Alexandria is so hawt right now on the Sydney food scene. But unlike places like Surry Hills where you just have a long row of trendy bar after hipster cafe after gourmet grocer after three hat restaurant, the food attractions of Alexandria are like treasures hidden amongst run down factories, corporate business parks, car wash cafes and places with names like “Vehicle Assessment Centre”. I’m not sure how Alexandria transformed from industrial district to foodie paradise, but it gives hope to dingy suburbs everywhere.
Since we had already made our journey out to the East, we thought we’d drop by at The Grounds of Alexandria and try their coffee. I didn’t know much about the Grounds except that they roast their own beans and everyone I follow on Instagram has already been there.
The Grounds is popular. Like, people REALLY want – no, NEED – to eat there. So badly that it can get ugly. We were happily taking photos of the outside when a very large man verbally abused me from his car for allegedly “stealing” his parking spot. Okay, I’d get it if we were in a shopping centre parking lot on Christmas Eve but dude, it’s afternoon tea time on a rainy Saturday. You need to just RE-LAX.
Putting that unpleasant encounter behind me, we walked in and shared a very “not in Kansas anymore” moment as we were hit with a technicolour array of hipster charm. If foodies started a cult together, their commune would look a lot like this.
I didn’t expect The Grounds to be anything more than a nice cafe, but it’s more like a playground and there are plenty of things to explore.
I’m not sure if this is a Saturday afternoon thing, but The Grounds seems very conscious of its own popularity (note the crowd) and offers a lot of distractions for people who are waiting for a table in the cafe, or just visiting.
Fresh lemonade is one of my recent obsessions. This lemonade stand was so beautiful with its fresh berries and over-sized jars filled with classic and rose lemonade, complete with charming and persuasive salesman, I couldn’t help but buy one as a pre-coffee beverage.
A gorgeous fresh flowers stand – the Dahlias were particularly stunning.
Playing the hand model with my fresh henna tattoo.
And then, the mini-farm! This is exactly what my dream backyard looks like, a chicken coop supplying me with superfresh eggs and a veggie patch. I actually had plans to buy a chicken coop for my yard, but dropped the idea after I neglected my cherry tomato plant until it shrivelled to a brown twig in a pot. Clearly not ready for live animals.
They also have an adorable and friendly pet piglet named Kevin Bacon. He wears a bow-tie and jumps up on the fence to say hello like a little puppy.
Yup, totally want my own pet pig now. Did you know that pigs can learn their own name, learn tricks such as sitting or twirling, be trained to wear a leash or harness, and be toilet trained? They also love human company and enjoy attention, tummy rubs and scratching. Actually sounds like a way cooler option than a dog.
One really lovely thing about The Grounds is that it’s very family friendly – lots of cute small children running around exploring the farm and there’s even a playground area in the back.
And for visitors who don’t have the time or patience to wait in line for the cafe, they have a very convenient kiosk selling its signature coffee, desserts (including house made jam donuts!), bacon&egg rolls (which is a little inconsiderate given that Kevin Bacon lives only a few metres away!!) and cheeseburgers.
Love the bright green coffee cups.
Again, conscious of its own popularity I think this is such smart and considerate way to make sure everyone who visits gets to at least taste and drink something if the line for the restaurant gets ridiculous. There’s also plenty of outdoor seating where you can relax with your green paper coffee cup and enjoy the surrounds.
The coffee was nothing special I thought. Though I wasn’t paying much attention to it because we were too busy trying to avoid eye contact with the large angry man who was also ordering from the kiosk and I was really eager to visit the gourmet food store in the same complex, which we spotted when driving in.
Now, when it comes to food I have a lot of loves. But if I had to pin down a top three, the list would look something like this:
MEATS – not butcher meats, but cured meats. Charcuterie. Salami. Jamon. Prosciutto. Jerky. Who needs refrigerators when traditionally preserved protein tastes this good.
And finally, SALT. OH salt. Salt is the staple of all food staples and doesn’t get nearly as much love as it deserves. But how DULL would EVERYTHING be without it? I’ve always favoured savouries over sweets and salt is just something I can’t live without. One of the first things I bought for the kitchen after getting married was a salt and pepper mill and Matt was actually appalled at how much I use it.
So I was freak-ing-out when I saw this:
A BUFFET of gourmet salts! I have never seen anything like this before! From Black Truffle Salt to Peruvian Rose Salt – and little taster shakers so you can try before you buy. It made me so happy to see salt receiving the honour it deserves.
This is a SLAB of Himalayan Pink Salt. And me, like a kid in a candy store.
But it gets even better.
This is the Galeria del Jamon (“Gallery of Ham”) – French, Italian, Spanish and Australian cured meats and cheese on display for your viewing pleasure.
Um, is this what heaven is going to look like?
There is something disturbingly awesome about huge cuts of meat just hanging from the ceiling. I was having enough fun feasting my eyes on the Galeria – but I now know that it’s actually a tasting bar where they will let you try anything on offer and also watch live sausage making! Which means I need to go back. Who wants to come with? The website says that staff will let you try anything on the menu, so just a warning that I plan to shamelessly ask to try a piece of everything in the room. It might take a few hours.
Finally, the cheese room – a walk-in refrigerator with shelves full of an unbelievable range of cheese.
I couldn’t leave without buying something – so I chose some jamon, manchego cheese and small paper bag of Himalayan rock salt. All surprisingly affordable – which I now know is the core of SMC’s mission – to cut out the middle man and offer imported products at wholesale prices. Like I didn’t have enough reasons to love this place.
It’s so nice to have a gourmet grocer of this scale in Sydney – it may be my own ignorance of speciality food stores but I used to only find this kind of variety and quality at the Smelly Cheese Shop in the Hunter Valley. I really hope it does well and lives forever.
Our Food Adventure turned out to be a raging success – filled with great food and exciting new discoveries. And I think we designed a pretty awesome itinerary – cheap lunch feast @ Bourke Street Bakery, coffee @ The Grounds kiosk and then shopping for some impressive ingredients for your next dinner party at Salt Meats Cheese.