Oliver Brown Belgian Chocolate Cafe - Rhodes, Sydney
Perhaps as a reaction to the many coffee cafes enjoying a healthy growth across Australia, there is an emerging trend now in the presence of a variety of chocolate beverage outlets. Seriously, it all began with Swiss Lindt, Spanish San Churro, Max Brenner and Belgian Guy Lian investing in outlets in harbour city Sydney. Chocolate drinks can be a comfort and soul item, bringing us back to cold mornings or late nippy nights. The drinks provide a different sensation from consuming chocolate bars or having flakes sprinkled over ice cream. So when Joyce introduced me to another chocolate chain, I went in with expectations and yet with an open mind. Oliver Brown had three outlets in the northern suburbs of Sydney, including Chatswood and Top Ryde.
I was impressed with the interior decor at the Rhodes Shopping Centre cafe that we visited. The place was well patronised on a Sunday afternoon, located strategically near an exit to the road and escalators to the upper floor. The question I always have on coming across yet another outlet is, so what is strikingly different about this latest one? I saw the small tables, some with leather seats and most with the ubiquitous cafe chair. The counter was rather long and sunlight came through the big clear glass windows. There was a strong emphasis in wood panels. Across the corridor was a typical Coffee Club cafe. There were mochas, milk shakes, fruit crushes, teas, waffles, fondues, cookies, crepes, sandwiches, dips, ice cream, hot chocolates and the unavoidable coffee choices offered on the menu on the wall. Cakes and chocolate beverage powder were available for sale. The display had an Euro feel and all the staff members working that day were Asian, most probably university students.
Rhodes has a demographic of Anglo-Celtic, Middle Eastern, East Asian and Indian - many young families, young couples and singles. This was reflected in the rather busy parade of shoppers passing by outside the Oliver Brown Cafe. The Cafe in Rhodes is open till midnight each evening. Their signature design is Atzec inspired chequered black, green and white patterns, reflected in their wrapping paper and cafe walls. They fondly refer to themselves as "OB". We were there after a hefty lunch, so I tried just one signature item from OB - the hot chocolate with crunchy balls and marshmallows. It was a sizable mug, round and squat. My first dive into the drink was soothing, not overly heavy and supported by those delightful bites into the crunchy bits swirling all over. San Churro has a rather aromatic taste whilst OB is lighter but uniquely provides its own delivery.
Looking at the mug, it is disheartening to know that there has been a shareholder dispute affecting OB and it has sold its outlets in Top Ryde and Chatswood. The media today reported that sales for restaurants and cafes have gone up nation wide in Australia, in contrast to department stores. So no matter what, the story of chocolate and coffee does continue.