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
When I go out for coffee, I’m looking for something specific. I have my preferences and my pet hates. For example, I almost always order a macchiatto, eschew takeaway cups wherever possible, and I don’t take sugar. These preferences colour my reviews. They inform what consitutes a good place to get coffee, for me.
Recently I’ve had some feedback from y’all that some of the places I’ve loved aren’t always up to scratch for you or you’ve had a less-than-brilliant experience at one of them. And I’ve realised I need to dig deeper into what makes a good coffee place (notice I didn’t say ‘what makes a good cafe’ as that’s a whole other kettle of fish).
When I wrote about Allpress in Auckland, for example, I was with a friend who drinks a large skim coffee with equal. This place doesn’t have large cups. Or skim milk. Or equal. This is something I never would’ve known if I’d gone by myself- I was just fine with my macch.
So I’m throwing it open to you, dear reader. I want to know what YOU look for in a good coffee place. You can answer this either in the comments section with a lengthy ranty answer, or by filling out the survey below. The results, assuming they are conclusive, will for the basis of a checklist I’ll use, not necessarilly to JUDGE a coffee place, but to inform you guys about it so that you can make up your own minds.
So whaddya reckon?
To complete the survey below, just hit ‘next’ after every answer and ‘submit’ when you’re done. There are 10 questions in total.
What makes a good coffee place?
I kept thinking Cornersmith was called Cornerstone. I kept meaning to go there and never making it. But I finally made it the morning of the Sydney Food Bloggers Picnic last month, and I wasn’t dissappointed.
Cornersmith is the kind of joint that’s closed for pickling on Mondays. Yes, really, I didn’t get that from some kind of Hipster’s Encyclopaedia of cafe descriptors (remind me to write that, if I ever get a chance). They do all kinds of locavore/DIY things like buying backyard produce and making their own jam. They have a beehive on their roof! Basically, they’re the cafe equivalent of a Portlandia sketch.
All this and more means that I was there with bells on at whatever time it was that Saturday. Cornersmith is right by Marrickville station, which is super convenient for someone like me who hates buses. It’s got great decor, clean white walls, jars of pickles adorning the counter and a good mix of natural timber and understated vintage furniture.
Me and my mate order and pay at the counter and nab the only free table. Our toast/coffee/toast/macch order comes out at $32, and I realise there must be a mistake. That’s the problem with order-and-pay-at-the-counter with somewhere as busy as Cornersmith – mistakes are bound to be made. Our bill gets downgraded to a much more reasonable $19, phew!
I’m a fan of the coffee and I’m a fan of the vibe, although Saturday morning is pretty hectic. I’m enjoying my Mecca macchiatto, apparently my friend’s mocha is no slouch either. The menu is simple, a lot of toast-and-toppings on offer, with many tthings made on site – from honey, to pickles, chutneys and jams. Cornersmith strives to be self-sufficient. They also sell their products, and other peoples’, instore.
The reviews have generally been positive and I can see why, although they’ve also been victim of some pretty harsh graffitti, with ‘yuppy scum’ painted across the storefront and the windows bashed in. All in all I will definitely return if I’m ever in the hood.
314 Illawarra Road
Marrickville NSW 2204
(02) 8065 0844
Tuesday to Friday 6.30am – 3.30pm
Saturday and Sunday 8:00am – 3:00pm
Monday – closed for pickling
Bikes and coffee and hipsters – seemingly unrelated things come in threes. Why? Who knows, who cares. As puzzling to me as Shirt Bar was the other week and no less delightful, Lonsdale Street Roasters (or LSR as it is known) meshes this triad of seemingly random objects (yes, hipsters are indeed objects) except to me, coffee roaster+bikes+hipsters=café, where shirts+whisky+coffee=scratching my head a bit.
I think it’s safe to say LSR in the only so-cool-it-hurts espresso bar in the ‘berra, a city renowned for it’s roundabouts, public servants and, oh hang on a sec, bicycle paths. Bicycles hang from the ceiling, yellow and white magnetic letters spell out the menus, all the staff are under 25, artfully arranged bric-a-brac adorns the walls. It ticks all the boxes, the only thing missing is the Astroturf.
LSR pretty much serve coffee, as they are predominantly a coffee roaster. But they do have a smattering of breakfast, cakes and sandwiches with fashionable fillings (slow roasted pork with chipotle, anyone?). It’s order-and-pay-at-the-counter. If there’s no room inside (and I pray if you go anytime other than Autumn, there is), perch yourself on a milk crate outside.
I order a macch and Mum orders a cap, before realising yet again that that’s not what she really wanted, but as always not caring enough to change it. As expected, they do that thing that shits me where instead of 1/3 espresso 1/3 milk 1/3 froth dusted with chocolate (let’s call it an Australian cappuccino), they latte art the hell out of it so it’s basically a flat white with chocolate. Which is fine in this case as it’s not really what was wanted anyway but surely the point of a cappuccino is the foam, micro or otherwise (please not this is a generalised rant and not aimed at LSR specifically).
Of course, swings and roundabouts, anywhere you get a flat ‘cappuccino’ like this, I get a super short and concentrated macch, just the way I like it. So really, I can’t complain. Well, I will, but only on principle, and only in the safe confines of the blogosphere, never to anyone’s face.
Lonsdale Street Roasters
3/7 Lonsdale Street
Braddon ACT 2612
Lately I feel like the CBD cafe scene is really opening up, at least in terms of coffee. The little cluster of espresso bars in the CBD has been drawing me in of late, they’re the perfect pitstop on my way to work.
Yet another stop on the Clarence/Kent Street trail is Vella Nero, originally Velluto Nero. It may be the branding that put me off (I don’t generally associate a black/aqua colour combo with coffee) or maybe it’s the fact that they’re always packed with business people, but I never got around to checking this place out. But now I have an office job, I figure its ok for me to hang out in a business-person café.
The decor here is nothing to write home about but on the flipside, the place is packed with enough coffee gadgetry to fill my Christmas stocking for at least the next 5 years. When I get to the counter (it’s an order-and-pay-at-the-counter deal) the girl who serves me is incredibly friendly. When I pay, she stamps a card for me, asks me my name and writes it on my card, along with my coffee order.
Don’t be fooled by a quick glance inside – there’s plenty of seating upstairs and that’s where I decide to sit. I don’t have to wait long for my macch and they even bring a little glass of water which is always dandy. The coffee is good, nice and short and visually appealing – I’m very easily impressed by a coffee with striations.
Overall, in spite of how busy the place is the service and coffee are top notch. I would definitely visit again. Pity they’re not open on weekends.
Vella Nero Coffee Couture
259 Clarence Street,
Sydney NSW 2000
It seems a little hub of coffee goodness is developing around the Clarence/Kent Street area. Maybe it’s Clover Moore’s laneway project, maybe it’s the hipster vibe radiating from the likes of Grandma’s Bar and Stitch, maybe it’s the I- don’t-have-time-for-crap-coffee-can’t-you-see-I’m-a-businessman ambiance of the CBD. I suspect it’s some combination of all three. Either way, it can only be a good thing for someone like me. That is, as long as it’s not a weekend.
Kent Street Specialty Coffee is obviously on Kent Street, between Druitt and Market Streets in what has traditionally been a bit of a coffee desert. Recently though solid coffee options like Klink and Le Grand Cafe have changed all that, although the area unfortunately still shuts down on the weekends.
I arrive early one morning and it’s freezing cold. Just for something different, I order a macchiatto. It takes a little while considering I’m one of three customers, but they bring me a glass of water which I appreciate. The macch has a good crema and is a tad longer than I like, but this is more of a personal preference than a criticism. Maybe I’ve gotten too used to the short shots that are all the rage these days.
The place is cavernous, all exposed brick, pillars and wooden floorboards. I’m a fan of the aesthetic but it’s a bit cold in winter. All in all I’d say it’s a good place to throw back a coffee and dash off to get on with your day, so it fits right in to the area.
Kent Street Specialty Coffee
414 Kent Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
‘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
Killing two, three or possibly even 10 birds with one stone has always been my bag. Thus I’m always on the lookout for good coffee and, simultaneously, good cafés to feature on Corridor Kitchen. So when I noticed a partially constructed hole-in-the-wall coffee bar on Redfern Street about a month ago, I have to admit I started stalking it.
I was looking up City of Sydney planning applications that very day to try and figure out when they’d get permission for outdoor furniture – I figured that’s when they’d open. I walked past most days ‘just to check it out.’ Soon a tantalisingly nonspecific ‘coming soon’ sign materialised. I checked out other cafés, but I wasn’t interested in any other cafés. I wanted to check out Coffee tea & me.
Then one morning I walked by and miraculously, it had opened. And, true to form, I didn’t have my camera on me. Blast! I grabbed a coffee anyway and it was pretty damn good. Campos, which contrary to popular opinion is not the best coffee in the whole of Australia but does ensure a level of barista training and screening that few brands adhere to.
I returned a couple of days later. The place looked like a hipster paradise with only enough floor space for coffee and sandwiches. As the Redfern Street area continues to gentrify with the likes of Baffi and Mo, Eathouse and Pitt St Diner, it’s hardly a surprising location for a teeny-tiny espresso bar.
Coffee tea & me is literally on a bus stop and next to a hardware store. It’s easy to spot its scattering of battered vintage school chairs, bicycle seat bar stools and laminate tables to perch on. I was there around 8am and not surprisingly most orders were takeaways. It’ll be interesting to see what the vibe is like on weekends.
The coffee was good, syrupy and golden as I’ve come to expect for Campos. The two guys working there were friendly as a clump of eager takeaway customers awaited their coffees. Overall I was impressed and will definitely return.
Coffee tea & me
93b Redfern Street,
Redfern NSW 2016
Monday-Sunday, 6:00am – 6:00pm
So by now you probably know the macchiato is my current coffee of choice. I love an espresso or a ristretto, but a few too many black-coffee-on-an-empty-stomach days on a Portuguese holiday kinda cured me of the habit, as did my frugal nature; $3 or more for a shot of coffee with no additions just seems like bad value. A macchiato is also a bet-hedging drink; the milk tempers a short black which may or may not be brilliant, hiding any extra bitterness it may have. Here’s a list of 3 places I think make a great one (in no particular order).
1. Plunge Coffee, Summer Hill
This had been on my wishlist for ages and I wasn’t disappointed. Sitting on a street that real estate agents would describe as ‘funky’ and local council marketing would describe as ‘a village’, it’s a nice place to sit and there’s plenty of seating. The coffees here are beautiful and taste as good as they look. A bit steep at $3.50 but the milk is silky smooth and so is the flavour. They use coffee alchemy coffee.
48 Lackey Street,
Summer Hill NSW 2130
2. Le Grand Café, Clarence Street
The café in the foyer of Alliance Française sells scrummy looking pastries by Bécasse and does more substantial food as well, but I’m more interested in their coffee. All coffees are $3, unless you prepay and buy a bunch at a time and then the work out at $2.50 each. They use Allpress coffee which I like and their macs are not too long with a generous daub of froth. The service is good too.
Le Grand Café
257 Clarence Street,
Sydney CBD NSW 2000
(02) 9267 1755
3. Single Origin Roasters, Surry Hills
This macchiato is so ridiculously expensive I considered not recommending Single Origin on that basis. It is also hipster paradise and only open on weekdays. That said for $4 you’ll feel no qualms about returning it if it’s not to your liking. I’ve been there quite a few times and have never had to. You also get a choice of beans if you so desire. The branding of this place is such that 250g bags are sold at 15 bucks a pop. Not so rapt on the tiny stools and tables either.
Single Origin Roasters
64 Reservoir Street,
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9211 0665
We all have that New Zealand export we’d just love to claim as our own. It may be an actress, band, TV show or recipe. It won’t surprise you that my case, it’s a coffee roaster.
Allpress Espresso started in New Zealand, now has a roastery in Zetland, Sydney, has opened a café in London and is slowly spreading its brand to cafés all over Sydney. They even have an iphone app to help you track down their brews.
Much like Flint and Steel, Allpress Espresso in Zetland is a coffee roaster as well as a café, but in the case of Allpress, it’s more than a hole-in-the-wall. It’s all slick stainless steel, marble bench tops and sheets of glass, industrial-chic with a touch of retro fitting right into its Zetland surrounds. You can see right through the cavernous space to the roasterie and watch them work their magic on the beans. Or, you know, forklift sacks of coffee around. Whatevs.
It’s one of those places where I’ve never had a bad coffee but at the same time, the last few times I’ve stopped by it’s been less than stellar. I don’t know how to explain what I mean, but the coffee tastes ‘rushed’ these days. That said, I’m a huge fan of their Carmelo and City Espresso blends which I often buy for home use.
The focus may be on the coffee but there is also quite a good menu of things like pastries, sandwiches, cakes, artisanal breads and breakfasts like soft-boiled eggs with sourdough soldiers, avocado and ricotta. It’s the kind of food I’d refer to as ‘assemblage’ rather than cooking but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty.
Allpress is one of those places where you want to time your visit carefully. Like many of my faves its closed on Sundays. Unless you’re into waiting for a table, on a weekday, the pre-work coffee rush is a bad time to go, and on Saturday it’s not so great to show up in the morning as the breakky/brunch crowd takes over. I’ve had quite good luck at 2pm, but then again, maybe I should just learn some patience.
What NZ export would you like to claim as your own?
58 Epsom Road, Zetland 2017
(02) 9662 8288
Monday-Friday 7:00am – 3:00pm
Saturday 8:00am – 2:00pm
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- Brewtown Newtown
- Stay caffeinated over Christmas
- Gumption by Coffee Alchemy, Sydney CBD
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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.