Caught between brekkie, lunch and starvation? Our chef knows where to go for a tide-over fix.
There are days when three meals just aren’t enough. The English counter this with a little break for elevenses (scones, tea, maybe a nip of something stronger) or go all-out with an indulgent high tea. They’re not alone – in continental Europe you may be offered a goûter by the French, while the Spanish fill the gap between breakfast and lunch (or lunch and dinner) with merienda (in Italy it’s merenda). In my opinion, the Chinese hold the ultimate tea ceremony with yum cha.
SEE ALSO: Sydney’s Best Dumplings
As for Australia, here are a few of my favourite places to help get me through to the next meal. At Beatrix (688 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne), the delightful Natalie Paull has created a tiny oasis far enough from the hubbub of Errol Street to allow you to take a breather (and focus on food) but close enough that you can walk back to the main drag and pretend the cheeky pause never happened.
Nat offers two choices of sandwiches: one meat and one vegetarian. Fillings may include poached free-range chicken in herb mayonnaise with green leaves and salty chicken crackle or beetroot with pan-fried haloumi, beetroot tzatziki, almond dukkah, mint, rocket and aïoli. These sandwiches are very generous so I recommend you share – which also leaves room for cake. My favourites? The incredible four-layered coconut shagg cake – made with whatever fruit is in season – red velvet cake and Monte Carlo biscuit. Oh, and the lemon slice with passionfruit glaze isn’t half bad, either!
Prahran Market, a place where quality produce is the hero, is home to another gem: the original Market Lane Coffee store. Opened in 2009, the light and open space offers a sense of calm among the bustle of the market. The purveyors here celebrate coffee growers and producers in a way that is completely unpretentious and allows everyone an insight into the story behind each cup of coffee.
The food offering is simple – mainly pastries and delicious bread – to allow the coffee to star. Not only can you have a beautiful coffee experience but you can also buy beans and coffee equipment for home.
In Sydney, it’s a case of fine dining meets flaky pastry. Jose Silva, the former head chef at Guillaume at Bennelong, is now calling the shots at Sweet Belem Cake Boutique (35b New Canterbury Road, Petersham). I have a soft spot for the classics and Sweet Belem is most famous for its Portuguese tarts. The original is irresistible but Jose is also playing around with some very tasty fruit and almond flavours. And don’t leave without tasting the mille-feuille, a flaky pastry stack filled with custard.
By the by, if you’re looking for lunch, cross the road to Frango, which does a wonderful charcoal chicken. It’s hard to imagine a better Sunday lunch than chicken, salad and sweet tarts to finish.
Another Sydney pastry pit-stop with a fine-dining pedigree is Black Star Pastry, which is run by Christopher Thé, former pastry chef at the legendary Claude’s (now St Claude’s).
Black Star is flourishing, with three outlets now open in Sydney’s Newtown, Rosebery and the city. Its orange cake with Persian figs is terrific, as is the lemon-myrtle chiffon but, for me, it’s all about the famed strawberry and watermelon cake. The creamy mascarpone filling with layers of nut cake is great on its own but add strawberries, plus a slice of cold watermelon sandwiched in the middle (the best bit!), and you have a triumph of flavour and texture combinations. Don’t have a sweet tooth? Try the lamb-shank or beef pie with a dash of sauce and a little salad.
Make a meal of it or make it to your next meal. Either way, you’re spoiled for choice.