Dining has always involved an element of spectacle. Sure, it’s easy to criticise the way Instagram has colonised the café scene, but it’s easy to forget that Renaissance chefs once prepared pies that encased flying blackbirds. Social media might spark copycat food trends but it’s also shaped this generation’s version of food-as-theatre — whether we like it or not.
Brendan House isn’t new to this concept. House is the general manager of Hash Specialty Coffee — yes, inspired by a #hashtag — the Melbourne CBD café that’s just opened an offshoot in Camberwell. It’s also the creator of the Hash hot chocolate, a concoction that itself resembles a cross between a childhood fantasy and Renaissance science experiment. Understandably, the drink, which involves a beaker filled with thick, Mörk dark chocolate and a mountain of house-made fairy floss, became an instant Insta sensation.
“Camberwell has a really vibrant café scene and we wanted to bring a Melbourne city-style café into the suburbs — we’re a speciality coffee house so we wanted to show people that you don’t just have to order a latte, you can enjoy everything from cold drip to filter coffee to pour-overs,” he tells SBS. “But although we’re a speciality coffee house, we didn’t want to alienate people that don’t drink coffee so we wanted to put a drink on the menu that was very interactive and visually interesting. We were [conscious of] hashtag culture and social media from the start and we always wanted to embrace it.”
Launching a successful contemporary café calls for careful deliberation over the menu, atmosphere, interiors. But it can also mean calibrating dishes that inspire patrons to reach for their smartphones, documenting the experience within Instagram’s square pane.
“Usually, there’s a sense of awe when they see the fairy floss come out,” House explains. “We make it with 80 per cent dark chocolate and spin the fairy floss in-house the day before. Once you pour the hot chocolate over the fairy floss, it melts as soon as it touches it and sometimes it falls over and makes a mess, which is okay! It’s so rich and decadent; it’s more like Mexican hot chocolate, which is rich and creamy. It’s really more like drinking actual chocolate, which is really cool.”
House says that this focus on the visual extends to the menu. “In Camberwell, we have the Appork — a Victorian Berkshire pork loin that’s been organically fed and the other crowd-pleaser is the cheese and bacon croissant, which is very visually appealing and straddles that boundary between sweet and savoury,” he says. “But it’s not just about making dishes look pretty, it’s also about following through with the taste and making sure it’s something that customers want to come back for, not just share on Instagram once.”
Hash Speciality Coffee Camberwell is open Mon- Fri 7:30am to 5pm, Sat 8am - 5pm and Sun 7am - 5pm.
564 Burke Rd Camberwell, VIC