One of my earliest foodie memories was when I was about five years of age being taken by Mum to the Coles New World (yes, that’s what it used to be called) cafeteria for a treat on the occasional weekend. Along with my two older siblings I remember struggling to try to push my own tray along the runners past cabinets of scones with jam & cream, glistening cakes and coloured jellies topped with fancy aerated cream. Yes, there was savoury food but somehow I only remember the sugary coloured stuff. These were the days when McDonalds was in its first four or five years of starting up in Australia; a place that was a bit fancier than other local family eateries and one we were never taken to. Thanks Mum. I really mean that.
Tap the fast forward button and we see the McDonalds plague has infested the nations towns, cities and arteries and the once popular supermarket cafeteria has packed up or dwindled to virtual nothingness. Whatever we have remaining tends to be frequented by older folk and for research purposes this particular, ahem, middle-aged man that likes to feel nostalgic now and again.
Still going strong for 45 years is the cafeteria at Woolworths on the corner of Park and George in Sydneys commercial heart. Now called Met 2 Cafeteria, it has an airy wrap-around corner dining room up on the third level with lofty views over the QVB and Town Hall. Perfect location for a snazzy wine bar or high-end restaurant but that it aint. The décor may be updated with splashes of bold colour, modern pendants and flat screen tv’s but the overall menu still seems to be caught up in a bit of a time warp, much like No Name Italian Restaurant in East Sydney and a few others about town.
Over the course of several days I became a regular at Met 2 and once again slid my plastic tray along the runners and chose what was on display in the cabinets or off the menu, paid up to the not-so-chirpy woman at the helm, took my change, table number, cutlery, salt & pepper sachets and sat with people twice my age peering into space wondering why the grandkids haven’t called.
Pie with chips and gravy (7.5) is a bit of a fancy classic in a joint like this, made even classier when the person dishing it up tears your hot pie from a cellophane packet and slides it onto the plate next to some hot chips. Breakfast is made easy for us as well because all you have to do is point into the hot cabinet and nominate what pre-cooked eggs, bacon, tomato and buttered toast you desire. Bacon and eggs with a coffee made from a real espresso machine for $8. Now this is a paradise for the budget conscious.
The Scotch fillet special (13.8) seemed to be running every day that I dropped in so it was a no-brainer that I give it a burl. A dizzying array of sauces to choose – pepper, gravy, mushroom or Diane. Gosh, what to have? Of course, something I last had in 1982. Steak Diane! Sided with roasted and boiled veg straight from the bain-marie, my requested medium-rare steak came at medium doneness. A tad over-cooked for me but nothing worth getting my falsies unstuck about.
I ended up having the seafood basket (14) and coffee cake twice, not because they were amazing but because I accidentally deleted the first photos before I transferred them to the computer. Crumbed calamari, prawn cutlet, battered fish and scallops fresh from a freezer packet along with the finest bottled tartare and lemon wedge. Thank god for the three bits of cucumber and tomato on the side for a bit of fresh crunch. All that grease was chased down with a layered coffee and chocolate cream cake (6). Feeling ill, much?
Of all the pasta dishes on the menu I went straight for the classic spaghetti bolognese (11). It’s a tad on the watery side but still flavoursome and much like something you may knock up at home if you weren’t much of a chef. The beef rissoles with veg (11.5) looked pretty impressive in the bain-marie but as soon as I took a knife to one of them I knew something just wasn’t right. The sauce is a combination of savoury and sweet with the discovery of small pieces of tinned pineapple wafting about the runny gravy, and the rissole itself was so arid I got half-way though and just gave up. Eating these will surely test the strength of your denture glue and digestive system.