Sunday, August 30, 2009
The folks behind the ever-popular Clipper in Glebe have opened a new cafe in Enmore.
A few weeks back, Sally tipped me off about its impending arrival, and with it slated to open near Lisa's house, all of us had been on new-Clipper-watch for a while. It was meant to open last Monday, but the staff were still lugging bits of wood and were seemingly very much in handyman-mode when I had a look.
Then I saw Meagan on Friday and she had first-visit reports! She'd gone with Chris and Lisa and namely, "it was good, but it's mainly sandwiches". Which is as pithy and spot-on a report as you can get.
Bus Stop Espresso isn't Clipper 2.0; if anything, it's a smaller version aimed at a slightly older crowd in a quieter neighbourhood. The menu is simpler and slimmed-down – it needs to be, as all food is prepared on a micro kitchen that doubles as a service counter – and the drawing-crowded chalkboard, scattering of toys and children's seats tells you this aims for less of a student/young hipster following and more of a family one.
Also, there are no bikes on the wall or issues of Monocle; just some simple wood-crate displays, an awesomely old-looking gramophone and a less-awesome painting of cranky dogs that triggered much head-scratching around our table (let's put it this way, it's not a painting that will ever inspire an art heist).
The name – Bus Stop Espresso – not only signals its location but plays on the lighting of the eatery; everytime a 426 rolls past, everyone sits up and wonders if someone's playing with the switches and dimmers; it just turns out that buses have an amazing, killjoy ability to block out sunlight. Just temporarily, luckily.
Yes, but what about the food? There are a few similarities with the Clipper menu – such as the Arabian-style Muesli with Pistachioes and Berries ($7.50), which Will instantly pronounced awesome, and the Toasted Banana Bread With Berries, Ricotta & Honey, which Kate did a bit of carb-trading on, swapping the slices for crisp Turkish fruit loaf instead.
Because of the cafe's basic set-up, all orders are toasty or crusty or hand-clutchable. As Meagan said, it's mainly sandwiches. You won't get the inventive hot breakfasts that Clipper can deliver, but there's Avocado, Tomato and Basil on Sourdough ($8.50) (with an unexpected but lively, likeable dose of Thai basil) and Turkish Raisin Bread, while the lunch menu covers sandwich fillings such as Basil Pesto, Bocconcini and Tomato ($8).
And if you haven't figured from the photos, there's definitely a berry-heavy theme throughout.
The minimal start-up menu meant that we could only ask for coffee or tea (I had a chai with a sweet, fragrant kick), but juices will be added soon. Also, part of our order didn't actually arrive, which I'd like to think was just a case of understandable just-opened fumbles rather than anything endemic.)
So, it's not the second coming of Clipper but Bus Stop Espresso is a much-needed option on a part of Enmore Road that is rather cafe-empty. It's also a few blocks from Enmore Park, which makes the highly portable menu a nice accessory for a sunny laze in the grass. (Note, if you do that, make sure you grab some cups of ice cream from nearby Serendipity, the green tea and mangoes & cream flavours make you glad the weather is warming up.) Also extra handy if you catch the 426. Or happen to live where Lisa does.
Bus Stop Espresso, 297 Enmore Road (near Scouller Street), Enmore
Monday, August 24, 2009
Anytime you mention a planned trip to Canberra – our nation's notoriously overplanned and inoffensive capital – you'll often hear a snicker or witness a raised eyebrow in response. It's like telling someone you plan to spend your holidays doing full-time laundry.
The city has a reputation for being an immensely boring place (and often the biggest Canberra naysayers are people who used to live there), and I'm not going to wade into the prickly pro/anti-Canberra debate here. The place does have one undeniable ace, though: a branch of Koko Black.
Sadly, this chocolate salon brand has yet to extend to Sydney (it seems a little geographically unfair there are six in Melbourne and zero up here), but it does instantly redeem any 3-hour-bus-trips to Canberra.
So, no surprises that Koko Black was my first point-of-call after stumbling out of the coach terminal.
I couldn't buy the entire salon's stock and relocate it back to Sydney, but I did purchase a bag of Strawberry Callebaut Callets ($6.85), a block of cocoa nib-speckled chocolate ($7.85) and quite a few pralines.
I picked out the Chai Tea, Mango & Vanilla, Dulce de Leche, Coffee and Hazelnut Crisp flavours ($12 per 100g). Whenever I have to select from a massive display, I always get regrettable what-I-want-to-order amnesia (or super-flushed and hopeless because I'm worried that I'm holding up the queue), so in my rush, I missed out the Raspberry Puree, which I wish I'd tried.
My favourites were the Mango & Vanilla – its lovely tropical and creamy taste whisks you straight into summer – and the Hazelnut Crisp, with its delicious sprinkle of crushed wafers and sweet, nutty texture (which you can see in close-up, from the photo I've taken).
If my stash doesn't last me 'til my next interstate visit, can we have a Koko Black in Sydney? Our city is a serial choc-cafe philanderer and has an open relationship with many cocoa salons – it's a trend this Melbourne-based chain should completely take advantage of.
Otherwise, I might need to buy another ticket down to Canberra.
Koko Black, Canberra Centre, Bunda Street, Canberra ACT (02) 6230 4040, www.kokoblack.com
Sunday, August 23, 2009
"There are four addictions in life: gambling, alcohol, shagging and Big Bite," I was told by the guy in the sandwich-buying queue.
"Look, I'm getting the shakes right now," his friend deadpanned, while totally immobile.
They told me their favourite filling and were a bit shocked that I hadn't ordered likewise.
"I got the Roast Vegetable one," I explained.
"Are you a vegetarian? Well, that one's good – my girlfriend's had it. She's a vegetarian, I think."
Aside from the semi-worry that he wasn't entirely sure about his girlfriend's vego status (surely, a relationship must?), the Big Bite fandom on show was pretty funny and 100% sincere. It would have to be, to survive the constant queuing this pair would endure to get their sandwich fix.
Blake and I weren't so familiar with the place – it's in one of those tiny anonymous arcades on Pitt Street that you'd never otherwise venture into (the type that doesn't try at all to divert you from the footpath); we only knew about it from the Time Out Sydney Food Awards and Big Bite is one of those in-the-know secrets I'm glad the mag shared.
Blake had the salmon while I had the aforementioned Roast Vegetable ($8.50), which is loaded with potato, pumpkin, zucchini, grilled cheese, Roma tomatoes and other warm vegies generously, deliciously slathered in lemon and chive mayonnaise and basil oil. Any attempt to eat these mega sandwiches will defy the gripping capacities of your hands, there's a massive filling-slide as soon as you bite in.
Sadly for me, Big Bite is only open during the week and is nowhere near my office, but Blake is lucky enough to work nearby (he's adding it to his lunchtime rotation of places to eat). He might bump into those hardcore sandwich addicts in the queue again, they'll be recognisable from their constant, unstoppable shakes.
Big Bite, Shop 3, 250 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW (02) 9283 4700
Monday, August 17, 2009
I've never really spent much time at Chifley Plaza. See, on my last visit, I had to pick up an $800 ballpoint pen from Tiffany to use in a magazine shoot. This was many moons ago, when I was an editorial assistant and my minimum-wage-earning self was unable to compute how a simple pen could be worth mammothly more than my weekly take-home pay. That I was so easily scandalised by a designer price tag is what has kept me well away from this upscale mall for such a long time.
Until I discovered you could get $1.50 macarons at Bacco Wine Bar Pasticcera on the ground floor.
It's rare that you would bound across town to pick up food from a shopping centre, but this ground-floor eatery – with glass cases holding beautiful, penned-in pastries – is that unlikely exception.
Not only are there macarons (the peanut butter one is my fave, so far), but Bacco has unbelievably exquisite-looking cakes and confections – the kind that I haven't seen since first frequenting Adriano Zumbo. (In fact, if the lines at that ever-popular Balmain patisserie discourage you, file this place as a sweet-tooth alternative. Although, I must admit: Bacco's passionfruit macarons can't really edge out the Zumbo ones, which are matchless).
The pastry chef here is Brendan Dewar, who has trained with French food icon, Pierre Herme – famously known as the "Picasso of pastry". You might get a little stiff-necked working out which hyper-vivid treat in the displays to settle on; in the end, I bought a Lime Panna Cotta ($5) and Coconut Banana Dome ($5). And a takeaway Oven Baked Muesli with Roasted Almonds, Poached Fruit and Bush Honey ($6), just to trick myself into thinking my sugar-loaded order wasn't entirely nutritionally sketchy.
I loved all of it, especially the berry jelly of the dome, its shortbread base, and the wind-swept glamour of the petal on top (and even that flowery flourish was sweet to taste).
My one complaint is that Bacco is only open weekdays – so if you're not lucky enough to work or study nearby, it's a little hard to visit (otherwise, set your alarm clock for dawn and make sure you're there by 7am to fight the coffee-dependent crowds).
Incidentally, the patisserie transforms into a wine bar in the afternoon/evening and so far, the Eatability reviews are incredibly mixed.
Right now though, it's the sugar-coated creations that will lure me back to the plaza's ground floor. The macaron, as it turns out, is mightier than the visit-repelling Tiffany pen.
Bacco, Ground Floor, Chifley Plaza, Sydney NSW (02) 9223 9552, bacco.com.au
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Yep, this is a guilt post. (I'm hopeless, I know …)
I wanted to sort the traffic jam in my head into something coherent and bloggable but, with a case of start-of-week tireds, that seems unlikely …
So here is some eye candy. It's a box of sugar – literally.
My very kind friends Tabitha and Nathan carefully transported it all the way back from Paris – the amazing aisle of decorative sugar at Le Bon Marche food hall (aka heaven), to be exact.
I was amazed that the box wasn't ground-full of granules and confectionery dust; that the miniature sugar shapes had stayed perfectly intact across half the world.
But it turns out these sweet little buttons, hearts and trees are surprisingly tough. Drop them into a ceramic bowl and they make a satisfying clink as they hit the surface, undented and whole.
Here are three other food-related things to reward you for your moseying here:
1. The Time Out Sydney Food Awards issue is on sale right now. Even if you were a conscientious objector/non-voter-type or awards-phobic, it's worth heading over just to check out Daniel Boud's always amazing food photography.
2. Helena from Clipper Cafe is overseeing a gourmet game that runs throughout August, as part of Sydney Uni's Epicurean Society: "You send us in your recipe, you receive one back and then you have one week to cook and create that dish, photograph it, document the process, and be your own food critic. Then send in the results via email (making sure that all photos are in jpeg. format) and what will result is a collectively concocted collection of recipes SLAMMED together."
You know where to click to take part.
3. I am playing catch-up on New Yorker back-issues and I just finished reading an excellent short story by Lorrie Moore which, like all her work, starts off quietly and unassuming and completely had me fixed to the page after a few seemingly innocent paragraphs.
I especially loved these two food-related parts (which I'll end this placeholding blog post with).
Firstly, her description of a local Chinese restaurant:
I had a handleless cup of hot, stale tea, poured and reheated from a pail stored in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator, and one elegantly folded fortune cookie—a short paper nerve baked in an ear.
I would tug the paper slip from the stiff clutches of the cookie and save it as a bookmark. All my books had fortunes protruding like tiny tails from their pages …
And, also … (about a completely different eatery altogether):
It was one of those expensive restaurants downtown, every entrée freshly hairy with dill, every soup and dessert dripped upon as preciously as a Pollock, fillets and cutlets sprinkled with lavender dust once owned by pixies — restaurants to which students never went, unless newly pinned to a fraternity boy or dating an assistant dean or hosting a visit from concerned suburban parents.
I knew that Petit Moulin served things that sounded like instruments — timbales, quenelles. God only knew what they were.
I had once tried to study the menu in its lit case near the entrance, and as I stared at the words the sting of my own exile had moistened my eyes. The lowest price for an entrée was twenty-two dollars, the highest, forty-five. Forty-five! You could get a Taiwanese oil-and-water bra for that price!
(That last part made me laugh, I had to look up "oil-and-water bra" because that phrase had never entered my vocab before. It sounds like something Madonna would wear, on a very bad day.)
Monday, August 3, 2009
Like tragic fashion choices – if you wait long enough, some things come back again.
So, I was keyed up by the Potato Pizza Revival at Bourke Street Bakery. The topping made a blink-long appearance earlier this year as a special, but luckily, the other week, it got properly added to the new menu. I was hugely excited because the pizza is one of my favourites: the crispy potato, salt and rosemary sprigs square off perfectly with the sweet spread of ricotta and Spanish onion.
I ordered it, repeatedly.
Sadly, that didn't stop it from falling out of menu favour. It got taken off the board after a week or so. Apparently it is just too high-maintenance to make, the potato has to get pre-cooked, etc etc. No wonder they reinstated the fuss-free Tomato & Basil Pizza ($6) instead.
As consolation, you can get your potato fix through the various soups that get ladled out during the week at Bourke Street Bakery. I haven't yet had the Potato & Leek ($9) (which is so chunky, the bowl seems to house starchy icebergs) but I did enjoy a variation with fennel recently (which says a lot, given that I don't entirely love fennel! It can be such a recipe-hog, frequently outscreaming any other ingredients it has to share billing with).
While some of the soups are great (I'm a fan of the Zucchini & Parmesan), others can be homey and plain, reminding me of comedian Daniel Kitson's take on the dish. Whereas he loves yum cha and tapas, soup is entirely the opposite of those flavour lotteries: you only need four spoons-full and the point is made. The surprise element is pretty much dead. (I'm just paraphrasing: imagine that being said in a more endearingly cheeky fashion, complete with loveable British-accented swearing, and the physical presence of specs and a prominent, good-natured beard.)
I wonder what Daniel Kitson would think about potato pizza menu-grief. (Small consolation: you could probably make a similar version at home, including potato prep shortcuts where necessary. Or just wait until the dish eventually comes back into fashion again, when everyone's too memory-fogged to remember its original shortfalls.)
Bourke Street Bakery, 474 Gardeners Road, Alexandria NSW (02) 8339 1001.
This is the main bakery but there are other branches: 633 Bourke St, Surry Hills NSW (02) 9699 1011;
2 Mitchell St, Marrickville NSW (02) 9569 3225.