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.

bakery window corridor kitchen

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.

choc croissant

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

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Weekend breakky used to be one of my favourite rituals. I had my places, I had my fave orders. But lately, it’s kind of fallen off the radar. So a couple of weeks ago, Senhor R and I jumped in the car and went to one of our all-time best breakky haunts, only to be greeted by sad, overpriced food and lacklustre service. We vowed never again to set out on a breakfast quest without a place in mind.

Having heard good things about Sonoma Bakery Café, the relatively new Sonoma HQ, we decided to head southwards for something new. We were greeted by a huge warehouse space, Allpress-like in its interior. An order-and-pay-at-counter affair, said counter was laden with delicious looking sandwiches and pastry. As we stood surveying the offerings, a barista offered us the breakky menu. Easy to see it was out first visit.

sonoma corridor kitchen

Obviously there wouldn’t be much point in ordering a Sonoma breakky if it didn’t include toast. I went for the kind of thing I usually choose – toast and poached eggs with a side of avocado. I noticed, weirdly that the blackboard menu worked out a couple of dollars cheaper than the paper menu, who knows, may have been a glitch. Senhor R ordered the Turkish eggs, described as eggs with ricotta, olives, tomato, dukkah and toast.

sonoma corridor kitchen

We help ourselves to water from a handy tap imbedded in the bench and grab some salt and pepper shakers as well. Our coffees arrived, soon followed by our breakfasts. I could tell straight away that my eggs were near-perfect, the butter on the side, which I appreciated, especially as I ordered avo. I’m a bit surprised they’ve mashed the avo though, since its texture is kind of the point. I spread my sourdough (I think it’s rye spelt) with butter and avo, whack and egg on top and pierce the yolk. Perfect. Liquid. Centre. Senhor R’s breakky is very salty, luckily he loves salt. It’s not quite what we expected – a mash of soft boiled egg, ricotta, chopped olives, fresh tomato and dukkah spread on double thick toast. I’m not sure what we imagined, definitely whole (rather than slightly mashed) eggs, something more akin to baked eggs I guess (that’s also on their menu). Senhor R admits he didn’t really read the description properly.

Sonoma has their own blend roasted by Surry Hills hipsters Single Origin Roasters, I’m not a huge fan, nor am I a huge detractor. The coffee was smooth, chocolatey and well made. The staff were all really friendly, so much so that when the barista cleared away our coffee cups, he asked if we’d like another round ‘On the house, I’m pretty bored.’ Maybe it was me snapping away, maybe he really was bored, either way, can’t say no to a free coffee.

Overall, we were very impressed with Sonoma, so much so that we returned the following day for coffee and to share a sandwich (Moroccan Chicken – amazing). I loved the space – high ceilings, plenty of tables, polished concrete floors, bare light bulbs. It’s kind of hard to find, but definitely worth the trek.

Sonoma Bakery Café
32-44 Birmingham Street
Alexandria NSW 2015
02 8338 1051
7:00 am – 4:00 pm

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A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a bread making workshop as Brasserie Bread in Banksmeadow. Silly me, I got Banksmeadow mixed up with Beaconsfield and so I found myself on a bus down Botany road at 10:35am, starting to panic. It’s a long way to Banksmeadow and I’ve learnt my lesson for next time.

Of course I needn’t have worried, as I entered the post-industrial café and through to the baking classroom I was greeted by a bunch of young ladies wielding state-of-the-art SLR’s – food bloggers. Brasserie Bread Training Manager Matthew Brock welcomes me offered me a drink and a disposable apron (damn, I knew I forgot something!). I chose a macchiato and then realised I was the only coffee drinker. Good mach though.

Matthew introduced the class by talking a bit about artisan baking and what it means. He explained that there is an emphasis on good quality ingredients, but the process is just as important as the materials. Artisan baking is all about doing things by hand rather than by machine. Matthew points out that the senses are crucial to the artisan baker, as he or she will rely on sight, smell, taste, touch and sound to determine whether the bread is ready to move on to the next stage.

He tells us he’s going to start by stimulating our sense of taste and pulls a tray of warm pastries out of the oven, which he cuts into generous chucks for us all to enjoy. At first we nibble, bird-like but then our senses get the better of us (we are food bloggers after all) and we chow down. They are heavenly. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that description would apply to many foods reheated in a bread oven…

After some munching and some more explanation, we move on to our first recipe, a multi grain ‘Struan’, a word which means ‘the convergence of streams’. It’s bread with a bunch of components coming together to make one tasty, low GI bread. We are given 5 bowls – a ‘bega’ (a starter), a ‘soaker’ (a mix of soaked seeds, flour, water and salt), fresh yeast (7g), a mix of flours and an olive oil/ agave nectar combo ‘for something a little bit different’. All these ingredients come together to form the Struan, and you can find the recipe here and here, but what’s more important is HOW they come together.

Matthew explains that the seeds have to be soaked overnight because otherwise they’ll leech the moisture from the bread and you’ll end up with a very dry loaf. I don’t have much experience making bread, it always seemed like a huge pain in the arse to me, but what surprises me more than anything as we knead and fold it is just how wet and sticky the dough is. I always thought bread dough had to be dry enough to just fall off your fingers and kneaded to within an inch of its life, but this dough reminds me of pão de queijo in terms of texture. We use very little flour, kneading it for about five minutes and then folding it up, placing a bowl over it and leaving it to sit for a minute. We knead it again for a couple of minutes, fold it up, place a bowl over it and leave it to rise for around an hour.

After this, we slap and roll the bread around a bit (literally, pick it up, slap it against the bench and roll it over). I’m more bread than blogger as I try and scrape every skerrick from my hands. ‘Every loaf of bread that you bake at home is a lesson,’ says Matthew, and I think, fair enough, but in my miniscule kitchen it’d be a pretty messy lesson.

We move on to shaping and this is the fun bit because it’s now that we really come to understand what he meant about the senses. We tuck all the sides of the dough up and under and then turn the dough over, so that the top is rounded. We then push down with cupped hands on this dough ball, rolling in a circular motion so that it becomes tighter and tighter. It’s hard to explain, but we can feel when it’s done. Then it’s dusted in rolled oats and left to prove, upside-down in a hairnet-lined bowl for about an hour.

We spent a bit of time in between rising and proving the Struan shaping some other loaves from some ready-to-prove dough they had prepared for us. We shaped multigrain dinner rolls (a similar process to shaping the Struan), a white baguette and a seed-encrusted pain d’epi or wheat-stalk bread. The pain d’epi was by far the coolest looking thing we shaped, and deceptively simple. Once we’d rolled a baguette, it was dampened in a tray with some wet paper towels and rolled in a tray of seeds. Then, with scissors held low and almost flat, we cut almost all the way through the dough, peeled a ‘petal’ to one side, made another cut and immediately peeled one to the other side. Matthew told us to act fast, as the ‘peeling’ must be done as soon as the dough is cut or it will spring back into shape. You can see detailed instructions on how to shape pai d’epi here.

By the end of the day we had so much bread to take home and then of course it was time to try pretty much every kind of bread Brasserie Bread makes, dipped in a whole raft of scrummy things – goat’s cheese, artisanal butter, soft cheese baked in the oven with wine and garlic…you know, your usual Tuesday lunch. My favourite by far was the olive and rosemary bread, salty deliciousness but I also loved the garlic bread and the sour cherry.

Anywhere there’s a ton of food bloggers, you never feel self-conscious about taking photos. I sure hope poor Matthew wasn’t camera shy. We all had a lot of fun. The class went for three hours and it would have been well worth the money if I’d had to pay for it but disclaimer, I didn’t and that could only add to my enjoyment.

Brasserie Bread have a range of courses, including kid’s classes (which are booked out until 2012!). They also do gift certificates, just pop into their café to purchase one. Courses cost about $150 and include everything you’ll need. Oh, and you get to take home all the bread you make and then some…

Brasserie Bread
1300 966 845
1737 Botany Road
Banksmeadow NSW 2019

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You may not know this about me, but I’m a sucker for a striped awning. Anyone clever enough to attach one to the outside of their cake shop/patisserie/boulangerie/espresso bar (because that’s where you always seem to find them) has a good chance of piquing my interest. And if it’s a sunny Saturday morning and I’ve ‘forgotten’ to have breakfast before Senhor R and I go out for coffee, your chances increase exponentially.

Thus ‘La Banette’ has always been referred to by me as ‘the place in Glebe with the yellow striped awning’. I don’t spend much time in Glebe because I find the coffee to be as it is in Newtown – a few brilliant places dotted here and there, but you gotta know where to look. And while in Newtown I have a fairly good idea (Campos, Vargabar Espresso, The Old Fish Cafe, Berkelouw Books), in Glebe I have no clue. And I’m usually too damned lazy to find out.

So I never realised it was a patisserie, boulangerie and café, let alone the second in a series (the other is in Avalon). After visiting, a quick Google reveals that the owners, Vince Luong and Uyen Le, have garnered acclaim all over for their interpretations of French classics. And it’s no surprise.

The interior is small but artfully arranged with bench seats and tables down one side and pastries, cakes and breads wherever they will fit. The selection is impressive and, to my mind, not at all on the expensive side. On our first visit we pick up a rustic sourdough baguette for something like $3 and grab our standard coffees to have in. The baguette isn’t as sourdough-y as I like it, but it have terrific crunch factor. The coffee is good. Very good. Good, rich crema, latte art which I can take or leave in real life but can’t get enough of for blogging. On our next visit we order croissant and a danish and they are divine; so buttery, rich and flaky I could eat ten.

The procedure is to order and pay at the counter before you sit down and the staff will bring your order out to you, or you can get it to go. They purport to be a bakery, not a cafe and thus although all the coffee comes with real saucers, cups and spoons the food comes in bags, boxes and on doilies. They request that you dispose of them yourself (they have bins) and I take no issue with this but if I have one criticism it’s that this policy seems wasteful. However, in the face of some of the best pastries I’ve had in my life and golden delicious coffee, this seems a small thing.

So, what less-than-subtle sign is guaranteed to pique you interest in a place?

La Banette
18 Glebe Point Road, Glebe 2037
(02) 8095 9688
7:00am – 6:00pm Monday – Friday

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