McDonald’s has quietly transformed one of its McCafe outlets in Sydney into a restaurant called “The Corner” with a new menu, new look, and new service style.
The company confirmed to Business Insider Australia that the cafe was a “learning lab” where it was “testing completely new and different food and beverages never before seen in our restaurants.”
It’s an encouraging sign from the fast food chain, which has long suffered from image problems amid declining sales.
The menu at The Corner includes “salads featuring Moroccan roast chicken breast, chipotle pulled pork, brown rice, pumpkin, lentil and eggplant salads, sandwiches and barista-made quality coffee,” a spokeswoman told us.
She wouldn’t share the next steps for the concept, but Paul Colgan, the editor-in-chief of Business Insider Australia stopped by on a recent morning to try the new McDonald’s cafe. He shared his photos with us; captions are his own.
'The Corner' is on Missenden Road in Sydney's Camperdown neighbourhood, just a few kilometers from the city center and across the street from a major hospital. No golden arches or familiar branding anywhere. Is it really a McDonald's?
It doesn't feel like a McDonald's. The furniture's different and there are no big backlit signs with colourful menus. It's all a muted brown.
There's also a huge long table with plenty of space near a big window. I'm going to sit there. But let's look around first - there's a lot to see.
It's around 9am, and the staff are pretty busy even though there are only about 10 customers. It is Christmas Eve after all, and people are off getting ready for the big day tomorrow.
Here's the barista coffee station. The yellow colour is a bit more reminiscent of McDonald's. If you look in the bottom left, you can see an iPad which is used by floor staff to keep track of orders after they're placed.
There are some salads as well - tofu with vegetables, and brown rice with quinoa. I'm not a tofu or quinoa kind of person, though many people are, especially around this part of Sydney.
There's also soy bean & cannelini snacks - not what you expect at a McDonald's outlet. Interesting, but again, not for me. Maybe the chipotle chicken, if it was after 11am.
There's fresh fruit and muesli pots alongside some kind of chocolate mousse product. I'm not sure these go together - but this is a 'lab' after all, so experimenting is to be expected. And the fruit looks good!
Ah, here we go. Gingerbread Ronald McDonald hands with icing, teddy bear cakes, and brownies. Everything looks pretty good. And kids around hospitals often need treats.
There's also a big range of toffee apples and a freckle jar which looks sold out. But there's one more intriguing part of the service counter...
... here it is: the salad, soup, and meat station. You can get sandwiches, or meats with salad or rice. It's not open yet, but it's still early and not many people want Moroccan chicken at 9am.
Here's a look at the menu, which again is very different from typical McDonald's fare. There are instructions for how to order sandwiches and salads.
The rice dish comes with a sauce, while the salad comes with coleslaw. Definitely interesting - maybe enough to come back and try some time. OK, time to eat.
There are a selection of coffee blends. I'm going to take a McCafe blend large flat white, and a bacon and egg roll. And waffles. With ice cream.
You don't grab things from the counter, but are handed a number and asked to take a seat. And there's none of the kerfuffle of beeps and alarms that you normally associate with ordering at a McDonald's. It's all rather civilized. Bonus: the staff are attentive and smile - something also often lacking in a McDonald's.
I chose a brioche roll for my sandwich but could have had panini, too. And the coffee is made by an experienced, well-trained hand.
The roll is presented on one of those little chopping boards. Fancy. It also looks healthier than a typical Sydney bacon and egg roll.
And the verdict - it's pretty damn good. The coffee passes the test, and everything is freshly cooked - the egg's nothing like those scary stewed things you get in a McMuffin. However, the bread has a distinctive combination of sugar and salt that is recognisably McDonald's.
Here's the waffles and ice cream. The presentation isn't quite as good here, but it tastes OK. The ice cream again has that distinctive saltiness to it.
Time to go. As you can see, the hospital is literally across the street - so it's a perfect location to try a healthy options menu.
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