Outside the roller door of this Leichhardt cafe is a wonky parking sign. Its mangled posture is evidence of some untold malady long ago, perhaps when the site was a wholesale furniture outlet, or before that a paint store. As of March, though, the warehouse conversion is home to The Carpenter cafe and that wonky sign is likely the place’s only imperfection.
Owners Richy Che and Phil Huang are newcomers to the cafe business; they have backgrounds in interior design and music respectively. Even though Che designed Narwee’s Little Alley and Meet Mica in Surry Hills, working on his own place wasn’t an easy undertaking. “There's a lot more pressure when you’re your own client. I knew that any rough edges would drive me crazy, so we worked really hard to nail the design from the get-go,” he says.
White neon bulbs are arranged above the bar at 15-degree angles relative to each other. By the time they reach the kitchen they form a single line of light. This is the only artificial light in the place, which is otherwise illuminated by skylights built into the corrugated-iron roof. There are black wire chairs, brass-accented tables and a industrial-looking concrete floor, a theme echoed in walls cladded in plywood and the building’s exposed original bricks. Terracotta tiles adorn the bar’s facade, on which sits the minimalist espresso machine: the Mavam. Here’s where things get serious.
Only one of 16 in the country, the Mavam is a designer’s – and more importantly, a barista’s – dream. It’s built into the bench and is not your typical, boxy coffee machine. Three group heads sprout elegantly from the bartop allowing customers to observe the baristas as they extract viscous double-ristretto shots from coffee by The Little Marionette. “We’ve got some pretty amazing state-of-the-art equipment behind the bar, but we’re really chasing a big, full-bodied coffee,” says Che. “It’s kind of old-meets-new.”
Inspiration is far-reaching for chef Danny Halin (ex Kindred), and like any good neighbourhood cafe, breakfast and lunch is served all day. There’s an American-style pulled-pork roll served with crinkle-cut chips and gravy; lamb kofta skewers with mint yoghurt; and a pork- and ham-stuffed Cubano sandwich for lunch. Breakfast is slightly more conventional. Milk buns from Brickfields are an appropriate conduit for the bacon-and-egg roll. And the granola is made in-house and comes with a healthy dollop of labneh.
Che is flexible with his vision for The Carpenter. “We know our customers are locals and we’re so grateful for how welcoming they’ve been to us already. I’m sure the place will change and evolve over time and with their input and I’m happy with that,” he says.