Dr Faustus in Surry Hills offers fast-acting relief against hunger, thirst and cafe-menu fatigue. With its inventive offerings – from an addictive Pulled Mushroom Bun ($14) to its Australian take on cereal milks – this establishment brings a booster shot of originality to the Sydney dining scene. In fact, it’s an excellent prescription for anyone a little uninspired by the samey offerings everywhere (so, yes this place has eggs on toast, but it’s a five-way remix on the overfamiliar staple – presented with caviar, red eye aioli, quail egg, soft-boiled duck egg and a pickled hen egg).
Owner Adam Kane spent many years in New York, concentrating on writing projects and taking part in the hospitality scene (in fact, the aforementioned dish was influenced by an egg and bottarga item at Porchetta, one of the many establishments he worked at before returning to Sydney). Accordingly, several menu items at Dr Faustus seem to have dual American-Australian citizenship. His cereal milks are obviously a tribute to Christina Tosi’s signature creations at Momofuku Milk Bar, but he sneaks in a local twist – he offers Nutri-Grain cereal milk served with classic mixed lollies, for instance. And while he has an Arnold Palmer on his drinks list (the half-iced-tea, half-lemonade beverage made famous by the aforementioned American golfer), Adam also has a Down Under equivalent, too – an ice-cold espresso served with tamarind juice found from an Asian supermarket. Adam struggled to come up with a name for this one – but there’s nothing like a sporting scandal to cable-jump the imagination. Robert Allenby had his “infamous night out” – aka his bruising encounter with lava rock and witness contradictions – the same week that this drink was created, so Adam christened it after the Melbourne golfer.
Adam worked at a Texas barbecue joint in Brooklyn, and his brilliant Pulled Mushroom Bun ($14) draws on from his time there. He was worried that this menu item – created because he wanted a solid vegetarian option – might end up being the weakest link, but it’s so outright good that it outsells his Dr Faustus Burger (a chuck-and-brisket number with “mystery sauce” that Will says is pretty damn fine in its own right; incidentally, you can get it as a ‘chowdown’, with two patties, ‘fat ass’, with three, and ‘heart attack’, with four lock-jaw-inducing whoppers in the mix).
You can understand the number-one-with-a-bullet status of the Pulled Mushroom Bun – I’ve had it every single time I’ve been to this cafe and can’t imagine giving it up, not even for the novelty of trying other menu items. The combination of the milk bun, the “kale-slaw” and the rich mess of the deeply savoury wild mushrooms (which have been smoked on a barbecue, ‘pulled’ with a fork, then doused with sweet house-made barbecue sauce) is unbeatable, especially with a crisp pile of fries. Order it.
Totally not-vego-at-all is the VBB Piccolo, ($5) which is a cup of coffee topped with crisp twists of candied bacon – baptised in bourbon, sugar, vanilla and then ‘double-dipped’ in the vanilla syrup again to gain its crunch and glaze. This is not something you drink to impress a nutritionist, but it’s perfect for when you’re drafting a peace accord between you and your hangover.
Also designed to appease your blood alcohol levels – the Drunken Fries ($12), which still taste spectacular, even if you’re sternly sober. They’re hot chips slathered with fried onions, American cheese and “burger sauce” – a secret mixture that goes suspiciously well with all the ingredients piled onto the fries. The whole thing tastes like someone melted a cheeseburger over your chips. Just don’t tell your GP how many times you end up ordering this.
If this all sounds heavy-hitting, you can take a lighter direction, such as ordering the Watermelon Salad with Radish, Feta and Mint ($14), which gets a sweet drizzle of locally sourced honey and some zingy strands of lemon zest. (Also, if you’re after a drink that’s not as ‘crazy’ as the bacon-topped piccolo, the Cherry Bomb crafted from pomegranate, cherry and house-made lemonade is straight-up delicious.)
If you’re not already charmed by the offerings here (after all, any place that sells cold-drip coffee in ‘snake oil’ bottles is instantly likeable), the interiors play a big part in Dr Faustus’s charm. Adam was driving by when he saw the “for lease” sign up in this beautiful heritage-listed building, which still retains its Dispensing Department sign and original fixtures. This establishment was a chemist from 1908 to 1989 and happened to be the oldest operational pharmacy in Australia until it closed. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser (RIP) held a press conference here in honour of this milestone. Adam’s landlord is the 91-year-old chemist who previously ran the place. He makes a cup of coffee for her every day. (Maybe sans the bacon, though?)
And once his licence is granted, Adam plans to run a raw bar in the evenings – simple seafood snacks to go with natural wines, Belgian beers and ciders. There’ll be other options, too.
In the meantime, there’s plenty to impress you during Dr Faustus’s daytime hours. One side effect of getting acquainted with this place is that you’ll want to stay and you’ll want to return. Just trying to work up an immunity to its charms is pretty tough. Like Edition Coffee Roasters, it’s one of my favourite cafes in Sydney right now. Getting addicted to Dr Faustus might be an incurable condition, and that’s no bad thing at all.