Iranian buffet at Four Brave Women – $10
Four Brave Women is a refugee-run cafe that serves Georgian-style feasts, with a menu that changes every eight weeks. Cooked by refugees, the project is intended to help newcomers to Australia and food entrepreneur hopefuls learn the ins and outs of business.
“They bring their menu, ingredients, pots and pans, and we work with them for eight weeks to run a business,” says Bindi Lea, CEO of The Trading Circle, the not-for-profit behind the cafe. “They walk away with experience and capital to start their own business.”
The first refugees to run the cafe are Zahra and Hassan Armian, and they’ll be serving Georgian and Eastern European food at the buffet. Try the ajapsandali, a tomato-based stew made with eggplant, chunks of potatoes, onion and herbs; or a thick bean stew with herbs, spices, garlic and onion called lobio.
Avocado and feta on toast at Envy Cafe – $10
The ubiquitous avocado on toast has become a litmus test. While some cafes add sumac spice mixes, chilli flakes or poached eggs, co-owner Peter Oag of Envy Cafe thinks it’s best to keep it simple.
“It’s hard to do an avocado toast that stands out, but ours is really popular,” he says. “The sheep’s feta we use makes a huge difference. Sheep’s feta has a softer texture and a flavour that’s closer to goat’s cheese.”
Besides the feta, the fresh avocado is served on sourdough from Bread and Butter Project and given a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper. Enjoy it under the majestic jacaranda tree in the shady courtyard.
Poached chicken jaffle at Plunge No. 46 – $8
The presence of corn in Plunge No. 46’s poached chicken jaffle is unexpected, but tasty. “It’s the best jaffle we have,” says chef Amit Gubhaju. “It’s got poached chicken, corn, jalapeno, shallot, red onion, coriander, mayo and two types of cheese – tasty and mozzarella – so it’s super gooey.”
Pedants might point out Plunge’s jaffle is technically a toastie – it’s cooked on the grill and finished in the oven to melt the cheese – but a jaffle maker was originally used to make it. That idea was eventually canned because it was hard to contain such an abundance of ingredients in a sealed sandwich.
Zucchini keftedes at The Rio – $12
Owner George Poulos presided over the milkshake counter at The Rio milk bar for 63 years, wearing a suit and tie every day until the day he died. Last year the space was reborn as a small bar called by the same name and now shares its street with Goodbye Horses and The Temperance Society.
New owners Tess and Mick Robens honour Poulos’s memory with a Greek-inspired menu. There are mini spanakopitas, Greek salad, prawn saganaki and zucchini keftedes. At The Rio they’re made with grated zucchini bound together with egg, feta and breadcrumbs.
Fried-chicken pieces at Village Gourmet Chicken Shop – $1.80
The fried-chicken pieces at Village Gourmet Chicken sell out so fast sometimes it’s better nab some early and eat them later cold, rather than risk missing out. The strategy makes co-owner Leon Siew laugh. “I guess everyone has their own way of eating them. We try to make them in batches for the rushes throughout the day. If it’s fresh it’s better,” he says.
He doesn’t think the strips’ popularity is that surprising. “You just make everything from scratch and people like it.”
The “from scratch” is important, and so is a secret ingredient in the batter that makes the wings delectably moreish. Morgan Knight, co-owner at Goodbye Horses reckons it’s Chinese five-spice, but Siew won’t confirm or deny. “I really can’t say,” he says when probed.
Cheddar onion and pickle plate at Temperance Society – $9
Temperance Society led the charge in Summer Hill’s small bar scene, and its rabbit warren of rooms in the tall terrace are a lovely place to while away an evening. (Pro tip: try for a seat on the balcony to get a bird’s eye view of Smith Street.)
“We have a big local focus. The bar was built with the community – lots of people wanted to lend a hand – and we’ve kept that ethos through our products,” says licensee and restaurant manager Jessica D’Alessandro.
Order a crisp glass of white wine and pair it with the C.O.P. (cheddar onion pickles), a satisfying small dish featuring caramelised onions, house-made pickles and carrots, cheddar from Little Creek on the Central Coast and a couple slices of chewy bread.
Bircher muesli at Goodbye Horses – $14
Goodbye Horses’s bircher muesli is worth the extra $2. “It’s this evolving dish of seasonal fruit,” says co-owner Chris Bull, who mixes whatever fruit takes his fancy with oven-baked, crunchy clusters of granola. At the moment it’s caramelised peaches, bright red blood plums as well as figs, dates, cranberries and mango puree. The dish is dairy free, made with macadamia milk and house-made coconut yoghurt.
This article was updated on July 6,2018.