Rhodes is probably best known for having an IKEA store. And during the Pokémon Go craze it was inundated with roleplaying monster hunters. Anything else? Probably not. That’s fair enough because until very recently not a lot was happening. But with the influx of new riverside dwellings, Rhodes is changing.
As a younger, more vibrant community migrates in, savvy restaurateurs are following. One is already leading the pack: Matthew Abi-Arrage and Clovice Khachan’s Left of Field.
When it opened in 2016, Rhodes had never seen anything like it. Left of Field had a fine dining chef in the kitchen and instead of poached eggs, muesli and big brekkies, it served pork-cheek schnitzel burgers, truffled duck eggs, Lebanese-inspired dishes and Single Origin coffee. “It sounds overused and cliched,” says Abi-Arrage. “But all we are trying to do is a creative take on Aussie brunch and lunch.”
That humble approach may have merit, but it says nothing about the kind of skill and refinement coming out of Left of Field’s kitchen. Chef Ashley Patfield is an ex-fine dining protégé whose list of previous employers reads like an international restaurant bucket list.
“He came on board pre-opening,” says Abi-Arrage. “We worked on our entire menu out of my one-bedroom apartment while the Left of Field kitchen was being built. He’s brought some incredible knowledge, always trying new things and experimenting with flavours.”
Some of Patfield’s best have been innovative fare like an umami-heavy and utterly porky pig-cheek schnitzel burger with kimchi slaw, a fried egg and fries; a fresh but rich gin and juniper-cured ocean trout on brioche with fennel, grapefruit, poached eggs, native succulents and wasabi cream; and the now well-Instagrammed hotcakes with caramelised banana, Earl Grey custard and maple-glazed popcorn.
Had they opened in Surry Hills or Potts Point, Left of Field would surely have been splashed across blogs and up for awards. Not so in Rhodes – at least immediately. “We faced challenges when we first opened,” says Abi-Arrage. “But since then we’ve seen so many return guests, along with a heap of new faces every week. A lot of our customers are locals who happen upon us going for a walk or bike ride.”
Abi-Arrage thinks that’s odd. Not that recognition of his innovative cafe took time, but that no one really notices Rhodes. “I feel like most people head to the IKEA here but few are aware of what an amazing waterfront the suburb has access to,” he says. He describes a recent bike ride with his girlfriend up the river and into the surrounding suburbs. “There’s full-on shipwrecks and mangroves and things you just wouldn't imagine is in this part of Sydney,” he says. “It’s really beautiful.”
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