212 Blu, Newtown’s cosy cafe and occasional late-night art-and-wine stop, has a baby sister. And when we say “baby”, we mean it. The new King Street cafe, affectionately called Lil 212, is barely bigger than a shipping container.
For many operators that would just mean a counter, an espresso machine and maybe a few pastries. Tobin Ventham and Cassandra Balacki have all those things plus they’ve squeezed in somewhere to sit, a decent sized menu and even a retail offering. “Why not have ambition?” asks Ventham. “We were never intending to expand, but when the space was offered we thought we’d try to take the vibe from Newtown’s backstreets to the main street.”
Most of the menu is similar to what you’ll find at 212 on Australia Street: granola with a dusting of evaporated milk powder, well-stuffed sambos, Five Senses espresso coffee, Penny Fours’s cakes, colourful sodas and smoothies. “It's still 212, just a smaller version,” says Ventham.
The two notable additions are Ventham’s unreleased coffee brand, Loggerhead Coffee Co, used in tapped cold brews, and piadinas. The latter are north-eastern-Italian flatbreads made with lard that are generally stuffed with meat and cheese. The Lil 212 version isn’t exactly traditional, but they follow the same format. One comes with jamon stracchino and rocket, another with buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and basil.
The cafe also sells jewellery from local brand Henson, and a rotating duo of purchasable wall art. “Right now we have two from a friend, Daniel Aldridge. It’ll be mostly for emerging people who don’t have anywhere to put their stuff,” Ventham says.
It’s incredible how it all fits in a small space that still feels spacious and open. That’s thanks to a clever design and build (from Scarlet Freeman and Jess Carpenter respectively); both side walls are fitted with a thin, chest-high bench and a few stools, leaving the white-tiled hallway and back area clear and open.