Thursday, April 19, 2012

A long wait for The Grounds of Alexandria

I've passed the heritage warehouse of The Grounds of Alexandria so often during its refurbishment phase, I could almost note the weekly progress. Originally slated to open in February 2012, The Grounds of Alexandria sold its first coffee in early April after council and construction impediments.

Building No. 7 - The Grounds of Alexandria, Huntley Street, Alexandria
Incorporating a café, coffee roasting facilities, bakery and vegetable garden, The Grounds promised to be like nothing the industrial area -now increasingly populated with home and furniture centres, car dealerships and corporate complexes - had ever seen.

The gardens
Walk into the Huntley Street block any weekend now, and expect more of a wait. Word has clearly gotten around that Alexandria has a new cool-kids' hangout so be prepared for a 45-minute wait for a table for two - otherwise takeaway coffee and pastries are your consolation.

Tea herbs in the gardens
But the wait gives you time to wander around the styled gardens of The Grounds: part outdoor waiting area, part kitchen garden and eventually to be made available for event hire.

Baby eggplants
Indeed, the gardens are is almost as big as the dining area itself; boasting an onsite horticulturalist, kid- and dog-friendly space, and herb and vegetable spotting for keen beans. I think there are even chickens there although the coop was empty when I peered in.

The gardens and waiting area
With the garden full of mismatched tables and chairs, I was surprised that there weren't diners out here too given the waiting masses, but perhaps that's the plan later in the game.

Diners wait in the gardens
In the meantime, the pages of waiting patrons on the clipboard are already keeping the staff busy enough and front-of-house struggling a little, but the hipsters seem happy enough to wait.

Inside the café
Inside, the café dining area is split by the pastries and takeaway counter where blackboard menus are also on display. It is, quite simply, a good-looking place that has the right doses of cool, quirk and function.

Finally seated on the smaller and quieter of the two sides, I plonked down onto the leather banquette to be told we've missed breakfast (up until 11am; lunch starts at 11.30am - not sure what happens in the 30 minutes in between).

Nonetheless, there's plenty on the lunch menu to keep us interested and of course, the coffee which is roasted on site under the watch of Jack Hanna; a latte art champion, head honcho of The Grounds Roasters and a co-director of The Grounds with Ramzey Choker.

Where I was seated I could see into the roasting area labelled in neon yellow, "Research Facility", where coffee bean testing happens. My skim cappuccino tasted every bit as smooth and creamy as a weekend awakening should, especially if it's been researched, tested and all.

Fresh orange and grapefruit juice
For the caffeine-free, a fresh juice of orange and grapefruit might hit the spot, served in a thick glass drinking jar which also served as water glasses in our case (but not all).

The quirky retro water bottles are fun too, adding to the post-industrial feel of the interiors which is artfully casual with cutlery on the tables.

Hand made pappardelle
With breakfast off the menu, we're informed that the lunch pasta dish has been flying out the kitchen, so we put in an order for the pappardelle with slow braised lamb, peas and extra virgin olive oil.

It was a seriously large serve, especially for breakfast, with rich and comforting flavours and topped off with shavings of parmesan cheese.

I still can't decide what was better: the silky ribbons of pappardelle or the homely combination of lamb and peas. A touch of tomato wouldn't have gone astray but this was a winner that I'll be returning for.

Slow cooked lamb salad with yoghurt, chickpeas, roast  pumpkin
In the rush of ordering we'd doubled up on lamb, which was quite possibly the same slow cooked meat as for the pasta dish.

The shredded lamb was tossed with cubes of roasted pumpkin, Spanish onion, whole chickpeas, radicchio, rocket and parsley - the latter few which may well have come from the outside garden.

I think the sherry vinaigrette dressing may have been missing its vinegar component, but you can't really go wrong with lamb and yoghurt anyway. The brown bread was a little more dense and fluffy than I might have expected, though I'm not sure if the bread is yet made onsite.

We offset the salad lunch with a side bowl of chips: wide, irresistibly crunchy ones with a chilli salt and spicy mayonnaise.

Looking around, the burger with fries looked to be the most popular lunch order but with the priciest meal coming in at $17, I think it's all going to be very popular with the locals and nearby workers. 

The Grounds signpost
Despite the long wait for a table on Saturday mornings, our orders actually arrived in lightning-quick time with friendly and efficient service.

The other wait is actually that to pay: bills arrive to the table but are paid - by cash only at the moment - back at the counter where you might encounter the takeaway queue and need to join the end. Perhaps it's a ploy to get more takeaway coffee and cake sales, but overall, the wait for The Grounds has been well worth it.

The Grounds of Alexandria on Urbanspoon


hannah said...

This looks really cool, I will have to go check it out sometime! Those chips look to die for, definitely on the cheat day list! ♥

Ramen Raff said...

Been hearing so much good things about this place! I love the sound of slow cooked lamb salad.

JB said...

45 mins!

Looks like the pappardelle was worth it!

Clr Shayne Mallard said...

Finally! Been waiting a long time to see this take shape. Ideal to ride a bike to along the Bourke Road cycleway too. Shayne

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Hubby mentioned The Grounds the other day and said that the coffee was supposed to be great!

john@heneedsfood said...

Sounds like when I do eventually get to The Grounds I need to set aside an hour or so just for the queuing. I think I'll wait. At home that is.

MissPiggy said...

It sounds wonderful, the food looks great & I LOVE the garden and chooks...just sounds like they need to sort out their service a bit - too much queuing is never a good thing. And pity you can't have table service looks really great.

tastyfoodsnaps said...

the garden area looks great! loving the look of the place :D

Thang@noodlies said...

Cute place, hadn't heard about them until your post.

Dee@foodinhand said...

Wow yeah saw posts about this on all the hipster sites and a full photo post on What Katie ate too! Everything looks fantastic (except the queue). I love parpadelle and a slow braise/ragu *sad drool*

Tina said...

Hi Hannah - It's a fabulous venue with some very tasty chips!

Hi Raff - Cafe of the moment ;) but I can definitely see the staying power here.

Hi JB - I generally wouldn't wait that long, but I had time that day. Pappardelle totally made it worthwhile.

Hi Councillor - Great venue - is City of Sydney involved?

Hi Lorraine - Sure is! I could totally see this as my weekend takeaway coffee haunt.

Hi John - I guess we'll both just stick with takeaway for the time being...

Hi MissPiggy - Indeed, I loved everything about the place except for the wait. But that's Sydney for you...

Hi tastyfoodsnaps - The fitout is amazing whilst using the features of the heritage warehouse. Garden matches the theming too.

Hi Thang - Recommended if you're ever in the area and have plenty of time :)

Hi Dee - Yup (and what sensational photos Katie has done for them!) Definitely the latest hipster hangout.

tania@mykitchenstories said...

Havent ventured here yet because of the wait. Looks good though these are the first pictures i've seen

Tina said...

Hi Tania - I hear the wait is still long... Best tip would be to get there early.

Issy said...

I love this place.
The whole set up of the venue is great.
I like how it has all odd bits and bobs around the cafe and garden.
The Breakfast Board is AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But my favourite thing would have to be the custard tart.
I would recommend anybody go there and try it out.

Tina said...

Hi Issy - The bits and bobs are adorable, aren't they? Must check out the breakfast board next time - if I can get up early enough...


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