Sunday, October 28, 2007
A Little On The Side, Darlington
A Little On The Side is one of my favourite cafes in Sydney: the food and service has always been dependably good. It's often been my first stop for out-of-towners who want to leave Sydney on a good breakfast note, and it's perfect for friends looking for a new eggs-and-toast menu to wake up with.
Despite my repeated visits over the years, I have one problem whenever I go: a Hamlet-esque indecision over whether to opt for a sweet or savoury breakfast. I usually don't feel sweet-toothed so early in the day, but the Coconut Hotcakes with Bananas, Cinnamon Ricotta and Maple Syrup have often left me swayed. The best breakfast I've had here was when my friend Ben and I went halves on the hotcakes and the Whole Roasted Mushrooms with Goat's Cheese, Chilli and Tomato Relish on Sourdough Toast, so we had the best of both flavour worlds.
I have discovered another way to have it all, breakfast-wise. Order a savoury meal, and then steal a bit of your boyfriend's toast and jam.
Will had some toast with three very tasty jams (that were as easy on the eye as they were on the tongue): blueberry & pear, apple butter and orange & apricot. Having a taster of Will's toast and jam as a "breakfast dessert" reminded me of the time that a group of us ordered a makeshift "tasting menu" of bread and various jams at the Codfather in Stanmore. That time, it was our breakfast "entree", 'cos we were still waiting for people to arrive but needed something to chomp on in the meantime. (The jams were the best thing about our breakfast at The Codfather, an experience that was as hit and miss as the review in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests.)
The main event of my breakfast was the Polenta Pancakes with Bacon, Rocket and Goat's Cheese - with a vegetarian twist. I asked for something non-meaty instead of the bacon, and they very nicely "vego'd it up" for me (even going through a thorough list of what I could and couldn't eat). So I got a nice serve of tasty fried mushrooms and avocado with the fluffy polenta stack instead.
Will had the Porridge with Caramelised Pears, Rhubarb Compote and Brown Sugar to go with his toast and jam. Now, I am constantly paying Will out when he orders porridge for breakfast - to me, it seems like a dour, Charles Dickens-esque choice when eating out. But I had to concede, the On The Side version of porridge didn't sound beige or boring at all. And it was pretty good, in Will's porridge-savvy opinion.
It was the best breakfast I had in a long time - a bit extravagant because we had ordered so much nice food, yet really affordable and nothing to feel financially guilty about. The weather was breezy and just perfect for sitting back and chatting and joking about everything. And the good-humoured staff were really conversational and accommodating and notched up the perfect number of stopping-by-our-table visits: enough to check how we were going and add a few friendly comments here and there, but not too much that we felt like we were being kept overzealous tabs on.
I hadn't been to A Little On The Side for a while, so it was nice to re-remember why I liked it so much. Last year, I was freelancing at a publisher nearby, and I have nice memories of all the decadent-seeming lunches I'd order (a lot of blue cheese pastas - which sounds INSANE, but actually was good; ditto the Pasta with Goat's Cheese, Chilli and Dill). A little more down-to-earth is the Haloumi Burger with Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini, Roast Tomato and Garlic Aioli, which is a dish worth repeated visits.
A Little On The Side was pegged as Best Cafe in Sydney's Good Food Guide a few years ago. It used to be a lot more packed then. Now I don't know if it was because we missed the morning rush, but it wasn't overly busy when we went, which was nice. (Back in the day when it had just been anointed by Good Food Guide, it was more of a struggle to get a table.) There's always the catch-22 of wanting a cafe you like to succeed but not wanting it to be so popular that you have to wait ages for a seat. On our visit today though, everything was perfect.
A Little On The Side, Corner of Boundary and Ivy Lane, Darlington, (02) 9698 2342. www.ontheside.com.au