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
Much has been written (and doubtless, will continue to be written) about Brewtown Newtown, a great addition to the mostly uninspired caffeine scene in the formerly (and now once again?) cutting edge, albeit somewhat crunchy suburb of Newtown. Taking over the ground floor of the lovingly restored barn-like space on O’Connel Street (formerly Berkelouw books), Simon Triggs of Gnome and Charles Cameron of Single Origin Roasters have put together a cracking cafe.
Just off the main drag seems to be the way to play it these days. Brewtown sits on O’Connell Street, which comes off King street. Having visited a handful of times now, I find the service to be very professional; staff seat you, are attentive, and are eager to tell you all about their offerings, especially when it comes to coffee. This is admirable when you consider the place has been an instant hit and is usually packed out; take a sip of your coffee at 9:59, look up at the doorway at 10:00am and it’s as if a switch has been flicked to signal that brunch has begun.
The menu at Brewtown is well crafted enough to make choosing your meal a kind of delicious annoyance, from fruit salad littered with cronut crumbs to beetroot-cured trout on toast to baked (although I’m sure in a decent dousing of fat) polenta wedges served with portobellos and poached eggs to the delicious-looking duck ravioli, and of course, the famous cronuts, it’s a tough call.
These kids sure know their way around an espresso machine. Each coffee I’ve had, be it macch or espresso (my go-tos) have been singular and impressive in flavour and I haven’t had to wait too long. With their specialty coffee pedigree, Brewtown are currently serving a custom roasted blend from Single Origin Roasters (along with selected Single Origins) but will eventually be roasting themselves.
They’re also doing the third wave thing as well but I have to say, their filters don’t really float my boat. From cold drip to their ‘only-one-in-australia steampunk mod filter brewer’, my chums and I have been pretty unimpressed. I think I’m going to need to go back and find out more about their methods, maybe take some industry peeps along for the ride. Something may be lost in translation; it just doesn’t feel like the filters I’ve had there are showing the coffee in its best light. I’m looking forward to being proved wrong.
Having said that, this is hands down my fave Sydney cafe to open up in 2013. Somewhere with space, somewhere with style, somewhere professional (neither cooler-than-thou nor slacksadasical), somewhere with a substantial, imaginative yet casual menu, and somewhere with excellent coffee. The cherry on the sundae is that my fave gelato place, Cow & Moon, will be pal-ing up with Brewtown for some upstairs-affogato-project-madness. So stay tuned.
6-8 O’Connell Street
Newtown NSW 2042
02 9519 2920
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
Bircher Muesli (Birchermüesli) was invented by Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner in the 19th century and is traditionally a mix of oats, milk, sweetener and grated apple. These days it’s a hipster’s delight of a breakfast food that’s absolutely perfect for anyone who:
a) wants something filling for breakfast,
b) wants to eat something healthy for breakfast, and
c) only wants to make breakfast once every few days.
I make up 3 days of my bircher every Monday for the perfect balance of organised/lazy food prep. This is because I work 3 days in the office and I want to make and take brekky with me once and once only. If you want to make enough for 5 days because you work a normal-person schedule, divide the amounts by 3 and multiply by 5.
This recipe lends itself to substitution, as long as the ratios are right. And the best thing about it? It tastes better over time – your third day of eating this it’s going to taste so much better than the first day. That gives you a brekky to look forward to more with each day of the week!
Lau’s 3-day bircher
2 medium apples, peeled
1 punnet (125g) fresh blueberries
1 cup of untoasted meusli or, failing that, rolled oats
2-3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or honey
500g plain yogurt (I use the fat free pot set kind)
In a large mixing bowl, grate two apples. Add in the rest of the ingredients and stir well, until completely combined.
Spoon the mixture into an airtight container and refirdgerate, eat over the course of 3 days. Keeps for one week.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
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
From home supper clubs to warehouse dinners, popups are all the rage these days, and the hype isn’t always warranted. But in the case of Smokey O’s slow southern style bbq, it certainly is, and a staunch band of devotees flock to their pork in the park lunches and regular appearances at north of the bridge market stalls to fill their bellies with bee bee cue goodness. So when I found out they were popping up at my local cafe, The Rag Land, I knew I had to go and get a taste of whatever Americana-inspired breakfast/brunch/lunch treats they’d have on offer.
Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th of May,The Rag Land menu was chucked out the window (not literally) as they took a break from their usually bacon-less fare to fill the place with Tim’s apple smoked maple bacon. Four of us made the trek down to Dave’s to get Tim’s spin on cafe food, washed down with Dave’s Golden Cobra coffee.
Reading the menu, it was hard to choose, partly because everything sounded similar-ish and partly because we weren’t 100% sure what each thing involved. Texas toast, for example – it just sounds like you placed the word ‘Texas’ in front of toast to make it sound more American-y. But it turns out Texas toast is thick cut toast fried on both sides. I’m not a huge toast person, but I’m massively into all things fritter, so I went for the corn griddle cakes served with apple smoked maple bacon and capsicum relish. That sounds good, right? I think you need a proper description to really sell this dish though.
Ok, so you you know bacon? I think we can all agree that bacon is excellent, and that the smell of it cooking is up there with baking bread and freshly-ground and brewed coffee. But take a homemade piece of bacon smoked over apple wood chips, and cook it until it is both crisp and soft. How does this heavenly piece of fat-bound protein even exist? Now imagine a pikelet-like fritter of polenta-y goodness, soft and pillowy, yet charred on the outside, studded with sweet bursts of corn kernels and somehow not gritty in the least. Drape the bacon over it. Now for the relish. Sweet and smokey, chunky yet strangely creamy, so delicious you take your plate back to the kitchen for a second massive dollop, you just can’t help yourself.
This was my breakfast on Monday May 13th at approximately 9:00am. And in the interest of full disclosure, 2 hours later I swam a kilometre. So.
As far as I’m concerned, most things go with coffee. But Golden Cobra’s signature punch-in-the-mouth was particularly good with the sweet ‘n smoky bacon. I went my standard macch for starters while perusing the menu, but then I wanted a black coffee, still espresso, but something a little bit different, because I’m a high maintainance broad.
I went for a sparkling double ris, it’s not on the menu but Dave’s always happy to whip one up if you ask – basically, it’s mineral water with a double ristretto shot over it, which creates a crazy volcano-like foaming (mine almost overflowed). You get this amazing temperature contrast, with the chilled mineral water on the bottom and the hot crema on the top. You can find a recipe for something similar here, or go try it for yourself at the Rag Land.
You can find Tim’s menu from the popup here. If Smokey-O’s has you salivating, you can find them at The Beaches “Welcome to Winter” Market on Sunday 23rd June at the Pittwater Rugby Park, Warriewood, on facebook and *possibly* at a Rag Land-meets-Smokey O’s stall at the Naidoc Family and Sports Day on Friday July 12 at the NCIE, Redfern. As for The Rag Land? You can find the deets here.
I don’t often go out for breakfast these days, but when I do, I’m a sucker for a fritter and a good poached egg. Recently, I started trying to replicate the flavour and texture of café-style inch-thick, fluffy fritters in my own kitchen, and the results have been pretty amazing. Here are the 4 ‘fritter truths’ I discovered on my journey to corn fritter heaven.
1. Corn fritters aren’t just pancakes with a tin of corn chucked in. Not to say a batch of pancakes or pikelets studded with super sweet, fiberless corn kernels ain’t a delight to the palate, but there’s just so much more they COULD be. So I’ve discarded the pikelet + tinned corn method I’ve used since adolescence (served with a liberal slosh of sweet chilli sauce on the side).
2. Good corn fritters are mostly corn, not batter; the main ingredient is given away in the title. The batter loosely bindes together the corn and other flavourful ingredients. It is light and fluffy and whipped-egg-white heavy (easy on the SR flour), and thus maleable. This means the fritters can be shallow or pan fried (even deep fried should the mood take you), in lumps or thick, flat saucer shapes.
3. Fresh corn is better! I’m told there are places in the world where the corn is so fresh and sweet you can gnaw is raw from the cob, but I don’t live in such a place so I find the corn needs to be sauteed a little pre-fritter. So saw those kernels off the cob, cook ‘em up, let ‘em cool and fold them into your feather-light batter, ready to dollop.
4. There are other things in there besides corn. This was a revelation to me, but of course it makes sense. Garlic. Zucchini. Onions. Chilli. Fresh herbs. Salt and pepper. Spices. Mushrooms. Bacon. There are so many amazing tidbits you can toss into your sauteeing corn. Hell, there are so many ingredients you can use in PLACE of corn, I just really like corn.
Lau’s Ultimate Corn Fritters
serves 4 as a side
I’ve served these fritters many a way – with guac and crispy bacon, with tomato salsa and cumin yogurt, with asparagus and fried eggs. They are the perfect breakfast, brunch or breakfast for dinner.
For the guts of it
olive oil for pan frying (I prefer extra virgin)
1 single clove garlic bulb or 4 normal sized cloves
6-8 rashes bacon or similar, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
1-2 Tbsp paprika
The kernels from 2 -3 small cobs of corn
½ bunch coriander, leaves finely chopped
For the batter itself
2 eggs, separated
¼ cup milk
½-¾ cup self-raising flour
Heat the oil in a medium frying pan, sautee garlic with salt until soft. Add in bacon and cook until beginning to brown. Add spring onions, paprika and corn and cook until corn kernels are soft but still have some bite to them. Remove pan from heat and stir through coriander. Transfer to a large bowl to cool (perhaps in the fridge).
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
Whisk milk and egg yolks together.
Once cooled, add enough flour to the corn mix so that everything is well coated. Fold through the yolk and milk mixture completely, then gently fold in the egg whites.
Dollop 8 dollops on a medium low grill or pan (oiled), flip when golden brown. Cook until cooked through.
Serve as you like. Suggestions include: crispy bacon, non-crispy bacon, guac, salsa, hot sauce, sour cream, poached eggs, fried eggs, hummus, greek yogurt, rocket, basil… the possibilities are endless.
What’s your go-to café breakfast?
When it comes to cafes, word of mouth is a very powerful tool. Good word of mouth, before you’ve even opened, allows you to embed you café deep in a suburb, rather than jostling with the rest of the gun baristas for custom on the main drag. Hell, you can even start your own hub of hipness in a post-industrial wasteland.
It also ensures a good mix of truly local customers and those who are willing to really look for their next caffeine hit. A counterintuitive business strategy, but one which has been well established – make your product accessible, but not *too* convenient. Put your small bar down an allyway or behind a suit shop. Plant your flagship Aussie donut store in Penrith. Make your customers hunt around a bit. The rest is history.
So to say that Excelsior Jones is off the beaten path/in an unexpected place/not where you’d think would be a tad misleading. It’s exactly where you’d think- in a suburb crying out for a good café, and I’m betting there’ll be plenty more where this came from.
On Excelsior Jones’ second day of trade the place is packed with the caffeine-iratti, should such a thing exist, plus food bloggers/writers and curious locals. My companion and I order a pair of macchs and some toast. The cups are prewarmed (always a good sign) and I like the diy butter and veg for the toast – you never know what ratio a customer’s gonna want on their sourdough. Jones’ houseblend of five senses coffee goes down a treat with just a splash of milk – a bright flavour settling across the roof of the mouth, with a pleasant kick to follow.
The decor is warm minimalist, the colour scheme painstakingly well thought out. Everything is wood, warm grey, chocolate brown and white; even the cups, salt and pepper shakers and upcycled sugar jars harmonise, without being matchy-matchy. The whole place has a matt patina, loads of light and bare walls. It’s as beautiful as it is uplifting.
My second visit is just over a week later with two friends for an early public holiday Monday brekky. As I wait for my mates I sip away at my macch and browse the menu. This seems to be the family shift, mums, dads and under sevens, and a sprinkling of couples. The place is really loud, kind of a given with high ceilings, wooden floors, huge windows and small children. Once we’re a table of three we can barely hear each other speak. It’s something to keep in mind when timing your visit.
Menu-wise, there’s nothing over $16, but it is worth noting that servings aren’t huge. Between us we order the delectable sourdough pikelets (there are three), a fruit salad of poached and fresh summer fruits, a daub of yogurt and a pinch of oats, and eggs benny. Overall they are quality, simple breakfasts, what you’d expect but done with finesse. Sides aren’t cheap though, and you may need a few if you have a big breakfast appetite. Lucky for me, my usual gripe with brekky is that it leaves me too full, so I’m happy with the portion size.
The menu also includes lunch (which begins at noon) of two sambos, two salads, one cheeseburger and a pasta, as well as fries, and nuggets and chips for the kiddiewinks. The lunches that have been cluttering up my instagram feed appear simple and well presented.
I found the service to be relaxed, friendly and switched on. Staff were attentive, personable, and all-round lovely. There is strong attention to detail in everything these guys do, and I hope this continues. It would be an ideal setting for a bit of coffee gadgetry, and maybe a bit of experimentation menu-wise. Well-executed classics aside, I’d love to see these guys really get creative.
139a Queen Street, Ashfield NSW 2131
02 9799 3240
Tuesday – Friday 7:30am – 4:00pm
Weekends 8:00am – 4:00pm
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
I got an email about a month ago with the subject heading ‘Blast from the Buenos Aires past’. It was from a friend I’d made in Argentina nearly four years ago. We’d spent a week together trawling through markets and drinking 1 litre beers. Weirdly, she was from Adelaide, but now she was writing to tell me she’d moved to Sydney. We arranged to meet for (what else) coffee with her delightful beau and Canberra Caffeine-o-phile Barrister Barista (aka @canberrachino).
The four of us met at Surry Hills’ Bang Bang Espresso, which had been on my to-blog list for at least a year. Funnily enough, former DJ Alan Thompson started Bang Bang in 2009, exactly when my pal and I had been traipsing all over BA without a decent coffee in sight. An email from Alan inviting me round to the cafe for a free meal which I, dripping with reluctant integrity, turned down, served as a reminder not to leave Bang Bang on the list for much longer.
I sat outside as inside was full up but I didn’t mind as I prefer quiet and am not much for communal tables. I ordered a macch, which promptly arrived as did water, glasses and napkins. I didn’t identify myself as a blogger, so this was not special treatment.
As I wait for my chums I peruse the menu, which is massive, and about ¾ of it is breakfast. There’s a definite UK spin on things with welsh rarebit, english breakfast, scottish breakfast and a ‘posh fish finger sandwich’ on offer. I’m tempted by the corn fritters (1 kind for breakky, another for lunch) but in the end I settle on a pulled pork sandwich.The other three order a couple of nutso triple cheese burgers (the real name of the burger is is more ridic than that) on wholemeal (WTF?) and a lamb burger, also on wholemeal. Theirs come with crisps and mine comes with nothing, which is excellent because it’s *huge*. I didn’t photograph the food as we were too busy gossiping and stuffing out faces.
We were all happy with the coffee, lattes were a tad flat but that doesn’t phase me as I didn’t order them. The gorgeous flat white, as described by Barrister Barrista was:
Ok, so we went to a breakky joint and ordered sambos. Idiots. They were pretty good, but we all agreed thet were a little heavy handed with the condiments. I think I expected my pulled pork a tad spicy, but I did like the green apple slaw and the sonoma bread was good and fresh. Everything was reasonably priced and generously portioned. I will return to scoff down some breakky, no doubt. Good service, great coffee, solid food, I can see why this place has lasted so long (in Surry Hills fringe years). And Alan was very patient with me photographing the hell out of his cafe after it was technically closed.
Bangbang Espresso Bar and Cafe
113 Reservoir Street
Surry Hills NSW 2012
02 9281 0018
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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.