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
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
Manual brewing, alternative brewing, whatever you want to call it, it’s time to give it a go. DIY brewing methods such as aeropress, cold brew, pourover, syphon and their more well-known cousins such as French press and stove top coffee form another frontier in the exploration of coffee flavour. What’s more, they’re portable, cheap and easy to learn.
Still not convinced? Then check out my Q&A with Campos’ resident black coffee fanatic David Ruslie above. He talks black coffee culture in Australia, who’s ahead in the Sydney vs. Melbourne black coffee game and why you should give a damn about hands-on coffee brewing.
In these posts, we look at black coffee – the contraptions, the methods, the how to’s and the why’s. David Ruslie, Campos’ resident black coffee obsessive, walks us through aeropress, cold drip and pourover. He says there’s a growing interest in black coffee, because, sans milk and sugar, it really allows you to explore the flavour profiles of the coffees themselves.
“Coffee appreciation…it’s catching up to wine appreciation. There’s a lot more tasting notes, say with wine you have 200 tasting notes. Well, with coffee, you have 800 tasting notes, it’s really incredible.” David says. Sure, the man or woman on the street doesn’t need to know all 800 to enjoy their ‘new brew’, but it’s handy, he says, to be able to identify which flavours you prefer. You may think you’re not a black coffee drinker, but maybe you just haven’t found the right bean or the right method.
This week David shows us the simplest and most portable of the black coffee methods, aeropress. There are two main ways David uses the aeropress: the ‘normal’ method and the inverted method. In both cases, he advises that you pre-wet the paper filter with a few drops of water beforehand. To be precise, it’s also worth having a digital scale on hand to weigh your coffee and water, but you can also do it by sight. And the reason the water is boiled at the very beginning is that we’re aiming for water temperature of 92-96 degrees. The video gives you a good idea of what the below instructions actually look like in practice. If you’re interested in buying an aeropress, follow this link.
What you need:
– An aeropress
– an aeropress paper filter
– a kettle
– a mug to drink out of
– ground coffee or coffee beans
– a hand grinder (optional)
– a digital scale (optional)
The Normal Method
1. Boil your kettle.
2. Dampen the paper filter, place it in the aeropress disc and fit the disc into the larger of the two tubes.
3. Place the aeropress, filter end down on your scales and ‘zero’ them. Grind and/or pour in coffee to the desired weight.
4. Place aeropress over a mug or jug, filter side down.
5. Zero your scales again. Pour in 200g of boiled water. Give it a stir. Steep for 45 seconds.
6. Stir once again and place the ‘plunger’ in the aeropress. Slowly push down until all coffee is in the cup (about 20 seconds).
The Inversion/Upside Down Method
1. Boil your kettle.
2. Push the ‘plunger’ into the aeropress tube and turn upside down so that the tube is on top and the plunger is on the bottom.
3. Place it on your digital scales and ‘zero’ them. Grind and/or pour in coffee to the desired weight into the tube.
4. Zero your scales again. Pour in 200g of boiled water. Do not stir. Dampen the paper filter, place it in the aeropress disc and place on top of the upside down aeropress. Steep for 1 minute and 30 seconds.
5. Stir the coffee to break the crust. Fit the disc into the top of the aeropress. Place a jug or mug upside down on it.
6. Flip the entire aeropress 100 degrees. Slowly push down until all coffee is in the cup or jug (about 20 seconds).
Other Black Coffee Revolution Posts:
Cold Drip Coffee
Over the next month, I look at black coffee – the contraptions, the methods, the how to’s and the why’s. David Ruslie, Campos’ resident black coffee obsessive, walks us through aeropress, cold drip and pourover and explains why he’s so passionate about this back-to-basics approach.
“Australian coffee culture is actually milk coffee culture, and I’m trying to change it,” David tells me. Single-handedly trying to convert us from flat-whites-with-one to siphon/cold drip/aeropress? Not so much, Dave says, but he’s excited to share the precision and hands-on nature of black coffee brewing with me. He kindly offered to walk me through these ‘third wave’ or ‘fourth wave’ (whatever it is we’re up to now) methods. We’re going to start with the chemistry lab setup that is cold drip.
David explains that there are two basic methods of coffee making- immersion and percolation, and cold drip is full percolation. This method involves steeping fresh, coarse coffee grounds at room temperature over time, usually around 12 hours. This results in an extremely caffeinated, low acidity, sweet-tasting cold coffee, and a brew that non-espresso drinkers often warm to. ‘It doesn’t actually taste like coffee.’ says David, which is a good way of explaining the flavour- bright, mild and tea-like.
For the cold drip, David used 1500mls of water for 250g of ground coffee, with a resulting yield of 1200ml of cold drip brew. The ideal brewing time is 12-15 hours, as there is no heat to aid extraction. David favours 8-9 drips per 10 seconds
As complex as this chemistry lab setup may look, you don’t necessarily need it to cold brew your own coffee at home. Similar results can be achieved by steeping coffee in a jar or overnight, and then pouring the resulting liquid through a coffee filter and chilling for future use. You can also do this in a French press, as you would for hot coffee but again, overnight.
The video above demonstrates how cold drip is made. For more info on how to brew you own cold coffee at home, click here.
Are you a cold coffee fan? What’s your fave way to enjoy it?
Other Black Coffee Revolution Posts:
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)
Time was if I told someone I lives in Alexandria, I’d have to explain where it was. Usually I’d just say Redfern. More recently, mention Alexandria and you conjur up images of chic warehouse hotspots like The Grounds or Kitchen by Mike. That’s just dandy, but those are hardly ‘stroll-in-for-a-quick-coffee’ joints.
So it is with a touch of trepidation I begin this post on The Rag Land, a new cafe on Raglan street in Waterloo which is relatively unknown. A couple of weeks ago they liked me on facebook and when I saw where they were located, my heart skipped a beat and I liked them back. And when I read that they serve Golden Cobra Coffee, of which I am a fan, I was extra psyched to give them a go.
I popped in on a weekday morning for a rich strong macchiato and a spot of eavesdropping. I was only one of three customers, the other two ladies were super excited to quiz the owner on his new business and tell him all about the area. They seemed pretty happy to have a cafe nearby and I have to say that after 8 years living in the ‘hood I tend to agree. It’s good to have another solid local business in the area.
An old Polish deli, the place has been kitted out with secondhand/upcycled/repurposed goods, most of which are for sale. Its really the first business of this type in the immediate area, the nearest cafes being up the road on Regent Street. The space looks like what it is – an old shop that’s been whitewashed and adorned with bric a brac. I’ve been by twice now and both times have been good, if a tad awkward in that we’re-a-new-business kinda way.
Owners Dave and Laura, previously of Dj Espresso have put together a solid menu of breakkies and sambos which I think is priced well for the area. There’s plenty of Pork Belly, which they hope to make their ‘thing’. I’ve had a few coffees there and some delicious smashed eggs, a generous portion of sourdough slices laden with boiled eggs, avo and parsley-heavy salsa. I have to say I’m impressed.
The Rag Land
129 Raglan St,Waterloo NSW 2017
There’s something in the water in Alexandria. One by one, disused warehouses are being converted into cafes and bars. Sympathetic renovations abound – think Allpress Espresso, Kitchen by Mike, Don Campos, Bread and Circus or Sonomo HQ. Further afield you’ve got the likes of Brasserie Bread and Freda’s Bar and Canteen taking up residence. Add The Grounds to the list of cavernous and ultra modern spaces slightly off the beaten path of the inner southwest.
The Grounds is situated on the corner of Huntley street and Bourke Road. It’s is in the same ‘complex’ as 4143 at The James Barnes. It felt like this place would never open, but open it did for the first time yesterday, so this morning I went to check it out.
When we arrive, I count ten staff. We order our coffees and are told since we’re having them in, to take a seat and then order. The coffee takes a while, which is odd considering the gaggle of waiters clustered around the till and the small number of customers. To be fair, we did arrive at 7:15am on their second day of trade, and I know from experience that a POS system can be a pain in the arse to get going. When it arrives, the coffee is good. Well-rounded flavour, and well presented.
The Grounds is an amazing space. Imagine a kind of barn (well, former pie factory), all rustic wooden finishes and concrete floors (drool), lit with tungsten lights and dotted with industrial touches like exposed copper pipe. This space cries out to be described in cliches – rustic, post-industrial, but above all, beautiful. You can view the coffee roasters through glass panels and on the wall behind neon yellow letters spell out ‘Research Facility’.
The ‘barn’ opens out onto a large garden/courtyard and there’s plenty of seating to while away the hours. There you’ll find a micro-garden of herbs, fruit and veggies, with chickens no less, giving Cornersmith a run for its money in the made-from-scratch stakes. They also bake their own bread and roast their own beans, and plan to hold cupping and coffee making classes. If you take a quick squiz at Katie Quinn Davies’ (no relation) shoot for The Grounds, I think you’ll agree their home style food (could they BE any more on trend) looks pretty bloody scrumptious. I for one can’t wait to try it.
All in all I’m delighted to have these guys in my backyard. And I plan to spend a lot of time in theirs.
The Grounds of Alexandria
7a/2 Huntly Street (corner Bourke Road)
Alexandria NSW 2015
Weekends 7:00am – 3:00pm
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.
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.
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
‘We need to go out and have coffee,’ Senhor R said sternly one morning. I sighed. ‘Fine!’ I said ‘Let’s go!”. Oh wait, that’s right. I like coffee. But when someone tells me to do something, I straight away want to do the opposite.
Not to mention that these last couple of weekends have been like mini coffee tours as we try to drink and photograph as many coffees as possible, preferably on a Saturday. This is because I started falling behind. I got a bit busy, I got a bit lazy. I got a job. I graduated. It was my birthday. These are all good things, but let’s face it, they don’t leave much time for coffee dates. I really need to get my priorities straight.
When Senhor R and I sit down in a cafe, every single time without fail, they give me his coffee and they give him mine. This happens whether the same person who took our order brings us the coffees or not, whether I order or Senhor R orders or whether we both order. Apparently a piccolo latte is a ladies’ drink, while a macchiato is super-machismo. Ah, well. I don’t mind wearing the metaphorical pants for a while.
Crave espresso is a place I’d been meaning to revisit for a while, and Senhor R kept suggesting it. So naturally, like any good girlfriend, I put it at the bottom of my list. After all, it’s not far from home and we could go there anytime. And I do wear the pants.
The cafe part of Crave espresso is located above their warehouse in Alexandria. It’s one of those you’ve-gotta-know-where-to-look places but they do pretty good trade from the surrounding apartments. When we arrived on a Saturday morning they were relatively full, but it soon cleared out. We ordered our usuals, swapped coffees and sipped. Impressive flavour, more so than I remembered. In fact, we liked it so much that Senhor R got them to grind us a 250g bag of whatever we were drinking to take away. I know, I know. I should’ve been taking notes. But frankly I was too caffeinated to care what I was drinking. I was too busy enjoying it.
I recommend checking out crave espresso if you get a chance. The owners are friendly, the coffee is solid and you can take some home if you’re that way inclined. And don’t do what I do when someone tells me to do something. Don’t do the opposite.
Crave Espresso Bar
Unit 72, 20-28 Maddox St
(02) 9516 1217
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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.