Friday, 28 August 2009

Marrone Rosso gives Coffee Delia a run for its money

Great sandwiches, but what about the service?

Expectations have been high for the new coffee shop Marrone Rosso, since frankly the choice of coffee houses in town is sadly lacking. To date, every expatriate in Almaty has used Coffee Delia for its Wifi coffee space, groovy lounge music background and funky orange décor. Obviously, the Israeli coffee chain Aroma, the company behind this new venture, has decided that Almaty has a mature enough market for another of the same.

Unsurprisingly given the name, the colour scheme is dark brown and orange. With a central bar full of baristas, comfortable brown leather stools and a whole range of different table sizes, shapes and seating opportunities, the café has been cleverly designed as a great meeting place for all sorts of groups. Wifi access is in place, the menu looks good and the staff is young and friendly, and crucially, people smile at you.

So I ordered a beer from one of the waitresses passing by.

“Hi, I’d like a small Efes beer, please”

“Sorry, it is self-service,” she replied (smiling).

“What?” I asked, certain that the staff behind the bar have been pulling drinks for other customers. ‘Is she taking the piss?’ I wonder, ‘Going to see if the English girl will dive across the bar and drink her beer straight form the tap, such is the look of desperation in her eyes for some alcoholic refreshment (We crashed the car on the way to visiting this joint for the first time, and a cool ale was necessary).

Maybe she didn’t understand, I thought. “I’d like a small Efes beer, please” I repeated in my best Russian accent.

“No, you must first go to the cash desk,” she explained.

Frustrating. I was sitting with my lap top, working away. There were staff literally milling about with nothing to do. But I had to get up and go to the other side of the bar and order my drink.

I do so, and ask what do the waiters in the restaurant do, if they are not taking orders? They clean the tables, he tells me. “Will you bring me my drink?” I enquire. “No, you can pick it up at the bar,” he says. OK.

This joint is awash with Almaty’s young and trendies, talking on their i-phones (in Swarowski crystal holders), plugged into their Vaios and Macbooks, all keen for Almaty to leap from Kazakhstan into the hugely developed world beyond the frontiers of Central Asia. Most of them probably study in the States or Europe, are super international and buy all their clothes in Saks 5th Avenue or Harvey Nicks.

My Israeli friends who live in Korea told me that anything to do with Aroma coffee is always delicious and they do amazing sandwiches. Seems this is their thing. So why not just make it easy for your customers to order from you, instead of making them queue up to order and pay, then get up again to collect their tucker? Apparently, I was told, this is the franchise, the way that all the Aroma cafes operate. I think it is a shame that in a country where a finance graduate may get paid less than $500 a month as an intern in an international company, that a café charging $4 for a single coffee cannot adapt to the local environment, give a few more waiters a job, and make it more comfortable for customers. But such is life, I guess you can’t have it all!

However, once you have mustered the strength to order your meal at Marrone Rosso, what you can get is one really awesome sandwich.

We ordered the grilled vegetable sandwich (grilled pepper, grilled zucchini, Bulgarian cheese, arugula and herbs dressing). Quite the most delicious sandwich I have eaten in years and this alone will keep me coming back here probably several times a week. We also sampled a Marrone Rosso house salad (tomato, cucumber, Bulgarian cheese, onion, red onion, cherry tomato, olives and dressing). The salad was fabulous and fresh with a totally delicious super-freshly-prepared herby dressing.

The sandwich used warm wholegrain bread with caraway seeds, and the salad was served with two slices of delicious whole meal bread, also freshly baked. The bread really is second to none in Almaty. We have been here a year now and I have not tasted bread like it anywhere else.

Later we ordered the apple strudel (none left that night), but cinnamon rolls and a delicious short bread filled with a caramel filling were both excellent, and it was good to have a freshly baked cinnamon roll at 10pm at night.

Marrone Rosso’s baking is truly excellent. We are still to try their coffee, since we both ordered the fresh fruit juice (and an Efes!) that night. But based on the fare sampled on visit #1, the coffee will also be fantastic. Really high quality food and drink in a happy, busy environment. Hurray! 

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