Pluses and Minuses of Maple + Clove

by The Editor

Recently, we got cranky about the Kingston Foreshore in comparison to the wonderful goings-on over at New Acton. However, in Canberra, there is more than one single-developer mega-project having an effect on inner-Canberran wining-and-dining.

The Realm precinct in Barton – a part of the Doma Group – offers a number of wonderful options for the gastronomically motivated. One of the most recent offerings is Maple and Clove – a modern take on the café that threatens to annoy us all with a holier-than-thou approach to the dine-out breakfast.

When locating Maple and Clove, one needs to identify the small, grassed area within the soaring concrete blocks that are Realm Hotel and Realm Residences. There, on the southern edge of the green at a slightly elevated level is the café. For parents with younger kiddies, this space could be a god-send, however on the morning we visited, the café was filled largely with urbane inner-South types, many of which were still in their exercise gear.

We opted for a seat outside in order to enjoy our brunch in the warm sun. “Um, you’ll be too hot out here,” we were told. When asking if we might be able to decide that for ourselves, the request was met with an acquiescent shrug of the shoulders. “Sure.” And so we sat.

Soon enough, a lovely leaf Sencha tea (one of four greens on offer) landed beside a more-than-acceptable flat white. The tableware is striking, with matte-black cups and plates featuring glossy glazes. Even the cutlery looks sharp, and not in a “Look out, sourdough!” kind of way. It’s a lovely attention to detail – clearly the owners have not taken the cheapest option available.

Waiting for our mains, a quick examination of the interior is in order. While a quick overview has already been provided, we felt somewhat sorry for the waiting staff constantly venturing between the dark interior and glaringly bright al fresco area (watch out for the trip hazard!).

Still, the fit-out feels elegant with a simple geometry often decorated with simple baskets of herbs or bags of their own coffee. Intriguingly, we spy a hand-written notice of a running group departing the café at 6.15 a few days per week. It’s a clever little idea adding to the healthy feeling of the venue, and no doubt helps build a loyal early morning customer base.

Here are our mains! On the table are the Baked Salmon Fillet ($20.00)
 with zucchini ‘pasta’, rocket salad + basil yoghurt dressing, and the Veggie Taco Bowl ($16.00) 
with guacamole, quinoa, spicy beans, cheese, natural yoghurt and salsa, served with spelt soldiers. We’ve taken the option of additional free-range chicken breast ($5.00) for the taco bowl.

The salmon fillet is perfectly grilled – it falls apart with a mere wave of the fork to reveal the barest hint of orange in its centre. This is a lovely, delicate piece of fish. The zucchini ‘pasta’, is a delight, and the razor thin tendrils play in the oil on the plate. All we feel is lacking is a couple of chat potatoes (organic, of course!) to fill out the dish a little. Otherwise, this is spot on.

If we were pleased with that, though – the taco bowl was about to rock our world. A collection of all the zesty and spicy flavours one might expect from a delicious taco, in an incredibly generous serving along with spectacularly fresh spelt bread. That’s a lot of superlatives for a deconstructed taco, but we feel the praise is worthy. Plus, it’s a taco that feels good for you.

And that’s the clincher here. Despite our worst fears of being ‘guilted’ into ordering a fruit salad – or, God help us, another bircher muesli – the organic/healthy/fresh message is simply built into every dish without overstatement or attitude. On reflection, among the reflections of clattering knives and forks among the concrete towers, Maple + Clove gets a +1 from us.