Sunday, May 31, 2009
Sometimes you like a cafe from the very first millisecond.
And then – several cleared plates, sipped-clean glasses and much cafe-lingering later – your initial instinct is proved right.
So here it is, Clipper Cafe in Glebe, my latest big cafe crush. OK, so I didn't quite stumble into this cute little terrace eatery by accident – I got a nice tip-off from TwoThousand's Nadia Saccardo when I was quizzing her for my zine about Sydney. She named it as one of her city faves.
Unlike a normal crush – where you have to put on a cool front to the subject of your affection (so you don't freak them out entirely) – I'm pretty happy to gush about Clipper. I like sitting near the light-choked front windows and watching the flurry of people down Glebe Point Road. (Although this is kinda weird if someone else is sitting on the other side of the pane, and you both have to pretend you're not looking at each other, like a strange piece of amateur pantomime.)
It feels like the people behind Clipper have this direct feed to the minds (and wishlists) of cafegoers, because they've nailed all the small but important things that make you want to keep returning.
The space is intimate but not cramped, and sprinkled with lots of character: bikes pinned to walls, bits of art and quirky paraphernalia and recycled bottles used to pour water (redecorated with Clipper stickers – which there are rolls of everywhere; you can take a sticker or two as a souvenir). It feels personal – more like someone's eccentric living room – than a matter-of-fact business.
Of course, the food is pretty important too, and the chalked menu earns stars in all the right areas: it's affordable, clever but still comforting and real decent.
On my first visit, I had the Baked Beans, Haloumi and Herbed Bread ($10): a brilliant start to a cold morning. It came in a cute glass casserole dish – the haloumi mingling in the savoury-sweet bean mix – and the bread was buttery perfect: all herb-flecked and full of crunch.
When I dragged Will to Clipper, he had the Poached Eggs with Capsicum, Pesto, Spinach, Fetta and Dukkah, which he pronounced awesome from first bite. (I originally paid him out for ordering "just poached eggs", but I had to take that back when I saw that this was an adventurous take on the boring breakfast staple. And after swiping a bite or two, I had to agree, it was pretty good.)
I had to have the herbed bread again, but chose to pair it with the Baked Eggplant with Napoli, Fetta, Spimach and Fennel and Sumac Breadcrumbs this time. This was definitely cold-weather food, with a strong salty hit. I feel like the fennel and sumac crumbs got a little punched out by the other flavours. Still, I like how Clipper offers something beyond the well-worn eggs-and-sides routine.
I have my eye (or stomach) on soon trying the Sourdough Platter with Hummus, Tomato, Ricotta, Eggplant ($8.50), which is sort of like an Ikea dish: build-your-own brunch, minus the strange Swedish assembly instructions.
Beyond the savoury menu, Will and I sipped on summery drinks (I'm always a fan of any place that offers Watermelon Juice) and even splurged on 'bressert' (breakfast dessert): Sour Cherry Bread with Berries, Honey and Ricotta ($7).
Even though bressert isn't quite the same in cold weather (simply because most 'bressertworthy' fruit is out of season), it was still fun to go halves on this berry-stacked dish. (And $7 seems a bargain for it when some places charge so much for just no-frills fruit toast or banana bread.)
I also have to mention my full-beam enthusiasm for the staff. I had a very cheery fellow serving me on my first visit and more recently, our waitress was Helena, who was awesome and friendly. When she suspected my food blogging intentions, I was worried she might get all funny about it (people can go into this deep-freeze unfriendly mode when they discover you're a food blogger). But she was lovely and understanding about it, pointing out that's how people often find out about cafes.
And it turned out Helena was a food-blogger-in-waiting (she has a great blog name – which I won't out – she's just perfecting her content before she launches). She's also studying to be a food writer. We actually had fun gossiping about food mags and how shallow and disappointing some of them can be, especially when they keep recycling the same recipes (do we really need to see another predictable mushroom risotto as the 'vego option' in a magazine?! Culinary cattiness is addictive!)
And though he doesn't actually work there, we also met Troy – Clipper's unofficial resident DJ. He donates his CD stash to the cafe (which has an impressive selection – being a music nerd, I had to get my browsing thrills: I spotted New Buffalo in the pile and Will instantly bought the Tallest Man On Earth album after hearing it slipped into the stereo by one of the other waiters). We chatted a bit and found out Troy studies medical research, specialising in pain (he said we wouldn't want to know how low the efficacy of some painkillers are).
Even though Clipper has only opened fairly recently (it was 8 weeks old, on that particular visit), the fact that it draws dedicated cafegoers, who are willing to share their musical collection, tells you something about its infectious vibe.
Oh and its easy-to-remember opening hours – 6am-6pm, 7 days a week – are a nice invitation to explore beyond the breakfast menu.
And to tenuously link it back to my cheesy Cupid-inspired cafe metaphor in the intro, I'll end with this …
Crushes have a funny way of realigning your universe and I'd say that Clipper is definitely worth adding to your regular orbit of cafes.
Clipper Cafe, 16 Glebe Point Road Glebe NSW
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
All good blogging intentions got slightly derailed when I discovered I'd won the open call-out for Three Minute Sydney.
So, ack, sorry, more blog delays (even the trains are more reliable than me right now!). I've been busy re-reading what I'm going to say and trying to slim down my chances of looking like a mega fool at the Museum of Contemporary Art tomorrow. If you're curious, the event is free, and while I'm lower down the talent food chain, there are some great people on the bill (check out the program for more details).
I know, this IS meant to be a 'food blog', not a 'me blog' – although there are a few Sydney food mentions in my Three Minute gasbag (Petersham's Portugese tarts get a tidy name check, for instance). But really, that's slim pickings for a post. So as part-sweetener (literally), I'm distracting you with some eye candy from the always incredible Adriano Zumbo in Balmain.
Oh and to do a classic (and lazy) clip-show schtick, I'm recycling an old (but always applicable) review of it. You can't get any more "here's one I prepared earlier" than that.
I think there's a rule somewhere (probably spelt out in sugar and cream and praline) that you can't run a Sydney food blog without covering Adriano Zumbo, the much-mentioned patisserie in Balmain. One of the on-show creations is even named after a well-loved food blogger.
Everything on display at Adriano Zumbo looks like a haute couture piece - embroidered with lavish touches that look more at home in a luxury goods store than a box ready to be assaulted with a spoon.
The one problem I find with Adriano Zumbo is that you need to forensically gaze over each millimetre of the display case to even manage a longlist of what you want. It's such a popular, narrow space that such investigative work is impossible (and nuisance-causing), so instead you just have to join the line and gamble that you've figured it out by the time you're rushed to the front.
To make the indecision worse, there's a twin store dedicated to chocolate very close by.
You'll just have to undergo your research one long, lingering artisan-pastry-bite at a time.
Adriano Zumbo, 296 Darling St, Balmain, Sydney, NSW (02) 9810 7318, www.adrianozumbo.com
Friday, May 22, 2009
I know I've been a bit of a blog truant, wagging blog posts & missing upload roll call – it's all because I'm in the middle of finishing zines and fundraising CDRs to sell at the MCA Zine Fair, on this Sunday.
I'll also be selling the awesome food-related art and craft of Grace Lee. See above for the pastry-case of goods that'll be on our table! I'm also dashing towards the zine finishing line – so far, I've made 3 copies of my latest Speak-easy (see below). Just 97 more to go!
The zine is a conversational tour of Sydney, involving lots of great people like zine-maker Vanessa Berry, photographer Glen Wilkie, architect Eoghan Lewis, zinester/China Heights' Mark Drew, Matchbox Project-maker Sonya Gee and much more.
There's not a huge food-related component, although I do recreate my own map of Sydney in sugar, soy, sumac, sourdough and other magic ingredients to list my favourite gourmet moments throughout the city (with some nostalgic un-culinary ring-ins too – hello school canteen recollections).
Nadia Saccardo from TwoThousand lists some of her eatery faves and I interview Bababa International, the awesome guys who put on Possible Curries, an exhibition where they home-delivered curries to any visitors who could find the kitchen they semi-concealed in the gallery.
Also, I'll be selling some handmade CDRs to raise money for FBI 94.5FM, which has seen a major drop in advertising revenue and listener supportership as times get tough (thanks GFC!). It's a compilation for my Local Fidelity show and features great exclusive/hard-to-get/unreleased tracks by Australian independent bands: The Desks, Shady Lane, Jane Woody & Angel Eyes, Voltaire Twins, Dragging Pianos, Sui Zhen and much more. Only $10 for 13 excellent songs and all proceeds to FBI.
Come by the MCA Fair stall this Sunday to check it out and say hello.
OK, back to the zine-making and CDR-creating factory line …
(And yes, normal blog status to resume soon …).
Thursday, May 14, 2009
With every free second devoted to finishing my zine for next Sunday's MCA Zine Fair, the food blog is a little cupboard-bare at the moment, I admit.
I'm still scurrying around trying to complete the zine, but in the meantime, I thought I'd direct your eye to some cool food-related things my super-creative friends have done recently. Grace Lee, who designed the banner for this blog, has started whipping up this awesome series of 2-D food craft.
I don't even like finger buns but I am smitten with her paper version of it. I also love her baked bean (just one, so lonely), and shadow-casting apple. You can see more on her blog: the latest addition is a pair of neenish tarts.
Now for the shamelessly entrepreneurial bit: Grace's food art will be part of the stall I'm minding at the zine fair. Please drop by if you feel like adding a baked bean or jam tart to your shopping cart. Also on the table will be copies of my zine, Speak-easy #10, and the hugely awesome Tilted Page clip-art comic, by Jonathon Valenzuela – FBI DJ, Time Out writer and one of the funniest guys I know. The punchline-per-page ratio of his comic is pretty damn high.
Food-review status will resume shortly, once the deadline madness is over. I've got two cafe crushes I am excited to tell you about - that'll definitely happen soon. But, back to the zine grind.
If you're after a where-to-eat fix, I totally recommend the rundown of Sydney's best Japanese joints on the excellent Hello Sandwich blog. The accompanying illustration is for those reviews is by – guess who? – the ever-popular Grace Lee.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Amy's Pretty Pretty Yum Yum covers the highlighter-bright spectrum of food and fashion in Japan and is definitely one of my favourite blogs.
Whether it features the delightfully weird (like Salty Chocolate Crunch or all-mayo restaurants) or just monumentally cute (smiley face ice cream, turtle-shaped bread), Pretty Pretty Yum Yum always manages to add a little spark to your day.
I was lucky enough to quiz Amy for our blog at work – you can check it out here. Her answers about Japan's food, fashion and hyper-colourful aesthetics are really great – I love what she says about the Banana Diet, the character of Osaka, the strangest things she's eaten (kimchi lemonade, anyone?) and the most delightful items she's seen while living in this iconic country. (Amy also takes gorgeous photos, as you can see from these two originating from her blog.)
If you haven't already, you should totally check out Pretty Pretty Yum Yum. It's nice to be able to fall down the rabbit hole of colourful Japanese cuisine and fashion on such a regular basis.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Jazushi has been on my "meaning-to-try" list for so long now. It's gotten to the point where people are getting married, having babies and growing impressive years-in-the-making beards and I still haven't achieved the simple goal of going to the actual restaurant.
My friend Rach doesn't have a Rip Van Winkle beard but she IS getting married and she had the fine idea of having her hen's night dinner at Jazushi. We'd always been mystified by the restaurant's approach (how could it serve Frenchy-influenced Japanese, when Gallic menus are so heavy and fat-glistening and Japanese food is light, fresh and crisp?) but it turns out each cuisine is easily bonded by random inclusion of cheese. Hence the Camembert Tempura, which is squishy and bubbly as you do a cutlery autopsy on it but very moreish and comforting once you start chomping away on the crispy batter cheese eclair. The modern Japanese nibblies (complete with wasabi leaf) were also very good - especially one eggplant hors d'oeuvre that even won over an anti-aubergine diner.
Also, the jazz factor adds a nice rhythm to proceedings here. I'll try not to wait for another generation of babies and weddings (and beard growth) to visit again.
Jazushi, 145 Devonshire Street cnr Clisdell Street, Surry Hills NSW (02) 9699 8977, www.jazushi.com.au
Sunday, May 3, 2009
A few things I like about The Local Taphouse in Darlinghurst …
-Until recently, if you had to do a police-style sketch of a beer enthusiast, you might easily draw up someone a little red-faced and aggro: a person whose physical appearance basically blared "avoid for your own safety" and "don't invite to next party". So it's nice that The Local Taphouse are reinventing that idea, with a beer 'cafe' that serves craft brews, features beer matchings for its menu and holds social events that are about enjoying specialist drops (and not fast-tracking your ability to get plastered). Oh and they also hand-write the day's beer specials on a piece of paper. Old-school – how could you not like that (even if the strongest thing you ever order is lemon, lime and bitters)?
-New pubs seem to be either a time vault (complete with suspicious carpet and yeasty wall aroma inherited from previous owners) or hellishly steely-modern, shouting their futuristic design from angular, reflective surfaces (or kooky wallpaper mismatching). The Local Taphouse doesn't shun its pub origins, but it definitely has added a few eccentric visuals to add some charm. Any font nerd would like the random typeface letters scattered around the bar area. Next time, I'm looking forward to sneaking upstairs to see the pub's kooky-sweet birdcage and mirror collection.
-The little inventive touches on the menu. Like, the fact their burgers come with mayo that mixes Belgian beer Hoegaarden Wit with lemon myrtle. (Bonus points for using a native ingredient that should get a little more kitchen airplay.) Or the fact that they serve the burgers with wedges made of roast sweet potato and plain-ole-reliably-good nonsweet potato, sprinkled with salt flakes and rosemary. Also, I was happy my Veggie Burger ($16.50) was not one of those weird crumbed patties full of camouflaged ingredients, but made of actual foods you might recognise from a garden or the fancy part of your deli (pumpkin, eggplant, sweet potato, mozzarella, feta, parmesan & napoli sauce). It's not edgy cuisine but it's comforting, cosy food – perfect for a season that's measured in temperature drops.
-Oh and if you like the sound of the beer that has been matched to your dish, you can upsize from the small suggested serving. For example, Will had the Chicken Burger ($16.50), which – besides the obvious – is heaped with Thai basil, chilli and lime leaf, rocket, and bonus chilli zing from the Bridge Road Chevalier Saison chilli jam. The Local Taphouse menu says it goes well with Little Creatures US Pale Ale (90ml sampler $2.60) but Will just wondered, why stop at 90ml and downed a full-sized glass.
-When you order, the staff put all your dining-neccessary paraphernalia – cutlery, serviettes, salt & pepper shakers – plus your order number in a small metal bucket for you to conveniently carry to your table. It's a really simple idea but I'm a big fan of it. Because it's a pain to juggle all that and your drinks as you slowly navigate the armful across the room. And I'm a serial drink-spiller and don't need the extra beverage-saving anxiety on top of the cutlery-clutching and sign-wielding issues. Plus, it looks kinda classy and is fun to swing, a little.
One thing we learned the hard way …
We'd read that the Local Taphouse stayed open 'til 1am on a Saturday – a discovery we relished one night, when it was near 11pm and we were becoming hunger Frankensteins from not yet having dinner. Not only were we snapping and starving, but we kept circling the pub, unable to find a park – over and over, we kept getting close to the pub but couldn't actually pull over and go in. It was like Groundhog Day, but with stomach pains. Finally, we found one. By then, it was pouring hard with rain and we were soaked by the time we splashed through the shoe-soaking puddles and umbrella-strafing downpour. We were so relieved when we were inside the warm pub and started flipping through the menu. It was then we learned the kitchen had already shut up for the night – it closes at 10pm on a Saturday. So we'd played carpark roulette and gotten drenched for nothing. Don't let that happen to you!
Kitchen-closing hours and crazy rain aside, The Local Taphouse seems to be a nice joint to take refuge in as the cold weather starts to frost up. Just bring some boots and a military-issue umbrella, just in case Mother Nature wants to ruin your craft-beer-sampling or burger-munching plans.
The Local Taphouse, 122 Flinders St, Darlinghurst NSW (02) 9360 0088, www.thelocal.com.au