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
You’ve gotta love a coffee place that bills itself as ‘the second best coffee in Marrickville’ (and the 11th best in Australia). Regardless of the quality of their coffee, its fair to assume they have a sense of humour. At least, that was my logic the first time I tried to go to Whole Bean, on a Saturday, but the joke was on me as at that point, they weren’t open Saturdays (they are now), so I added them to my list for sometime soon.
‘Sometime soon’ came sooner than I thought, as one gorgeous day last week I headed there with my partner in coffee and in life to try the second best coffee in Marrickville. Whole Bean is housed in a Marrickville Warehouse just off Victoria Road, and comprised of a coffee roaster, syphon bar and more edison light bulbs than you can poke a stick at, not to mention recycled coffee sacks and velvet curtains. It’s a cavernous space, and one you can rent out for functions, should you be so inclined. The space is large and there’s plenty of seating, another benefit of many cafes in this part of town.
Our coffee arrives and my macch looks suspiciously like a ristretto. I return it and they make me a macch at lightning speed. Maybe it’s because when I was a kid, my mum used to give me the foam off her cappucino after a morning’s grocery shopping, but I’m a fan of a macch with plenty of foam, and this one doesn’t deliver. However, it’s a good macch. My partner’s picollo impresses the pants off him, thankfully not literally, but it has a the deep, solid and well rounded flavour that stands up to the generous slosh of milk you get in a picollo.
It seems counter intuitive, but there’s more good coffee in Marrickville than there is in somewhere like Newtown. Maybe it has something to do with the abundance of warehouses (and thus coffee roasters), but then how would you explain Surry Hills? Either way, Whole Bean is a solid coffee choice in a solid coffee suburb. We’ll be back.
38 Chapel Street
Marrickville NSW 2204
02 9565 4063
Monday to Friday: 7:00am – 3:00pm
Saturday: 8:00am – 3:00pm
I kept thinking Cornersmith was called Cornerstone. I kept meaning to go there and never making it. But I finally made it the morning of the Sydney Food Bloggers Picnic last month, and I wasn’t dissappointed.
Cornersmith is the kind of joint that’s closed for pickling on Mondays. Yes, really, I didn’t get that from some kind of Hipster’s Encyclopaedia of cafe descriptors (remind me to write that, if I ever get a chance). They do all kinds of locavore/DIY things like buying backyard produce and making their own jam. They have a beehive on their roof! Basically, they’re the cafe equivalent of a Portlandia sketch.
All this and more means that I was there with bells on at whatever time it was that Saturday. Cornersmith is right by Marrickville station, which is super convenient for someone like me who hates buses. It’s got great decor, clean white walls, jars of pickles adorning the counter and a good mix of natural timber and understated vintage furniture.
Me and my mate order and pay at the counter and nab the only free table. Our toast/coffee/toast/macch order comes out at $32, and I realise there must be a mistake. That’s the problem with order-and-pay-at-the-counter with somewhere as busy as Cornersmith – mistakes are bound to be made. Our bill gets downgraded to a much more reasonable $19, phew!
I’m a fan of the coffee and I’m a fan of the vibe, although Saturday morning is pretty hectic. I’m enjoying my Mecca macchiatto, apparently my friend’s mocha is no slouch either. The menu is simple, a lot of toast-and-toppings on offer, with many tthings made on site – from honey, to pickles, chutneys and jams. Cornersmith strives to be self-sufficient. They also sell their products, and other peoples’, instore.
The reviews have generally been positive and I can see why, although they’ve also been victim of some pretty harsh graffitti, with ‘yuppy scum’ painted across the storefront and the windows bashed in. All in all I will definitely return if I’m ever in the hood.
314 Illawarra Road
Marrickville NSW 2204
(02) 8065 0844
Tuesday to Friday 6.30am – 3.30pm
Saturday and Sunday 8:00am – 3:00pm
Monday – closed for pickling
Before Australia became an espresso drinker’s paradise, how the hell did we fill our time? What reason did we give for popping out of the office at 10:30am, a quick… juice? And what of those who don’t drink it? Something tells me the Aussie psyche is evolving a distinct distrust of the non-coffee drinker. We’re learning to look on them with the same suspicion we traditionally reserved for the teetotaller – eschewing coffee will soon be ‘unastrayun’.
But lucky for caffeine addicts like me that our nation’s passion ensures that every five minutes a new, hip café or coffee roaster pops up. I may be biased as an inner-westie, but a large number of them crop up in the inner-west. Ok, so they’re in places like Alexandria or Marrickville, the so-called ‘warehouse suburbs’ (so-called because I just called them that), and that has more to do with a post-industrial (literally) gentrification than a compass. But there’s no doubt I’m one lucky Lau to live in such a pocket of coffee wankery.
Double Roasters stands on the threshold between the part of Marrickville I’d consider living in and actual Marrickville. Halfway between Marrickville Road and The Factory Theatre, it’s an all grey building with lurid neon stencilling spelling out its name on the windows. When my bro and I arrive, I’m pleased to see it’s a big place and there are plenty of tables both inside and out. We join the queue and it’s not long before a pleasant young fellow is enquiring if we want to have in or takeaway. We tell him ‘have in’ and he invites us to sit wherever we like. We do.
The windows in this place are floor to ceiling, which gives the café good light. There are your usual knick knacks scattered around and there are also bag of coffee to buy ($9 each – not bad, if it’s any good). The interior is painted the same bluish—grey as outside. The counter is brick and behind it sits a roaster, tables and chairs are wooden, arranged diagonally on the painted concrete floors. Considering its 10:30am on a Saturday morning it’s not too crowded, there’s the mix of inner-west families and student-types you’d expect in this part of town. We order coffees.
The menu looks good. Prices are more than reasonable with sandwiches (roast pork belly, poached chicken) at $7.50 and nothing on the breakky menu for more than $12.00. I note that they use Sonoma bread and the much-praised bonsoy soy milk – ticking two boxes straight up. Bro orders the roast pork belly sandwich and I go for the brekkie special – Zucchini and corn fritters with avocado salsa, rocket and a poached egg.
Weirdly, our brekkie arrives prior to our coffees. The glutton in me is disappointed by their size, but the proper grown-up recognises they portions are perfectly adequate, especially given the price. Bro loves his pork belly sandwich. I have a bite and its pretty dandy – fresh bread, some kind of apple relish and possibly aioli accompanying tender pork. My fritters are perfectly cooked and the perfect size, but I realise while I’m eating them that I’d prefer a little lower zucchini to corn ratio. The avocado salsa is a mash, so more like a guac, the egg is slightly too poached (very slightly). I would say my brekkie is almost perfect.
Our macchiato and double macchiato arrive next, and they are smooth and tasty. I don’t add any Colombian organic sugarcane to mine and neither does my bro, but I guess that’s just our personal preference. While I enjoy the coffee, it’s weirdly milky for a macch, more of a picciatto if you ask me. Nevertheless I order a second.
The only thing that slightly spoils our morning is how long it takes to pay. The guy at the register is chatting away with the customer in front of us, apparently frozen with the customer’s $20 bill in his hand. As they chat away we’re standing there, thinking he could just put the money through, then settle our bill, and then go back to his chat. A few minutes later he comes to us but, as if to try and make up for it, he runs through our order piece by piece, looking at us expectantly, urging us to deliver a verdict. This actually has the opposite effect- we don’t feel privileged to give our opinions, we feel forced to praise the (admittedly delicious) meal when we should have been walking out of the café to get on with our Saturday and the one million and one important things we had to do, hideously busy and important people that we are.
199 Victoria Road
Marrickville NSW 2204
02 9572 7711
6:00pm – 3:00pm
I’m not much for standing in queues. Then again, I’m assuming it’s something not many of us look forward to. Let me rephrase that – if I have to line up and wait for a table at a restaurant or café, I won’t. The line turns me off. The hype turns me off. The way I see it, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. And some of those fish might even be salt encrusted Portuguese sardines cooked on hot coals. But I digress.
So it will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m not the least bit interested in checking out the Bourke Street Bakery that is actually on Bourke Street- that line around the block is way too Porteño for me (Haha. Clever double entendre there). Until recently I had been to all their other branches, including their now defunct Broadway branch and their offshoot Central Baking Depot.
But I hadn’t been to their Marrickville store, and I vowed to before they open another branch. Oh wait, they just did. It’s in Potts Point and apparently even bigger. Anyway, I finally went to check out a couple of weeks ago, in what shall be known as ‘Lau and Senhor R’s weekend of bakery madness’, where we checked out Bourke Street Bakery Marrickville, Brasserie Bread in Banksmeadow and Sonoma Alexandria (twice). And when I say ‘checked out’ you of course understand that I mean ‘drank coffee and ate pastries at every single bakery.’
The reason Bourke Street Bakery Marrickville has been on my to-visit list forever is that I heard rumours there’s actually room to sit down. And guess what? The rumours are true. The interior, although hardly spacious, does have sufficient seating and there’s also a clump of tables outside. The large windows give lots of light, which bounces off the chrome industrial-looking stools. There’s a big rack of bread at one end of the shop, a mesmerising fridge of cakes and pastries in the middle and a large communal table at the end. I order two macchiatos and a chocolate croissant and we grab a seat.
Let me make this clear for those of you who don’t know: people RAVE about these guys. Their cookbook is a best seller. Their bread sells out every day. Customers wait with bated breath for the first batch of their legendary pork and fennel sausage rolls (a reliable source tells me this happens around 10:30am). Freaking hell, even David Lebovits loves the place, claiming their bread ‘rivalled anything (he) could get back home in Paris.’
So what did we think? Well, the pain au chocolat, although I’m no David Lebovits, was amazing – the pastry crisp and golden on the outside, puffed and layered in the middle and buttery all the way through. The coffee was lovely as well and I managed to (mostly) resist dunking the pastry in it. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to hear what I think of their sourdough, but I’ll give you a hint – we’ve bought three loaves in the last couple of weeks.
What about you? Do lines outside restaurants turn you on or turn you off?
Bourke Street Bakery, Marrickville
2 Mitchell Street
Marrickville NSW 2204
Who doesn’t love the inner west? With its rockabilly, gritty aesthetic, it’s mostly-gentrified streets, its plethora of ethnic restaurants. There’s always something to do, something to see. Every day is a photo opp for one of those clichéd photographic exhibitions City of Sydney puts on in Hyde Park about the real/dark side of/contrasting Sydney – a nun smiling arm in arm with a drag queen, a beaming Italian man out the front of his bakery next door to a brothel. It’s a Sydney that may or may not exist, depending on where you are and who you talk to.
One place that definitely exists is the Petty Cash Café, a retro marvel on the Marrickville/Enmore border right next to Enmore Park. One Saturday morning Rui and I are just driving around, drinking in the visuals when we spot it on a sun-drenched corner. We pull over next to a couple of drool-worthy vintage cars and high tail it across the road to nab a table. Never mind the fact that we’ve already had a coffee this morning- I’ll break my one-coffee-a-day rule for the chance to try somewhere new.
Petty Cash Cafe is one of those places that just begs to be photographed. Perched on the leafy Victoria road it has the retro/rockabilly vibe that I find so much more comfortable than the bare ligtbulbs, concrete floors and upcycled bicycle seat stools of the hipster aesthetic, although those things have their place as well. I love the clashing green/orange/red/warm timber, the retro furniture, the zany sugar bowls, the clientele and staff in the kind of getup I could never even envisage. It’s a feast for the eye.
We plonk ourselves down at a chessboard table and order our standards. The food is served on mismatched china, although we don’t partake. The cafe offers what you’d expect- all day breakfast, gluten-free baked treats, lunch offerings and delicious coffee. I’d love to come back and have breakky some time but we don’t seem to do that much anymore.
Our coffees arrive and there’s no need to rush. I sit and look out the window at the park which, from this angle actually looks pretty amazing as Rui, true to form, plays with his phone. I people watch inner-west parents weilding SUV-sized prams, goths and hipsters taking their Saturday morning stroll side by side, kids clambering over the newly erected playground and an old lady wheeling her groceries back from the Metro. Now all we need is a nun and a drag queen and we’ll be right to set up in Hyde Park…
Miss Petty Cash
68 Victoria Road
(02) 9557 2377
Flint and steel in Marrickville is one of the many cafés I’ve been itching to try for ages now. It’s on Addison Road, one of those hip, up-and-coming main drags in the inner west, the kind of exposed, cracked and uneven arterial Marrickville Council road that make the City of Sydney Council look like an overbearing helicopter parent. It’s dotted sparingly with second hand furniture stores, Thai takeaways and of course, cafés.
Apart from house hunting, a few trips to Reverse Garbage and the bogus Marrickville Organic Market (not all of it is organic, not all of the prices are marked), it’s a road I’ve been down without stopping many times. This is not a criticism of the Marrickville/Enmore border; far from it. Everything you need is there, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. You’re just outside the action, just outisde of Enmore/Newtown, a few bus stops from Sydney’s Little Portugal and a half hour bus ride from the CBD. The area has a lot in common with my current home, Alexandria, with its wealth of industrial conversions, dog parks and cafés. But Alexandria is a 25 minute walk from the CBD and I’m one lazy blogger who cannot drive her boyfriend’s manual car, or any manual car for that matter, so it has always seemed quite far out to me.
I stepped off the ever-reliable 355 bus to find I was more than 10 minute early, again! As I turned the corner I could already smell the coffee roasting. I followed my nose and the smell was even more enticing inside the shop. I ordered a macchiato and sat out the front as it’s quite dark inside. The barista brought out my coffee soon afterwards with a little glass of water which I appreciated. The macchiato was very short, the way I like it, with a beautiful striation. I took a sip and the first flavour I tasted was this overwhelming caramel note, I know that sounds pretentious but there you go. I’m not well-versed in coffee tasting lexicon but it was a very singular flavour, not rich or deep but clear and sweet. I was impressed with the clarity of flavour but I have a preference for something a tad darker and richer.
Waiting for my usual coffee pal, I was a tad nervous as I wanted to take photographs. I knew that Coffee Alchemy is primarily a coffee roaster and training facility, so it only has a tiny espresso bar at the front (Flint and Steel). I was going to have to ask permission. I generally feel ok with photographing interiors of cafés without asking as café owners don’t seem to mind and I consider cafés semi-public spaces. But in a small space it was inevitable that I would end up photographing staff and/or customers so I felt the need to ask.
My friend arrived and ordered a short black. The barista offered her a choice of three single estate coffees, and she chose the Guatamalan, which promptly arrived with a glass of water and had a darker, more chocolatey flavour and a tad longer shot, as she’s specified. We ordered two more coffees for good measure, a piccolo latte for me and another espresso for her. My piccolo had a gorgeous pattern on it, very photogenic. I wasn’t actually in the mood for a milk coffee, I just wanted a point of comparison and that’s the largest coffee I can bear to drink. It was smooth and creamy but lacked the body I was after and I couldn’t finish it. I wanted a short black if I’m honest.
Flint and Steel describes itself as ‘a little café tucked away in a quaint suburb’. While this description may seem a tad corny, it is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of shopfront, if not for the massive logo on the front window. Inside there are a few benches facing the front counter and a couple of side tables, and outside are three shabby-chic stools with large arm rests, so there is always somewhere to rest your coffee. However it’s not a place to wile away the hours and they don’t serve any food whatsoever, as they are primarily a coffee roaster. It wasn’t particularly busy, but then it was 10am on a weekday in Marrickville. We were there about an hour as people popped in and out, mostly getting takeaways, beans or freshly ground coffee to take home. I popped in 15 minutes prior to closing on Saturday arvo and they were a lot busier, with about 8 customers squeezed in sipping coffees and 5-or-so more ordering coffees and beans to takeaway.
Overall, I thought it was definitely worth the $3 each coffee cost. The staff were pleasant and knowledgeable and their attention to detail was impeccable, they were clearly focused on what they were doing and knew their stuff. My friend tried two coffees, the Guatamalan and the El Salvadorean and preferred the Guatamalan as she found it to be just a little bit smoother, richer and with less of an aftertaste. When I went back on Saturday they had three completely different blends on offer, so there’s plenty to try.
At the end of our visit, I stammered out ‘Uh, do you mind if I take a couple of photos? I write a blog…’ ‘Sure!’ the cheerful barista beamed at me. Phew. No stress.
Flint and Steel (Coffee Alchemy)
24 Addison Road
(02) 9516 1997
Weekdays: 7:00am – 2:00pm
Saturdays: 8:00am – 3:00pm
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Popular posts this month…
- Cubao Street Food, Alexandria posted on May 26, 2014
- Café review – Flint and Steel (Coffee Alchemy), Marrickville posted on March 1, 2011
- The Reformatory Caffeine Lab, Surry Hills posted on February 14, 2014
- The quest for Mex part 2 – Feisty Chicken Burritos posted on December 21, 2010
- How not to order a takeaway coffee posted on March 15, 2011
- Kosher Whole Orange Cake posted on July 5, 2011
- Desert Island Potatos posted on December 3, 2010
- Gumption by Coffee Alchemy, Sydney CBD posted on December 13, 2013
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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.