The 19th-century building at 147 Vincent Street, Port Adelaide, has had a lot lives. It was a butcher shop, the Brunswick Pier Hotel, a pharmacy, and most recently a short-lived hotdog joint, The Saucy Sailor. Paying tribute to this history is important to its new inhabitants Fabian and Halie Folghera. They’ve hung black and white photographs of the site in its early days on the wall of their new venue The Banksia Tree Cafe, which opened earlier this month.
“This was the first hotel that was closed down in Port Adelaide to try and clean up the area, in 1909,” says Fabian, a former sous-chef at Press. That year, almost a third of the Port’s hotels closed as part of the temperance movement (a social movement against alcohol consumption, which was spearheaded by a local preacher).
The Folgheras spent the better part of 10 years travelling around Europe and Canada (“it was supposed to be a six-week holiday,” says Fabian) working hospitality jobs before moving back to Adelaide to open their own cafe. That’s when they fell in love with the Port. “Seeing all these really old buildings, the old architecture … it had a real grittiness about it,” says Fabian. “There’s just so much history here.”
The Banksia Tree Cafe is the latest in a string of openings in the changing port suburb (it follows Cherry Darlings and Pirate Life’s taphouse earlier this year, as well as The Port Admiral and La Popular Taqueria).
The menu features brunch standards, jazzed up. There’s French toast with toppings that change daily but might include fresh figs, vino cotto, toasted nuts, honey, Australian river mint and pashmak (Iranian fairy floss). And yam fries dusted with parmesan and a “secret bush seasoning”, crab and prawn rillettes, and Fabian’s personal favourite, XO crab. “It’s an XO sauce that I make in-house, with blue swimmer crab and folded eggs on rye sourdough that’s toasted over a red-gum wood fire,” he says. “It’s then spread with smoked hummus, which we make and smoke in-house.”
You’ll find coffee by Monastery Coffee, beef from Naracoorte, eggs from Finniss and beers from Pirate Life and Big Shed. The Folgheras say the cafe is the first in Australia to use Kangaroo Island Oats. Local is important to them. Even the name is a nod to the Australian landscape. “The Banksia tree grows pretty much anywhere. It grows in the desert, yet it’s still very beautiful and very hardy,” says Fabian. “That’s a metaphor for Australia. It’s a harsh land, but we do have beautiful, wonderful things if you look for them.”
It’s a land they feel compelled to conserve. Prompted by the food waste they witnessed overseas, the pair aims to make their cafe waste-free by 2020. They’ve joined the Semaphore Compost Network: an initiative that coordinates a weekly pick-up of kitchen waste from Port Adelaide and Semaphore venues. The network enlists home and community gardeners to recycle waste into compost for use in local gardens, instead of commercial composting or landfill.
“I think it’s my responsibility as a chef to not just throw food away that can still be used,” says Fabian. He also takes soft plastics to Coles as part of the REDcycle initiative, which melts them down to make traffic bollards, signage and more. It’s a community effort; each day his fruit and vegetable suppliers collect the boxes they delivered that morning for recycling.