The Grounds Of Alexandria is a place that, like all hipsters do, I’ve yearned to go to for ages ever since I’d heard about it aaaages ago. I never found the time until yesterday. It’s located on Huntley Street in an industrial area that includes a whole lot of wholesalers and warehouses but also 4143 At The James Barnes, a gastropub next door that turns that corner of the strip into some mini hipster mecca. Indeed, as we approached by car (just park at one of the many wholesalers with free parking hehe) we saw many well dressed and coiffured biatches taking a stroll into this gated area. Welcome to another new (well old by now, I’m not bleeding edge) possibly pretentious but well intentioned and effort exerted but effortlessly cool cafe in Sydney.

It’s massive, for a cafe. There’s a big garden with a playground for the kids and stuff they actually use in the garden plus some seating that you can eat takeaway at and a chicken coop. The vibe itself is “trendy industrial hipster chic”, replete with an expensive-ish fitout with a custom panelled espresso machine and even the yellow Clover and those horrible overpriced replica Marais AC Chairs. A giant wall art describes everything about coffee and the roasting process etc and there’s plants and bottles sitting on this floor to ceiling shelf in the middle. Lots of nice pastries sit in a counter and the staff are kitted out in denim aprons. The cups are all branded in a mint green. The water bottles are recycled milk bottles with hipster graphics from nowhere in Australia. There’s a vintage and unused weighing scale with some micro basil sitting in the middle of the communal table next to some cactus. Moustaches, watchcaps, wayfarers, wine colored skinny jeans and iPads combine into this Katariball with strollers, wailers and bloggerasians.

I can see the appeal. It look and felt like Auction Rooms in Melbourne but with a sprawling garden. It didn’t taste that great though and service was kinda patchy. We went on a windy, slightly cold day. The communal table was facing outside but didn’t get any sun and we took a while to make up our minds and put our order through but after we did, we asked if we could switch tables and the answer was a firm no. I mean, all you gotta do is let me get up and switch docket numbers but whatever. We didn’t wait too long, like 5 minutes or so but I kinda felt the embers of long shifts and horrible previous patrons burning in the mind of the floor manager dude. When I placed the order, I asked what was on filter and I got told Guatemala and I asked if that was all and the answer after a query was yes. Then later, it was not the Guatemalan, it was Nicaraguan. Seriously, just get a fucking blackboard and scrib that shit up so people who give a shit about coffee and just look up and enjoy their hipsterfied morning. I kinda hoped that based on the playful name and the wall graphic and the custom coffee machines and the fact that they offer Aeropress or Pourovers plus Clovers, they’d know what they were on about. I’m sure the guys who run the coffee know it but the newish waitstaff clearly don’t. We also got the espresso like 5 minutes before the filtered and 2 other couples at our table had similar issues. In comparison again with Auction Rooms, I had impeccable service with knowledgeable waitstaff. It’s not impossible especially if it’s what you set out to do. Given that the space is huge and there’s a lot of staff, I let this all slide. At least the Nicaraguan was superb, very floral

Food wise, I felt it was lacking. I don’t have particularly absurd standards just because I cook for a living. I don’t expect a 3 hat/star or even a 1 hat/star experience at cafes. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination but you just wish they’d really do more. I mean, we got a side order of bacon (placed late) arriving before the meals which is understandable. We got dirty cups with the water (not acceptable). We got brown on the avocadoes (not acceptable). I had the breakfast board, which came with 2 poached, a slice of toast, some ham, avo, tomato, basil, pesto and fetta. It was very simple stuff that would take 2 minutes to plate, all the time it takes to cook the eggs. At least cut the brown shit off my avo. I do the same when I cooked bfasts even if I whinge and moan at every crap avo I open. Also, it felt disparate. Like the ham and avo are good together and the tomatoes/cheese/pesto were good together but it felt like two separate groups hanging out together. Bit like the hipsters and families chilling out to the rented playlist of Thievery Corp stuff. The Turkish poached with cannellini beans, tomatoes, labneh, spinach and pistachios was good and better with the precooked bacon but the toast is like fucking rock hard sliced brick. Could be some much better. I think the best toast I’ve had in a while was probably at Three Blue Ducks. Let’s ignore the fact that it was good Iggy’s bread to begin with and look at the fact that it was cut chunky at an angle, slightly toasted but soft in the middle. The Grounds toast was a thin slab, hard, cold and paltry looking. Maybe some people prefer biscuits for toast but I know a slice of pre toasted bread when I see one.

So after all the hype in the press and on blogs and whatever, I was let down. I think Terry Durack gave this 13/20. I’m gonna go 12/20. It could so easily be a 14 or 15, which is gold for a cafe. I still like the potential in the place though. It’s a little absurd in that there’s this hipsterfied pocket sitting inside a tradie area but it’s a nice pocket. If the food was patched up and the staff better trained, this would be a great place to go even with the crowds, like on the last saturday of every month where there’s a farmer’s market. The lunch menu also sounded a lot better than breakfast but again, it’s hard to run such a big place with so many staff and keep standards high. That’s why I’m giving a good concession here. Hope it’ll be heaps better the next time I drive down, if ever.

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