Since the beginning of time, humans have had a fascination with multipurpose items. Nothing says “buy me” quite like the promise of being able to use an item for several purposes. In the 80s and 90s we saw the trend in the world of fashion, in the form of reversible everything: swimwear, hats, even jackets. I still remember in particular a very trendy hat I wore in primary school which was blue on one side and patterned floral the other. But now, it has popped up again in the form of interior spaces: bars where you can buy business shirts, trendy cafeterias where you can buy furniture to fit out your home, cafes with flora so you can fit out your garden to match. But here is a pairing that makes even more sense: hair and coffee. After all, how often have you been wandering through a shirt store thinking “man, I could really use a gin and tonic right now”? There are just logistical and practicality issues there, especially in regards to trying anything on. Au contraire, every time I get my hair done I find myself wishing for a latte to sip on (although I wouldn’t say no to a gin and tonic either) and something sweet to nibble.
Cleveland’s Salon & Cafe solves this problem, and several others you didn’t even know you had. This tiny hole in the wall is on Cleveland Street just next to the glamorous Norfolk (but don’t worry, you can’t smell the fried food and beer once you step inside). It’s a great example of using space in an efficient and clever way to create a relaxing, comfortable public meeting place. The front half of the room is all Redfern cafe. Pastries and a cushioned booth line the glass windows facing onto the road; a coffee machine, cabinet-style fridges, cabinets, and a prep bench line one side; and bench seating with small industrial tables lines the other. The back half of the room, separated by a sleek glass partition, houses two hairdressers working their magic. The room has a warm and rustic feel, calling out to its former life with the use of original signage, dark brick, and wooden floors. The menu is kept simple and chalked onto the small fridges beneath the coffee machine: croissants, cookies, brownies, sourdough toast, muesli with poached fruit and yoghurt (toasted or gluten free), and daily specials (usually involving sourdough). It’s all $15 or less, and most falls under the $5 mark. The ambiance is calm and relaxing, with an eclectic mix of music playing in the background, the hum of the hairdryer and people bustling in and out for cuts, colours, and coffees.
Coffee ($3.50) is from Little Marionette, and my latte reminds me why I fell head over heels for Little M when I first started frequenting Sydney cafes in a big way a few years ago. My latte is rich, creamy, and has subtle hints of fruit and nut. It is delicious, like eating a block of fruit and nut dark chocolate without the sweet hit. Today’s special is sourdough with avocado, feta and tomatoes. Given that more than 50% of my diet at the moment involves avocado and white cheese (who needs to cook when you can prepare lentil salads for dinner every night in 10 minutes?), I decide to opt for the muesli.
Usually, I find muesli a bit of a waste of time as a breakfast order in cafes. Too often I find one of the following fatal flaws lets it down: toasted muesli so rich it can’t justifiably be eaten at breakfast, gluten free muesli that’s all puffed corn and no substance, muesli with yoghurt but no milk which makes it thick and awfully difficult to swallow in a dignified manner, or muesli and milk that’s literally just that: muesli, from a box, with some milk. This dish falls into none of the above categories, it is so utterly delightful. For just $8, I am given a small pitcher of milk alongside a generous bowl where layers of deliciousness await. The base is a crunchy and not-too-oily toasted muesli full of nuts and dried fruit, closely followed by subtlely sweet poached pears, tart stewed rhubarb, and two generous dollops of creamy natural yoghurt. It’s not too large a serve, too small a serve, too hot, too cold. This little Goldilocks is very pleased, and I eat it all up straightaway.
It’s so good I strike up a conversation with Harry, the barista, about the poached fruit. Turns out Cleveland’s is the whole package: although the muesli is brought in from local company Farmer Joe, Harry poaches the pears and stews the rhubarb himself. He’s even branching out into selling it wholesale to some local cafes, and offers me the chance to buy it. It’s not the only conversation I have with Harry and Kim (who is preparing the food and keeping the customers happy) while I’m there. In fact, they make a point of introducing themselves and having a chat about my weekend plans, even giving me some recommendations. Harry has quite a pedigree in the Sydney food scene, which means his advice is well-worth listening to.
Nothing says “Sydney” quite like such an efficient use of a Saturday morning: relax and read the paper, eat, drink, be merry, and get an errand done. And meet some new friends while you’re at it. Cleveland’s, you had me at hello.
Cleveland’s Salon and Cafe
311 Cleveland Street
9698 8449; clevelandsoncleveland.com
Best bits: you’ll feel right at home straight away, well-made coffee from a spectacular roaster, muesli with poached fruit, value for money.
Worst bits: very limited seating, limited parking around cleveland street.
Price point: $
Coffee Beans: Little Marionette
A bit like… Little Marionette (Annandale), Sonoma Glebe.
Good for: saturday morning snips with a coffee and a croissant plus people watching.
What you should know: go by yourself or with only one of your nearest and dearest to avoid the fight for a table.