15 Urquhart St
Coburg, VIC 3058
You know what’s typical Melbourne? Putting a cafe inside of a former prison – you can’t get much more Melbourne than that.
Although I’ve been past Pentridge Prison dozens of times on my way to and from Chris’ place, it took me something along the lines of 3 years of commuting before realising that it’s a prison in name and heritage only. Since its closure 20 years ago, Pentridge has undergone a redevelopment into a residential area, contained within the 4 metre high stone walls of the former prison. And nestled right in one of those stone walls is The Glass Den.
Skyrocketing to fame thanks to its incredibly insta-worthy brunch creations, The Glass Den is popular with the locals, and predictably packed out on Sunday morning. But with that said, although we were quoted up to a 35-minute wait, we were seated within 15 by the bubbly staff.
The coffee here is St Ali, and my Skinny Flat White ($4) was rich and dark, though I did think the beans were roasted a few seconds past their prime. Don’t quote me on that though, as I’m no coffee expert!
I love a good breakfast noodle, and I immediately honed in on the Prawn Tempura Ramen ($20). The miso broth is served separately in a little kettle, which I think is ingenious, as there is nothing I hate more than soggy tempura.
As the soup is poured, the aroma of delicately earthy miso and rich sesame oil wafted up over the table. The tempura prawns were crisp and light, and like every good bowl of ramen, this one came with a gooey soft-boiled egg. But as tasty as this was, I couldn’t help but feel like I was eating a bowl of pimped-up instant noodles. My guess is that this is due to the type of noodles they use, but whatever the reason, you can’t exactly call that a good thing.
After seeing photos of the Vanilla Bean Waffle ($24), I decided I had to have it. The presentation of this dish is really something; the trail of flowers and berries on a bed of matcha soil and crushed Tim Tams was evocative of a garden path, and the toasted marshmallows and rainbow meringue gave it a hint of whimsical magic.
Taste-wise, this was good, but unfortunately did not live up to the expectations set by the presentation. The waffle was crisp and airy, and as any Asian would tell you, tastes fantastic with a scoop of nutty black sesame ice cream. As for everyone else on the platter, they were nice, but the elements also felt rather disparate. This one is definitely better admired from afar.
The Glass Den left me with mixed feelings. Although the food looked great, the taste just didn’t live up to the ridiculously high bar the appearances set, especially when you take the steep pricing into account. And this is a bit more of a personal preference, but as nicely as the cafe has been refurbished, I just can’t get over how it is obviously a former prison. Some would say it adds character, but I just find it a little bit off-putting. All in all, I think I agree with many who have eaten here – the food may look great, but taste-wise, it’s far from the best brunch around.
Rating: 12.5/20 – skin-deep beauty.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.