Thursday, April 5, 2012
The Grounds of Alexandria
The Grounds in Alexandria is perfectly named. The title evokes the establishment's supercharged interest in coffee, as well as its beautiful surrounds – an expansive site that is adorned with eye-catching blooms, aromatic herbs and hanging plants. There's even a hiding place for some well-accommodated chickens.
On walking in, you can tell that The Grounds is run on high-level ambition. First of all, it multitasks like hell: it contains a bakery, kitchen garden, cafe, takeaway area, "research facility", dispatch room, kids' play area and soon will be home to various workshops. There are many clues as to how seriously it takes its coffee, from a huge blackboard illustrating every step of production to the mega-sized roasting equipment and paraphernalia throughout. (One prize example is a rare La Marzocco espresso machine that has been rebuilt like a "hot rod".) There are also crash-course diagrams and tasting notes in the menu.
The Grounds is a collaboration between entrepreneur Ramzey Choker, coffee expert Jack Hanna and interior designers/event managers Caroline Choker and Natalie Longhean. The result is a photo/magazine/blog-genic industrial space that is styled beautifully – down to the decorating tropes of, yes, a rusty typewriter in the garden. The site is also tended by a horticulturalist, Erin Martin. They can take credit for adding buzz and vitality to a part of Alexandria that is filled with blocks of bland "corporate parks" and factories. The Grounds only opened on Tuesday and, from my visits on its first two days, the place was already packed – easily maxing out on capacity.
There's a lot to like – the site is considered, lush and everything is easy on the eye, from the typography-stamped tables to the rustic jars for serving drinks. (You can order a lovely Ginger Beer garnished with mint right from the garden to a just-squeezed Grapefruit Juice that's as bracing as it is full-flush pink.)
The food is noteworthy, too. There's an excellent tortilla ($14), still crusty from being grilled in the pan, which hides a jackpot of potato cubes and sweet spring onion. It's served with house-made olive bread and a tangle of endive and spinach leaves, topped with herbs and parmesan cheese. And while truffle oil is usually quite gross, even in minor parts-per-billion doses, the salad's dressing is nicely understated. When I traded notes with Chris (who I bumped into on day two), he endorsed the slow-cooked lamb. And Cathy and I were both easily won over by the well-cut chips and their chilli mayo sidekick.
The only thing I didn't love was the Roasted Vegetable Salad, which was rather ordinary. This was an accidental order because we didn't realise there are two different menus – a takeaway one and a dine-in version. The counter is for takeout orders only (this isn't well sign-posted, though); and this salad and its identical sandwich twin were the only vegetarian lunch options available. It's better to opt for the dine-in selections: they're way more extensive and interesting.
Both my visits had high-octane endings, thanks to a joltin' iced coffee ($6) and the El Salvador Coffee of the Week (my oddball description: it was like a nutty and sharp brew crossed with a super-strength tea).
Plans to return for breakfast menu are already being hatched (the Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Cheddar with garden herbs, roasted field mushrooms and toasted miche sounds like it's worth the early start; there's also Brioche French Toast with lemon mascarpone and roasted rhubarb, and a Breakfast Board, so you can custom-assemble the first meal of the day yourself). The Picnic Box For Two ($28) sounds like a cute – and effective – excuse to spend more time in The Grounds' landscaped garden.
Without even being open for a full week, The Grounds has already netted coverage in Agenda Sydney, The Thousands and Broadsheet. It was also the focus of a Good Living feature in February. The attention is for good reason. Like the coffee it serves, the buzz for The Grounds is ultra strong.
The Grounds, Building 7A, 2 Huntley St, Alexandria NSW (02) 9699 2225, www.groundsroasters.com