An edible adventure: Poppet in Sydney
The Grounds of Alexandria
Address: Building 7A, 2 Huntley Street Alexandria, Sydney
Phone: (02) 9699 2225
Open: Weekdays, 7am until 4pm
Weekends, 7am until 3pm
In the middle of the industrial district in Sydney is an oasis. It’s not your average white-sand, palm-tree infested oasis, but an 1800 square meter space home to a sustainable garden, coffee roaster and kitchen. It’s called The Grounds of Alexandria, and the grand name is perfectly suited to this innovative café concept. Coffee champ Jack Hanna (Jack and the Bean) and hospo guru Ramzey Choker (Bacco Pasticceria and Rocket) are the men behind the marvel. You’re likely to see their friendly faces during service. As for the rest of the staff, they’re easy going but professional, exactly what a busy café like The Grounds needs.
Outside, wooden signposts direct you to the various components of the vast brick courtyard. Down one of the garden paths, there’s a fountain and a kiddies play area. An eccentric mix of rustic typewriters, metal vats and vintage trolleys are scattered around the al fresco area surrounding the outdoor furniture. Light bulbs in glass jars hang from the timber pergola and a green neon sign reading ‘Garden Bar’ highlights the soon-to-open evening facilities.
The Grounds boasts a manicured garden, complete with lush herbs and veggies that are used in the kitchen. They even have their own chooks, although there’s no way a few hens could keep up with the demand for eggs inside.
We arrived around 9am on a Sunday morning to an efficient but smiling man frantically writing down names on a clipboard. There was already a crowd-a-gathering, which meant there was already a wait. After twenty minutes or so, we were escorted inside.
The space is massive, as you’d expect from an old Four ‘n Twenty pie factory. Instead of pies, the focus is on coffee, which is roasted on site thanks to two high-tech Probat roasters weighing in at 12 kilograms each. They are kept in view but behind glass, bathed in the garish glow of a neon yellow “Research Facility” sign. There’s also an bakery out the back with a German-imported, 800kg bread oven.
Inside seating is divided into two industrial rooms, each with homely touches. The one near the Research Facility has a brown leather banquette against a bare brick wall, tables for two and four with metal chairs, and a large round table with pot plants suspended from rope pulleys, complete with a sliding door that opens to the action outside.
Down the far end, the kitchen churns out an unbelievable amount of food and takes up the entire back wall. Walking along the back hallway to the other seated section, you can watch the chefs under the pump through the glass window.
On the other side, wooden tables are crammed in together to allow for as many customers as possible. The hungry mob is separated from the counter by a black shelving divider, housing bags of coffee, shiny green bottles and plants. The counter displays a range of tempting pastries, muffins and sweet treats to the masses ordering takeaway from the vivid green espresso machine (there are three in total, as well as a counter reserved solely for brewing them beans).
Little touches like antique scales and a birdhouse hanging from the ceiling make all the difference. A board explaining the processes of coffee looks down upon the brunchers, a reminder that The Grounds take their beans seriously, just in case it slipped your mind.
Our coffee arrived on Grounds-theme-green crockery and had some serious bite. It was strong and fresh, perfect as a personal preference but perhaps a touch intense for some. Either way, you can’t not order coffee if you visit the grounds. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a juice as well; try the tart fresh orange and grapefruit juice, served in a handled jar.
The food, while delicious, was what I’ve come to expect as a spoilt Melbournian who eats out regularly. At the end of the day, The Grounds of Alexandria is about the holistic experience, not simply what ends up on your plate. We ordered three dishes between two, as you do (or is that just us?). The rolled eggs with crispy quinoa was the favourite of the three, even though one of the eggs was over cooked. The white spheres were coated in crunchy quinoa that had been deep fried until golden. Above them rested two slices of sourdough toast and below, a bed of lightly roasted roma tomatoes, fresh roquette leaves and asparagus. Let’s not forget the lavish sprinkle of truffle oil, either.
“Did I hear you’re having the dukkah?” enquired our waiter. We were indeed, we told him, to which he responded proudly, “My Mum made it!” Family bias aside, it really was tasty. The slice of sourdough was lathered in the salty spice mixture and layered with sliced tomato, avocado and feta, before being topped with torn basil and anointed with a touch of olive oil. It’s worth noting the breakfast board that went past also looked wonderful, stacked with poached eggs, shaved double-smoked ham, sliced avocado, Persian feta, pesto and a bright heirloom tomato salad.
For ‘dessert’, we indulged in the brioche French toast. The serving was incredibly generous. A mound of sweet, eggy toast with a mildly crisp finish was topped with a modest helping — perhaps a little too modest — of stewed rhubarb and finished with a ball of lemon mascarpone.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about The Grounds of Alexandria is the crowd it draws relative to its location. Unless you live in the residential part of Alexandria, it’s not a café that is ‘just around the corner’. Then again, you can hardly describe The Grounds as a ‘café’. Whatever it is, it was definitely worth the swerving and nauseating cab ride there the morning after our seedy Saturday night out.