Category Archives: all

Please Say Please

Grenfell Street, Adelaide SA 5000
pleasesayplease.com.au

{Preamble} TBH I’ve had this write-up kicking around in my “to publish” folder since shortly after Please Say Please first opened, but have only just got back on the tools and decided to throw it out there. If you have not yet hit up this babe of the Adelaide coffee scene, then crawl out from whatever dreary rock you’ve been under and go get you some!

{So,} A battle for territory is raging amongst retailers in Adelaide’s CBD, with the coffee sector one of the most fiercely contested. Coffee Branch own the West End, while Howling Owl, Nano’s, Sad, Exchange (and others) duke it out for bragging rights in the Eastern belt. Yet the “city proper” has remained something of a black hole, left primarily to the petty squabblings of faceless franchises. Enter polite and adorable terrier “Please Say Please”; one of the smallest cafes in the city, intent on making the biggest impact. They’ve raised their roller-door – and raised the bar – to reveal a new realm of truly high-calibre caffeination.* psp02

I’ve stumbled across a handful of reviews unintentionally underselling Please Say Please as “Melbournian” – perhaps due to their distinctive hole-in-the-wall-ish-ness, and maybe reinforced by their choice of roaster in Victoria’s renowned Proud Mary. While the venue is incontestably hip and pokey (replete with upcycled pallet decor), the brick and cement build exudes a casual eccentricity and approachability that are uniquely Adelaidian. Likewise their coffee – which is what PSP are really all about – is subtly tweaked for an SA crowd.

Tremendous care is taken in the service and presentation of all beverages, with Dan (your reigning state latte-art champ) and his hand-picked team making no attempts to disguise their coffee-geekery, rather, embracing it with gusto. (Follow @PlzSayPlz for terrific displays of raucous punnery and regular latte-art throwdowns, decided by public vote.) Drink-in space is strictly limited, highly coveted and fiercely contested, but as takeaway constitutes the bulk of their trade, this by no means detracts from the experience, contributing to the sense of cheerful hustle and/or bustle.

Overall the coffee is downright exceptional; sweet and nothing but pleasant, with juicy single origin espressos offered as counterpoint to the House. As the weather warms, cold-brewed teas and iced filter options unfurl across the menu like beach towels onto sand (only with fewer tassels). Considering the modest proportions of their venue, Team PSP manage to offer great variety in their coffee service, extending even to tasting flights; espresso / short white / filter coffee, all brewed using the current single origin. (At a measly ten bucks, it’s well worth overstaying your afternoon tea break for.) See here.

psp03Kings of social media, even the PSP cake shelf has achieved iconic status, having attained a remarkable level of fandom for its MVPs (Most Valuable Pastries) which include weekly cronuts and a marvellous myriad of macarons (Bubble-o Bill, Tic-Toc, Milo, “ANZACarons” and strawberry “milkshakarons” all popular past features). Toasted sandwiches, occasional soups and a variety of retail items have also recently been added to the spread – establishing PSP as a true contender in the battle for your lunch hour dollar.

psp01Please Say Please is built upon an ethos of openheartedness, humility and – above all – attention to those few aspects of the industry that actually, truly matter. They are mindful not to overextend themselves and operate comfortably within the parameters of their venue and resources. The customers’ experience is paramount and they’re content to happily service those who “get” them, and let others pass on by. Evidently this approach keeps them plenty busy with the space consistently occupied by a steady stream of mall shoppers / bus stoppers. Oh, and remember to say “please”, please.

Thanks for stopping by. Be well, TV.

*as mentioned in the preamble, this has components lifted from an older draft and yes, the Mall is lifting it’s coffee game. Both Larry & Lad and Bar 9 Central are now on the case, and to each, a tip of my cap. Watch this space.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Seven Simple Steps to Service Satisfaction*

Dinner parties can be stressful. You spend a great deal of time prepping and preening and most of the actual event fussing over your friends to make sure they’re having a good time. It can sometimes be difficult to relax. Now imagine you play host/ess everyday – only your friends are total strangers, your house is your business and the party runs for 10 hours or more…

When you enter a dining venue, this is often the scenario you are walking into. The people employed to oversee your experience work as hard as those in many higher paying occupations and – it has been my experience over the past decade or so – genuinely want to make sure their customers are smiling. A great deal of time and energy is spent on training and education within the industry to ensure staff deliver service of the highest attainable standards. What tends to be overlooked however, is that customer service is a bilateral exchange, and when only one side understands the rules, the whole deal can sometimes spectacularly crash and burn.

So, I thought I might host a brief, un-preachy-as-possible masterclass on how to be the perfect customer. I invite readers to comment, leave feedback or make suggestions as they pertain to the following flashpoints. It’s not rocket surgery and I guarantee it will make your next eating outing just that little bit more amazing.

*actually, there are eight steps… but damn if alliteration ain’t a fine thing.

hospo ryan

1. Every venue is different.

How boring would it be if everywhere just did the same ol’ shit? What is this? Soviet Russia? Logan’s Run? Airstrip One? Dumb.

My tip is; when visiting somewhere for the first time, try to be observant. “Is it table-service or bar service?” “Do I wait to be seated or pull-up my own chair?” “What are other customers doing?” Bowling in and reeling-off your demands is not going to kick things off well. Trust that there is a system in place and that the smoothest sailing is to be achieved by going with the flow.

2. “No” is not a dirty word.

In some cases, a business may elect not to offer a particular item or option. Imagine you walk into McDonald’s and order a meat lover’s pizza – the pimply teen’s inability to fulfill your request is not a malicious attack, aimed at ruining your day.

More and more we are seeing food venues specialising in (sometimes very) particular areas of the culinary spectrum. Hours of thought and painstaking consideration are poured into crafting a menu, and the best operations only serve that which they fully endorse. In the case of small businesses this allows proprietors to tender a select range of high-quality offerings, in place of a whole lotta mishmashed crap. It indicates they take pride in what they do and it helps develop a strong identity. Venues may also opt not to serve a dish a particular way in order to preserve its integrity. You’re in their house, so show some respect, and in turn, you will be delivered a true, from-the-heart experience. If you don’t enjoy said experience, that’s totally OK! The best way to communicate this is to take your money elsewhere in future.

Tip: Small tweaks are not always small tweaks. What may seem like a simple alteration may not be achievable, so be open to the possibility that someone might tell you “sorry, no”. Most often there will be an easy alternative or simple workaround solution, or, there’s always the place next door.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask (lots of) questions.

Likewise, please be patient if staff seem to be asking a few of you. The aim is to get your order perfect – first time, every time – and understanding precisely what the customer expects is paramount. If you are bamboozled by the description of a menu item, or unfamiliar with a particular ingredient, someone will be able to explain it for you, offer guidance or make recommendations.

When a staff member rattles-off a list of options, they are being thorough – not patronising – to make certain those they’re attending get just what they want and the experience can progress forward in an uninterrupted fashion.

4. Take a hint.

When someone suggests there may exist a better, more concise or “funner” way of getting what it is you want – listen up! You may place an order once a day (maybe?) whereas it’s likely they listen to (maybe?) hundreds of orders daily.

A “normal size, not-too hot flat white, just regular strength, with a bit of froth, but in a glass” is otherwise called a “latte”.

 hospo emma

5. Popular places are busy / busy places are good / good places are popular.

A queue out the door almost always indicates that good things lay within. Be patient and trust that staff (both on the scene and behind it) are working as best they can for everyone’s benefit. If you’ve got nana’s 90th morning tea to get to, maaaaaaybe try someplace without a 45 minute wait on tables – or come back next week? If your food seems to be taking a while to appear, there’s nothing at all wrong with attracting someone’s attention to find out where you are in the mix. 9/10 times there will be a straightforward explanation.

6. Think about appropriate behaviour for other industries.

You’ve just had your annual dental check-up and are rinsing with that tiny paper cup and minty wash. Do you (A) kick back in the chair and make a few calls while the nurse packs up around you, (B) finish the Who Weekly article about celebrity bikini workouts until someone asks you to get out, or (C) thank the dentist and leave promptly so the next patient can enter – or – so everyone can clock-off and go home?

Quick service and high turnover reduce overheads. Low overheads keep prices down. Everybody wins.

You’re at the second fitting for a new suit when Sam calls to discuss dinner plans for Friday. Do you (A) answer the phone and ignore the tailor as he stands around waiting for you, (B) take the call and unleash an indecipherable succession of hand signals and winks to indicate what changes you’d like made to the jacket lining or (C) tell Sam you will call him/her back in a few minutes?

Courtesy is called “common” because it should be just that. Giving someone your full attention actually feels great for everyone.

Tip: Saying “please” and “thank you” is among the first things we teach to new humans. At what point / age / salary does it  become acceptable to omit these from one’s vocabulary?

7. It’s spelled “C-A-F-E” not “C-R-E-C-H-E”.

If you are traveling with children, they are your responsibility and no one else’s. Think of them as something precious – like your purse or phone. Would you let those out of your sight? Would you trust another customer or a member of staff to keep an eye on them while you chat? Would you silence your mobile if it was screeching constantly and causing a disruption for others?

I love languishing in specialty cafes and dining in good restaurants, but I get that it’s not top of a four-year-old’s bucket list. They’d probably rather be colouring-in or watching SpongeBob on an iPad or reading about wizards – all of which are totally, 100% acceptable pursuits to be undertaken in public. So pack ahead and be the entertainment you would want them to have.

hospo jen

8. Regulars earn perks, not entitlements.

I see my regulars more often than I see my mum and dad, and as such we have developed odd little micro-friendships – with benefits. “You’re running late? OK I’ll sneakily bump your takeaway to the front of the queue.” “Look, we don’t take bookings but I can probably set aside a table for you tomorrow, since it’s a special occasion.” “Short on change? This one’s on me.”

You are much more likely to receive exceptional service if you are offered it. Patrons who overstep the line and begin making demands / nuisances of themselves may quickly find the warm embrace of “being a regular” somewhat cooled.

Postscript.

As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re all gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes” – Mel Brooks.

Forgetting to hit ‘attach’ on an email, mailing the wrong spare part, publishing an embarrosying typo or forgetting to mark a dish as ‘gluten free’; annoying blips? Yes. End of the freaking world? Nope. When a mistake is made, the ideal solution (for everyone) is to rectify the error as quickly and with as little fuss as possible – so let’s work together on this. An apology and a sharp turnaround is to be expected, and we will do everything we can to get things back on track as promptly as possible. If you are genuinely dissatisfied with the service provided to you by waitstaff, I would recommend expressing this to the manager or owner in the same manner that you would like to receive constructive feedback.

No-one’s day was ever ruined by an under-poached egg or the wrong wine” – Me.

Thanks for stopping by. Be well, TV. #hospo4lyf

Disclaimer.

The images used here are not owned by me, rather they were lifted from possibly the best place in the internet – http://celebsandcoffee.tumblr.com/

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

grounds04

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.)

gruonds05

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.

grounds06

grounds01

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Paddy’s Lantern

219 Gilbert Street, Adelaide SA 5000
paddyslantern.com.au

Paddy’s Lantern is one of a handful of new(ish) cafes in Adelaide who share a mutual “disconnection” – for want of a better phrase. Not disconnection from each other (it’s precisely this quality that unites them) but disconnection from several prevailing trends adopted by new coffee shops in this town*. The much emulated franchise model is safe, generally reliable and ideal for servicing its particular function and demographic. However, it can, at times, produce outlets than feel sorta soulless alongside enterprises of the owner-operator persuasion. Paddy’s Lantern is proudly of this latter category and exemplifies what is achievable when a committed few adhere to their simple, unadulterated vision of providing great service (above all else), coffee and food in a bespoke venue that (be)speaks from the hearts of its proprietors. Such independent spots are gradually chipping away at the established firm and deserve all the support and endorsement we can offer in an age when operating a small business has never been more of a challenge.

paddys03

It’s blissfully clear that the crew at Paddy’s are a close team of hospitality peeps doing it for themselves. The fit-out is simple, clean and focused around providing a genial patron experience within a comfortable, relaxed vibe.

As indicated by the bikes on the walls, they take their coffee very seriously. Coffee-service has always been central to the operators’ business model who opted to upgrade the building’s existing power capabilities to accommodate the heavy duty, professional espresso machine by Synesso. A smart and honorable move. The rig effortlessly busts out the bulk of their coffee trade, running the house blend and seasonal single origins side-by-side. 24-hr cold brew and cold drip coffees are also on offer (during the summer months at least).

Coffee arrives courtesy of the talented crew at Five Senses (another common thread amongst many in this new guard), however, the Paddy’s team have elevated their selection process to near-savant levels, crafting their own signature blend on-site. Using a selection of Central-American single origins, they meticulously hand-sort each bag to remove any tipped or burnt specimens, before blending to a pseudo-secret recipe and finally serving. Truly dedicated to their cause, they painstakingly ensure their coffee is always amazing – with a sweet hint of diligence in every cup. Brews are smooth, sweet and – if you swing that way – served with local, organic milk.

paddys02

The latte-sipping, broadsheet-flipping clientele is surprisingly varied with briefcases, strollers, and fixies all among the featured accoutrements – but given the location, I guess this stands to reason. Oddly-but-kinda-well-positioned in the city’s southwest, Paddy’s provides the perfect venue for a quiet cup with friends or a casual meeting – and the space is light-filled and well utilised; common table / 4-seaters / roadside (for the cancerphiles).

paddys04

I’ve never seen Paddy’s seething, and I get the feeling they like it that way. A steady flow of residents and regulars from surrounding businesses keep the place ticking over without it ever feeling congested or stuffy. And at any rate, should orders begin to stack-up, a jocular selection of reading material is on offer to pass the time – guaranteed to add a wry smile to your coffee run.

The food menu covers breakfast / brunch / lunch and features a few inventive specials including vego and / or vegan catering. I have it on good authority that their toasted sandwiches and flatbreads – all built around seasonal, local produce – are the stuff of lunchtime greatness (Follow their tweets to see what’s hot). From Scratch Patisserie provide fresh pastries and sweet things daily.

paddys01

Late last year, Paddy’s hosted an event known as JamDown Adelaide and it was encouraging to witness the sheer number of baristas and industry folk who packed into the tight venue to “pour their hearts out” in the latte-art throwdown, or just show their support / lend a hand. Check out the Paddy’s Facebook page for photos, and check them out for real for all the other good things mentioned here.

Thanks for stopping by. Be well, TV.

*Amongst others; laminex benchtops (red, commonly) / pubescent “bariSTARs” on 6-week rotations / characterless, franchise-imitating (or perhaps, (wistfully) franchise-able) identities / electric blackboards and neon chalk… others…

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Bar 9 (pop-up)

The Depot – Franklin St, Adelaide

Having established themselves as THE destination in this town for anything brewed, steeped, extracted or “espressed”, the crew at Bar 9 Specialty Coffee Boutique (Glen Osmond Rd) are taking it to the streets. Their pop-up at the Franklin St Fringe-time venue, The Depot, is kitted out to satisfy all your caffeine cravings – regardless of what the weather is doing.

bar9 popup04

depot01

If the Parkside mothership is their main body, then this temporary outlet is like an extra limb grafted onto an already spectacular specimen. It’s a hand with seven fingers, offering all the standard espresso fare alongside filter, cold brewed and iced coffees – plus homemade iced teas and a few sweet eats from local patisseries. If all that choice sounds a little overwhelming for a late-night, after-show chill out with friends – take solace; Ian, Dan or Ben will happily talk you through your options, or kindly offer recommendations. Their heads house an unfathomable wealth of knowledge, their brewing skills are second to none and – possibly most importantly – all their names have 3 letters.

bar9 popup02

We headed down on a sweltering Sunday afternoon and kicked off with iced lattes, devouring the sweet brews while perusing the Damn The Man Markets housed inside the main venue space. Having taken in my fill of colourful vintage wares, plaid bowties and cute handicrafts, I headed back to Bar 9’s shack-like structure for the cold brew of Sulawesi Toarco Jaya Peaberry (courtesy of Intaelligentsia USA). Straight from the fridge and served over ice, it was weighty and syrupy, with a sweet and refreshing crispness to combat the sweltering heat. (Best enjoyed with a side of mist tent.)

The Depot is hosting a series of diverse events throughout February and March, including vintage markets, gigs, film screenings, DJs, kids events and so much more. Besides knock-out coffee, the venue’s culinary cloister “Chowtown” sees La Cantina serving-up Mexican street food, plus bars, an Argentinean grill, fish-and-chippery, gourmet popcorn… the list goes on. On top of ALL this, tread marks from Adelaide’s infamous Burger Theory truck regularly mark the curbside.

depot04

depot03

Anyone who has seen my other posts will have previously endured my prattlings-on in support of (a) progressive local or independent operators, and (b) those championing non-espresso coffee as legitimate alternatives to the standard (or all-too-often, substandard) cup. Bar 9 epitomises both of these and, hence, today’s shout out.

Thanks for stopping by. Be well, TV.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Parwana Afghan Restaurant

124b Henley Beach Road, Torrensville

The ‘group catch-up dinner’ requires a specific style of establishment: cheap (of course), central (a relative term), cheerful (but not always) and most of all, accommodating. Oh, and the food should be good too. For our clan, the popularity of venues ebb and flow in a regular cycle of obsession and overkill. Recently however, the continuity of this progression has been interrupted by the emergence of a (relative) newcomer, with Parwana cementing itself as our default option. The sense of communal giddiness that precedes any outing at this unassuming Afghani eatery is showing no signs of fatigue; and no-one is complaining.

Each of us admits to first experiencing Parwana on someone else’s recommendation, but none can recall the genesis of this seemingly infinite chain. Perhaps it never had one. Perhaps Parwana’s unexplained and untraceable apparation into our lives is proof of a nonlinear time continuum in which we as diners are omnipresent, experiencing all things simultaneously with no past, no future, only the incomprehensible and mouth-watering “now”. Or – more likely – it could be attributed to the BYO policy and our refusal to leave uncorked bottles unfinished.

parwana01

From humble beginnings, the venue has grown immensely, not in size, but in warmth and personality – without compromising its rustic roots. Over several visits, we’ve noticed the space evolving in a crescendo of clutter with the once bare walls now adorned with paintings, portraits, mirrors and an assortment of kitschy trinkets. These chronicle Parwana’s story (more specifically, that of the Ayubi family who operate the business) and provide a welcome embrace to diners, literally surrounding them in the rich, personal history of the establishment.

The menu changes slightly from mid-week to weekend, but it’s all delicious. The raisin-y rice is a no-brainer for me, and someone at our table always insists on ordering an extra serve of dumplings (served in a creamy, spicy, yogurt-y sauce). The deconstructed chicken / lamb kebab thing is fresh-tasting, beautifully spiced and plated along with salad, pita, a light sauce-thing, the works. And oh, the eggplant – by which I mean OH! THE EGGPLANT!

parwana dahl

parwana lamb

If you’re traveling in a throng, opt for the banquet at $40 a head and skirt your way around a bit of everything. (This is what we normally do, as suggested by my somewhat vague menu descriptions.) The spread is varied and generous, and wait staff will happily point out which of the dishes are suitable for vegans and vegos.

parwana dumplings

Traditional Afghan desserts follow, including the “apple jam” (an apple stewed in a gorgeously sticky, mellifluous syrup) served with homemade almond and cardamom ice cream. Further to this is a range of other ice cream varieties including saffron, ginger and walnut and rose and pistachio.

CASH ONLY.

parwana icecream

Parwana has a BYO license (priced moderately), but the menu sports a few fizzy and non-alcoholic liquid options, including a mysterious, savory yoghurt drink. Intriguing. I one day hope to pace myself well enough during the main meal to be able to try one out, but this seems unlikely.

The restaurant is clearly a family-run affair and theirs is not silver-service, but rather the scarce and merry stuff of true hospitality. From the food to the ambiance – everything is of a consistently high quality and I guarantee you’ll be recommending this one to your friends. Budding restaurateurs would do well to model themselves on the venue’s owner (affectionately dubbed “Papa Parwana”), who is always joyous, obliging and handsomely hirsute.

My hope is that this post may form the genesis of a new sequence, branching beyond my own acquaintances and friends-of-friends. Read, go, eat, enjoy and divulge to others the wonder of this modest Adelaide marvel.

Thanks for dropping by. Be well, TV.

PS Signs on the front door advertise that they now open for lunch, and they do takeaway.

PPS This article courtesy of adelaidenow.com.au tells the story behind Parwana. It’s worth checking out and even has some recipes. WOWO.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Coffee Branch

32 Leigh St, Adelaide

Over-catering has become something of an Achilles’ heel for many local operators. Too often well-intentioned ‘enthusiasm’ for a customer’s dollar manifests as a messy attempt to offer a little something for everyone, while in fact achieving precisely the opposite – a whole bunch of stuff no-one really wants. You know it; the laminated menu as big as a broadsheet, covering everything from schiacciata to sashimi… Instant deal breaker. Focusing on a few things done well seems to be the riskier option, but as Coffee Branch proves, can be worth the reward.

Nestling into a cosy corner in Leigh St (Adelaide’s current ‘it’ strip) a few years back, Coffee Branch opened with modest, yet considered offerings, tailored well to it’s target demographic of suits, cyclists and scenesters. The tiny espresso bar has since earned a reputation for great coffee (above all else), speedy service and just being damn cool.

coffee branch04

coffee branch07

Clearly coffee is their bread and butter (um, what?); the cool steel of a 3-group Synesso greets customers before they reach the till, and the unit is usually manned by the bar’s animated owner, Josh. Having recently opted for a custom blend from 5 Senses Coffee, the brew is sweet and rich. Espressos are pulled exclusively through a naked portafilter (it’s the little things you know?) and are bright and fruity, without smack-you-in-the-mouth acidity. The blend also cosies up perfectly with milk for what is the bulk of their trade. Aside from the house, seasonal and guest coffees come and go and the baristas are happy to engage you in geeking out over “jasmine and grapefruit hues” – or not.

It’s giving the people what they want that counts, and Coffee Branch has this down to a fine art with a stream of commuters filing religiously past the machine all day long. Josh and his team utilize the space as best they can, ensuring peak hour traffic flows in and out effortlessly.

coffee branch02

coffee branch01

A few quick lunchy things (mostly of the “between bread” variety) are made on site, and delicious pastries / cakes / tarts appear courtesy of local kids From Scratch Patisserie who can also be found in pop-up mode alongside Coffee Branch on Friday mornings (guaranteed to sell out sharpishly, so set your alarm). Local burger masters Burger Theory also have a permanent Leigh St gig once a week, and the van always draws a crowd. These clever partnerships have allowed Coffee Branch to essentially outsource a part of their food service and provide unique and engaging experiences, while focusing on what they do best. More than this however, they’ve enabled a dynamic sense of community to germinate amongst their precinct’s clientele.

Seating indoors is limited, but with Leigh Street now closed to traffic, their outdoor sprawl has expanded to include two generous trestles alongside their existing timber fixtures. Of course, if you can’t find a place to park it, you can always grab a takeaway and pop next-door for a barbershop shave.

coffee branch05

This ethos of sticking to a basic but successful formula is something more operators might look to adopt. If you serve amazing Korean food, then do that – and allow people to go elsewhere for their morning coffee. If you have a genuine love for coffee, the best way to communicate that to your customers is by serving them great coffee, and not muddying the experience with copious culinary clutter. Coffee Branch occupies their cosy little niche happily (both physically and gastronomically) and their customers demonstrate their respect with understanding, loyalty and access to the insides of their wallets.

Thanks for dropping by. Be well, TV.

PS Coffee Branch also won “best food stall” at The Garden Of Unearthly Delights in 2012 and will no doubt appear there again during Mad March 2013. Check them out for a post-show brew.

Tagged , , , , ,

Espresso and the illusion of supremacy

It seems, en masse, Australians have suddenly adopted the mindset that at some point in their life, they simply MUST own a “coffee machine” – or, what they really mean is an “espresso machine”. The forest-loads of department store propaganda choking-up our mailboxes have us convinced that this is a worthy aspiration; an emblem of sophistication and status, when in fact, most households already own a coffee machine. It may not be big and shiny and handmade by an Italian company you can’t pronounce – it may not even plug in – but that doesn’t mean it’s incapable or producing a fine cup of joe.

Ok, let’s back up. So, what is “espresso” and why do we crave it so? There’s a real fine technical explanation here, but I’m going to summarize and just call it “the product of the espresso machine”. Ground coffee goes in, pressurised water is forced through it and this generates “espresso” coffee, otherwise known as a “short black”. You can add milk to it, build it into any manner of familiar concoctions, or drink it neat, but that, essentially, is espresso coffee. (Yes, I am aware that sentence had, essentially, too many commas.)

Don’t get me wrong – espresso is delicious; it’s viscous and intense and complex and good; it cosies up perfectly with warm milk and, when you get a good one, it can make your toes curl like ten tiny foetuses. However, that is not to say that espresso is the only way to consume coffee – or even that it is the best. In fact, of the many forms available, espresso is most akin to playing Russian Roulette – unpredictable and fraught with danger. It takes a great deal of technical skill and understanding to truly master the art – and it’s done poorly WAY too often. It also necessitates a considerable investment in equipment, compared to many other brewing options (I’m not talking about some hundred-buck Kmart pod machine – I’m talking about something that makes coffee).

Clearly espresso constitutes the dominant brewing method in Australia, with every café, restaurant, service station and sandwich bar decked out with a hulking machine and someone protectively boasting they know how to use it. This goes a ways to explaining why we might want one in our homes – just as people devote huge slabs of their floorplan to creating home theatres. Elsewhere in the world however, other brewing techniques rule; the USA love their bottomless, diner-style dripolator (“another top-up there daarrlin’?”), the Japanese favour the gentler and more tea-like siphon (or syphon) brew, the ibrik is still a popular gadget in the Middle East, and many Italians adamantly swear nothing beats the smell of a machinetta gurgling away of a morning.

A few of these “alternative” brewing methods are beginning to crop-up in Australian cafes, but many consumers still dismissively ignore them as mere second-rate novelties. I feel this stems predominately from a lack of understanding about what they actually do and are supposed to taste like, but is just as much about how we have allowed a few big players pumping out bland, milky, bucket-sized expersso [sic] to restrict our appreciation of coffee to such a one-dimensional level.*

Without jabbering on about precisely how to brew every non-espresso method out there, I’m just going to jott down a few notes on some of my favourites, and the experience offered by each. I guess the main thing is to understand the style you’re working with (or ordering) – what to expect, and what variables are at play. (If you’re looking for them, there are a bunch of in-depth brewing guides published online by a host of companies – by far the prettiest is this one from Intelligensia – and Market Lane also offers this).

Key points for understanding immersion brewing: The crucial difference between espresso coffee and brewed coffee is in the coffee-to-water ratio – something pros call a TDS (total dissolved solids) rating. For example, an espresso is made up of approximately 12g of coffee / 30mls of water, whereas a filter brew uses around 17g of coffee / 250mls of water. While the espresso is an intense, slap-you-round-the-face experience, an immersion brew will be lighter, sweeter and more spacious, allowing you to identify more of the coffee’s subtle characteristics**.

Immersion brews become sweeter as they cool, and should always be made using water that is slightly below boiling to avoid scolding or over-extracting  the coffee.

Lighter roast coffees are well-suited to immersion brewing as they retain more natural sugar than dark / espresso roasts. If brewed well, you should not have to introduce sweeteners.

The average espresso brewing time is around 60-90seconds – from grinding to serving. Preparing other methods takes a little longer, so be patient.

Most non-espresso brews are served black and adding milk in generally frowned upon. (Plungers and mokkas are the most notable exceptions.)

When you read descriptors like “grapefruit”, “strawberry”, “jammy” or “melony” on a menu / board, these are most often referring to the particular bean’s cupping notes. Cupping is the standardised process of grading and scoring coffees, and involves a very basic (yet meticulous) brewing method designed to highlight certain characteristics and / or defects. Some coffees are better suited to particular methods of extraction than others, hence the gamut of options available.

If you’re unsure what the heck a “clover press”, “trifercta” or “Hario V60” does, just ask your barista – most will happily geek out and talk you through the process. WARNING: You could be in for quite a chat (the length of a barista’s beard or sleeve tattoo is generally a reliable indication of their knowledge depth).

Pour-over or Filter Coffee is by far the easiest and most time-efficient method of brewing coffee – and it requires the least clean-up. The process involves little more than pouring water over ground coffee and having it filter through fine paper into a cup or other vessel. The body or “mouth-feel” of the brew, as well as the depth of flavour (which will likely be bright with dominant fruit sweetness) are all dictated by the speed at which water travels through the coffee bed and the water-to-coffee ratio.

The Clever Dripper is a mod on this idea. It has a plug that holds in the water, allowing the coffee to remain immersed in water for a longer period without agitation caused by gravity. It tends to provide a heavier flavour profile than a traditional filter apparatus, such a a V60, Koava, or similar.

Woodnecks use reusable cloth filters in place of paper ones, but are otherwise pretty much just another type filter coffee brewers. The vessel and the filter cone come in one piece. Good for the Eco-concious and caffeine-addcited.

Everyone has probably made plunger coffee before – or at least, everyone’s mum has. Coffee goes in, hot water goes on top, count to whatever, plunge and pour. Easy as. One of the inheritance issues with plungers is that the brew continues to extract while the coffee remains in contact with the water – meaning the first cup is always milder than the last. The simplest way to avoid this variation is to decant the whole brew into another vessel (preferably preheated) once plunged, and then divvy it up from there.

Plungers allow control over the steep time, and therefore how much flavour you extract. Filters are usually made from metal, meaning some of the grinds make it into your cup and form a sludgy residue that, while not hugely pleasant to drink, contributes a certain intensity and weightiness to the brew.

If you want to sound fancy or worldly, you can call it a “French Press”.

Siphons and Vaccum Pots – No dad, it’s not a bong. Or did you mean that thing…? Siphons (or syphons) are great conversation starters and add an element of splendid theatricality to dinner parties. There are modern ones, ornate ones, antiquey ones, sciency ones, balancing ones… They look like complicated mini chemistry labs, but are a common sight in Asia (particularly Japan) as they produce a very tea-like experience.

Most come fitted with fine cloth filters that should remove most of the sludge, creating a clean cup with a juicy, full body. Most siphons give you the ability to manipulate the steep time (control over your extraction), but others – like the balancing style – are more automated and will take care of themselves. One of the key factors in siphon-brewing is agitation. The water is pressurised and constantly in motion, creating a “full”-tasting brew. If you’ve never seen one in action, here’s a great video, again from Intellegentsia.

The Macchinetta or Mokka is a beautifully quaint, old-school and quintessentially Italian method of brewing coffee. It uses essentially the same science as any cafe-style espresso machine (forcing pressurised water through finely-ground coffee) and, unlike immersion brewing methods, produces “crema” (that caramel-coloured, moussey layer on top of your coffee), caused by emulsifying the coffee’s oils into a colloid. Like machine-made espresso, the presence is more intense than brewed coffee (hence the flavour is able to cut through a large volume of milk) and the served volume much less.

Some variations on the traditional Mokka contraption (such as the Atomic or the more recent Otto) allow the user to harness excess pressure in the form of steam, to heat and texture milk.

While not a common site in coffee shops or cafes, this is a personal favourite of mine. My little 2-cupper is now a camping staple and comes along whenever I head out for a few days, with friends, to a music festival, etc. Coupled with a butane stove (around ten bucks from any camping store) and a hand grinder (this Hario one is a ripper) this is not only a great way of brewing tasty coffee away from home, but also for making new friends. When everyone around you is waking-up to the Black Death (aka instant) as you’re grinding beans and relishing a fresh brew, you suddenly become very popular.

On one side of the brew spectrum you have “filter coffee” (light, long and deliciously sippable) and, on the opposite end, what is commonly referred to as “Turkish coffee” or “Greek coffee” (depending on who’s making it). The Ibrik or Cezve brewing style is very different from all the others discussed here. It produces a dense, granular coffee paste, often infused with spices and sweetened with sugar, served and drunk black. ALWAYS. The TDS is off the charts and would send your Extract Mojo into meltdown. The coffee and water are combined (usually using a ratio of around 1-to-1) and boiled several times in a small pot, reducing into an intense sludge. It’s a great “second wind” coffee – perfect for kicking the metabolism into gear after a big meal.

You’ll need to grind your coffee into a talc-like powder to achieve a good slurry and this requires a special (often beautiful) grinder, which you should be able to buy a from your local Middle Eastern grocer (or, if there’s not other option, have your coffee preground by your roaster).

There are – of course – a bunch of other methods in addition those mentioned here, but these are some of the most common / familiar. Keep an eye out for them at the more progressive coffee spots, or try one at home.

So, lastly, why immersion brewing might be a good fit for you: If you like to taste coffee, not just drink it, then filter coffee allows you to identify the subtle characteristics of different coffees, leading to a greater appreciation of the bean. Also importantly, there’s no need to drop thousands of dollars on a fancy espresso machine, grinder, water filtration, tamper, knock box, milk pitcher, thermometer (etc etc) to enjoy great coffee at home. Save that for buying the best beans you can get your mitts on.

If your love coffee, but are not into ingesting large volumes of milk, then an immersion brew might be just what you’ve been searching for.

Making cappuccinos for 18 friends at a dinner party is a total drag and means spending long stints in the kitchen, away from tasty gossip. An 8 cup Chemex or Mokka is much faster and easier.

There’s less that can go wrong. Making espresso is a complicated and ridiculously technical exercise, with a vast number of variables at play (and like I said way back there, it’s amazing when brewed masterfully / horrendous when not) but a pour-over say, or plunger, requires a much more straightforward technique.

Here are a few items you may want to look into if you’re going to attempt brewing at home (not featured in this week’s Harvey Norman catalog)…

A burr grinder like this handheld unit from HARIO Japan is much cheaper than your entry-level electric variety and does a great job of grinding on-demand (while also working out your guns). It’s adjustable, easy to use, and even comes with a lid for storing excess ground beans. Steer clear of spinning blade / spice-style grinders; they’re rubbish and produce an inconsistent particle size which will mess with your extraction.

A pouring kettle (or goose-neck kettle) is also a good idea as it allows you to introduce water at a controlled flow-rate.

If you want to take your brewing to the next level a timer and scales are handy as they help you monitor and control all your variables (like dose and brew time).

Thanks for stopping by. Be well, TV.

*It is important to also consider our heritage and post-war migration that saw thousands of Europeans settle in our major cities. They brought with them not only the infrastructure for producing espresso coffee, but also a culture based around it – one that quickly cemented itself as a cornerstone of our own dining experience.

** If you’re into experimentation and want to work your way through a bunch of coffees side-by-side, allow me to recommend one of these more diluted methods to avoid uncomfortable palpitations and long stints in the latrine. [EDIT: I read recently that brewed coffees often contain a higher percentage of caffeine than espresso, due to the depth of the extraction and extended steep time. Either way – drink safe.]

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

GROTTO PIZZA TECA

61B Edward Street, Norwood

This is the first in (probably) a series of posts delineating pizza parlours par excellence located around Adelaide. I’m calling it (most likely) “Pizza as culinary Twitter” (seems almost everyone’s doing it, but perhaps not everyone should – and too often you regret it in the morning).

To kick things off, and set the pizza toss of expectation “high” it’s Grotto Pizza Teca.

Set back slightly from Norwood Parade – and a world apart from numerous would-be-rival eateries along the strip – is a modest brick cube that since 2003, has offered-up some of the best za going around in this town.

grottos1

Inside it’s basic – you sit and you eat, or you sit and you wait to eat someplace else. The pick-up experience is made all the more agreeable by the reading selection; which is current, varied and offering great insight into the iconic history of the cigar. The dining décor is befitting of the venue’s name and emblematic of the business ethos; “functional simplicity”. It’s open, casual and welcoming. You really get the feeling these guys just do what they do best – they make pizza.

Whether you opt for the Caesar-inspired signature, or something that may perhaps look more at home on a Gouger St bill of fare (BBQ pork? And corn? On a pizza? For serious?), or even the smack-mouthedly unsubtle “The Bomb”, each option is well considered, and prepared to order. There are more straight-up and familiar options too, as well as few salads. Oh, you also must try the Swiss brown mushroom and basil pesto hot breads (and tell me if they’re any good). Pizza toppings are ever fresh, well-placed (read: no dead spots) and the bases – crispy Frisbees of deliciousness. There’s also a special something in Grotto’s sauce that compels you to go in for that one last slice, and not regret it.

Grotto is licensed too. A modest array of beers and wines are served (all in humble tumblers) and coffee by fellow Adelaide institution Rio Coffee is available to follow your feast.

At around $20-$30 a head, Grotto’s aren’t exactly ‘cheap eats’ by takeout standards, but when it comes to pizza, most often you get what you pay for. At one end there’s “I may as well just eat the box” bland – perfect for rent week and refuelling in between dancing around the living room at 2am, and waking up to a salami facial having faceplanted into the box. “Three types of cheese / herbs from a shaker” gourmet (payday style) sits somewhere in the middle, and “matsutake, wagu and truffle trio” balls-our deluxe (three months to live) tops the list. The looser your purse strings, the less regret you’re forcing yourself to endure the morning after*. For my money, Grotto sits very high on the curve, and deservedly so.

FACT #1: There are enough pizzas made in Norwood every year to eradicate world hunger 3 times over.
FACT #2: Grotto rules for a square mile.
FACT #3: Bookings are limited to 10 people, max.
FACT #4: You can get a 10% discount coupon if you visit their website and pay with cash money.

Dine in recommended; their delivery coverage is a little splotchy, and it tastes better straight off the stone.

 Thanks for stopping by. Be well, TV.

*notably, I learned recently that this scale is almost an exact inversion of the one used when strategizing for a mate’s stag night.

Tagged , , , , ,