The pastry case at the new USU café, Laneway, might as well be a graveyard for trendy food. Rows of cannoli, cronuts, and – sigh – macarons limply remind you that you’re not just eating, but taking part in a cultural dialogue. In this case, however, nobody’s listening. When the USU promised “wholesome, healthy food on campus that doesn’t cost a week’s rent” I was optimistic, until I realised they indexed rental prices from Paul’s.
Analysing stuff like ‘ambience’ is the empty froth on which food critics subsist, and on this vapid count, Laneway succeeds. The couches are nice, and the sparse lighting means I can bring a date here without irrevocably ruining the deal with my grotesque manner of eating. It’s the ‘everything else’ of the eating experience that falters. Take one look at the menu and you realise: eating here constitutes a murder-suicide pact between stomach and wallet.
I ordered a hot chocolate – which was reinterpreted as a lukewarm milk – and, whilst I am sure cocoa was involved somewhere during production, it was, like homeopathy, diluted beyond recognition. My friend ordered a flat white, which was indistinct from regular union coffee and priced the same. Ordering one of Laneway’s study mugs and expecting “freshly ground sustainable coffee” is like opening a video game-shaped Christmas present to find your father’s redundancy notice. The smoked salmon sandwich is offensively flavourless and, at $9, is 2/3rds more expensive than a similar offering from the bottom floor of Manning. Worse, the wafer of salmon and rocket leaf (singular) recalls wartime rationing instead of the gluttonal pleasure Laneway’s branding gestures towards.
Indeed, Laneway doth protest too much in promising “wholesome, healthy food”. One look at the place will tell you they’re all about their desserts. The latest star? Cronuts: a doughnut fried croissant the wankers are obsessed with. Laneway’s cronut – like a communist couple’s inexplicably conservative son – shares nothing with its ancestors. It fails to preserve the flaky airiness of the croissant, while being altogether too soggy to carry the doughnut’s fried crispness. It’s served with a bowl of chocolate sauce, which is consolatory the way bandaids are during an amputation, because the sauce tastes like sawdust and copha.
While the ricotta cannoli is solid, it’s small for $5, and herein lies Laneway’s central problem. How can students afford to eat here? It seems excessive to pay $10.00 for a waffle with avocado and ricotta, and the 15 per cent ACCESS discount does little to redeem the fact that these breakfast combos go up to $12.60. For students on a budget, however, you can always get a bowl of muesli for $8.00. The board directors who ran on platforms promising affordable food should be ashamed, though I wonder if they can afford to eat here…
On leaving, I asked about buying one of the attractive loaves of bread from the shelf. “Display purposes only,” the server replied, before explaining how the loaves had been treated with hairspray for longevity. Typical of Laneway, where food is composed for maximum appeal through a lens, where taste is obviously optional. While the wait staff are kind, and while I’ve heard conflicting reports that some of the food is good, it does little to change my mind. At best, I’d compare eating here to a coin toss, though you’d have to replace ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ with ‘your mother walking in on you masturbating’ and ‘[something else]’.
At the same time, however, I’m reluctant to pass judgment on an outlet in its infancy. I admit, I lied on saying I went in optimistic. Really, I wanted to conceive of Laneway as a paean to corporate evil, the place the USU CEO would plot ways to diminish the student experience while devilishly licking a chocolate spoon. In reality, I felt like Hannah Arendt leaving Nuremberg. Laneway isn’t bad because it’s evil, it’s bad because it’s frightfully middling. I’d warn people not to come here, but I simply don’t care.