I’m really glad I’ve started taking daily walks. Ok, so I sound like a 65 year old woman, but it was on my very first such ‘constitutional’ that I spotted Sub-Station, a cute (but sadly closed that day) little cafe in Alexandria. I told my man-friend about the place and he beat me to it that very week, getting the inside scoop via his charming personality (note to self: get a charming personality).
Sub-Station Cafe opened just over a month ago in, you guessed it, Alexandria. It is housed in a beautifully renovated electric substation (Substation 152), a long narrow space with a fantastic indoor/outdoor area, warmly minimalist with a homey touch. The attention to detail in the decor is to be admired, from the patina of the floor to the bare bulb light fittings crafted from bedsprings.
Sub-Station has a spotlight-on-the-ingredients kind of café menu. We ordered the Avocado Toast to share which was a generous plate of soy and linseed toast and seasoned fresh tomato and avocado. I like the diy approach, which is the same for their big breakky, a kind of platter of various toast toppings plus eggs. They also have a lunch menu of sambos and salads. It’s all very simple, fresh food, assembled more than cooked, that seems to be all the rage right now in Sydney, especially at bakeries or coffee obsessed cafés. Personally I am a fan of this kind of menu as there’s only so much candied bacon I can take.
Either their single origin house blend is amazing or they have an amazingly skilled barista on staff (you never can tell). Case in point my man and me had not one criticism to make in terms of either flavour or form. After three visits, I can’t fault them, and among our crew we’ve sampled macchs, picollos, caps and espressos- all black or full cream milk coffees, no sugar, an espresso nazi’s dream. Maybe a soy (they use bonsoy) or skim drinker will have a different take on the place.
Any criticisms I have are not related to the coffee or the food. It’s order and pay at the counter, but there’s no real way of knowing that unless you ask. This can lead to awkwardness, like when a waitress comes to take away your empty cups and plates and you ask for another coffee… Do they want you to pay now? Oh no, that’s ok. But wait, isn’t it order and pay at the counter? Confusing. Also it’s always easier to upsell and people are more likely to order more coffees when there’s a bill at the end, that’s just human nature, but at the very least it needs to be well signposted.
And on the subject of signposts, I think it’s a good idea to have more than one copy of a printed menu available, or some kind of massive blackboard up. Basically, without food choices written up, people may not know you serve food, although I would say all the delectable loaves of bread stacked up everywhere, plus the food prep going on, would give you a clue. The first time I went, there was one menu for the whole place. The second time, no menus. Unfortunately, people need to be told what’s what, e.g. ‘Here’s a list of what we serve. Please order and pay at the counter.’
Those two criticisms aside, this is a brand new business which is still finding its feet and barely stumbling. It’s run by really friendly people and housed in a gorgeous space, with a tempting but simple menu and excellent coffee. I am completely stoked to have these guys in my ‘hood.
124 Mcevoy Street Alexandria NSW 2015
Monday – Friday 6:30am – 4:00pm
Saturday 8:00am – 4:00pm
Closed Sundays (for now)
When I say coffee, I mean espresso. So it’s easy to forget that there’s more than one way to brew a bean. Luckily, the Black Coffee Pop-up is in Sydney this week showing off the ins and outs of non-espresso coffee methods, brewing pour-over, siphon and the aero-press coffees from 19-22 April at Outré Gallery in Surry Hills.
Black Coffee is exactly what it sounds like. The brainchild of Seven Seeds barista Mark W Free (the one in the hat), Black Coffee has appeared at Somewhere Store Gallery in Melbourne and serves nothing but black coffee – no milk, no sugar, no espresso, and, according to their website, ‘no bullshit’.
The focus on the coffee part of coffee makes sense to me. And I have to admit it’s nice to savour more than a thimblefull and really drink in that aroma. We tried the Market Lane Boa Vista from Brazil (pourover), its heady aroma of roasting chestnuts drawing us in. The taste is far mellower than the smell, far from the concentrated hit I’m used to, but it grows on you.
Recently there’s been a growing trend towards coffee geekery and gadgetry (in fact, towards geekery and gadgetry in general), but also a renewed interest in no-fuss food and drink. The time is right for something like the ‘pay what you you feel’ Black Coffee pop up, proving that anyone can make coffee, you don’t need a fuck off espresso machine, a commercial grinder or a crash course in barista basics.
It’s a good time to be a caffeine addict, however you take your coffee.
So by now you probably know the macchiato is my current coffee of choice. I love an espresso or a ristretto, but a few too many black-coffee-on-an-empty-stomach days on a Portuguese holiday kinda cured me of the habit, as did my frugal nature; $3 or more for a shot of coffee with no additions just seems like bad value. A macchiato is also a bet-hedging drink; the milk tempers a short black which may or may not be brilliant, hiding any extra bitterness it may have. Here’s a list of 3 places I think make a great one (in no particular order).
1. Plunge Coffee, Summer Hill
This had been on my wishlist for ages and I wasn’t disappointed. Sitting on a street that real estate agents would describe as ‘funky’ and local council marketing would describe as ‘a village’, it’s a nice place to sit and there’s plenty of seating. The coffees here are beautiful and taste as good as they look. A bit steep at $3.50 but the milk is silky smooth and so is the flavour. They use coffee alchemy coffee.
48 Lackey Street,
Summer Hill NSW 2130
2. Le Grand Café, Clarence Street
The café in the foyer of Alliance Française sells scrummy looking pastries by Bécasse and does more substantial food as well, but I’m more interested in their coffee. All coffees are $3, unless you prepay and buy a bunch at a time and then the work out at $2.50 each. They use Allpress coffee which I like and their macs are not too long with a generous daub of froth. The service is good too.
Le Grand Café
257 Clarence Street,
Sydney CBD NSW 2000
(02) 9267 1755
3. Single Origin Roasters, Surry Hills
This macchiato is so ridiculously expensive I considered not recommending Single Origin on that basis. It is also hipster paradise and only open on weekdays. That said for $4 you’ll feel no qualms about returning it if it’s not to your liking. I’ve been there quite a few times and have never had to. You also get a choice of beans if you so desire. The branding of this place is such that 250g bags are sold at 15 bucks a pop. Not so rapt on the tiny stools and tables either.
Single Origin Roasters
64 Reservoir Street,
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9211 0665
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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.