Sometimes you have to recompose yourself after discovering something you like a lot. So, after calming the hell down, I can finally tell you about Youeni Foodstore in Surry Hills – it’s now my new favourite place to eat.
Youeni Foodstore has a hideout feel – it’s tucked down Hill Street, a laneway-sized passage that feels unremarkable until you see the scattershot colour and configurations of several design stores. In between these easy-on-the-eye boutiques is a courtyard, small verandah and a hole-in-the-wall kitchen. This is the patchwork space occupied by Youeni Foodstore and what it lacks in traditional floor size, it totally makes up for in charm.
When you see the eatery’s menu, it suggests you add the hashtag #youenifoodstore if you have any Instagram inclinations. Unsurprisingly, this place is kinda Instagram-worthy. There are small visual touches – such as a vase of arresting cabbage flowers or a wine crate doubling as new digs for plants – that translate well to the photo-album nature of social media. Also worth broadcasting to an online audience is the food here; it’s simple, smart food done really well.
For instance, the Scrambled Eggs ($12) are the straight-out best I’ve ever had. Often, this breakfast staple can be forgettable and just a licence to pile far more show-stealing sides on toast. But at Youeni Foodstore, the eggs are keening with flavour. They’re a little creamy, with a few herb flourishes, and, thanks to the bite and firepower of generously ground pepper, there’s a punchy finish. This dish is balanced with other elements that deserve equal billing – the ridiculously good mushrooms (the gorgeous tangle of enoki, oyster and buttons are seasoned to the max) and caramelly-sweet, robustly roasted tomatoes.
Also worth a rave is the Beef Brisket with caramelised onions, pomme puree and green salad ($14), which I heard the diner next to me gushing about; and while I was deciding whether to order the Pâte Brisée Tart ($5 takeaway; $8 with side salad), a woman nearby intervened and put forward a strong case for my buying one, because she thought the tarts were very good. (She was right; they are.) Unless they were part of some Truman Show-style rent-a-crowd, I thought this level of unprompted cheerleading for an eatery was a good sign.
Other things I liked: the Roasted Pumpkin Salad ($12), which is tossed through with pepitas, salted rosemary breadcrumbs, pea tendrils and cottage cheese; the sweet tarts (Glazed Lemon is good, while the Chocolate nicely offers up the bitter, refined edge of dark choc instead of the full-on, oversweet giddiness you usually expect); and also worth mentioning is a very excellent juice I had on my first visit. Being hopeless and indecisive about what to drink, I asked to be surprised. So I got the “Sara Special”, named after the lovely waitress who served me and who also came up with the genius mix of apple, pear, ginger and a dash of beetroot. It was sweet, continually surprising and plush with radiant colour.
Other reasons to be pro-Youeni-Foodstore: if you haven’t already wised up to this, the menu offers interesting options (so don’t expect seen-it-before dishes – here, you’ll be getting a Honey Mustard Caramelised Ham, Caramelised Green Apple, Horseradish Mayo and Rocket sandwich or White Anchovies on Toast, Tomato Citrus Salsa, House-made Creme Fraiche and Chorizo for breakfast); these multitaskers make everything themselves, from the pastries to the coffee to the cultured butter with Dead Sea salt – and while the bread is currently by Sonoma, it soon will be coming out of Youeni’s own ovens; it’s the sort of place where, when the temperature drops, the staff ask you if you’d like a blanket to stay warm; and it’s in a really nice, mostly undiscovered spot of Surry Hills – tucked between the visual candy of boutiques such as Euroluce, Arthur G’s and the very excellent Workshopped, which showcases upcoming Australian designers and is full of attractive and whimsical furniture (I like these “cross-stitched” chairs).
Youeni Foodstore has been quietly open for 11 days, but launches properly on June 2. After that, it will ramp up from its current breakfast-and-lunch-only opening hours and also offer five-course dinners, too. I’d love to know how it eventually translates after dark.
Something that’s obvious right now, though, is the friendliness and enthusiasm on display – and this is probably best expressed when, after paying, you hunt around and have no success locating a tip jar. Sara explains that there isn’t one: ”it’s not our culture. If you like what we do, just come back and visit us.”
And I’m sure I will – again and again and again.