This place has been on my list for a while. I love suburban cafes and this one is especially intriguing – recently opened on the dingiest strip of the already dingy suburb of West Ryde. A few people I know are friends with one of the owners, and photos of its jam-jar juice glasses have been making regular apprearances on my Instagram and Facebook feeds.
It’s brunch time on a sunny Saturday and the place is busy. The cafe itself is tiny, with limited outdoor seating and we have to stalk other diners, vulture-like, while we browse the menu to nab a seat as soon as someone stands up.
The hand painted illustrations on unfinished wood add a nice touch to the well-worn hipster theme. Everything else is textbook: brown paper menus on clipboards, mis-matched furniture, recycled VB water bottles and antique knick-knacks as props.
The bright orange juice jars look enticing – the cafe’s signature “Sultan’s Sunrise” (freshly squeezed orange juice with a splash of pomegranate) but it’s Saturday morning and I need my coffee. And I can always order the juice later, right?
The keen observer will notice that my photos in this post are a slight improvement on my usual iPhone happy snaps. Being the weekend, I decided to dust off Matt’s DSLR and play the “serious food blogger” for once.
The coffee was just o-kay. There was a unpleasant hint of bitterness – which may have been the fault of the “Organic Panela” they offer instead of sugar. Panela is unrefined cane sugar – and while I like when places pay attention to small details like its sugar, salts and peppers, I’m not a fan of the flavour of cane sugar, and would have appreciated a regular sugar option.
My brunch date and I were sipping on our drinks, deep in conversation and had chatted happily for about 20 minutes before we even noticed that our food hadn’t come out yet. Had they lost our orders? I get that it’s busy, but it’s not like they’re dealing with 100 covers, there’s only a handful of people who can even fit in the cafe. We started directing concerned glances at the waitstaff.
My order came out first – with apologies for the waitress and an explanation that there’d been a mix-up with the orders and my friend’s salmon dish was coming shortly. A mix-up? The girl at the counter had read our orders back to us and confirmed our table number (which was “1”). How does that get “mixed up”? But anyway….
Baked eggs with eggplant fasundi, housebeans, fetta and sourdough
An indian-style egg tagine with curried eggplants and perfectly runny baked eggs. I was so hungry at this point, I took a big spoonful as soon as it was put in front of me and shoved it in my mouth. Very, very bad idea.
Eating lesson: If something comes out in a clay pot, give it a little time before you dig in. If you are impatient, you will burn your entire mouth and be forced to eat the rest of the dish in pain.
But even a burnt mouth can’t entirely ruin the experience of dunking crusty sourdough into runny eggs.
My friend’s salmon dish when it finally came out. Looks great, but this dish was confusing for a number of reasons:
1. While the blackboard didn’t specify whether this was a “breakfast” special, it had a separate list for “Lunch specials” so it was fair to assume this would be a breakfast-appropriate dish. Look at it though, it’s a salmon steak! Who eats salmon steak for breakfast?!
2. The salmon was completely raw in the middle. Again, I’m not an expert on cooking fish, but from all the fish I’ve eaten and all the cooking shows I’ve watched, I thought fish was just meant to be less cooked in the middle, so it would flake apart with a nudge of a fork. But this was like sashimi. Some people may like their salmon steak “blue”, but my guess is that this was a result of the frantic realisation that they had somehow missed our order.
3. This was listed on the menu as “Salmon with Moroccan couscous and soft boiled egg“. Um, I’m not an expert in exotic grains but I’m pretty sure that’s quinoa, not couscous. And the soft boiled egg? Nowhere to be seen. I really hate when restaurants assume you don’t care about the secondary components of a dish and just change things without explaining. My friend was very forgiving, but if this were my order I would have looked at the dish, looked straight back at the waitress and said “Try again. This time with the soft boiled egg.”
Oh, a little epilogue about the quinoa. I only noticed this after going through my photos – but take a look at these two photos of Specials blackboard – one I took while we ordered, and another one I took while walking out.
Spot the difference? It still doesn’t solve the mystery of the absent soft boiled egg though…
On the plus side, the quinoa was lovely and citrusy – and the fennel and toasted almonds added a great crunch.
As we finished our food, I went back to the counter to order the juice we were both looking forward to.
“Can we have one Sultan’s Sunrise please?”
“I’m so sorry, but I think we’ve run out of oranges”
“Do you have any other freshly squeezed juices?”
“No, just the bottled ones in the fridge”
It was 1pm. How do you run out of oranges at 1pm?
So apologies, no glorious photos of frothy orange juice in glistening glass jars.
I feel like my experience at Element 6 was something like a bad first date. The guy is perfectly nice, but the date starts off on the wrong foot (he’s stuck in traffic so picks you up an hour late) and snowballs into disaster (you get food poisoning from dinner and spend the entire night throwing up in the toilet). And you know it’s not his fault, but the date was so bad it makes you not want to see him again.
Element 6 is a perfectly nice cafe, and is definitely the trendiest place to eat in West Ryde. But after the average coffee, delayed food, burnt mouth, half-raw mystery salmon and lack of juice, I don’t really have any desire to go back. There are plenty of other hipster-cafe fish in the sea.
65 Ryedale Road
West Ryde NSW 2114