It used to be a hub of mixed level dining - with everything from cheap noodles to white linen on offer- and even some cheeky city/harbour views if you knew which stairs to climb. But then there was a shift and the Darling Street strip linking Balmain, Rozelle and (a little further off) Lilyfield fell into a lull. Businesses closed, stayers got stuck and things got a little ho-hum. But in the last 12 months the Balmain, Rozelle, Lilyfield nexus has undergone somewhat of a revamp, with a bunch of fresh-faced kids joining the strip, as well as a few stalwarts stepping up and improving their menus to match the new pace. Balmain is back baby- and we’ve hunted up 10 of the best lunches under $10 to fill you up while you take another look.
1. Roast Pork Sambo at The Local Press - $8.50
19/331 Balmain Road, Lilyfield
These guys have taken over where the previous cafe left off and they’ve brought their own brand of slick chic to this corner position. They roast coffee in-house and pump out a mean latte - but it’s the tight menu that’s got us. Most lunches hover at about the $8-$10 mark (haloumi stack, beef burger, panini), but check out the specials for the roast pork sambo, bursting with crispy apple, walnuts and goats cheese - or see what looks good in the cabinet.
2. Toasted Sandwiches at Two Birds Espresso - $7
63 Perry Street, Lilyfield
It’s a teeny tiny hole in the wall with barely room to swing a cat, but they’ve always got a petit list of toasties on offer - and in the quiet nook of Perry Street, it’s a nice time out for your day. Check for combos like salami, olive tapenade, capsicum and tomato - just to pack some flavour into your lunchtime pit-stop.
3.) Potato and Lamb Pie at La Bancz - $4.50
719 Darling Street, Rozelle
Another small little spot - this one bakes on the premises, so you’ll be met by the aroma of fresh bread and pastries that are baked daily. See if you can snap up one of the limited tables for a Double Roasters coffee and peruse the list of filled baguettes ($7.50). But we reckon the goods are the flaky, golden pies. And with the potato and lamb going for $4.50 ($8 with salad), you’ll have enough change to add a sweet treat to your meal.
4.) Lamb and African Spice Sausage Rolls at Adriano Zumbo Cafe - $4
This is another one for bakery and patisserie lovers, but skip over the famous Zumbarons (yep, Macarons with the Zumbo twist) and head for the savoury options. There are loaves of fresh bread or beef bourguignon pies ($4.50), but we reckon the humble sausage roll is not to be sneezed at. Fist sized and laden with spices, it’s the lunch bargain of the decade.
5.) Nonna’s Meatball Panini at Gastronomia Espresso Bar - $8
475 Darling Street Balmain
This place is brand-spanking new and turns out a selection of house pizzas and breads. They also offer a providores cabinet, as well as a Nutella croissant if you’re feeling the pull from a sweet tooth. But the filled panini are all $8 – and the polpette of Nonna's meatballs on tomato sugo, topped with fresh grated Grana Padano cheese is an absolute God-send. It’s a to-go kinda spot though, so make sure you’ve got a quiet spot to enjoy your score.
6.) Mini Beef Burgers at Brioche Organic Bakery - $9.90
349 Darling Street Balmain
It seems like Balmain is the place to be baking in-house. Brioche specialises in a range of beautiful artisan breads, so it’s no surprise that the locals love their mini burgers made with house brioche buns. You get two per serve ($9.90). And there’s plenty of French provincial-inspired cafe seating to enjoy it.
7.) Fancy Chips at The Cottage Bar & Kitchen - $10
Now we know these guys are only open for lunch Thursday to Saturday, but everyone needs that bit of variety - and their Fancy Chips with gruyere and truffle oil certainly take hot chips to the next level. Come and get some chips for grown ups!
8.) All Day Brekkie Chefs Favourite Toastie at Le Cafeier - $8.90 lecafeier.com.au
When breakfast can be lunch, you know you’ve hit a winner- and that’s exactly the deal with the chef’s favourite toastie at this breezy little white-themed cafe. Crunchy slices of toast topped with sucuk - a dry spicy sausage - salty fetta and fresh parsley make an unusual breakfast and a vibrant lunch.
9.) Grilled pork Skewers (4 for $10) or Saikrok Isaan Sausage ($10) at Spice I Am
237 Darling Street, Balmain
An offshoot of the Surry Hills original, this is another spot that only does Thursday - Sunday lunches, but it’s worth the wait. Light meals are all around the $8 pitch, but regulars rave about the char-grilled, marinated pork skewers served with jim jaew dipping sauce, or the saikrok isaan traditional peppery, garlicy pork sausage with rice - a signature dish.
10.) Bacon and Egg Burek at Balkan Bake - $9.80
297 Darling Road, Balmain
Yep - it’s another baked item… but this one stands out from the pack. Flaky, delicate and golden burek. Artfully rolled, layered with pastry and stuffed full of bacon, egg and ricotta. Like a pie, but better. There are sweet options on offer here too, but this is lunch and we reckon that this is one of the best ways to enjoy bacon and eggs after breakfast.