It’s no cliffhanger what a cafe called Barista and Cook might be fixated on. Coffee isn’t an afterthought, that’s for sure, and it appears in various guises on the menu (cold drip, Chemex and V60; the Gypsy Espresso beans also gatecrash their way onto the dessert menu, as a snowball of gelato that’s wedged between toasted brioche and a good slick of honey).
The barista is ex-DJ Alan Thompson, who ran Bang Bang cafe in Surry Hills until May (as Good Food’s Scott Bolles reported). As someone who built up quite a thing for Bang Bang’s bubble and squeak over Alan’s seven-year rule there, I was happy to learn that he had a new venture on the cards.
And even though he was at Bang Bang for a long time, it turns out he doesn’t miss the shoebox Surry Hills surrounds too much. He told us that having a bigger venue had been on his wish list and no one has skimped on size here – in fact, Barista and Cook is so large that Giant Design required a scissor lift to install the constellation of hanging plants from the open rafters. (The studio’s airy makeover – involving hand-glazed white tiles over black columns, mosaic tiles galore, cute planters and a LOT of white paint – will distract you from the fact this site used to be a Hurricane’s Grill franchise.)
The ‘cook’ that gets headline billing in the cafe’s name is Adrian Borg from Excelsior Jones. With Alan, he’s created a menu that’s basically a time-capsule of 2016. It perfectly sums up the split-personality of cafes these days – where health kicks are lauded (so, think Acai Bowls, Coconut Chia Puddings and Almond Milk Bircher; green drinks with coconut water and kale; and Smoked Trout Kedgeree, which is the cafe’s most popular dish right now) while seams-busting excess is catered to, and the more Instagrammable, the better.
So there’s an Oreo Biscuit Smoothie ($7.50) that follows that freakshake tradition of trying to funnel as much junk food through a drinking jar as possible (in this case, Oreo biscuits that try to crash land through a memory-foam mattress of cream); a Cheeseburger ($19) with bacon jam; and a Grilled Mac ‘n’ Cheese Toastie ($12.50) so rich that we have to ration it between three people (the punchy house relish adds to its unapologetic boldness).
So, it’s tempting to go for the half-half option, of splurging on something big and calorie-busting (like the yes-please toastie) and then tempering it with one of the cleaner options, like the Japanese-style Sweet Potato ($16) salad with edamame, miso and black sesame (as I did on my first visit), or getting the Char Grilled Zucchini Black Rice with Picked Fennel, Radish and Pea Sprouts ($16), just to camouflage the fact that I just really wanted the chunky Chips ($8) that come in that hard-to-resist shade of crisp, salted gold. The fact you can just get both these deep-fryer-huggers and Fermented Vegetables ($3.50) from the sides menu pretty much sums up the menu’s have-it-all extremes. It’s a surefire way to keep everyone happy, regardless of their dietary leanings.
And yes, everything has a 2016 remix to it, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all. I guess you’re gonna feel better about your Banana Smoothie ($7.50) if it comes dosed with almond milk, blueberries, almond milk and at least one health-food-store ingredient you have to Google (maca, in this case). And I like that there is a range of drinks (from Persian Rosewater Iced Tea to DIY juices, kombuchas and beyond).
Barista and Cook might have a lot of crowd-pleasing charm, but there’s one area that it doesn’t entirely concede on. It’s strict about its timekeeping and it doesn’t feature all-day breakfast like most cafes do on the weekend. So if you’re in an eggs-and-toast mood, you really do need to obey your alarm clock. (I have a feeling it might be worth it for morning-starters such as the Buckwheat Waffles with Butterscotch Pears, Raspberries and Creme Fraiche Ice Cream).
The good news, though, is you can get that coffee ice-cream sandwich on brioche any time. I think both baristas and cooks would approve of that round-the-clock access.