To establish a cafe in Sydney that refuses to serve a cafe staple as iconic as coffee is either very stupid, or very very smart. If you open that cafe in the same building as the flagship store of one of the most successful coffee roasters in Sydney, you’re probably very very smart. You’ve really got to hand it to Amanda Bechara, she’s got the best of both worlds here: pandering to our love of novelty with a cafe that completes its squeaky clean biodynamic-organic image with a specialty tea list instead of coffee; side-stepping the potential competition of having the established Don Campos housed inside the same warehouse; and washing her hands of the need to find the resources and equipment to impress the fussy palates of Sydney’s coffee drinkers.
The first time I visit Bread and Circus she’s here waiting on tables alongside a bevy of attractive and wholesome-looking young hipsters. So is her father, an adorable elderly man who clears tables and occasionally flashes a shy smile to a lucky passerby. As he comes past to clear some plates near me I engage him in a conversation. He tells me at length about Amanda’s dedication to her food ethos and the way it has led to the no coffee policy, and makes me giggle aloud as he explains that it extends to a no alcohol policy, which he takes with a grain of salt and consequently keeps a bottle of wine out the back of the kitchen for stressful days. I think I’ve developed a little bit of a crush.
It’s a little offputting to walk through the empty warehouse and past Don Campos to the cafe, but what they have done with such an industrial space is amazing. Making the most of the natural light, they have sectioned off a small area with plants and stacks of fresh produce that is bordered by windows then lined it with communal tables and colourful chairs. Pendant lights hang from the ceiling and the tables are an organised clutter of capsicums, pot plants, Bison jugs and condiments. Cutlery is self-serve to match the canteen-style ‘line up and order at the counter’ system in operation. It’s a system that works, and in conjunction with the absence of any need to prepare or serve coffee, it makes the service fast and efficient.
We have ordered takeaway coffees from Campos as we enter (knowing that at Bread and Circus patrons are encouraged to either abstain from their daily caffeine fix or simply order takeaway coffees from Campos and bring them over to their table). I’m still not quite sure about the whole “washing our hands of coffee” premise, although I understand where they’re going with it. It certainly fits with the theme of the menu, which at breakfast time flits from dairy-free bircher muesli with fresh fruit and biodynamic yoghurt ($14) to sourdough with avocado, tomato and fresh coriander ($9), “rainy day toast” with honey, spices and ricotta ($9), and the “not-so-scrambled” eggs with truffle oil or chilli, organic greens and sourdough toast ($18). But it almost feels a bit much for the no coffee policy to be prefaced as a semi-moral standpoint whilst still being willing to clear away the cups. Maybe I’m just grumpy because I’d rather have my latte out of a glass than a takeaway cup.
Being hungry, we queue and order quickly – taking full advantage of the vast number of appealing options available as side-orders (haloumi, ricotta, goats chevre, ham, turkey, freshly boiled egg… the list goes on). The boys order the not-so-scrambled eggs with sides of cheese, ham and turkey (well, when in Rome); whilst us girls order variations on the avocado and tomato sourdough with different sides. I personally am sold on the goats chevre. Any time I’m allowed cheese for breakfast, I say yes. Wholeheartedly. At the counter, we bypass the wholemeal spelt and orange muffins but also order a salted nutty chocolate chip cookie ($5; I also say yes to impulse buys, where baked goods are concerned). And anyway, isn’t everything healthy when you’re at Bread and Circus?
Our meals can’t arrive soon enough. The portions here are generous, and the ingredients are fresh and of impeccable quality. The sourdough is lightly toasted and still chewy and soft; served as a build-your-own meal with fresh sweet slices of tomato and a wedge of avocado. The tomato is simply but elegantly dressed with salt, olive oil, pepper and coriander. The goats chevre is divine. The boys eagerly tuck into their eggs, which are yellow, creamy and delicious. This is simple food done well. A bite of the cookie tells me it’s the perfect balance of salty and sweet, that classic American style (albeit a little crunchy).
I’m not sure what Amanda was referencing when she chose the name Bread and Circus, but its political meaning is superficial means of appeasing or pacifying the people without providing real solutions. This does resonate to some extent. Because although I still maintain some reservations about the coffee policy and its real motivation, there is no denying that this is a place that serves honest, virtuous food. This is food that makes you feel good after you’ve eaten it. Unlike many cafes, Bread and Circus seeks to satisfy the tastes of the cafegoer with fresh quality produce and real ingredients, rather than simply pacifying them with heavy foods or disguising the true nature of their ingredients.
Best bits: fresh good quality ingredients, feel-good food, kids play table, a myriad of tempting side orders, perfectly chewy sourdough.
Worst bits: takeaway coffees from Campos only, the language of the menu which can’t decide if it’s hipster or post-hipster (“healthy hippie add-ons”, really?), finding a parking spot.
Bread and Circus
21 Fountain Street