McDonald’s disguises itself as a diet cafe
It looks like another Sydney cafe, but under the breadboards and beyond the quinoa is McDonald’s latest incarnation – a test lab
Craving some fries with your pulled pork and Asian coleslaw?
McDonald’s has opened a trendy cafe called The Corner in the Sydney suburb of Camperdown. Described by the fast-food titan as a “laboratory”, it will serve as a test for new menu items which could then start selling in other stores. It is the only one of its kind in Australia.
While the staff are dressed in chambray shirts and dark jeans – a far cry from the usual McDonald’s uniform of high pants in surgical green, it still looks like a McDonald’s trying not to be a McDonald’s. Hipster touches include tiled walls and an herb garden — and food is served on those woefully impractical wooden sandwich boards. What will come next? Green juice in mason jars?
The only obvious McDonald’s branding is a small “McCafe” logo in fine print on the takeout bags. The logo is tiny on the outer panel, which in black letters on a white background proclaims The Corner.
Cold drip coffee (although there was none when I passed by on a Tuesday morning), quinoa salads, and one of 2014’s biggest ingredients, pulled pork, are on the menu.
It might be the only cafe in Sydney’s mid-west not to offer macchiatos – perhaps to get around any Mac squared name – and there’s the poached pear porridge to give you and yours to your college-graded friends, the added thrill of alliteration with your breakfast grains.
The coffee is actually very, very good. I had the cold espresso with milk in it and it was strong, without a hint of burnt bean in the aftertaste. I also bought a prepackaged tomato, bocconcini and pesto salad which tasted good although the pesto tasted like those sold by a supermarket chain.
I was there in the morning before the lunch menu started at 11 a.m. so I brought the breakfast menu items and tiny $4 take-out salads back for my esteemed colleagues to review .
Michael Safi: bacon and egg roll on brioche bread, $6
There’s nothing quite like heading to this little corner cafe for breakfast and a morning coffee. You know the one where the barista knows your name, and the owner of a multi-billion dollar food conglomerate is obscured behind a haze of quinoa-clad workers in chambray shirts.
On the one hand, the last thing Australia’s thriving coffee shop industry needs is McDonald’s going into the market. On the other hand, my egg and bacon roll with spinach and chutney on a brioche bun was pretty tasty. The fried egg was perfectly runny and the bacon crispy and lean. They could have frothed more chutney, and the spinach was lacking in action, but overall no complaints.
What was interesting was the residual McDonald’s that the meal couldn’t shake. Put it alongside 10 other burgers, in a kind of delicious line of crime burgers, and you’d easily choose it as a McDonald’s product. It’s something about the perfectly symmetrical sweet bun with an interior too white to be produced by nature.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was that the roll felt made of real, real food. That nasty feeling you get after laughing at a McDonald’s burger? Non-existent.
Nancy Groves: four cheese toast, $6
Even for someone who eats McDonald’s more often than I should, the four cheese toastie was a disappointment. I couldn’t identify one variety, let alone four – the sourdough bun was an improvement over a sweet hamburger bun I guess, but I don’t go to McDonald’s for a health kick. Even in a brown paper bag.
Give me their basic, tastier and (at $2.45) cheaper cheeseburger any day. Macca’s classic fare is already perfect for food cravings, midnight snacks and hangovers in trendy neighborhoods. He doesn’t need to wear the clothes, too.
Adam Brereton: chorizo and egg roll on brioche bun, $6
After initial failed forays into healthy “meals” – salads and other nonsense – McDonald’s has realized that what punters want is the health and quality fantasy, mediated by fancy lettuce and dusty sourdough buns, not the sour bagged apple terror of the real.
Maccas breakfast did not follow this logic as the chain underwent its own transformation. Contrary to the purpose of the healthy “real choices” daytime range – to advertise ever louder our slobbering appetite for the “false choices” of the usual McDonald’s products – breakfast time is when we are allowed to wallow blithely in our sausage and egg based depravity.
Now McDonald’s has opened The Corner, which is a kind of cafe/restaurant arrangement with table service and fries served in wire baskets. I had a chorizo breakfast burger thing. There were two big round slices of “chorizo” and an egg, on a slimy brioche bun.
It wasn’t bad, but I found myself craving the authentic item: a chewy sausage patty and a circular egg slice on a grainy English muffin. Brioche rolls are definitely not for breakfast; you can’t feel guilty over a brioche bun, only angry.
In its attempts to be more “real” than the McDonald’s breakfast line – one of Western civilization’s greatest inventions – The Corner may well compromise the greasy truth of McDonald’s itself.
Nick Evershed: Egg and Bacon Roll on Brioche Bread, $6
It’s much fancier than what you would normally get at Maccas. Chutney instead of sauce. Brioche instead of the normal white roll. A few baby spinach wedged in as a symbolic nod to health.
But it can’t shake its intrinsic McDonald’s character. Take the bun, for example. Although it’s different from normal burger buns, it’s still very McDonald’s. Soft, fluffy and a bit too moist. Bacon has the same typically undercooked feel you get in Bacon and Egg McMuffins. Even the packaging itself is McDonald’s style, albeit with different branding.
Overall it was pretty tasty, but it’s really just the textures that fall over something you’d get from your local cafe. I’d have crispy bacon on a nice solid crusty bun over that fancy stealth fare from McDonald’s any day.
Brigid Delaney: chorizo and egg roll, $6; prepackaged brown rice and quinoa with fresh vegetable salad, $4
The bun was brioche – but tasted more like a hamburger bun. It was very mild and sweet, with the barbecue-flavored sauce permeating the bread – giving it a moist texture.
The taste of McDonald’s was tempered with fresh arugula and tasty, well-cooked chorizo. It was good – but nothing more special than what you’d find in a sandwich shop or deli.
I can’t remember the last time I had McDonald’s for breakfast and lunch, but the new healthy menu means you can indulge in a double meal without the guilt. I had a small salad which has some of the hottest ingredients of 2014 (quinoa, coconut). There were several large leaves of fresh spinach in the small pot and a good portion of grains, along with grated carrots.
The salad had a refreshing coconut crunch – and tasted legitimately healthy. I love that.
The Corner breakfast brioche. Photography: Nick Evershed for the Guardian.