Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Bread and Circus, Alexandria
At Bread and Circus in Alexandria, you won't see a thousand clowns jam themselves into a tiny car – instead, your attention may be redirected towards "life-alterating" Callebaut chocolate cookies, drinking coconuts, "circus soups", brews chosen by a "tea neurotic" and defiantly good salads.
If you think a "wholefoods canteen" is a total killjoy – a place where samey grains and humourless salads make too many cameos, then Bread and Circus is the nicest kind of counter-attack to this perspective. This is not an eatery you end up at because the Portlandia Fun Police guilt-tripped you into it, this cafe is where salad is the order you're most (voluntarily) excited about.
A "small" plate of salad is $12 and you can choose to fill up on one to five types: recent menu additions have included Basil-baked Vanilla Peaches in Agave Blue Cheese with Scattered Champagne Puy Lentils (especially brilliant), Chargrilled Eggplant Zucchini and Squash with Nashi-Pear-Tomato Relish and Parmesan Curls and Curried Cauliflower/Two-Potato Mix with Coriander and Minted Yogurt. There's no frumpy iceberg lettuce and tomato option or sad couscous mix with the odd fleck of spice and vegetable in it. Every salad I've had here seems to be stacked with flavour. Getting to pick-and-choose is a nice touch and the "small" serving size is pretty generous – I had to scoop part of mine into a takeaway container to save for next time.
Like the salads, the Circus Soups are made up of an interesting mixtape of ingredients – think Curried Fennel Carrot Coriander with Sneaky Coconut and Nashi Pear and Creamy Garlic Fennel & Leek with a bit of Broccoli & lots of Basil. The unlikely line-up of sweet potato with apple, lemongrass, galangal, coriander and coconut was particularly fun on my last visit – and it proved to be nice target practice for the slices of bread I dunked through it. You can commit to a bowl of one of these flavours ($14), or opt for a smaller one ($7) to cosy up with your salad.
There are fun drinks, too – a well-placed paper straw allows you to sip from a coconut ($4), you can order intriguing fruit blends (think orange/apple/pineapple/ginger juice) and I really would like to try something from the intriguing tea list when I next get a chance (Bamboo Whisked Premium Matcha sounds like a good bet, while the Classic and Quirky Blacks and Sublime Oolongs make convincing pitches). And when the weather gets cooler, a Stovetop Belgium Milk Chocolate might easily monopolise my drinks order.
On a first visit, Bread and Circus is a little tricky to find. There's no obvious signage and it is in fact camouflaged by the Don Campos cafe that is at the front of the warehouse complex. The lack of coffee on Bread and Circus's menu seems to deliberately encourage cross-border visits (the canteen's staff seemed pretty cool with people getting their caffeine fix from Don Campos). The decor itself adds a lot of personality to what would otherwise be a pretty drab industrial space. There are warm doses of colour (pink tiles, rustic table settings, flowers overwhelming recycled jars) and enough fruit and vegetable still-lifes-in-the-making to make anyone who clumsily stashes their produce into the crisper feel like they should smarten up their food presentation showmanship a bit.
The staff can sometimes take a little while to take your order – everyone seems to multitask, so they might be mid-salad-assembling when you're at the counter and waiting to pitch in with what specifically you'd like to eat and drink. They're very sweet, though. Curious about the "life-altering" chocolate cookie on offer, I asked the guy who took my order if he had tried it and if his life had indeed switched paths as a result. He answered by breaking the cookie into big pieces and offering me and my friend Cathy the samples. (It was pretty great.)
The canteen – which opened last month and is a long-awaited project for Amanda Bechara (you might know her food blog The Cake and The Knife) – also offers breakfast, by the way, which I might finally get around to ordering if I can break out of my one-track salad-obsessed spell. (Foxy Porridge, Morning Jumble and Parmesan Not-So-Scrambled Eggs are some of the options you can wake up with.)
If it's not already obvious from the pro-Bread-and-Circus slant of this post, I really like this place. One semi-grumble though – while most of the menu seems quite reasonable (especially the $4 drinking coconut), some of the pricing seems a little mystifying. $13, for instance, is maybe a tad too much for a takeaway egg sandwich. And a $9 juice is the sort of pricetag that makes me sad at airports. But maybe that just reflects the cost of organic produce and there's a lot on offer (like the $13 salad-stacked plate) that's good value.
During last week's Sydney-wide outbreak of Ira Glass fever, I recall This American Life's host asking why news had to be well-intentioned yet dull – entertainment was never allowed to overlap with anything serious. I feel the same way about "healthy food", that it often sends you on a Where's Wally?-style hunt for fun and flavour; it's about abstaining rather than rewarding. Bread and Circus nicely refuses that idea – it reanimates your interest in what's "good" for you by just making it taste damn enjoyable.
Bread and Circus, 21 Fountain St, Alexandria NSW www.breadandcircus.com.au
PS This canteen is amazingly vegetarian-friendly; there are also lots of offerings (like the Poached Organic Inglewood chicken with Lime Mayo & Salady Side Things that Will happily endorses) for non-vego significant others, too.