Bugger the diet.
Photo Courtesy of: Hinch holiday collection
No.2 Huntley St. Alexandria
I AM NOT A coffee drinker. I’m bemused by coffee snobs. For years I thought Gloria Jeans was a clothes shop – and there are some critics who even now would not deign to describe it as a genuine purveyor of coffee. Likewise Starbucks.
The only baristas I know are the ones (spelled differently) who battle to keep me out of jail.
But. This week in Sydney, I had a fantastic coffee experience in a huge culinary oasis hidden in the formerly industrial suburb of Alexandria. A place I only ever swept through en route to the airport in the old days.
(Before anybody decides to use my ‘industrial suburb’ comment as ammunition in the sophomoric internecine warfare between Sydney and Melbourne, let me concede that suburbs like Alexandria and Waterloo and Zetland are now burgeoning bedroom suburbs with new eateries and gentrified pubs in abundance.)
In the middle of Alexandria, in a sprawling, old converted pie factory, is The Grounds – what the Choker family calls ‘an inner city sanctuary’. And it is.
Ramzey Choker, his interior designer sister Caroline, and business partner Jack Hanna, have kept all the old bricks and stones and created a gem.
Talk about ‘build it and they will come’. They did and customers did.
on 3AW I’d have about five cups of black coffee
before I hit the airwaves. I must have been wired.
We were there on a summer Sunday and it was packed. But there are so many aspects, so many nooks and crannies, so many things for the kids (and adults) to do that people don’t seem to mind that they may have an hour-long wait for a table in the main restaurant. They take breakfast and lunch bookings for groups of six or more. They’re not open for dinner.
On a Sunday, they serve 1400 breakfasts and lunches and more than 3000 takeaway orders in a day. Obviously, families come here from all over Sydney.
This is more than a restaurant. There’s a takeaway bakery, a florist, a monthly produce market. In one corner outdoors, I found a space where they had a collection of antique jars and bottles. They sell great jams and marmalade, granola – and of course coffee.
Coffee is The Grounds raison d’etre. They have a Coffee Research Facility. They have coffee workshops to teach barista skills and show you how the face of Jesus can suddenly appear on your latte froth.
Wanna cup? Ristretto, espresso, macchiato, latte or an old flat white.
A serious coffee connoisseur can even order a ‘coffee-tasting board’ for two for $15. Now that would be a huge caffeine hit.
As I said, I don’t drink coffee. Used to. When up daily at 5.17a.m. to prepare for the morning program on 3AW I’d have about five cups of black coffee before I hit the airwaves. I must have been wired. I could get hooked again. At The Grounds I had a full strength latte with an extra shot and no sugar. I liked it.
Before that I had a jar of organic lemonade. It was terrific. There’s also an organic lemonade and fruit juice stand outside in the brick-paved grounds. Next to a cubby house for kids to play in.
I’ve got this far and haven’t even mentioned the food. It deserves a separate review. While waiting for a table I watched them baking bread and concocting a great array of pastries. There are flans and soufflés and chocolate and nutty creations. I shared a juicy strawberry tart and a crusty chocolate brownie with pistachios.
To sum up the breakfast menu: There’s ham and omelettes, sweet pea falafel, ocean trout, granola, lamb sausage, kale and feta croquettes.
Lunch: Burgers, schnitzels, salads, lamb shanks, salmon, steak sanchwiches. Much of it served on wooden bread boards. As I said, it’s a food and coffee oasis. Worth a visit.
Footnote: You may not have been to The Grounds but you would have heard of it. They made headlines last October when their pet pig Kevin Bacon was stolen. (They also have a farmlet on the premises.)
Much conjecture that it was a publicity stunt but Kevin and his sidekick, an unusual black-faced sheep named Bradley, eventually turned up three weeks later at an animal shelter at Goongerah in country Victoria. Kevin’s now home getting his back scratched again by the kids.