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
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
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
I love the fact that I couldn’t explain to an outsider what exactly the building blocks of ‘your typical Aussie Christmas dinner’ are. It is, by and large, flexible. In fact, it may not even be a dinner, it may be lunch. It could be on boxing day rather than Christmas, and there may not even be a table at all; it could be on a beach, or in a park, or at a pub.
Every year in my family, we fling together something a little different from the year before. And every person I talk to has their different family traditions, dishes and recipes; some that stay the same year in year out, some that evolve, and some that they’d rather forget. I like to think that, as a group (cue massive generalisation), we Aussies are a laid-back, casual lot, and the variety of meals we share over the silly season reflects this flexible, adventurous way of looking at food, and recognises our diversity as a nation.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be hosting a pre-Christmas recipe swap at the Glebe Library with the City of Sydney. We want people to bring in their Christmas recipes; the ones they love, the ones they hate, the ones they just made up yesterday. You can even bring samples to share, and we’ll eat and talk cooking and eating and Christmas. Huzzah!
If you can make it, here are the details
The Christmas Recipe Swap
Friday, 6 December 2013 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm
Glebe Library, 186 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe NSW 2037
What do I need to do?
- RSVP here
- If you have a recipe you’d like to share and need us to print, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday, 5 December 2013.
Hope to see you there, chums!
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
I recently had the pleasure of being a guest of Noodlies and The Fairfield City Council for #fairfieldfeast, a food tour for food bloggers showcasing the Western Sydney suburb of Fairfield. All meals were free, and all meals were also, unequivocally, bloody amazing. As tomorrow is Fairfield’s ‘Culinary Carnivale’, I thought it was time to share my list of must-eats for the 2165 postcode.
Although less well known than its Viet-food-packed neighbour, Cabramatta, Fairfield is actually the most culturally diverse suburb in Australia, as a stroll around the restaurants and shops in the Fairfield ‘city’ show. Fairfield boasts Iraqi, Afghani, Chilean, Lebanese, and Lao cuisines, just to name a few.
From the city, it’s a 45 minute train trip, and everything delicious is right by the station, making for a totally walkable multicultural feast. For me, #fairfieldfeast was like eating Christmas lunch three times at six culturally diverse tables. I enjoyed every single bite.
1. Arabic bread from the Afghan and Arab Bakery
Crisp on the outside, pillowy-soft within, and only 80 cents a piece to boot. What’s not to like about this freshly baked bread? It’s perfect for soaking up any soupy, dippy or saucy goodness from the bottom of your bowl.
2. Chicken in adobo at Sans Rival (Mykababayan) Filipino Grocer
Mykababayan change their dishes regularly but the Adobe chicken is usually on offer. Moist and tender with a subtle soy/vinegar marinade, I was pretty impressed with my first taste of this well-known filipino dish.
3. Chacarero y Palta at La Paula
It’s a rare day when I come to La Paula and don’t order this combo of la Paula’s own soft buns, rich mayo, fresh tomato, pickled green beans, generous slather of avocado and tender grilled beef strips. This sambo makes most burgers out there look like a joke.
4. Bread stew and crunchy salad, Al-Dhiaffah Al-Iraqi Restaurant
This slow-cooked stew is rich and tamatoey, the lamb almost falling off the bone. The strips of arabic bread soaking in the stew give the whole thing a soft, chewy texture, and the fresh tangy salad, which seems to accompany whatever you order, is a nice contrast.
5. Banana and Jackfruit Fritters at Sans Rival (Mykababayan) Filipino Grocer
There was nothing we didn’t like at Mykababayan, but the standout for me were these crispy parcels filled with soft sweet fruit and drizzled with solid strands of toffee.
6. Felafel and Toum at Frank’s Restaurant
This is felafel at its absolute best; crunchy and delicious with vibrant green innards, slathered in Frank’s special tahini sauce. Dunk it in Frank’s homemade toum (lashings of which are sold daily), the only ingredients of which are garlic, oil and salt. A better garlicky snack would be pretty hard to come by.
6. Lao Sausage and Nem khao at Green Peppercorn
My mouth *literally* does not understand either of these dishes. The lao sausage is made by hand and is packed with lemongrass, sure, but it is granular and complex in flavour in a way I just can describe. The Nem Khao had chunks of crunchy fried rice balls as well as fresh herbs and fermented pork. I think there’s coconut in there as well. Highly addictive.
9. Torta de Tres Leches at La Paula
Tres leches means ‘three milks’ in spanish and La Paula’s version is a sandwiched sponge with whipped cream and dulce de leche in the middle, iced with meringue and soaked in evaporated and condensed milk. It’s extra delicious if you either dunk it in coffee or pour a little coffee over it. trust me.
10. Pandan Creme Brulee and Deep Fried Ice cream at Green Peppercorn
Even though these were the last two dishes we ate on this massive food tour, I could not stop eating them. The pandan creme brulee was liquid smooth and coconutty with a crisp top, while the ice cream, wrapped in filo pastry, deep fried and paired with a rich caramel sauce never seemed to melt.
Which is your favourite suburb for a multicultural feast?
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
When it comes to coffee, the Sydney CBD is a great place to grab-and-go. Following on from my list of 3 great hole-in-the-wall cafés, I thought I’d share a few places in the city where you can sit down and savour your caffeine hit, rather than slamming it down on the way to another of your high-flying business meetings. Here are three cafés that, in the midst of the rat race, are more than happy bring you your coffee in a ceramic cup.
1. Double Barrel Coffee Merchants
The Double Barrel crew take their coffee extremely seriously, sourcing beans from Melbourne’s Seven Seeds and Code Black and Byron’s Marvell Street Coffee Roasters, among others. They always have at least a blend and a single O on the go. For those of the black coffee persuasion, they batch brew filter coffee, but they’ll also happily do you a pourover or an aeropress to order at their not-quite-up-and-running filter bar. It’s not just coffee, either; these guys make everything from scratch, from the slow-cooked meat subs to the salted caramel tarts to the muffins. Sean and the team are happy to talk shop, so order and pay at the counter, pull up a seat and sip your brew and talk the ins and outs of coffee flavour profiles or play video games.
Double Barrel Coffee Merchants
33 York Street, Sydney NSW 2000
0413 683 949
2. Marlowe’s Way
Marlowe’s may be a teensy place but if you time your visit right, you can nab a seat in this alleyway gem. Coffees seem ridiculously good value (a macch was $2.50 at the time of writing) and staff are super friendly. Each week one of their vintage teaspoons is chosen as ‘the magic spoon’, and whoever gets that spoon with their have-in coffee receives their second coffee for free, just one more reason to take 5 and have a real coffee break and drink out of a real cup. Marlowe’s uses a custom blend by The Little Marrionette, ‘the Banksian blend’, a fitting name for a café in the financial district. There’s usually a rotating single origin on offer, as well as artisanal teas and a basic Italian-inspired menu.
Cnr Tank Stream Way And Bridge Lane, Sydney NSW 2000
0432 487 598
3. Cabrito Coffee Traders
A cosy cafe in the Circular Quay area is surprisingly hard to come by, but Cabrito, the Spanish/Portuguese word for ‘little goat’ or ‘kid’, fits the bill. The menu may be bare bones (nu-wave lamingtons, sandwiches, toast) but if you can get an inside seat in this cozy little establishment you’re in for attentive service and solid coffee. These guys are hoping to start roasting their own coffee in future (they’re in a heritage listed building) but for now its a custom-roasted 4 Rascals blend. Bonus: they’re open Saturdays, somewhat of a rarity in the Sydney CBD.
Cabrito Coffee Traders
10-14 Bulletin Place, Sydney NSW 2000
02 8065 8895
Where’s your fave sit-and-sip café?
Popular posts this month…
- Lau’s Ultimate Corn Fritters and the four fritter truths posted on March 1, 2013
- Review – Philips Saeco Intelia posted on January 10, 2012
- 3 great hole-in-the-wall CBD Cafes posted on April 13, 2012
- The quest for Mex part 2 – Feisty Chicken Burritos posted on December 21, 2010
- Fairy Bread posted on March 11, 2011
- Rolador, Hamilton, Newcastle posted on June 15, 2012
- The Grounds of Alexandria posted on April 4, 2012
- Café Review – Klink Handmade Espresso, Sydney CBD posted on March 29, 2011
- Melbourne does Doughnuts
- No more shit #travelcoffee and #workcoffee
- 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
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.