Balkan Butler is a new cafe on Foveaux Street and looks like a lot of other cafes. The ones with an unremarkable glass facade, an itemised salad station and sandwiches in display cabinets. Except this one isn’t serving chicken-avocado sandwiches and eggs benedict.
Around the room you’ll see people eating plates of skinless ćevapi sausages alongside a brilliantly orange capsicum gravy called ajvar. Another has an old-fashioned bean and sausage stew called tavče gravče, and someone at the counter just ordered gevrek molam – a bagel-like sambo that’s had its hole filled in with a glob of semi-soft egg and a trio of cheeses.
Next to the pass a man handles dough with the dexterity of a pianist and in a few minutes produces perfectly thin and layered dough pan-baked into burek, a cheese- or meat-stuffed pastry that’s simultaneously brittle, crumbly and heavy.
The food at Balkan Butler is Macedonian, and there are very few places in Sydney you can get it, particularly in the inner city. In fact, this is one of the best places in the city to eat Macedonian food.
The cafe is run by mother and son team Nada and David Nedelkovski. In the Macedonian community, and in the Balkan community widely, they’re well known. Before this they ran Mleko Bar, a corporate-targeted CBD cafe with a few Balkan specials. But this project is different. “We've gone full Balkan,” says David. They’re making food folk in Sydney remember eating as kids, albeit a little prettier.
Most important is the quality of the burek. Here it’s made by a burek master the Nedelkovskis imported from Macedonia and is served as you’d find it in in Nada’s hometown, with either ajvar, a jug of buttermilk or both. “If we get this to the point where it matches your grandma or you mum's [food], then we've got it,” says David, telling us some of his greatest memories are eating ćevapi at the football with his dad.
The rest of the menu is handled by the Nedelkovski family personally. Most days they run an old-school Nada special too, maybe goulash, cabbage rolls or beetroot soup, and the cakes and baklava are made according to Nada’s old recipes. Unlike a lot of other Balkan operators who import their goods, the ajvar and chilli sauce are also made behind the Butler counter. “I learnt all this from my mum as a farmer girl. I taught my children too, from a young age,” says Nada.
But reputation, or even the food, isn’t what keeps this place busy. It’s David, Nada and their ability to make you feel like family. “We're passionate people. We’ve been in hospitality for 15, 20 years. We love it. Our customers are our friends,” says David.
241 Commonwealth Street (corner of Foveax), Surry Hills
(02) 8084 1514
Mon to Fri 6.30am–5pm
This article was amended on August 5 to reflect that the food served at the Balkan Butler is Macedonian. It had incorrectly been referred to as North Macedonian. The article first appeared on Broadsheet on February 19, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.
This is another edition of Broadsheet’s Local Knowledge weekly series, where Nick Jordan explores the eateries at the heart of Sydney’s different cultural communities. Read more here.