Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Grounds of Alexandria

Building 7A/2 Huntley St, Alexandria, NSW

When the zombie apocalypse finally comes, I’m heading straight for The Grounds. That’s right, I called it early… so BACK OFF.

Situated in semi-industrial-ish Mascot near Sydney airport (proximity to a variety of transport options – tick), The Grounds of Alexandria occupies a repurposed pie factory (sturdy and easily fortified – tick). The new fit-out consists of a beautifully designed restaurant and banging commercial kitchen, sprawling herb garden, veggie patch, pigpen and henhouse (sustainably self-sufficient – tick), plus a coffee roastery (BIG tick) and training academy. Apart from being the ultimate Day of Reckoning retreat, the Grounds also does a cracking breakfast (and from what I understand, other mealtimes too) and some of the best Joe to be had on the East Coast.

grounds02From the moment you enter The Grounds – between the bushy herb-beds and towards the hectic takeaway / bakery counter – you anticipate that every aspect of your impending experience is being handled by someone who just plain gives a shit. The whole setup screams “vertical integration”, which in turn chimes “pride” and “quality control”.grounds03

Our visit fell on a Sunday morning, circa 10:30am – yeah, probably a mistake – and the place was BUSY. That said, I get the feeling the tone and tempo seldom slip far below “pumping”. There were a lotta bodies, but we grabbed a buzzer-thing and some takeaway coffees and parked under the pergola to wait for a table.

Their coffee is roasted in-house on a pair of Probats, which are visible from the main dining hall. The profile was that of any good, “traditional” espresso – heavy cocoa balanced well against light, caramel sweetness. I counted 5 pairs of hands involved in the manufacture of our brews (order-taker, shot-puller, milk maid, pourer, caller-outer) and they had their shtick moving at a fine pace, much to the appreciation of their customers who shuffled obligingly by at either end of the process.

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A second, entirely independent coffee station exists to service dine-in patrons, and displays a variety of brewing gadgetry from pour-overs and syphons to the seldom seen (in this country at least) Clover Dripper. Speaking of rare, this bench also houses a custom-built La Marzocco GS/2, created and assembled in the USA by the team at Espresso Parts. (For the uninitiated (uninterested?), this constitutes the coffee equivalent of a custom shop Fender, fully-modified Harley or really pretty, handmade jewellery thing; quite a marvel.)

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Once our buzzer gyrated its way off the table edge, we were seated by a jovial gent who appeared utterly unfazed by the frantic pace at which he and other staff were operating. We were handed menus comprising a selection of familiar fare (given the freshness and quality of the ingredients used, there’s no need to try too hard). We ordered the breakfast burger (egg, bacon, spicy mayo, trimmings, served on a brioche bun) and a breakfast board (avocado, smoked ham, poached egg, tomato, fetta, pesto, other tasty titbits) – both of which were spot-on. The default egg and bacon combinations were in there too, along with some baked-on-the-premises breads and handmade spreads. Juices and more coffee followed (had to give the Clover a whirl) and while the family group adjacent to us seemed to find the whole decide-receive-enjoy process something of a struggle, we cruised out well-fed, relaxed and ready to face the day.

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The sheer scope and span of this ambitious hospitality (ad)venture are striking. What’s even more impressive is that the Grounds team pull it off (seemingly) without a hitch. There must have been 30+ staff covering front and back of house, and the place easily accommodates 8 or 10 times this number in patrons, yet the prevailing demeanour across all parties was affable, patient and composed (narky neighbours notwithstanding).

I credit this good-naturedness (in part) to the herbaceous, aroma-therapeutic air mandatorily ingested by all upon entry. Conceivably, with a little research and tweaking, this perfumed perimeter could even be adapted to mask the smell of humans, and help stave-off undead attacks. Tick.

Thanks for stopping by. Be well, TV.

PS Anyone heading out to Mascot should be advised – as were we, via text – to “PET THE PIG”. His name is Kevin Bacon – and that, and he, are fantastic.

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Room 10

10 Llankelly Place, Potts Point, NSW

Occupying around 25 squares in a pedestrian laneway behind Kings Cross, this teeny site proves the greatness of any venue is inevitably determined by what’s on offer to fill a customers heart, as much as their plate.

Room 10 emanates effortless, honest soul and has nothing – and nowhere – to hide. Such a small footprint necessitates simplicity, but shouldn’t prohibit imagination. The team’s innovative rethinking of traditional brunch fare features simple variations on a selection of salads, sourdoughs and other sandwich-y staples. Their “sarnie” with smashed poached egg, ham and tarragon hollandaise is the stuff of breakfast brilliance. Unfussy and refreshingly coherent, the menu boasts a solid selection; other standouts include a prosciutto, ricotta, rocket and balsamic open bread configuration and something intriguingly called “breakfast rice” in place of the clichéd bircher. It’s always hard to go past homemade banana bread, so I would recommend in the case of Room 10’s, don’t. Service hums along at an equally impressive level, with everything prepared sharpishly and fresh-to-order in a space no larger than the average townhouse kitchen.

room1002Room 10’s cosy configuration fosters an unexpected sense of intimacy, feeling closer to cohabitation than a traditional server-and-served arrangement. Patrons cluster and share stools-cum-tables indoors or loiter beneath the awning in the outdoor / overflow area. And not just students and Sydney hipsters – I saw happy nanas too. A perpetual queue for takeaways exists throughout the day, but the baristas crack on at a great pace. Their La Marzocco is put through its paces with the house blend pouring well alongside several weekly singles; all masterfully prepared. Coffee is provided by Sydney roasting institution Mecca whose blend is full and familiar; milky ones are smooth and sweet with a good kick of chocolate / cocoa and great length. My double ristretto (made using a seasonal single origin (Keyan maybe?)) was bright and jammy without being overly acidic.

room1001I’ve read a handful of other write-ups that are quick to summarize Room 10 along the lines of “a little slice of Melbourne café culture in Sydney”, yet I feel this undersells the great work done by the crew here. Sure it’s snug and snappy, but for me, Room 10 feels totally unique: intelligent, welcoming and blissfully unostentatious. They’re not a chip off anyone’s block. In fact, as far as Potts Point is concerned, they run it.

Thanks for stopping by. Be well, TV.

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