Street-food-inspired café Cubao opened quietly last week in the former Little Indi site inside the Hardware Store, Alexandria. The café is the brainchild of Something for Jess owner Philip Ocampo, and I had been waiting with bated breath to see who would take over the space, so it would be an understatement to say that I was keen to check the place out.
Something for Jess is one of my favourite recent cafés, and their reputation is such that their very particular single origin coffees and glorious (and local) constructions of ‘stuff on toast’ have made their way on to most Sydney café addicts’ wish lists, so comparisons between Cubao and SFJ are inevitable. So too are comparisons between Cubao and the space’s former tenants, zero waste wunderkinds Frank Meura and Rebecca Chippington of Little Indi/Naked Indiana. So how does Cubao compare?
First up, the coffee. After 4 or 5 visits and many more espressos than that, I’m impressed. I will say that Cubao is not yet in the same league as neither the custom-roasted, hand-pumped Little Indi, nor the singular and always exceptional SFJ. They’re still finding their feet with their 5 senses beans, but the coffee is very, very good.
You might want to pop your head in at the counter in the entrance to the hardware store to order, at least for the initial and inevitable coffee or tea (and there’s a pretty decent-looking tea list, not that I’d know anything about that), most of the seating is outside, save a few seats at the bar if you feel like talking specialty coffee with ol’ Phil.
Food wise, Cubao serves up moderately-sized (and priced) globally-inspired brekkies and lunches; about seven items in total. It’s not necessarily about creating authentic international plates, more about rethinking Aussie cafe fare to be portable, diverse and street-food-inspired. Small but filling and with various options, my favourite so far of the three dishes I’ve tried is the ful wat; a braise of lentils and eggplant with a garnish of salty fetta, a squeeze of lemon or lime, warmed bread and egg. Sounds simple, but it’s anything but plain.
Overall, Ocampo has managed to make the place his own with a nod to his other business, reference the Little Indi guys and still keep things current, tasty, global and simple all at once. This is just the kind of café I want in my neighbourhood and luckily, that’s exactly where it is.
Cubao Street Food
50 McCauley Street
Alexandria NSW 2015
Monday – Friday 7:00am – 2:30pm
Saturday 8:00am – 2:00pm
If you like your coffee geeked-out with a side of cartoons, Reformatory’s mad professor vibe may just be for you. Owner and head roaster (and fourth generation coffee farmer) Simon Jaramillo is a man possessed when it comes to coffee, serving up all the brews you could ever need from first to third-wave to everything in between.
The cafe is stand-and-drink only, so no chairs, just a few benches attached to the comic-adorned walls. The focus here is on the coffee, but there’s also same cakey things and killer empanadas if you’re feeling peckish.
The guys here are a little intense and are bound ask you how you heard about the place; I just tell them Raff sent me. They deliver your coffee two ways; as you ordered it (espresso, syphon, however) and as ground beans, so you can get a good sniff of the pre-brewed, roasted and ground product. Between that, a glass of water, the serving board and whatever sweet treat you couldn’t resist, there’s no room left on your coffee drinking bench. Just go with it.
The Reformatory Caffeine Lab
Shop 7B, 17-51 Foveaux St
Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Monday – Friday: 6:30am – 4:00pm
Saturday: 8:00am – 2:00pm
Much has been written (and doubtless, will continue to be written) about Brewtown Newtown, a great addition to the mostly uninspired caffeine scene in the formerly (and now once again?) cutting edge, albeit somewhat crunchy suburb of Newtown. Taking over the ground floor of the lovingly restored barn-like space on O’Connel Street (formerly Berkelouw books), Simon Triggs of Gnome and Charles Cameron of Single Origin Roasters have put together a cracking cafe.
Just off the main drag seems to be the way to play it these days. Brewtown sits on O’Connell Street, which comes off King street. Having visited a handful of times now, I find the service to be very professional; staff seat you, are attentive, and are eager to tell you all about their offerings, especially when it comes to coffee. This is admirable when you consider the place has been an instant hit and is usually packed out; take a sip of your coffee at 9:59, look up at the doorway at 10:00am and it’s as if a switch has been flicked to signal that brunch has begun.
The menu at Brewtown is well crafted enough to make choosing your meal a kind of delicious annoyance, from fruit salad littered with cronut crumbs to beetroot-cured trout on toast to baked (although I’m sure in a decent dousing of fat) polenta wedges served with portobellos and poached eggs to the delicious-looking duck ravioli, and of course, the famous cronuts, it’s a tough call.
These kids sure know their way around an espresso machine. Each coffee I’ve had, be it macch or espresso (my go-tos) have been singular and impressive in flavour and I haven’t had to wait too long. With their specialty coffee pedigree, Brewtown are currently serving a custom roasted blend from Single Origin Roasters (along with selected Single Origins) but will eventually be roasting themselves.
They’re also doing the third wave thing as well but I have to say, their filters don’t really float my boat. From cold drip to their ‘only-one-in-australia steampunk mod filter brewer’, my chums and I have been pretty unimpressed. I think I’m going to need to go back and find out more about their methods, maybe take some industry peeps along for the ride. Something may be lost in translation; it just doesn’t feel like the filters I’ve had there are showing the coffee in its best light. I’m looking forward to being proved wrong.
Having said that, this is hands down my fave Sydney cafe to open up in 2013. Somewhere with space, somewhere with style, somewhere professional (neither cooler-than-thou nor slacksadasical), somewhere with a substantial, imaginative yet casual menu, and somewhere with excellent coffee. The cherry on the sundae is that my fave gelato place, Cow & Moon, will be pal-ing up with Brewtown for some upstairs-affogato-project-madness. So stay tuned.
6-8 O’Connell Street
Newtown NSW 2042
02 9519 2920
Everyone deserves a bit of a break over Chrissy and New Year’s, even your local barista. But if the café staff are busy throwing a shrimp or two on the barbie, playing backyard cricket, cracking open a VB or otherwise adhering to ridiculous Aussie stereotypes, who’s gonna make your double riz flat white?
Never fear, the coffee list is here! The following Sydney cafés will be open between Christmas eve and January 2nd.
Ground Control Cafe, Circular Quay – Open 24, 27-30 December and 2 January
Gumption by Coffee Alchemy, CBD – Open 24, 26-30 December and 2 January
The Fine Food Store, The Rocks – Open 24, 27-30 December and 2 January
Beejay’s, Marrickville – - Open 24, 26-31 December and 2 January
Belljar Coffee, Newtown – Open 24, 27-30 December
Bourke Street Bakery, Marrickville – Open 24, 27-30 December and 2 January
Brewtown, Newtown – Open 24 December, then from 28 December onwards
Drugstore, Summer Hill – Open 24-28 December, 2 January
In the Annex, Forest Lodge – Open 27-30 December
Shenkin Espresso, Newtown – Open 24-30 and 1 January onwards – tbc
Shenkin Kitchen, Enmore – Open every day, including public holidays – tbc
Something for Jess, Chippendale – Open 27-30 December and 2 January
The House Specialty Coffee, Chippendale – open 24-25 December, closed 26 December to January 6th
The Pie Tin, Newtown – Open 27-31 December
Bourke Street Bakery, Surry Hills - Open 24, 27-30 December and 2 January
Devon Cafe, Surry Hills – Open 24,27-31 December and 2 January
Gypsy Espresso, Potts Point – Open 24,28-30 December
Not Just Coffee, Paddington – Open 26-30 December, 1-2 January
Room 10, Potts Point – Open 25 December – 31 January, open 2 January
Bourke Street Bakery, Alexandria – Open 27-30 December and 2 January
Coffee Tea and Me, Redfern – Open every day, including public holidays
Reuben Hills, Surry Hills – Open 24 December, Open 27 December onwards
The Rag Land, Waterloo – Open 27-31 December, open 4 January onwards.
Three Williams, Open 27-30 December and 2 January
Bake Bar, Randwick – Open 24 – 31 December
The Jack of Harts and Jude, Engadine – Open from 29 December onwards
If you know of any other cafés opening over the break, let me know in the comments below. And have a fabulous Christmas/New Year’s, chums!
Serving coffee and coffee only, no brownies, no banana bread, no toast and nary a canelé in sight, Coffee Alchemy’s ‘Gumption’ launched last week with little fanfare and much positive word of mouth. You’ll find it on the ground floor or the iconic Strand Arcade on Sydney’s Pitt and George Streets.
Browse through writeup after writeup after writeup featuring the ever-humble Alchemy co-owner Hazel de los Reyes and you won’t be surprised by this lack of self-promotion. Although de los Reyes and Alchemy have won a slew of awards and are generally regarded as pilgrims of specialty coffee in New South Wales, they’re eager to let their coffee speak for itself.
Here’s what to expect at a place that serves coffee and coffee only. Expect to pay at least $4. Order and pay at the counter. Ask for a glass of water. Take a seat at one of turquoise benches. You may have to wait a while. One of the staff will bring you your brew. They will tell you what it is, and, whatever it may be, they will sound absurdly enthusiastic about it. Drink your coffee. Sit in the lovely Strand arcade (or, if there’s no room there, cram yourself into the standing room only section inside) and scrape out every. last. dab. of caffeine with that perfectly shaped spoon they have helpfully provided you. Have a lovely day.
In case you can’t tell, the large handful of visits I’ve had at Gumption have left me pretty impressed. They just really care about their coffee so damn much, and they know what on earth they’re supposed to do with it. I was always an Alchemy fan, but Addison Road is a long way from home, and this little nook is right on my way to work. And I love a place where ‘I’m just having a coffee’ is the only option for ordering, rather than a statement that causes the waiter to give me the side-eye.
Gumption by Coffee Alchemy
Shop 11, The Strand Arcade (412-414 George Street)
Sydney, NSW 2000
02 9232 4199
It’s interesting to watch the buzz around a new cafe build over time. The first few times I popped in to Three Williams in Redfern, it was pretty empty, but then again, it’s a fair bit larger than your average Redfern haunt. Locals and cafe addicts were coming and going and I could see that interest was building. Last week, my instagram feed was littered with brekky porn shots from the soon-to-be Redfern fixture, street press had written them up, and last Sunday arvo I walked past and there was not a table to spare.
A few days after they openend, I found myself sipping a Single Origin ‘Paradox’ blend macch in the former mid-century furniture storeroom, bathed in morning sunlight and attended to by eager staff in snazzy aprons. The space is vast, with tables well placed, the floors are concrete and there’s a lot of wood panelling, which makes for a noisy atmosphere at times.
My first visit, I found it odd that brekky finished at 11:45 am – all day brekky is very much standard in Sydney cafes, and I tweeted as much. I just had a couple of coffees and I was more than happy with them. My second visit, I had the smashed beans an avo on toast. It was basically mashed avo and baked beans on toast, but it was damn tasty and damn filling to boot, a serving so generous that I actually couldn’t finish it (and this was immediately after a 1km swim).
By my third visit, the menu had been updated to all day lunch and all day brekky, so I nabbed a chicken salad at the ungodly lunch hour of 9am. I enjoyed it, but it was quite salty; I don’t think the salad itself needed seasoning as the chicken was already salty. To be fair, I didn’t pass this info on to the staff because I was too hungry to care. My dining companions each ordered the poached egg special, which comes with jamon and bullhorn peppers. They subbed in tomatoes for jamon for my mum, who’s vego, which was nice of them, and the eggs provided the requisite liquid yolks for optimal egg porn.
The kinks are still being ironed out here, but overall I would say it is a friendly place, they’re receptive to feedback, the space is lovely, the food and coffee are solid, there isn’t anything quite like it in the area, and they’re open 7 days, which doesn’t hurt either. There is a liquor licence pending so I’m excited to see whether these guys delve into dinner as well.
I still want to go back and try their ‘narnies’ (sandwiches made of naan bread), the fries, which look incredible, and the cute little fish croquettes, arranged in little egg cartons and served with lemon and aioli. Three Williams is a good brunch/lunch option in this hood, but get in quick before this place is completely packed out.
613a Elizabeth St
Redfern, NSW 2016
(02) 9698 1111
Monday – Sunday 7:00am – 4:00pm
Is there anything more inspiring than someone who actually gives a fuck? Case in point, I’ve found myself in a conversation with Little Indi co-owner Frank Meura on the finer points of biodegradation. I think. I’m not 100% on what he’s on about, but I am appreciating the passion and earnestness for the subject. That, and the excellent cup of hand-pumped espresso (in the form of a macchiato) I’m sipping away at. I’m nursing it in its little bowl like its a precious baby.
I haven’t yet ordered anything to eat from their vego, sustainable menu, but judging by the delicious bruschetta-like item chef Rebecca Chippington (formerly Revolver) has just dished up, I probably should have; it is a gorgeous mess of boiled eggs, avo, herbs nuts and cheese piled high on a thick, seedy slab of Iggy’s bread, ‘made with love,’ she grins. I’m wishing I’d skipped brekky so I could have some.
It’s been almost a year since the pairs’ Surry Hills pop up ‘Naked Indiana’ finished. Their new project, Little Indi is located in an industrial laneway in Alexandria and serves a rotating vego menu with a raw/vegan focus. They are also selling the produce they use direct to the public, acting as a point of convergance for independent aussie food and drink businesses. Everything at Little Indi is local, at the very least, Australian; if they can’t get it from this wide brown land, they don’t use it. Everything they use is recycled and composted, nothing goes to waste. And the coffee, using Public Grounds beans, is damn good.
I notice the sign offering a 30c discount on coffees for those who bring their own cup for takeaway. Frank tells me that’s not really taking off. ‘I lend people my cups instead, but you know, I’m running low, so…’ I love this idea; I hate the sensation of sipping coffee from a paper cup; it just doesn’t feel like a coffee break if I’m gulping my caffeine from a flimsy disposable receptacle.
I have to say it’s refreshing to meet two people so genuinely excited about something I can’t much be bothered thinking about. In an age where concepts like ‘sustainable’ ‘green’ or ‘raw food’ can act as little more than buzzwords, meeting a pair of ethical entreprenuers who actually, no joke, want to ‘get active in saving our environment’ is kind of lovely. And the reason a place like Little Indi works so well is that even if you could care less about any of the things that drive it, if you love good food and good coffee, it’s for you. I’m thinking I’ll be back to pop in for a coffee or maybe some of that old-school cream-topped Tilba milk they use.
50 McCauley Street
Alexandria NSW 2015
Tuesday – Friday 7:00am – 2:30pm
When someone, anyone, waxes lyrical about cafes in Melbourne, their raving can generally be taken with a grain of salt. But mention Patricia Coffee Brewers and your barista’s eyes will take on a dreamy sheen. It’s the kind of place that every coffee pro dreams of opening.
Patricia sits on the eastern side of Melbourne’s CBD, a stone’s thrown from Flagstaff and Southern Cross stations. You’ll find it down Little William Street, on the corner of Little Bourke.
Standing room only, Patricia is all about the coffee. With expertly trained staff and discerning customers – Patricia is a cosy little haven in from Melbourne’s mercurial weather that knows exactly what the hell it’s on about. It was started by St Ali/Seven Seeds vetaran Bowen Holden, read his story here and try not to fall in love with his passionate, commonsense approach.
Patricia sources, serves and beautifully repackages (for take home) coffee from Melbourne’s cream of the crop; the likes of Small Batch, Proud Mary, Market Lane et. al. are well represented here. Since its standing room only, you may as well order your coffee in a ceramic cup (black or filter $3.50, white $3.80), stand at one of the bars that line the narrow room and sip away.
For those who absolutely must sit, there are a few milk crates strewn around the laneway outside. There are a few pastries, cookies and the baked-treat-of-the-moment, caneles, but other than that, it’s coffee or bust. For me, it’s rare not to included Patricia in a visit to Melbourne.
Patricia Coffee Brewers
Cnr Little Bourke & Little William St.
Melbourne, VIC, 3000
Monday – Friday 7:00am – 4:00pm
03 9642 2237
Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited to a preview for snack food pop up Bao Town, which is being held at Vella Nero in the Sydney CBD. Bao town is the brain child of Theresa Nguyen, 10 year graphic design maven, food blogger and all round dynamo.
So WTF is a bao? You’ve probably had one of these filled, fluffy buns at some point in your life. They originated in china and are often filled with things like cha siu pork or red bean paste. At their best, they are fresh, fluffy and piping hot, filled with delectable insides. At their worst, they’re a sad and starchy mess with over-processed goopy guts. I haven’t scoffed down many baos in my day, so I was keen to learn more by doing so, and I’ll admit I was lured by the promise of coffee.
Bao Town’s baos are not the ultra-bleached buns you’ll find on your local cut-price yum cha cart. The dough is dense, soft and yeasty, fluffy but substantial, and the fillings are worth heading into town for.
There are 6 of these bad boys on offer. 4 savouries; Coconutty Pork Belly, Beef Bo Kho, Miso Eggplant and Yellow Chicken Curry, and 2 for pudding; Lemon Polenta and Molten Chocolate. Bao Town is doing what you’d expect – filling the bao’s with unexpected fillings. But don’t worry, Theresa learned the rules before she broke ‘em. The Beef Bo Kho is based on her family’s recipe, and the pork belly is slow cooked for 4 hours in young coconut juice.
Savoury-wise, my money is on the silky, salty and smooth Miso Eggplant, topped with a zesty coriander puree, and the Yellow Chicken Curry, a satisfying and complex vibrant yellow stew. But the show stopper has to be the Molten Chocolate by Marou, which sounds simple and obvious and it is, but the 100% liquid chocolate marries so perfectly with the bready bao in all its messy gorgeousness, I couldn’t stop at one.
The road from epiphany to action is one seldom tread, and often fraught with risk. It’s one thing to be hit by a lightning-bolt idea for a super-popular street food cart, shop or restaurant; it’s quite another to put in the capital, the hours and the work to take the massive risk that is setting up your own small business. Thus, a pop-up allows you to test the waters and take one step along the path from revelation to reality. Based on the preview, I’d say Theresa’s dream is very much worth the risk.
Bao Town will be popping up at Vella Nero on the following dates:
Saturday 12th October, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Saturday 2nd November, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Saturday 7th December, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Shop 3, 259 Clarence Street,
Sydney NSW 2000
For an espresso-free caffeine experience that’s more akin to a meditation than a coffee break, Melbourne’s Assembly may be just what the coffee guru ordered. A compact minimilist caffeine shrine in inner Carlton, Assembly is about all things coffee- all things, that is, except espresso.
We arrive on a blustery Saturday morning well and truly ready for a warming brew. Assembly is a small, whitewashed, wood-panelled and filled with light. At the front of the space sits a small communal table that seats 6, temptingly laden with cakes as if we’d arrived just in time for morning tea. I spy Matt Forbes doughnuts amongst the cookies and cakes, almost impossible to resist, and there are arch-shaped indented wall shelves stocked with one of each and every third-wave coffee gizmo I know of.
Assembly’s mission is to spread the word of non-espresso brews. To this end, they source, and beautifully repackage, a range of teas and coffees from the likes of Reuben Hills, Market Lane and Small Batch. They painstakingly prepare the brews in-store, but you can also purchase beans and relevant coffee geek paraphernalia to take with you.
We’re run through the flavour profiles of four different filter coffee options. There are also 9 teas on offer. We try are the Los Nubes Miramar from Guatemala, roasted by Market Lane and the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Kochere roasted by Market Lane, both black, as well as the Candyman blend, served with milk and roasted by Small Batch Roasters. There’s also the Finca El Naranjo from Honduras. The coffees are brewed one at a time, but for those who don’t have time to wait, there’s a cannister of batch brewed coffee ready to go, so you can help yourself to a paper cup and be on your way.
My partner in crime and I taste the two black coffees, and, serendipidously, I prefer the Los Nubes Miramar, with its gorgeous flavour of stone and dried fruits and nutty undertones, and he prefers the Yirgacheffe Kochere’s citrus and berry tones. The two couldn’t be more different, and we buy 100 grams of each for some further aeropress experimentation.
What I love about this concept is the ability to purchase tiny lots of beans – as little as 100g or even 50g, which means you’re buying what you will use in its optimum state – a dose of coffee is about 15 grams, so 100g will get you about 6 filter cups. It also means you can try a bunch of different beans and see what flavours tickle your fancy.
I’m surprised to find that I like the small space, and appreciate the communal feeling of sitting at the only table in the house and chatting to your neighbour. Assembly also have an online store, and you can join their ‘Coffee Fellowship’, in other words, buy a coffee subscription, either for yourself or as a gift for someone super caffeine-mad. *Hint hint*
Assembly Curated Coffee & Tea
60 Pelham Street Carlton VIC 3053
Monday – Friday 7:00am – 6:00pm
Saturday – Sunday 10:00am – 5:00pm
Popular posts this month…
- Review – Philips Saeco Intelia posted on January 10, 2012
- 3 great hole-in-the-wall CBD Cafes posted on April 13, 2012
- Lau’s Ultimate Corn Fritters and the four fritter truths posted on March 1, 2013
- The quest for Mex part 2 – Feisty Chicken Burritos posted on December 21, 2010
- Café Review – Klink Handmade Espresso, Sydney CBD posted on March 29, 2011
- Cubao Street Food, Alexandria posted on May 26, 2014
- The quest for Mex part 1 – Mexican Red Rice posted on December 17, 2010
- The Grounds of Alexandria posted on April 4, 2012
- Why I write and four ace bloggers who do it better
- The five best things I ate in London
- Shoreditch is awesome, airports are not
- I quit sugar? Do I bollocks.
- Cubao Street Food, Alexandria
- The Reformatory Caffeine Lab, Surry Hills
- Brewtown Newtown
- Stay caffeinated over Christmas
- Gumption by Coffee Alchemy, Sydney CBD
- Peach and Cinnamon Cake
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 Australia License.
Disclaimer:All opinions in this blog are mine, an everyday, real-life person. I do not accept payment for reviews and nor do I write sponsored posts. I do not endorse the content of the comments herein. From time to time I give away products and experiences to my readers, all competitions have completely arbitrary rules, all decisions are final and all prizes awarded as I see fit.