It’s a café (well mostly), so it’s breakfast time again. Actually, it’s well past my breakfast time because we have already been off to the beach to get dumped by the shore break at Coogee, and stare in wonder at the enormous numbers of pink clad Nippers running up and down, and swimming all over the place. It’s good to know that there will be a new generation ready to rescue me should my old bones get into strife in the waves. Once we’d been home to wash all the sand out of our cossies, and walked up the hill (“It’s getting to be a long way now isn’t it?” “Yes. Yes, it is.”), we were really looking forward to all the goodness that a bought breakfast brings. And a coffee or two. Unfortunately, when we arrived the place was as full as a goog. We went for a wander for a while, hoping that a vacancy would arise while we checked out the street numbers of the upcoming quest candidates. It’s getting a bit tricky down this end of the street because the odds and evens are coming unstuck from their typical across-the-road relationship. The odds seem hell bent on tearing ahead and getting to St Peters a couple of blocks before the evens. This means of course that we are going to have to Pay Attention when deciding what’s up next. Strop was busy freaking out the owners of the Europe Grill by taking photos of their street number and standing outside making copious notes as they tried to get ready for the Sunday lunch trade. Luckily a couple of tables had become free at Lou Jacks so I was able to hustle her inside before there were any nasty scenes. Lou Jacks is fairly unpretentious with no particular theme to the décor. There is a hint of Greekiness in parts of the menu, and a couple of bottles of retsina lurking on the shelf behind the bar, but it’s very low-key. The vibe is pleasantly honest and straightforward. It’s just a café, with a bit of a courtyard out the back. I have no idea what the name means. I hope it is the names of the owners, but maybe it is their favourite bourbon. Who knows? The service is very efficient, we have a couple of coffee orders away before we have even had time to look at the menu. And the coffee is excellent. The menu is not one of those long ones, full of exotic middle-eastern, or south American meals, that seem to be in vogue at the moment. There is enough choice, but you don’t have to go flipping through pages and pages of exotic choices. I follow my gut (and the rules) and go for the Big Breakfast, while Strop chooses the Peasants Breakfast, which turns out to be a delicious omelette with potato, shallots and fetta – plus a side of bacon. The big breakfast lives up to it’s name with toasted Turkish bread, sausage, haloumi, mushrooms and tomatoes, to keep the eggs and bacon company. Yum. And a couple of orange juices. And two more coffees please. The crowd seemed to be mostly locals, getting their Sunday morning coffee and egg fixes. There were a lot of South’s tee shirts being worn – good to see that they’re maintaining the rage. One young man was waiting for a couple of takeaway coffees with a packet of bacon and a bottle of barbecue sauce in his hand, obviously planning his own version of a big breakfast when he got home. We were pretty full when we decided to move on. By that time the day was getting quite warm, and it was quite tempting to break up the long walk home with a cleansing ale at the Courty, but we resisted. No room.
Buzzzbar seems a very relaxed place. When I arrived, a woman was just leaving, trying to pay her bill with a small dog under each arm.
After quite a bit of e-communication, we have been promised a largish group for tonight’s outing, but everyone else is running various kinds of late, so I am the first to arrive. Buzzzbar (I have to be careful to get the spelling right without falling asleep) is a big place, with tables and lounges and a back courtyard that opens onto a lane off Enmore Road. There are plenty of seating opportunities, but mindful of the group we are expecting, I nab the large lounge area. It is a bit too nippy to be sitting outside, and anyway it will be smokey. That is one of the problems with dining in Sydney, you can’t eat outside without having to put up with smoke.
The staff seemed very concerned that I had turned up by myself, and were disconcertingly attentive for a while – until I had ordered a beer and some chips. I told the waiter that I was part of a much, much larger group that would be arriving soon, but he tried to convince me that I should join another table anyway. I resisted, convinced that Strop and the others would not leave me in the lurch.
Eventually the others arrived, first Strop who wasted no time ordering a glass of something smooth and red. Then Linda, Sue and Julian find us, and lastly, we are joined by Matilda. This is the full complement, except for my brother Steve who is always a late starter.
Linda and Sue are aunts to Matilda, who is not-quite sister to the Stropolina. Julian used to be a local, but has defected to Melbourne now. The evening takes a short sci-fi detour when Julian lifts his shirt to show us the blood sugar monitoring device he has plugged into his side. “I’m not diabetic. I just wanted to try it out because my company makes them,” he said, showing the flat-line read out on the portable monitor that is linked wirelessly to the probe in his side. That’s dedication, that is.
Drinks are ordered and mistakes are made. Matilda is not drinking, which is a pity because she spent the rest of the night knocking everyone else’s drinks over. Linda and Sue ordered a bottle of shiraz from somewhere called Ram’s Leap which turned out to be eye-watering and drew unfortunate comparisons with Ram’s somethingelse, and a lame joke from mygoodself that involved crutching, and was poorly conceived at best.
Around about this time we moved to a proper table and started thinking seriously about food. The menu is fairly typical of pub/cafe fare. There is a From The Grill section, an intriguing From The Fried section, as well as a somewhat nostalgic From The Larder section. Under these headings there are burgers, steaks, schnitzels, lots of pastas, and some salads. In the end, our order ranges freely over the menu, with a couple of pastas, 2 bangers and mash, fish and chips, a burger and a schnitzel. Very democratic if you don’t count salad, which I often don’t.
While we waited for the food, conversation ranged far and wide. From the merits of the Bentley Continental GT as a form of transport to jazz venues and racist dogs. Somewhere during this interlude the Ram’s somethingelse ran out and was replaced by a much more pleasing Argentinian vintage. Dogs were a hot topic for a while, particularly Linda and Sue’s entertainingly loopy kelpie which, in the absence of wooly livestock at the local parks, makes do with cornering some hapless spadoodle and trying to eyeball it into submission. And we thought our dog was crazy.
There were nice tunes on the obligatory speaker system – everything from Hendrix to Duffy – but the atmosphere was spoiled a bit by the cigarette smells that kept wafting through, dragged inside by the flow-through ventilation. The courtyard space seemed to be very popular with teenagers, who seemed to be very interested in smoking in groups.
When the food arrived, everything came but the fettuccine carbonara, “It will be slightly delayed,” said the waiter, “as the chef has dropped it on the floor.” When it did arrive, it came with a poached egg on top, which seems to be a new trend according to my in-depth google research. My hamburger was good enough to hold its head up with the rest King St burgers, the bangers and mash were voted “Alright,” and the schnitzel “Fine.” There was no trace left of the fish and chips, but there was quite a lot of the fettuccine with prawns left, but this might have been because Matilda was so busy knocking things over.
In the end the food was kind of irrelevant. We were having a fine old time blathering away, (bulldogs vs pugs, Melbourne vs Sydney, Canberra hipsters – really?), and that is what Buzzzbar is all about. As we were getting ready to leave we were presented with complimentary homemade chocolate and orange truffle things on sticks. And they were extremely yummy.
Cafe Newtown, you’ve all seen it, sitting out there in the middle of the enormous intersection that is the throbbing but hollow heart of Newtown. Cafe Newtown is the nominatively-determined, defining point of Newtown cafe society, the Google Maps pin, pointing at the very definition of saturday morning bacon and eggs, the still eye of the Newtown traffic hurricane, the hipster crossroads… Worryingly, I feel as if I could keep coming up with this shit all day.
We decided to go at night. I know, I know. You’re going to say, “What about the rules? You can’t… blah blah, keep changing them blah… just make it up as you go along…” Totally agree. We do, totally. But they’re our rules, and we’ll do what we want with them. And anyway it’s Friday night and I desperately need a drink and something to eat. There was special Turkish food at the work’s friday night drinks, but it was all eaten by the students while I was busy trying to transfer lots of lines on lots of bits of electronic paper, from one computer to another computer, to keep a third computer happy. As I say, by the time I emerged from Newtown station in the middle of a horde of invading shiny young friday night stormtroopers, I needed a drink.
Strop had nabbed a splendid table, outside but up against the building, so we didn’t need to worry about coming into direct contact with any of the pedestrians squeezed between the traffic and the cafe. The surprising thing about sitting outside at Cafe Newtown on a friday night, is that the traffic doesn’t impinge on the experience. There is enough noise from the chattering punters and the pedestrians, and the little bit of overhead canned music, to keep the traffic noise at bay. Except for the occasional dick-head who has been getting off by fiddling with his own exhaust pipe.
We quickly order drinks and dips from the waitress (who has such a strong Spanish accent that I never actually work out exactly which beer I am drinking – luckily by that stage it didn’t really matter) and settle back to watch the Newtown floorshow. This place has an unsurpassed view of the passing tattoo-and-hair-do parade. There were a lot of them. Standouts included a pair of middle-aged women dressed as geishas and the bloke wearing as many fluro tones as possible, with matching headphones. The old bloke with the mobility scooter that he has converted into a mobile PA system (complete with Elvis statuette) kept going past, doing laps of Newtown, and occasionally having to lean forward and tap people on the arm to get them to make way for his one-man mission to bring the King to King Street’s crowded pavements. I commented that I hadn’t seen the Elvis-mobile for a while and Strop wondered whether his appearance tonight might coincide with the full moon. Now there is study worth funding.
The dips came in three pots, and with three types of bread, lightly toasted and drizzled (lovely word) with olive oil. Yummmm. We were most of the way through hoovering this lot up when I glanced up, with a crispy wedge of pita bread jammed in my gob, and noticed an attractive young woman leaving her table and giving me a big smile. I was surprised, because, despite my devastating good looks, this kind of thing doesn’t happen very… well, ever really. As I chewed my pita bread and checked my memory circuits, the smiley blonde moved inside towards the cash register, and I realised that I did know her. “Is that Peta?” I asked Strop – and she answered in the affirmative, for indeed it was. Peta was an inseparable childhood friend of the Stropette when we lived in Canberra. I think the last time I saw Peta was a lot of years ago. While I dithered about whether to interrupt her evening out with her friends, Strop decided to take things into her own hands nearly tackling Peta as she was about to cross the road. Well not really, and just as well because Peta is pregnant. Congratulations! We gave her a thorough grilling, delighting in her news, and downloading lots of family goss, before releasing her back into the wilds of King Street.
Then we ordered more drinks, and after a somewhat heated debate, decided on quesadillas rather than sliders, mainly because I fancied trying to pronounce quesadilla to the Spanish speaking waitress more than I fancied eating a little hamburger. It wasn’t my best decision. The most exciting parts of the quesadilla were the extremely hot, sauce laden beans, that kept escaping and falling down the sleeve of my shirt. Still, the whole point of Cafe Newtown is watching the world go by, and it is an excellent place to do that.
We finished the night by making a quick tour of the exciting batch of new eateries that we will be visiting soon. There are some interesting looking places coming up. I can’t wait to get stuck in.
Strop was worried. “There’s never anyone in there anymore. It used to be popular, but now its nearly always empty.” She was right, for a long time now Astino’s has looked pretty empty whenever we’ve ambled past. It’s a cafe with a big room and large windows onto King Street, so it takes quite a few punters to make it look busy. When we first moved to the area it seemed to be popular, but not anymore.
So we arrived for breakfast without particularly high expectations. Our first surprise was that there were no tables outside. In my memory Astino’s always has tables outside, full of people sipping coffee and trying to converse over the noise of the traffic. Not today. But there is a blackboard outside. Specials. Smashed avacado on bruschetta. Poached eggs with stuffed hashbrowns(?), bacon and eggs on brioche. What’s going on? We were expecting bog ordinary brekkies again.
All of the customers are occupying the tables lining the windows onto the street, leaving the rest of the big room empty. Strop and I join this trend and squeeze onto a corner table at the front. It’s a beautiful sunny autumn morning, and King Street is its usual noisy, entertaining self. In light of the fact that Astino’s has menu items approaching the interesting on its shortish breakfast menu, I have decided to break the cafe suite rule and ignore whatever version of the big breakfast Astino’s do. Also, this is my second breakfast for the morning.
We start with a couple of coffees – which aren’t brilliant, it has to be said. Not awful but… this is Newtown, there is a lot of very good coffee around (although as we are finding, the best stuff is not actually on King Street). Our food arrives quickly which is good, and appropriate given that the place is not exactly heaving.
Strop’s smashed avacado is a very tasty mix with lots of coriander and red onion. My bacon and egg on brioche is exactly that, with a generous (possibly too generous) dollop of very nice tomato relish. Yum. By the time we have finished our food it becomes obvious that our juices are not going to come without some prompting.
The waitress is hand-over-mouth apologetic. “I forgot. I’m so sorry. Do you still want them?” Well, yes we do, that’s why we ordered them. They come quickly, with more apologies, and they are good. We are refreshed. We decide to forego a second coffee and leave on a orange-and-pineapple-juice-induced high note.
While I go outside to try to take a photograph without looking too uncool, Strop pays, which is only fair.
Strop has a habit that freaks me out: engaging people in conversation. She’ll talk to anyone and it worries the hell out of me. Luckily, I’m safely out on the street this time. While it is a risky habit she’s got, it does mean that she finds stuff out. This time she’s found out that Astino’s has just changed hands! And soon they will close for a week for a makeover!! We clap our hands with glee. Maybe new Astino’s will be wonderful.
We’re closing in on Newtown Station now which I’m arbitrarily declaring to be the nominative half-way point for the Quest. Unfortunately the powers that be are making things harder for us – the redevelopment of the station has spawned a bunch of new eateries for us to make our way through before we get there. Oh well – better get on with it then.
This week it is Cafe C, which is an un-themed, run-of-the-mill cafe. It seems to be very popular and it has a great location, right at the end of Erskineville Road, and on the corner of Mary Street. This is a breakfast outing as the Cafe Suite of rules has been invoked. Our guest this morning is Anna, who has come all the way from Five Dock, and passed a lot of very acceptable breakfast venues along the way, so I hope Cafe C makes it worth her while.
It is a lovely saturday morning so we sit near the front where we have a good view of the passing parade. Being near a pedestrian crossing gives you plenty of time to give the crowd a serious once over, and wonder at some of their life choices, not to mention their fashion sense. The downside of being near a busy intersection is the noise. And being Newtown there is always some emergency going on nearby, with ambulance sirens and flashing lights punctuating the roar of semi-trailers and the squeal of bus fan belts. Despite the noise we have a lovely chat, while keeping an eye on the street in case we catch a glimpse of the legendary Goat Man of Newtown. What with the tattoo and body art expo having just been in town, I thought Anna may have been referring to body adornments: someone with horn embellishments or perhaps big floppy ears. But no, apparently she has seen (with her own eyes), a man leading a pair of goats along King Street. I want to believe, but nowadays I’m old enough to need proof. So please let me know if any of you lot have seen the fabled Goat Man of Newtown.
The Cafe Suite rules call for one of us to order the ‘big’ or ‘full’ breakfast option – often named after the cafe. However in honour of the imminence of St Patricks day I decide to put a slight bend in the rule and veer away from the Cafe C Brekkie in favour of the Irish Breakfast. This comes with beans, sausage and black pudding, as well as the usual eggs, bacon and toast, so I think that it still qualifies as a big breakfast. Strop selects the fritters with a side of bacon while Anna plays it safe with poached eggs and toast.
I have to say that I thought the breakfast menu was a bit boring. Lots of variations on the usual suspects, but nothing particularly adventurous or new. Or even interesting. But then we are still officially in the King Street doldrums, so what else should I expect. All the interesting and innovative stuff seems to happens just off King Street. It must be something to do with the rental agreements.
When the food arrives, the waiter is embarrassed to explain that when Anna said she wanted two eggs, and toast, he wrote 2 eggs and toast, and the kitchen cooked four eggs, and shared them between 2 plates. Commas, eh? They’re tricky little bastards aren’t they. Anyway he was too scared to take the extra plate back to the kitchen so he just left it there, on the end of our table, in case we got a bit peckish. We didn’t, although if there had been bacon involved it would have been a different matter. The breakfasts were alright. Nothing special but okay. As was the coffee. Strop thought her fritters were somewhat lacking in flavour. There was nothing that seemed to be home-made in my Irish Breakfast. The black pudding was nice enough, and the eggs were well cooked. It was a good breakfast but nothing to write home about. Or blog about I suppose. The orange juice was nice and orangey…
On the way home we bumped into the centenary celebrations for Newtown Fire Station. What are all these fire engines doing parked on the road, we thought at first. Then, ooh look, a brass band, we exclaimed. Who doesn’t love a brass band? That’s right: no one.
“100 Years and Still Pumping” the banner said. Ha!
Milk Bar; is it a cafe or a restaurant? That is the the dilemma that faced us. I was on the cafe side of the equation, suggesting gently to Strop that it would be best reviewed as a breakfast or lunch venue, but Strop was having none of that tosh. She pointed out its close proximity to the Dendy Cinema (right next door with ‘outdoor’ tables actually in the foyer) and its reliance on the pre/post movie trade, as reasons that we should visit in the evening. As usual she was right, and that was what we did. However, I vetoed the optional movie add-on, on the basis that it would keep me up past my bedtime.
We waited out the 6pm pre-movie rush across the road at Black Sheep with a couple of beers. I was drinking the provocatively named My Wife’s Bitter and Strop was downing a very fruity something called Stone and Wood, “The chief beer buyer says it’s his favourite, from Byron Bay or somewhere like that”.
When things at the Dendy had died down a bit, with everyone safely choc-topped up and watching Mr DiCaprio wolfing along Wall Street, we crossed the road and settled ourselves down at Milk Bar. The room is a big open space, with a high ceiling that is open onto the street and also opens into the foyer of the cinema. It is simple and modern, having been renovated during the last remodelling of the Dendy building, and is quite an attractive space. The clientele seemed to be a mixture of tourists and locals.
The menu features plenty of pasta and risotto as well as steaks and chicken. I was shocked to see Quinoa Fritters on the starters menu and was briefly tempted, simply on the basis of perversity, but then I noticed the alluringly-named Pork Belly Bites. Strop opted for Crispy Squid. Strop finds it hard to resist ribs on a menu, so that’s what she chose for mains and I passed over the fish and chips and went for the Crispy Chicken, mainly because of the promise of accompanying Italian slaw.
When the friendly young waiter came to take our order, Strop asked about the wine list, but was informed that they don’t have a list as such, just wine. Three whites, two reds, and a rosé to be exact. We felt the undertow pulling us towards the rosé but decided that it was too big a risk, given that the waiter had never tasted it. So we played it safe: Strop went for the Pinot to go with her ribs, and I ordered a Chardy to go with my chicken.
The starters soon arrived but were disappointing. The Pork Belly Bites turned out to be cubes of very tender pork, inexplicably hidden inside a bland coating of deep fried bread crumbs. Nice enough, but they would have been so much better without the coating. The squid wasn’t particularly crisp or tasty, and could have done with more seasoning or even some chilli. When the mains came, I realised that the waiter had misheard my order and put me down for the chicken breast instead of the crispy chicken. Strop is always telling me I mumble so I guess it is my own fault. The chicken was nice enough, if a bit on the dry side, but the jus was good, and the potato dish was great. A kind of potato gratin, with the potato sliced very thin, and compacted into a dense slab. My description doesn’t do it justice, but it was excellent. Strop’s ribs were very tender but they were coated with a strong sweet marinade that overpowered the meat.
For dessert we opted for a shared combination of drink and dessert. I asked to see a dessert menu but was informed that they don’t have one because the desserts change all the time. So Strop and I took turns to go and check out the options in the display cabinet. There were lots of lavish looking chocolate and cheesecake variations. Strop was attracted to a tart with raspberry and pear (right up her alley that one) while I couldn’t get past the slicey thing called a Monkey Something (sucker for stupid names, me). When I convinced Strop that the Monkey StupidNameThing looked a bit like an Eccles Cake, she went into a nostalgic revery, and started talking like the Goons character who shares the same name. During this slightly disturbing display the waitress arrived and we ordered the Monkey Thing and a Coconut Milkshake as well. The milkshake was great and I really liked the cake, but Strop couldn’t get past the fact that it didn’t live up to her rose-tinted memories of moist and spicy childhood cakes. So I suspect that she won’t leave me in charge of dessert ordering in the future.
Milk Bar is probably more of a cafe than a restaurant, but it has friendly staff and is a pleasant place to wait for a movie or watch the King Street parade (one unidentified Famous Person, a poet and a photographic club tonight), as long as you modify your expectations appropriately. The serving sizes are generous, by the time we left we were so full we could hardly waddle home.
Next up is Happy Chef, which I always want to call Happy Geoff for some reason. Let us know if you’d like to join us.