Sunday, 12 January 2014

My Last Morning in Sydney at The Grounds of Alexandria

So far my holiday has been filled with beautiful Queensland beaches, folky markets, Great Barrier Reef adventures and a night with Jamie Oliver. Despite all these remarkable spectacles there did seem to be one crucial thing missing from my trip. Good coffee.  But where to find said amazing coffee when a 'mugaccino' is unfortunately common in Port Douglas and everyone knows Melbourne trumps Sydney for coffee quality...sorry, I couldn't resist that one. It can be tricky finding a good cafe on foreign soil, particularly when we're more than spoilt for choice in Melbourne. But after a little bit of insider assistance from a local who recommended Sydney cafe The Grounds of Alexandria, on my last morning in Sydney I found a place that, not only scratched my coffee itch, but left me speechless at its awesomeness. Rest assures folks, there was not a mugaccino in sight.

Built into the remains of a heritage listed Four'N Twenty Pie warehouse (it doesn't get much more Aussie than that) and spilling out into an enormous organic garden and courtyard in Sydney's West, The Grounds is as much a spectacle as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is a completely innovative space unlike any I have seen before, where specialty coffee mingles with science - theres a coffee research and testing facility on site - and sustainability in a perfectly balanced equation. The expansive garden is home to heirloom vegetables and fresh herbs which are used throughout the wholesome and rustic menu. There are also numerous stalls scattered throughout the gardens selling everything from organic blueberries to strawberry lemonade, as well as a cubby house for the kiddies and an animal pen for a very well fed pig by the name of 'Kevin Bacon'. Oh yeah, they went there! The vastness and innovative design of the cafe itself, with exposed brick walls, hanging pot plants and industrial light fittings, was alone enough to render me speechless...actually that's probably the wrong expression given I couldn't stop exclaiming about the fit out for the first 20 minutes. But don't be fooled by the remarkable appearance of this cafe people, its not all just good looks and charm, because when it comes to coffee The Grounds put me at serious risk of hyperventilating. Their NASA standard of coffee toys (unfortunately these are not the kind if toys which can be purchased in a brown paper bag from a shifty guy for 15 dollars) starts with a new generation Syneso espresso machine, a customised Clover brewer, twin 7kg Probat roasters, volumetric milk taps (...I don't even know what that is, but it was invented by these guys) and finally a one of a kind retrofitted GS2 espresso machine taking centre stage on the brew bar. Oh yes, this place is the holy grail for coffee addicts all over the world. 
Not to be overshadowed by the coffee, the menu displays possibly one of the best breakfast and lunch selections I have ever come across. And that's saying a lot because, ladies and gentlemen, I've been around. The tantalising breakfast menu includes choices like The Grounds Smashed Avocado with roast tomato, grilled haloumi, Ligurian olives, parsley oil and a poached egg, and the ever so popular Breakfast Board, with double smoked ham, avocado, fresh tomato with Persian feta, two poached eggs, chunky pesto and house-made sourdough. My choice was the 'Well Being Breakfast': house cured ocean trout, gribiche eggs, and a green bean and fennel salad with beetroot relish, dill creme fraiche and two slices of charred sourdough. Its ok, I was drooling too. The flavours and textures of the crunchy, zesty salad complimented the rich smokey trout and the creamy eggs perfectly, with the beetroot relish adding a necessary sweetness that balanced the whole dish. My partner chose the breakfast burger: a fried egg, avocado, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato relish and smokey mayo on a brioche bun. Classic and delicious. 
Honestly, I could go on and on about the grounds of Alexandria. I could tell you about the delectable lunch menu, the remarkably cheery staff, the in house Grounds bakery that boasts a huge 800kg bread oven and produces house bread and sweet pastries, or I could write a whole nother paragraph about the deliciously fruity, sweet and perfectly balanced coffee...but I don't want to bore  you. Forget about the Sydney Opera House, don't worry about Bondi and laugh in the face of the Harbour Bridge. If there's one thing you must (read: MUST) do in Sydney, it's visit The Grounds of Alexandria. Throw away your guide books and get lost in the wilds of Sydney, I promise that you won't regret it.

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