Australian Cafe Culture: The Sad Truth

Critics say Australia's cafes are noisy and pretentious. DMARGE disagrees.

From smashed avo on toast (with a squeeze of lime) to an expertly roasted piccolo, head to any major city worldwide and you’ll see Australia’s cafe culture is one of our proudest exports.

But recent – scathing – reviews from food critics suggest things might not be as tasty as they seem.


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First among the complaints is Australia’s “shouty” cafe culture. As Rainer Jozeps, a critic and writer for Adelaide’s In Daily publication wrote in January, Australia’s brunch spots may be pretty, but they’re bloody loud.

“Many hospitality houses have become soundwave combat zones: chic, mid-century, turquoise-tiled, bleach-wooded hipster cafes with independently roasted coffee beans, that have become sense-loading, aural battlegrounds where inappropriate and dialled-up house music and counter-top grinding and blending industrial machines, battle for decibel supremacy with louder and louder customers.”

“I don’t want to mention names: the heavens know that investors in new, smartened-up establishments are to be encouraged and supported,” he continued. “But many with great coffee, or magnificent menus, are terrible for the fact that I can no longer hear my thoughts, nor my companions’ voices.”


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And it’s not just noise that’s complained about. In November last year, Alex McClintock penned a piece in The Guardian arguing overseas Aussie cafes are “selling an empty fantasy.”

“Whenever I go to one of these places with their Instagram-friendly look, I’m overcome with a mixture of shame and relief.”

“These outlets have stripped away the very things that make going to a cafe in Australia enjoyable,” Alex wrote. “For starters, the informality we take for granted mixes poorly with North America’s demanding service culture.”

“If you’ve ever tried to seat yourself at an American restaurant and experienced the smiling, barely contained fury of a ‘hostess’ you’ll know exactly what I mean.”


“It’s a lot harder to pretend the barista is your mate when she earns barely enough to keep her head above the poverty line and could be fired at any moment for the most trivial infraction,” Alex points out.

“What’s left? Good coffee and a canvas for Instagram.”

The sad truth about both critics’ complaints is that they are grasping for something to bash – and generalising.

And – at the risk of sounding optimistic – it’s a food critic’s job to be cynical. So don’t take their moans too seriously – unless you visit a particularly poorly designed cafe like the one Rainer Jozeps experienced or a wannabe Aussie attraction in NYC like the one that so irritated Alex McClintock, you should be right.

Not to mention: beyond the US, Aussie cafe culture works pretty damn fine, having seen down-to-earth success everywhere from Bundoran’s FOAM to Barcelona’s Federal.


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Happy avocado munching.