7 December 2016

That’s no way to treat a baguette

| Paul Costigan
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One of the pleasures of life is a great cup of coffee and a real baguette. Not one of the fashionable Turkish bread kind, but a baguette baked in the French style with simple fillings – probably lettuce, camembert and tomato. Sometimes with a touch of mustard.

The other is a freshly baked croissant. All such food is simple and makes for a wonderful mid morning snack–with coffee.

Here are two stories where both (baguette and croissant) have been treated in badly – yes really badly.

The first was many years ago when in the company of a French friend when we happened on a café locally that offered a croissant for breakfast – it was not so normal back then (at least three decades). The waiter explained that it needed heating up and would that be okay? Of course. A croissant warmed sounded pretty good.

What he failed to explain was that they ‘heated’ croissants by squashing them in a large industrial style sandwich toaster. The result was this totally flat thingy. My French friend yelled aloud something in French (naturally). I suspect he said something along the lines of WTF!

That image of that poor squashed croissant has stayed with me for many years. The other day it returned – with a vengeance.

mt-stromolo-p1210817 mt-stromolo-p1210816

I was up at Mount Stromlo to meet a friend at their café to discuss all manner of things including the end of the world as we knew it – it was the day after the US elections.

As we looked across the range of rolls at the counter (where you order and pay for food) I noticed that their small baguette was probably more the size to suit my need not to eat too much. I started to order.

I was quickly asked whether I would like it warmed up and toasted. That memory of the flattened croissant instantly returned.

No, I responded, I would prefer it as is. No, she said – it should be heated as they are kept cold in the fridge and we (the café) prefer that you have them warmed up. I looked doubtful and said something along the lines that I would still prefer it not heated or toasted.

The person serving looked at me sternly from behind the cash register and repeated more forcefully, that we (the café) really like the baguettes to be warmed rather than served cold, as they taste much better.

My friend by now could see by my expression that I was not taking this well. But I like peace and quiet – so I agreed to have it warmed up.

And yes – when it arrived it had indeed become a repeat experience of the former. It was no longer recognisable as a baguette – it was now this flat thing.

I will never know whether it was indeed a baguette or another white roll pretending to be French. It was hard to tell what it was I was eating. Something now squashed and toasted – and yes – it was warm.


The Mount Stromlo café service is simple, sort of business-like and nothing special. The coffee is fine. The views are great. The last time I saw these views was just weeks after the fire of 2003.

But be warned. If you sit inside near a door to the balcony when it is windy outside, every time the door is opened anything light will be blown off the table, including sunglasses, notebooks, food, napkins, and just about everything else. Very annoying!

One advantage was that we sat and talked for a couple of hours – we ordered more food and another coffee – and we were essentially left alone. The place was not crowded so it should not have concerned anyone. There was none of that coming over to you to see if you wanted anything else (that is, it’s time you moved on).

Would I return? Maybe – but probably not as there are many better options for ambience and much better food elsewhere. If you are taking friends up there – by all means, stop by but watch out for the ‘warmed’ rolls or baguettes.

That is no way to treat a baguette!

As it might be a while before I get back to Paris, I think I need to find somewhere in Canberra that knows how to treat and serve a French-baked baguette? They must be not ‘warmed’ or ‘toasted’. Anyone?

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Leon Arundell10:05 am 16 Jan 17

For a truly memorable experience, try an almond croissant at the cafe near Newcastle’s Merewether Beach.
Almond croissants are normally served cold. The one I had at new year was microwaved so much that the pastry had become too tough to cut with a knife.

What is especially wonderful is the way some cafes seem to think that including lettuce in the sandwich-pressed comestible is somehow acceptable. Hands up those who like toasted lettuce! Can’t see you! Perhaps you’d like to stand on a chair.

Paul Costigan8:03 pm 07 Dec 16

Dear BowditchPitch

OMG – your story caused much laughter around here.

creative_canberran6:26 pm 07 Dec 16

It’s the funniest thing, but the best baguette I’ve had out was over a decade ago, at of all places Gloria Jeans, back in the days when they tried to be decent. Perfect crusty baguette with King Island Brie and Leberkäse.

Most cafe sandwich items disappoint unfortunately. Salty and difficult to eat. A soggy filling on bread so dense and crusty you could up-armour a Humvee with it.

Never had a problem with cafes putting a ham and cheese croissant on a press. It comes out brown and squished, but when you look at what they bake in France, very dark croissants of imperfect shape are normal. But ideally they put it in a Salamander.

BowditchPitch8:55 am 07 Dec 16

This article was amusing. I have also had trouble with the heating of bakery items in a cafe. This time it was banana bread. The bread was wrapped in glad wrap at the counter, presumably for take away ordering. But I ordered the bread to eat in and asked for it to be heated. It came out to me on a plate, still in the glad wrap. I stopped the waiter, reminding her that I had asked for it heated – and she said that it was. They had left it in the glad wrap and microwaved it, so it was all sweaty and gross. Here’s one time where I would have loved it to have been placed in the ‘squasher’!

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