The Realm has now closed and its place has been taken by vegan cafe The Banana Lounge. The Realm lasted just a year, about the same as the restaurants that preceded it at this location. Let's hope The Banana Lounge has more luck.
Opening in late 2011, The Realm Espresso Cafe has taken up residence at 170 Boundary Street, just up from West End's main shopping area and just down from West End Library (if you're looking for a landmark).
It's in a funny building that's proved a difficult spot for the two previous occupants. A 1970s (?) brick office-building, it's set back from the street and a little hard to find. Consequently, it doesn't seem to attract a lot of passing trade. A boutique that filled the spot about five years ago didn't survive long. And the last tenant -- the wonderfully named Ecky Thump Cafe* -- seemed to struggle for the couple of years that it was there.
All of which is a shame, because the ground-floor area now occupied by The Realm is actually a really nice place to eat: shaded, quiet, and just far enough from the madding crowd to give local workers or visitors a peaceful break. You can sit inside, in a charming space with large tables and polished floors, or in the roomy outside area.
I headed along for my own peaceful break last week, keen to try The Realm's lunch menu and see how they were going a couple of months after opening.
Run by a lovely Italian couple, the cafe has a mediterranean-inspired menu that seems to offer most of its items all day, from 7am to 3.30pm when The Realm closes. Light breakfast dishes start from $3.50 for sourdough toast with vegemite or jam, and include raisin toast ($4), organic banana bread ($5) and avo on turkish with feta ($7.50).
More substantial morning fare includes sourdough, poached eggs and bacon for $9.50, and a vego version of the same dish (with smashed peas and tomato salsa instead of bacon) for the same price.
More lunch-ish options range from organic turkish sandwiches for $8.50 (choose from tuna, chicken, or ham) to haloumi or falafel wraps ($8), and hummus plates (around $12), which serve up pita bread with salad, hummus, yoghurt and your choice of falafel, mushrooms, meatballs or haloumi.
I chose the mushroom hummus plate, and an unusual softdrink from the fridge, a sugar-free lemon-myrtle drink by Wort Organic. While I was sipping what turned out to be a very refreshing drop and waiting for my food, fate smiled upon me. A friend of mine who works around the corner turned up for his lunch-break, and suddenly I had good company.
He ordered a haloumi wrap and a coffee, which turned up within 10 minutes, as did my hummus plate. The service was friendly and attentive, and our hosts checked that we had plenty of water on what was a pretty steamy day.
My hummus plate was fresh, generous and enjoyable, though I would have liked it to have more oomph in the flavour department. The mushrooms were described on the menu as 'spiced', but I couldn't detect any discernible spiciness. The hummus was also very mild, without the garlicky punch I expect from this middle-eastern staple. Still, my meal was healthy, filling and freshly prepared, all of which goes in the plus column.
More positives came from my friend, who is a regular diner at The Realm. He said that he's enjoyed all the dishes that he's tried, and that the coffee (starting from $3) is consistently very good. He also commented on the lovely and personal service from the proprietors. Indeed, there were quite a few other diners there when we visited, and everybody was made to feel very welcome and well-cared for.
As I paid, I checked out some yummy-looking home-made Italian pastries on the counter. They tempted me greatly, but I was full from my generous first course. I intend to go back for morning tea one day, and give them a try.
I also hope plenty of other West Enders and visitors make the effort to walk two minutes up from the main drag to try The Realm. It has charming hosts, a nice location, good coffee, and an affordable menu, with some interesting dishes. It would be nice to see it succeed where others have failed, and draw plenty of custom into the space at 170 Boundary Street.
* Ecky Thump: the mysterious Lancastrian martial art introduced to the world by The Goodies. If you do not know its wonders, Google it, grasshopper.