"local cafés are an essential part of the Australian lifestyle. They give us a place to gather, gossip, relax, indulge and revive. A great café has atmosphere, friendly staff and good coffee - and above all, great food made with love."
Kylie Walker - Editor
It's a while since I've done a First recipe post - largely I think because my next book is, in some ways, dare I say, boring.
But it's time.
I am now on to a group of mini books - booklets, that I have either bought or that were free with something - usually delicious Magazine, to which I used to subscribe. And the first one, is indeed, one of these. It's free because (a) it's sponsored by Lavazza and Vetta who doubtless paid for the privilege, and (b) possibly the cafés featured have paid something too? No that would be sort of false advertising surely? After all this is supposed to be a selection of some of Australia's best cafés - independently chosen by the experts one assumes.
In fact if you live in the right place you too can vote for 2021 Australia's Best Local Cafe via your local paper. And, as usual, Eltham is not covered and neither is Templestowe - another hot café hub nearby. No this part of Melbourne - vaguely north east is a dead zone as far as food writers are concerned. Why oh why? Yes it's a long way out, but then so are some other rather trendier places. And there are heaps of good places to eat out here. Indeed it will be interesting to see if the focus shifts because at the moment the CBD and the inner suburban area are apparently in fairly dire straits, because people are still not working in the city and some are actively moving out. Whatever the reason I'm sure that Eltham and area is not the only area being ignored by the trendy foodies who write about this stuff. If I could be bothered I might leave a comment on their best local cafés page - after all it's supposed to cover the whole of Australia and if it can cover Gimpie - wherever that is - why can't it cover Eltham and area? Not that I would know who to vote for as I don't frequent them, but others do, as can be seen when you walk past them all. I have friends who breakfast in them every day.
But back to my first recipe. The first recipe is from a New South Wales café and I will come to it shortly. This, however is irrelevant to me if I was at all interested in the café itself, because I live in Victoria. So I decided to add in the cover recipe - another NSW one and the first Victorian one. I also decided to look at what those choices say about cafés in general and also at whether these particular ones have survived. There is no date on the booklet but it has to be at least ten years old. What are the chances of survival over that period of time in the normal run of things, not to mention COVID?
So number one. Bitton in Alexandria, Sydney and it's still open. Indeed it has opened two more venues since then one at Oatley and the latest at Rose Bay. However, I now notice that they are not all that up to date with their front page, as they talk about the Oatley one reopening in January. So I checked, and they do still seem to be taking bookings, so one has to assume they are thriving. They've certainly won a few awards.
As you can see from the photograph of the original café above, they also have a range of gourmet foods to sell. Including the Strawberry and vanilla jam shown here, which features in the very first recipe in my little book, French crepes with Strawberry and vanilla jam.
I could not find the recipe online - well it's just crepes with a dob of jam isn't it? Anyone can do that. I wonder how much they charge for the privilege? And the disappointing thing about the recipe anyway is that they don't tell you how to make the jam. Well why would they - they want you to buy theirs. On the plus side though this is a café whose owner/chef David Bitton is generous with his recipes. He has a whole lot of them on the website including a later version of the above: French crepes with vanilla bean ice cream and orange jelly
This picture was on the site, but I have to say that I would be tempted to say that this is not with orange jelly. More like maple syrup. And indeed I think that's what it is because he ends the recipe with these words:
"Turn out onto a warmed plate, fold in half, then quarters, stack and serve with a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a tablespoon of Orange Jelly or maple syrup or honey drizzled over the top."
So really all you have is a recipe for pancakes. And I just checked the menu - a serve of the pancakes with the jam will set you back $16.00. The jam is $14.00 a jar. Next time you see strawberries at some ridiculous price in the supermarket have a go yourself. And make the pancakes yourself too - 1 1/3 cups plain flour, 1 1/2 tbspns caster sugar, 3 eggs, 1 1/2 cups milk. You know the rest. I think it's got more eggs in than usual but otherwise it's just a pancake. Yours will probably be as good - but you won't be sitting in a buzzy café with friends, being waited on by a charmer, will you? Because that's what you are really paying for.
And honestly, that's the thing about café food isn't it? It's not really that fancy in terms of food. They just make it look pretty and serve it with a smile. I actually think it's a lovely way to spend time and I do think it makes the area you live in more vibrant and interesting.
I should say that Bitten also does dinner - French food - and rather more interesting. And this includes special regional dinners - currently it's the Loire - my old stomping ground.
Okay - number two. digital.kaf from Glebe in Sydney which morphed into The.Kaf for some reason and which is now dead. I don't know why. At the time of the writing of this booklet it was described as a veteran of the Sydney Café scene. It seems that in about 2016 it had to move to a different location in Glebe with a new name The.Kaf but if you look at the reference to it now it just says it is permanently closed. An ordinary, everyday, business failure, a change of direction for the owner or a result of COVID? I cannot say. It certainly had a rather nice mosaic on the wall, which apparently showed all the favourite things in Glebe.
I also could not find anything about the owner/chef Paul Doré and the recipe of the featured dish - the on the cover dish indeed - Banana bread with mascarpone - is nowhere to be found. Well there are thousands of banana bread recipes out there, and I have to say I have seen better looking ones. Maybe I should 'do' banana bread some time. I'm guessing that this also cost somewhere around the same as the pancakes. According to the delicious booklet other things on offer were "spiced rhubarb crumble, a Mexican breakfast - whatever that is - or scrambled eggs with crispy prosciutto and a swirl of pesto'. All very café society stuff. And have you noticed that so far there is always a cup of coffee in the background. Well that's really why we go to these places isn't it?
And last of all - the Victorian offering - at the far end of Lygon Street in East Brunswick is el mirage. This one is obviously of the industrial chic variety in terms of decor, rather than the somewhat quirky digital.kaf. Look - no counter/bar. They make the coffee on the stainless steel bench against the wall. A tiny bit soulless? As we are further into the book we seem to have moved through the day a little and here we are offered Tuna cakes with caper salsa.
Now el mirage has a website but it's a Facebook page, which I find somewhat irritating. Again - really simple food - the kind you find in the Coles Magazine but made to look pretty. I mean it's just fish cakes made with potatoes, a can of tuna, mustard and onions. We can all do this.
But maybe that's what cafés do. Provide you with comfort food tarted up on the plate but homely nevertheless and served with brilliant coffee with a smile and no pressure to eat up and get out quick. And I have to say that for this reason I often wonder how these places survive. People can sit there for a couple of hours with just a cup of coffee. This one, by the way, is run by two ladies.
As for the coffee - you will find that it's not just us, the Australians who think that Australia does the best coffee. You will find people who say that even the Italians - from where we got the craze in the first place - don't do it as well. And I guess Bill Granger is supposedly the man who made the casual, easy food the thing. It's a major cultural export.
"This place uses only single-origin beans, that mob has cups made by a local ceramicist, the place over the road has its own cow — you know the drill. ... I had a flattie in Albury the other day that was twice as good as anything I saw in a fortnight in Italy." Pat Nourse - Food critic
So first recipe - done and dusted - and two bonus ones too. And I bet they are things you make at home all the time, or every now and then anyway. Very nicely presented though. And very good for a young learner.