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Tilley’s Devine Cafe

By Niki van Buuren 2 June 2014 37

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In a desperate attempt to capitalise on my final day of holidays and get some university work out of the way I’ve come down to Tilley’s for breakfast. Armed with a small stack of textbooks and my laptop, I’ve got an entire booth to myself.

It’s Sunday morning – the place is packed, inside and out. A melting pot of Canberran culture; retirees, tousled young people still soaked in last night’s revelry, families. In the haphazard collection of single booths at the back a handful of students tap away at laptops, their third cup of coffee close at hand. I enter through the side door and a jack russell terrier smiles up at me while its human companions chat amiably over poached eggs and muesli.

Inside, the combined body heat of over a hundred patrons has raised the temperature; it’s uncomfortably warm though I know the alternative is to be outside, where it’s uncomfortably cold.  The girls behind the counter wearing black bow ties and white shirts struggle to hear orders while a recording of some nondescript jazz music plays over the cacophony of morning conversation. It’s like a cabaret.

Many patrons like myself are here alone, either to soak up the atmosphere, catch up on important work or to simply enjoy having a meal without the bother of sustaining conversation.

When you walk in you can’t help but notice the distinct influence of the old Film Noir flicks of the  early 20th century. It’s dark, it’s plush, and it’s sexy. At 10am on a Sunday you can still be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into a bar at 10pm on a Friday night. You could almost imagine Humphrey Bogart or Rita Hayworth sidling up to the bar and ordering a martini.

It’s less the martinis (although, I imagine you can order one) than the great food that I’ve experienced at Tilley’s. The poached eggs on toast with hollandaise is a particular favourite of mine (with a side of mushrooms and hash browns, of course). I like my caffeine as much as the next public servant and the girls serve one of the best mochas I have tasted. For those who like a little variety, there’s a specials board that changes regularly. If you’re up for after-work drinks there’s three beers and cider on tap, an extensive wine list as well as a selection of spirits and bottled drinks. I’m a cider girl and they always have my favourites on hand.

Named for the infamous Tilly Devine, a Sydney gang member and madam in the 1920s, Tilleys opened in 1984. It was the first licensed outdoor venue in Australia and the first to ban indoor smoking. Tilley’s is recognised as a fantastic live music venue, although live music gigs were scaled back in 2005 in order to concentrate on the restaurant and bar.

In the past the venue has played host to musicians such as Architecture in Helsinki, The Whitlams, The Church, pianist David Helfgott and Missy Higgins among others.

Tilley’s is one of my favourite places to go in Canberra; it has the cosmopolitan feel of many of the so-called hipster hang-outs in Braddon, but without the pretentiousness that those hipster hang-outs are accused of. No ironic lumberjack beards here. Tilley’s is unapologetic in its vibe. It is what it is, and if you don’t like it then don’t bother showing up.

Tilley’s Devine Cafe is located at the Lyneham shops, corner of Wattle and Brigalow streets, Lyneham. Open from 8am until late. Coffee window (Wattle st entrance) open from 7am. Check out tilleys.com.au for more information.

Niki van Buuren is a Canberra-based writer and teacher. This is the first of a new series on RiotACT devoted to iconic and less well-known Canberra venues.

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Tilley’s Devine Cafe
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bundah 5:39 pm 09 Jun 14

dungfungus said :

Jacinta Kyam said :

patrick_keogh said :

Jacinta Kyam said :

Wow it never ceases to amaze me how much negativity this site attracts. Maybe there should be a ‘be quiet act’ on the Riot ACT?

So Jacinta, who should be quiet? Those you disagree with?
Nobody should say anything negative? Keep drinking the kool-aid?

It is in the nature of forums and reviews that they will attract more negative than positive feedback. The reader should be savvy enough to take that into account. I am probably as bad as anyone, yet if I look back on my 100+ reviews that I have written on TripAdvisor over the years or the ten or so on productreview.com, what do I find? Here’s the summary from TripAdvisor
Excellent (32)
Very good (47)
Average (20)
Poor (3)
Terrible (0)

So after a nanosecond of introspection I think I can reassure myself that I am not overly negative. But I wrote that Tilley’s is “average”. How can that be? Well one possibility is that (as you say) we are a pack of whiners and knockers. But then again it is also possible that it is “average” and you are the outlier. Certainly that is the view of the TripAdvisor reviewers who probably have only a small overal with the contributors to this thread. I’m comfortable with you having a more positive view than I do: of course there is a diverse range of opinions and tastes and I won’t ever suggest that the rose-coloured-glasses-wearing-Tilley’s-loving set should be silenced.

I find it interesting you thought this post was directed at you. I actually think your post in particular was an objective opinion stating your point of view backed up by some Trip Advisor statistics. I also admire you for using your real name, taking resposibility for your comments instead of hiding behind an alias. There have actually been studies on anonimity and the darker side it brings out in people. Lets be clear here, do not have a problem with constructive criticism. What I do have a problem with is destructive, mindless nit picking which not only demonstrates a general unhappiness with ones life, but is misdirected towards any little disappointing detail that reinforces just how disappointing they see life in general. For some reason this site has become a cluster of such minded poeple who collectively perpetuate negativity and bitterness. This type of boring repertoire is one that the RiotACT is trying to move away from because it’s actually kind of depressing and doesn’t really do much for anyone except those who get their anonymous moment to cry some bitter tears. I do appreciate your retalliation to my comments and welcome any criticism as long as it’s constructive, not destructive. I am committed to personal growth and constantly examining my actions/reactions. I am committed to helping others grow, because at the end of the day, my ultimate goal is happiness, not just for myself but everyone around me. I am a big believer in positive reinforcement and being solutions focussed. Thank you for your comments. I look forward to reading more from you in the future.

After that hubristic lecture, one in the real world can only feel humilty.

Well Jacinta is certainly very passionate about Tilleys so any unwarranted criticism will be vigorously challenged. Sure that is her prerogative however being passionate and parochial does get in the way of making an objective comparative judgement particularly given many have opined that they can get better value and service elsewhere.

So while it reflects negatively on Tilleys one is entitled to call a spade a spade, surely?

dungfungus 9:47 am 09 Jun 14

Jacinta Kyam said :

patrick_keogh said :

Jacinta Kyam said :

Wow it never ceases to amaze me how much negativity this site attracts. Maybe there should be a ‘be quiet act’ on the Riot ACT?

So Jacinta, who should be quiet? Those you disagree with?
Nobody should say anything negative? Keep drinking the kool-aid?

It is in the nature of forums and reviews that they will attract more negative than positive feedback. The reader should be savvy enough to take that into account. I am probably as bad as anyone, yet if I look back on my 100+ reviews that I have written on TripAdvisor over the years or the ten or so on productreview.com, what do I find? Here’s the summary from TripAdvisor
Excellent (32)
Very good (47)
Average (20)
Poor (3)
Terrible (0)

So after a nanosecond of introspection I think I can reassure myself that I am not overly negative. But I wrote that Tilley’s is “average”. How can that be? Well one possibility is that (as you say) we are a pack of whiners and knockers. But then again it is also possible that it is “average” and you are the outlier. Certainly that is the view of the TripAdvisor reviewers who probably have only a small overal with the contributors to this thread. I’m comfortable with you having a more positive view than I do: of course there is a diverse range of opinions and tastes and I won’t ever suggest that the rose-coloured-glasses-wearing-Tilley’s-loving set should be silenced.

I find it interesting you thought this post was directed at you. I actually think your post in particular was an objective opinion stating your point of view backed up by some Trip Advisor statistics. I also admire you for using your real name, taking resposibility for your comments instead of hiding behind an alias. There have actually been studies on anonimity and the darker side it brings out in people. Lets be clear here, do not have a problem with constructive criticism. What I do have a problem with is destructive, mindless nit picking which not only demonstrates a general unhappiness with ones life, but is misdirected towards any little disappointing detail that reinforces just how disappointing they see life in general. For some reason this site has become a cluster of such minded poeple who collectively perpetuate negativity and bitterness. This type of boring repertoire is one that the RiotACT is trying to move away from because it’s actually kind of depressing and doesn’t really do much for anyone except those who get their anonymous moment to cry some bitter tears. I do appreciate your retalliation to my comments and welcome any criticism as long as it’s constructive, not destructive. I am committed to personal growth and constantly examining my actions/reactions. I am committed to helping others grow, because at the end of the day, my ultimate goal is happiness, not just for myself but everyone around me. I am a big believer in positive reinforcement and being solutions focussed. Thank you for your comments. I look forward to reading more from you in the future.

After that hubristic lecture, one in the real world can only feel humilty.

Masquara 9:26 am 09 Jun 14

Jacinta Kyam said :

There have actually been studies on anonimity and the darker side it brings out in people. Lets be clear here, do not have a problem with constructive criticism. What I do have a problem with is destructive, mindless nit picking which not only demonstrates a general unhappiness with ones life, but is misdirected towards any little disappointing detail that reinforces just how disappointing they see life in general. .

Puh-lease. Tilleys has its merits but restaurant standard food is not one of them. The standard of the food is fine though – for a pub! The prices are high for pub food, and the food is often brought out cold. There’s a lot to “nitpick” about at Tilleys: the toilets aren’t clean , the music is repetitive. Service has improved recently – but only since The Front nearby improved its coffee and began to attract some of the Tilleys regulars. Seriously, if you think the criticism of Tilleys on this thread is “dark side of the internet hiding between aliases’, that’s a bit OTT.

Pork Hunt 8:08 am 09 Jun 14

dungfungus said :

Jacinta Kyam said :

Wow it never ceases to amaze me how much negativity this site attracts. Maybe there should be a ‘be quiet act’ on the Riot ACT? Tilleys is a Canberra institution. My Mother was one of the original staff members so I have pretty much grown up there. They haven’t expanded from a bar barely the size of a hallway to a unique establishment that now occupies most of the corner, serving bad food and giving bad service. I just don’t understand the tall poppy cutting culture that seems to prevail on this website. If you are unhappy why don’t you do something about it like trying to lift your vibration so you don’t feel the need to pick places apart that have done so much for our community, women in particular. I wonder what things of note you people in the peanut gallery have achieved? Try looking for the good in people and places, you will be surprised how much happier it makes you and those around you.I find this negative repertoire so disappointing and boring.

What is “the peanut gallery”?

Wikipedia informs thus: “A peanut gallery was, in the days of vaudeville, a nickname for the cheapest (and ostensibly rowdiest) seats in the theater, the occupants of which were often known to heckle.”

Jacinta Kyam 4:33 am 09 Jun 14

patrick_keogh said :

Jacinta Kyam said :

Wow it never ceases to amaze me how much negativity this site attracts. Maybe there should be a ‘be quiet act’ on the Riot ACT?

So Jacinta, who should be quiet? Those you disagree with?
Nobody should say anything negative? Keep drinking the kool-aid?

It is in the nature of forums and reviews that they will attract more negative than positive feedback. The reader should be savvy enough to take that into account. I am probably as bad as anyone, yet if I look back on my 100+ reviews that I have written on TripAdvisor over the years or the ten or so on productreview.com, what do I find? Here’s the summary from TripAdvisor
Excellent (32)
Very good (47)
Average (20)
Poor (3)
Terrible (0)

So after a nanosecond of introspection I think I can reassure myself that I am not overly negative. But I wrote that Tilley’s is “average”. How can that be? Well one possibility is that (as you say) we are a pack of whiners and knockers. But then again it is also possible that it is “average” and you are the outlier. Certainly that is the view of the TripAdvisor reviewers who probably have only a small overal with the contributors to this thread. I’m comfortable with you having a more positive view than I do: of course there is a diverse range of opinions and tastes and I won’t ever suggest that the rose-coloured-glasses-wearing-Tilley’s-loving set should be silenced.

I find it interesting you thought this post was directed at you. I actually think your post in particular was an objective opinion stating your point of view backed up by some Trip Advisor statistics. I also admire you for using your real name, taking resposibility for your comments instead of hiding behind an alias. There have actually been studies on anonimity and the darker side it brings out in people. Lets be clear here, do not have a problem with constructive criticism. What I do have a problem with is destructive, mindless nit picking which not only demonstrates a general unhappiness with ones life, but is misdirected towards any little disappointing detail that reinforces just how disappointing they see life in general. For some reason this site has become a cluster of such minded poeple who collectively perpetuate negativity and bitterness. This type of boring repertoire is one that the RiotACT is trying to move away from because it’s actually kind of depressing and doesn’t really do much for anyone except those who get their anonymous moment to cry some bitter tears. I do appreciate your retalliation to my comments and welcome any criticism as long as it’s constructive, not destructive. I am committed to personal growth and constantly examining my actions/reactions. I am committed to helping others grow, because at the end of the day, my ultimate goal is happiness, not just for myself but everyone around me. I am a big believer in positive reinforcement and being solutions focussed. Thank you for your comments. I look forward to reading more from you in the future.

Grail 12:15 pm 08 Jun 14

dungfungus said :

What is “the peanut gallery”?

That would be the people complaining about the food or service at Tilleys, who have never worked in hospitality themselves but are experts on how it’s supposed to be done. Which is pretty much all the RiotACT population 🙂

dungfungus 9:26 am 07 Jun 14

Jacinta Kyam said :

Wow it never ceases to amaze me how much negativity this site attracts. Maybe there should be a ‘be quiet act’ on the Riot ACT? Tilleys is a Canberra institution. My Mother was one of the original staff members so I have pretty much grown up there. They haven’t expanded from a bar barely the size of a hallway to a unique establishment that now occupies most of the corner, serving bad food and giving bad service. I just don’t understand the tall poppy cutting culture that seems to prevail on this website. If you are unhappy why don’t you do something about it like trying to lift your vibration so you don’t feel the need to pick places apart that have done so much for our community, women in particular. I wonder what things of note you people in the peanut gallery have achieved? Try looking for the good in people and places, you will be surprised how much happier it makes you and those around you.I find this negative repertoire so disappointing and boring.

What is “the peanut gallery”?

patrick_keogh 8:56 am 07 Jun 14

Jacinta Kyam said :

Wow it never ceases to amaze me how much negativity this site attracts. Maybe there should be a ‘be quiet act’ on the Riot ACT?

So Jacinta, who should be quiet? Those you disagree with?
Nobody should say anything negative? Keep drinking the kool-aid?

It is in the nature of forums and reviews that they will attract more negative than positive feedback. The reader should be savvy enough to take that into account. I am probably as bad as anyone, yet if I look back on my 100+ reviews that I have written on TripAdvisor over the years or the ten or so on productreview.com, what do I find? Here’s the summary from TripAdvisor
Excellent (32)
Very good (47)
Average (20)
Poor (3)
Terrible (0)

So after a nanosecond of introspection I think I can reassure myself that I am not overly negative. But I wrote that Tilley’s is “average”. How can that be? Well one possibility is that (as you say) we are a pack of whiners and knockers. But then again it is also possible that it is “average” and you are the outlier. Certainly that is the view of the TripAdvisor reviewers who probably have only a small overal with the contributors to this thread. I’m comfortable with you having a more positive view than I do: of course there is a diverse range of opinions and tastes and I won’t ever suggest that the rose-coloured-glasses-wearing-Tilley’s-loving set should be silenced.

Jacinta Kyam 8:19 pm 06 Jun 14

Wow it never ceases to amaze me how much negativity this site attracts. Maybe there should be a ‘be quiet act’ on the Riot ACT? Tilleys is a Canberra institution. My Mother was one of the original staff members so I have pretty much grown up there. They haven’t expanded from a bar barely the size of a hallway to a unique establishment that now occupies most of the corner, serving bad food and giving bad service. I just don’t understand the tall poppy cutting culture that seems to prevail on this website. If you are unhappy why don’t you do something about it like trying to lift your vibration so you don’t feel the need to pick places apart that have done so much for our community, women in particular. I wonder what things of note you people in the peanut gallery have achieved? Try looking for the good in people and places, you will be surprised how much happier it makes you and those around you.I find this negative repertoire so disappointing and boring.

HiddenDragon 6:12 pm 06 Jun 14

Holden Caulfield said :

Experience taught me that Tilley’s can’t do hot food other than eggs and bacon for breakfast. Even standard fare like burgers were not much chop the last time I tried.

The Lyneham/O’Connor shops are ripe for redevelopment. Perhaps all the new money is being spent in Braddon, but a true hipster would rather be off Broadway, so to speak, don’t you reckon? So put a decent cafe, with great food, in O’Connor or Lyneham and start counting the cash.

There’s been rumours about Lyneham redevelopment for years – perhaps the new zoning related to the tramline will finally kick it along…..?

Holden Caulfield 3:03 pm 06 Jun 14

old canberran said :

I find it intriguing that there are so many negative comments about Tilleys. The fact that it has operated successfully in a suburban shopping centre for 30 years is quite an achievement. I wonder if Mee Sing’s is still there as well.

I moved from the inner north about a year ago, but Mee Sing was still there and where it differed from Tilley’s (IMO) was that its food was consistently good and great value. Those takeaway containers are always packed beyond capacity, haha! Plus they use pretty good quality meat compared with many other Asian restaurants/takeaways.

A big, big tick for Mee Sing. A very moderate one for Tilley’s.

Kerryhemsley 2:28 pm 06 Jun 14

Holden Caulfield said :

Experience taught me that Tilley’s can’t do hot food other than eggs and bacon for breakfast. Even standard fare like burgers were not much chop the last time I tried.

The Lyneham/O’Connor shops are ripe for redevelopment. Perhaps all the new money is being spent in Braddon, but a true hipster would rather be off Broadway, so to speak, don’t you reckon? So put a decent cafe, with great food, in O’Connor or Lyneham and start counting the cash.

Agree with Lyneham and O’Connor being ripe for new food and drink ventures. Surely the activity in Braddon will spill over soon. Ainslie is better served.

In my opinion Tilleys is a waste of time and money. Average food, poor coffee and surly service by staff who don’t look particularly happy to be working there.

astrojax 2:09 pm 06 Jun 14

old canberran said :

I find it intriguing that there are so many negative comments about Tilleys. The fact that it has operated successfully in a suburban shopping centre for 30 years is quite an achievement. I wonder if Mee Sing’s is still there as well.

mee sings loudly and clearly still [if in those weird tonal ranges only chinese opera can muster…]

patrick_keogh 11:21 am 06 Jun 14

The around 150 reviews at Trip Advisor and Google are pretty consistent: Tilley’s is average.
The people who love it often talk about the atmosphere.
The people who hate it talk about the coffee, prices and service.

Roksteddy 10:43 am 06 Jun 14

+1 for Tilleys.
Is it perfect? No. But the complaints are minor. I’ve been there more than most and I would have to say it would be rare that you wait more than 10 minutes for a coffee (good, without being great coffee). And the atmosphere is better than the designer bland in most newer cafes.

Niki van Buuren 9:44 pm 05 Jun 14

Sandman, you are right, you can’t please everyone and there are those that will jump in with negativity simply because they can! But if I was concerned about being snarked at, then I wouldn’t have made a submission to become a regular writer for this site.

I put that comment up more because I didn’t want people to think I’d been commissioned by Tilleys to write an advertorial. I’ll keep writing about my experiences with local venues/food culture/whatever else and everyone can keep disagreeing with me. Snarky comments just mean that people are reading it.

Plus the world would be a boring place if everyone liked the same things, I guess 🙂

old canberran 5:46 pm 05 Jun 14

I find it intriguing that there are so many negative comments about Tilleys. The fact that it has operated successfully in a suburban shopping centre for 30 years is quite an achievement. I wonder if Mee Sing’s is still there as well.

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