I debated whether to write this one up or not. It was a weekend that kicked off with a sleep in, and then I slowly ventured out looking for somewhere new to eat. When I see the word café I generally think ‘made to order’ meals, in a relaxed ambiance, table service of some sort, and usually having the meal washed down with a lovely sharp robust coffee… A picture more or less like that danced in my mind as I approached the Busy Bee Café in Bakewell recently.
The Busy Bee Café is situated at – not within – the Woolworths complex at Bakewell. It is one of those little treats on the other side of the carpark which appear to somehow be part of the complex, but not. Tucked away on the corner of the lot, it is fortunately visible by its creative and colourful signage. The dark tint windows prevents you forming an initial opinion about what’s inside until you get the door open. And my oh my – what a curious place this turns out to be.
The first thing I found myself asking when walking inside was ‘Is it a café… or is it a take away?’ There are very strong elements of both. A bain-marie counter with prepared meals alongside hot and cold loose elements, an ordering counter which doubles as a food preparation area, an espresso coffee machine stacked with paper cups, a toilet entrance facing into the dining area, and further beyond a large kitchen galley. The tables are generous sized but simple uncluttered takeaway tables accompanied by a wall mounted breakfast bar, all paired with bright yellow Tolex style metal chairs and stools. I want to be happy with the ‘Café’ moniker, but it is also quintessentially a takeaway as well.
The next thing that hit me was the playful, colourful interior design. This, I guess, is something I have been trained to look for, appreciate and analyse, ever since my cabinetmaking / interior designer days in a former life. And this is not your usual interior design. There are visual cues of being literally within a bee hive all through the interior space. From the dozens of natural timber hexagon floating wall shelves of various depths cascading down a side wall, matched by burnt orange hexagon ceramic tiles used for wet area splashbacks, to the wall signs gradating colour wise from yellow to orange, the use of a stylish bee logo everywhere, and the natural timber panelling, the interior is visually spot-on.
But noisy; this is not a café to relax and unwind in. The ceiling must 3.6m high, and characteristically of modern café fit outs, all surfaces are hard, shiny, and easy to clean. Perfect for bouncing the smallest sound around and around – as if in an echo chamber. The noise from the radio in the kitchen blared out into the seating area and danced around the walls without finding a dampening surface anywhere. The faux polished concrete vinyl floor looked fantastic, but added to the problem, as did the full glass frontage. The electric knife used by the staff to cut up left over roasts into takeaway boxes may as well have been 45cc chainsaw. All attempts to communicate with my Beloved across the table was futile.
The staff were pleasant enough. Perhaps the café name perfectly illustrates their staff work ethic; busily darting here and there through the seating area and order counter – making meals, collecting payment, preparing packed meals with very little interaction with diners other than to promptly take the order, serving the meal and drinks to the tables, and to return to the centre of the hive to greet other diners.
I had mixed feelings about the meal. We ordered a pumpkin and sweet potato flan with a salad. The salad was tasty and fresh, if not basic. Not a chopped or mixed salad, but undressed salad elements freshly cut and simply placed individually on a plastic BBQ plate, along with the flan sitting to one side with little flair or flourish. Had the flan been fresh from the oven it would have been awesome. You could see that this flan had been designed to impress, however I think that it had been sitting in the bain-marie counter for a little too long, and reheated too quickly to be satisfying. The pastry showed promise, as did the taste of the pumpkin and sweet potato filling, around the outer edges. Sadly though the centre of the flan and pastry was lukewarm, soft and steamy.
The coffee – reinforcing the takeaway image – was brought out in a takeaway cup, sans lid. I had ordered a small coffee, and paid for and received what would have been anywhere else a medium sized skinny flat white. There were no smaller cups anywhere to be seen though. I couldn’t fault the coffee. It wasn’t the greatest I’ve had, but it certainly wasn’t a bad coffee. Mellow and smooth, the taste still cut through without being lost in the milk.
And yet on the other hand, there was a menu of made to order items – all fairly typical of a typical café menu. The menu is largely an egg-dish driven menu, with prices on par with most other café meals around the suburbs.
So, at the end of the day, is it a takeaway, or is it a café?
Trust me, this place wants to be a café. It is trying hard to be a café. Even the menu says ‘me too’. And I truly appreciate the thought and effort that has gone into separating the interior design from every other non-franchised food joint and giving it a unique appeal. But try as hard as it does, the Busy Bee Café resembles a suburban takeaway in spirit: located in the perfect place to cater for the drive past / tradie / after game quick meals with speedy service to match.
With just a little extra effort the Busy Bee Café could be just that.