it makes no difference, because it does.
The picture is sort of rubbish, wrong angle entirely and you can’t see much, but I stand by my opinion. But this is a food blog, I hear you say. So I will focus on the food, for now. To be perfectly honest, the only thing that really caught my eye because it didn’t look anemic was a baguette with ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce and dijon mustard. It was good, fresh, tasty, filling, the mustard added a good flavour. But the bread wasn’t a crunchy as a real baguette should be, and overall the dish wasn’t amazing, given the outstanding choice of other cafes in the area and neighbouring suburbs.
I also got a latte, which was good, lots of froth (see picture), fine consistency, but overall not up to scratch with Melbourne standards. Not unpleasant in any way, but didn’t blow me away. One thing that really got to me was the price, the latte plus the baguette was just over $16 and I’m sorry, but there’s no way I can justify that. A baguette that costs $13 needs to be a damn fine piece of nosh. Had the baguette and the coffee both been incredible I would have called it steep but put up with it; this I feel is just extremely overpriced.
Now, hours later as I’m writing this, I realise how devastatingly disappointing the change is. Yes, they’ve done a fabulous paint and renovation job, and everything is shiny and lacquered, but the whole point of going to Via Verona for me was exactly because it was Italian, and not in the cool way. Yellow sponge-painted walls, mediocre artwork of tomatoes, friendly waitresses, foccaccia’s stuffed to bursting with chargrilled eggplant and zuccini and capsicum, hearty salads, and home-made cakes that were never perfectly circular.
It was daggy, it was lame, and I loved it. It doesn’t feel Italian (read: doesn’t feel like home) anymore to me. I like the new floor to ceiling windows, and the cool light shades, but the soul has gone, from the food and from the place. All that my lunch there gave me was sustenance, no good feeling inside. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be walking the Via Verona for a while.
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