Some places have a way of winning you over in record-breaking time. This is the case with In The Annex in Forest Lodge, which is now my new favourite cafe.
It’s the kind of establishment where you order something unassuming, like Roasted Potato ($15), thinking it’ll just be target practice for your knife and fork. Then the dish arrives at your table and it’s this expectation-blitzing work of art – an exquisite sculpture collection on a plate, with zucchini ribbons unscrolling around clouds of potato puree; play coins of potato, so vibrantly coloured they’re like escapees from a Miro painting; a feathery landing of dill and parsley, chunky edges of smoked cheddar and a dynamite stick of seeded Organic Bread Bar goodness. From plain-sounding order to knockout when fully revealed – it’s kinda like the brunch version of The Ugly Duckling.
Perhaps this should be no surprise as the menu is by Joey Astorga (who can take credit for this cafe, alongside Edrick Santos and Theo Hlorotiris). He used to be head chef at El Capo in Surry Hills, which was home to a three-milk cake so good-looking that I called it the “Ryan Gosling of desserts”. So, here, you can order a side of Avo ($4) to go with your breakfast, thinking it’ll be another functional, background-receding dish, but it comes out as artful avocado crescents with radish slices that could be stunt doubles for lily blooms. And OK, so the Brussel Sprouts ($4), roasted and tossed through with sesame seeds, isn’t exactly a pin-up beauty, but it’s so flavoursome that it’d instantly erase the bad rep the vegetable has among green-fearing kids.
It’s not the usual breakfast extra you’d see on a cafe menu either, but that’s the charm of In The Annex – its selection is short, capped at five items for each daytime meal, but they’re not the usual suspects. Early risers can order a Kale and Egg Roll with Chilli Relish and Aioli ($6.50; $8.50 with crispy speck) or Earl Grey Bircher Muesli with Pineapple and Passionfruit ($10), for instance; while lunchtime diners can ask for Cured Duck ($16) with brioche, duck egg and the excellent brussel sprouts; Crumbed Egg with Mushy Peas ($15) or Spiced Eggplant ($15), which is tucked in a tomato braise with potato chunks, olives, capers, poached egg ($15) – it’s one of those warming, security-blanket dishes that feels like an upside to this miserable cold weather.
There are also inventive drinks – like a frappe blitzed together from grapefruit, honey, ginger and tonic ($8) – or something that’s halfway between a virgin Bloody Mary and gazpacho (it’s a savoury, icy crush of tomato, chilli, lime and celery). And good coffee by Umami and tea offerings by Ttotaler in Marrickville.
There’s an eccentric charm to the space: tables, made of reclaimed wood, have that patchy reveal of old, withheld colours; a spice grinder is a hiding spot for toothpicks, while a Bankstown souvenir spoon is shovelled into a labware beaker functioning as a sugar pot. Many items were either recycled (such as the 100-year-old bricks) or happened to be unique scores from op shops. So In The Annex has this lived-in, age-worn appeal, like it’s been here for ages, instead of only being a few weeks old. I like this place a lot, I hope it racks up a longevity that matches the lengthy lives of all the vintage goods scattered throughout.
In The Annex, 35 Ross St, Forest Lodge NSW. Follow In The Annex on Facebook