Bad Dining(?): The Pancake Parlour
by The Editor
There are certain things in life on which you can rely. The sun will rise, your ex- boyfriend/ girlfriend will be a bastard/bitch, and the Pancake Parlour will be open. Such things are inevitable. They are absolutes. Always have been; always will.
While it’s impossible to road test the former two for the greater public, The Canberran decided it best to examine the third. On an unseasonably humid spring day, lunch was taken at the aforementioned downstairs dining institution. Truly this was an act of bravery (or foolishness- your correspondent was unsure). What should one expect of a 27 year old gimmick?
Heading down from the rather untidy bus interchange, the avid diner is presented with a large mirror featuring the feminine image instantly recognisable to anyone who has looked skywards after stumbling out of a club at 5.00am during the Balloon Festival anytime over the last twenty years. There she is, issuing the company slogan (‘Lovely’ – in case you’ve been blind or vegan prior to reading this) while cruelly reflecting your soon-to-be-expanded silhouette. Oh yes, there is definitely a physiological price to be paid for descending these stairs.
The most striking thing about a Tuesday lunch at the Pancake Parlour was the presence of other people. I had honestly expected to eat alone. One solo diner, a bored looking couple and a group of three from a nearby government department constituted the entirety of the customers that day.
Prior to being seated I obediently waited by the ‘Please wait to be seated’ sign, which at this time on this day could only be appreciated by someone with an acute case of agoraphobia. Quickly attended to, I was placed in a booth within visual proximity of all other diners. Admittedly, it was nice to have a sense of community as I embarked on what was surely the eighth deadly sin.
In fitting with the lack of clientele, service was prompt and polite. In fact, I barely had time to peruse what is, to be honest, a fairly confusing menu. Breakfast was almost indistinguishable from any other category of food. I mean, everything has pancakes, so why attempt to categorise any further? All I really needed clarified were the items that came served on a pancake from those that came served in a glass. Simple.
My order was pretty straightforward: The Ham Steak, some Cottage Fries and a half pint of non-alcoholic apple cider. My waiter, upon taking the order, seemed to disappear almost completely, only to occasionally reappear behind the kitchen pass from the waist up like some spectral torso to organise drinks and meals for an unsighted colleague. In the dim light it felt almost spooky.
Soon the food arrived. From reading the menu, the Ham Steak appeared daunting enough. The reality of the meal in front of me bought on a new sense of dread. It had been a long time since I had seen such a confusion of flavours (well, perhaps apart from this), especially at the princely sum of $23.90. I mean, is there anything identifiable on this plate that would get an approving look from your mother?
At this stage it is worth noting the description of the meal, just in case the absolute lack of greenery caused you to pick up on all the elements of the dish:
HAM STEAK Two pancakes with a thick slice of grilled organic ham with a choice of eggs, fresh pineapple or banana…$19.90 With the works…$23.90
(I think the picture tells the story regarding my lack of restraint when presented with those options. Thankfully eggs turned out to be an egg. For those who missed it, look around 10o’clock on the image above)
And the fries… Fries! How are these fries? Surely lightly heated cubes of potato don’t qualify as fries! I mean, where is the crispiness? Where is the shape that could possibly identify them as in fact being fries? The presence of sour cream and chives does not maketh fries.
And the cider? The cider! Please tell me the value in this $4.90 glass of slightly cloudy liquid. I mean, per litre this was almost ten times the price of petrol with the rather obvious difference of not being intoxicating in any way. How was I possibly going to dull my palate as it suffered the onslaught presented via the ham steak and its debauched friends..?
Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe
By this stage you’ve probably assessed my outrage at the whole experience. The six hundred words thus far simply indicate how I wanted to feel.
The truth is this: I loved it.
Firstly, the food was perfect. The pancakes were light and fluffy. The cream whipped to perfection. The ham steak, while excessive, was utterly delicious and the egg was fried without looking burnt and with a perfectly runny yolk. The banana and pineapple? While an unusual combination, they were firm and absolutely oozing with flavour. The individual elements were amazing, and one would do very well not to focus too much on the sum of their parts. This was honest food: Delicious, and presented with the cumulative experience and confidence of almost three decades plying the same trade.
Secondly, and more importantly, was the realisation it had been almost fifteen years since I had ventured into the Pancake Parlour. That visit occurred in happier, simpler times in my life where the appropriate application of vermouth or delicateness of tuna sashimi could not have attracted any of my interest beside a bowl of Neapolitan ice-cream.
While paying the bill, I floated back to an era when it was a highlight to visit this place for a family dinner. Now older, I thought of other adults, suffering through a delicious and indulgent heart-attack-on-a-plate only to observe the delight in the eyes of the young. That is what the Pancake Parlour is about.
Settling my account and collecting my receipt I noticed behind the counter numerous board games suitable for ages 8 to 80. Behind me was a crazy mirror, cursing my body in a way not even the passing of years could imagine. With a belly filled with every fried food conceivable I looked across the expanse of the Pancake Parlour and attempted to separate all the ghosts of memories passed. Failing through the fog of memory, all I could do was attempt to climb the stairs.
Back in the Interchange I felt older and more tired than I had in half an age. Sure, it probably had a lot to do with the Ham Steak, but in my mind it was the realisation my inner child was still back down there, down at the bottom of the stairs, trying desperately for one more game of Connect-Four.
I beseech you. I really do. Grab a few friends, whether your age or not, and head on down for a stack of pancakes and a cider.
Mark my words: it’s Lovely.