No need to cover the concept again, I would just add that the building was donated to the mission by a wealthy parishioner. So for anyone wondering how on earth they stay afloat with this concept, it's because they are there free of charge. Absolutely brilliant views, and even some outside tables, mean you can eat posh for little price (example: cafe opposite charges about $5 for standard coffee).
We reserved a table during the day and upon arrival, it became clear that it didn't really matter because the general setup is massive trestle tables where you all sit communally. There are some small tables for 4 etc but they were taken when we got there - I have to say that having made a reservation for three, it would have been a nice touch for one of those tables to be reserved. Having made a reservation, it didn't really matter because they told us to just sit wherever we wanted - on a massive trestle table and one nearby the door. We could have just rocked up.
To the food - it's buffet style so you line up, get a thali-type tray with a piece of bread, and you work through the buffet and fill it up to your heart's content. It's all vegetarian, and when we went there were four choices. Was a bit surprised by this. Also, it's pretty standard veg: curried potato, eggplant, rice etc. For practicing vegetarians, you'd think they might be able to push the boat out a bit more and offer some different vegetarian incarnations. Free tea, coffee (powdered), and cordial-type juice, as well as water. You can go back for as much food as you want. To be honest, with that range, there's only so much you can eat.
When you are finished eating, you front the guy near the door and give him what you want to pay. First up, I'll say that people have mastered the skill of looking like they are handing over pure gold bullion, only for the jangle in the hands of the front-of-house guy to give away that they are all silver coins. Yes, people can give that low an amount. Saw one couple walk out with no payment, just giving the 'namaste'- salutation on the way out. We sat near the door and it was about only the sixth or seventh customer who gave money in the form of a note. Before then, all coins.
So who goes here? Well, the local community of the mission the restauranteurs belong to, in big numbers so many large trestles are reserved for them. Perhaps they give larger amounts so it covers the rest of the customers. Backpackers eat here. As do students. Who must all not eat for the entire day and then stock up large at night for little payment. I cant think of any other reason why you would go up 4 or 5 times, and return with a mountain of (average) food on your tray. It's not my place to agree with them or not. What I will say is that the mission started to feed the poor and destitute, yet this place seemingly has none of those people in there. Because even the backpackers and students, hand over their coinage after putting away their smartphones. I don't actually know why no homeless or impoverished eat here. It may be because the hipsters have scared them away, which would be a shame.
If you are wondering how much we paid, we were a party of three. I asked each of us to identify what we would pay for a dish, if we were eating alone. $7, $8 and $9 were the amounts. We added some money to that because they kindly got us some drinks (I had an elderly person with me) when it is usually all self service, and the guy at the front took the time to explain the concept to us and give a little tour of the great artefacts which adorn the restaurant. $35 in total.
Some people may say that because it's free, you shouldn't complain about things like food range or quality. But I disagree with that. At the end of the day, they are in the service industry and are asking you to contribute an amount you feel is reflective of the experience. Now whilst many many take the rip on that and give tiny amounts, that shouldn't filter through and affect the type of food being offered. This is the type of food they eat, but in catering to a community of others, it wouldn't hurt for them to think about how that might influence what they serve.
I would eat here again, but having now had my expectations managed on how it works, may have a pre-dinner drink and snack somewhere else.
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