It was my birthday last weekend and I told Mysaucepan that being a Cancerian, my personality traits are exactly true to what my horoscope describes – homely and caring, moody at times but also creative, sensitive and a romantic at heart. I might add that I can also be extremely bashful, modest and shy, especially among strangers.
She kept pestering me about what I wanted to do for my birthday and even canceled would-be plans with her friends just so I could decide what we should do to celebrate. But all I really wanted to do was to cook a nice meal, spend a quiet evening at home and serenade her with a beautiful Scriabin prelude on the piano.
Being a Sydney restaurant reviewer, she reminds me it is her passion and duty to keep up with Sydney’s dining scene and so we settle on going out to dinner at a Japanese yakiniku restaurant last Saturday night.
The next day, our friends Vince and Jun suggested a birthday lunch in a cafe driven by freshly roasted coffee beans and food inspired by fresh and organic produce.
The kitchen subscribes to sustainable practices including picking fresh herbs every morning and working with a full-time horticulturalist to grow seasonal produce for the menu.
The Grounds of Alexandria has been opened for only about three months and it seems to be packing in the lunch crowds on weekends.
We arrive at 12.30pm on a Sunday only to be greeted by a queue that snaked from the restaurant to the outdoor area, a weekend lunch crowd eager to get a taste of what this place is all about.
“Give me your name, go wonder around the grounds and come check with me in an hour”, a frantically busy queue manager called Jason tells Vince.
“What da fook are we going to do for an hour?” I told Mysaucepan.
“The food better be fooking good”, I wondered to myself as I snap photos of garden herbs and lettuce leaves, chickens in urban chook dens and children gleefully frolicking under what is a perfect winter day in Sydney – chilly and crisp air with sunshine warming our backs under clear blue skies.
Owners Ramzey Choker and Jack Hanna conceived an inner city sanctuary where home-grown greens with an emphasis on hearty cafe-style food would satisfy locals looking for a point of difference on the menu.
The herb garden and vege patches do look healthy but judging from the crowds trying to get into this place, I doubt if these herbs and vege are sufficient to satisfy the sustainable requirements of their well-intended philosophy.
The grounds itself are both child and pet friendly.
Familes appear happy to wild away some weekend quality time as they wander around while waiting for their names to be called.
I’m not a fan of hot chocolate but judging from the numbers dished out on wooden boards with a small bottle of fresh milk and a short glass of hot chocolate, I figured they must be doing some things right.
As we wait for our table, I am a little amused at the frantic pace of the cafe staff scurrying around, attending to a burgeoning crowd where diners are already tucking into their food while there is an ever growing queue trying to get in.
We are seated at a table directly opposite the service areas and for the time we are here, I’m pretty sure the beef burgers and oven-roasted spatchcock appear to be vying for top honours on the menu.
Maybe it’s me but perhaps it is for the rustic feel that Sydney cafes are determined to use wooden boards as serving plates, just like how Aussie surfers are determined to be mauled by Great White Sharks in recent times.
Underneath a beef pie covered with a layer of golden brown puff pastry are piping-hot cubes of meat in a thick flavoursome gravy.
Hello cafes and restaurants! This is winter so give us an incentive to rug up and drive out to your restaurants. Otherwise, we are quite happy for a huge pot of beef bourguignon, Ipoh hor fun or Vietnamese pho to be slowly simmering at home.
A hand-made pappardelle with lamb and parmesan is the right idea for a winter dish except the chef might have forgotten about a substance called salt. Nevertheless, a few sprinkles and the flavour of the stringy lamb rump comes to life.
I would rather a dish that is under-seasoned over something that might be irreversible.
I observe the chefs at the kitchen where pre-roasted spatchcock Marylands are finished off on a cast iron pan and then drizzled with a delectable salsa verde.
Given a choice between chicken and spatchcock, I think it’s a no-brainer the smaller bird is more tender with a sweeter and more intense flavour and this dish is no exception. I will gladly come back again for this dish except I’m pretty sure I don’t want to wait an hour for my table.
Service is cheerful and snappy despite how busy this place is on this Sunday afternoon.
Diners and their families are happy to be a little more patient with time on weekends as toddlers wander around the grounds.
The food is on the mark for this kind of wholesomeness under $20.
I would be happy to recommend this place to my friends, but a group of 6 – 8 people waiting for an hour each is equivalent to a business day and this might be testing the patience of the most patient, no matter how good value the food might be, especially during precious weekends.
Come up with a better system to manage your crowds during weekends, then we shall consider coming back.
So dear readers, how long are you prepared to wait for your table in a busy and popular restaurant?
The Grounds of Alexandria
Building 7A Huntley street. Alexandria 2015
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9699 2225
Business hours: Open 7 days a week for breakfast and lunch