Don’t go to Reuben Hills with someone you care deeply about. It could all end in tears, broken friendships, and a future of solo brunches. You ask, why on earth not? Well, dear reader, Reuben Hills is a place where food envy is born. Being one of the seven deadly sins, it’s a relationship killer. Ordinarily, one can inoculate against food envy by both making a solid menu selection. You know the drill: narrow it down to a few potential options and then go with your gut (literally) instinct. Normally, you just know, deep down what the right choice is. It’s a complex mix of what you’ve eaten that day, what time it is, how hungover you are, whether you’re on a diet. The problem with Reuben Hills is essentially this: no matter how good your selection is, there is always a dish walking and wafting past you that looks just as good if not better. What they have managed to do here is create a menu that is all at once diverse, innovative, and totally crowd pleasing. It flits quickly from the sublimely rich (brioche with dulce de leche, fried chicken in a basket, reuben sandwiches and chicken on brioche sandwiches) to the supremely healthy (avocado with lime and coriander on toast, poached plums with fig and agave jelly, a king prawn, avocado and sweet corn salad). This is heaven for both the dude food lover and the dieter all at once. And they specialise in milkshakes (salted caramel, lychee coconut and lime, chilli to name a few). What’s not to love?
Reuby’s menu is a little like the fitout: a complex mess of styles and agendas that works suprisingly well. Inside, the cafe is a cross between an underground club (neon lights, loud music, industrial floors and ceilings with exposed brick walls) and your mothers’ house (neon blue tiled tables, wooden stools, gigantic plants growing out of vases). It draws an extremely mixed crowd (which is always a good sign): true surry hills hipsters, mothers toting prams, older couples reading the weekend paper.
My sister and I venture here on a blisteringly hot Saturday afternoon. We are seated quickly at a communal table where we have ample opportunity to eye off countless neighbours’ food choices. By the time we order, I’m starving. So I skip over the vegetarian and light options and opt for a Berkshire Ham, manchego, rocket and capsicum chutney sandwich on rye ($14). She, on the other hand, is still feeling the after-effects of a Sonoma almond croissant for breakfast: so she chooses the watermelon, fetta, mint and olive salad ($16).
While we wait, we tuck into a Summer Berry Rose & Vanilla shake ($8.5). It’s delightful: fresh, fruity, fragrant and a little bit like how I imagine it would be to drink a garden party. It’s a subtle flavour and not too rich. I’ve previously tried the salted caramel, which is delicious too, but a meal in and of itself.
I’m so relieved when our food comes out because in the meantime I’ve had to endure countless meals wandering past me, eyeing me off with their sights and smells. My sandwich is everything I could have hoped for: thick cut ham off the bone that has been grilled to enhance its texture and flavour, melted cheese, a gooey mixture of mayonnaise and sweet chunky chutney. The only small criticism I have is that the bread has been so lightly toasted that it almost tastes stale rather than toasted.
The salad, meanwhile, is surprisingly appealing considering that ordinarily I have a moral objection to watermelon and fetta together. The watermelon has been thinly sliced to pare back the sweetness, whilst the chunks of fetta and kalamata olives bring a salty twist that complements the oily dressing on the salad leaves. While I’m eating it, I forget how fantastic my sandwich is, and a little bit of food envy takes hold.
The moral of the story here is this, people: go to Reuben Hills alone, and shut your eyes as the waitresses walk past bearing other people’s brunches. And if you must take a loved one, for heavens’ sake pick the same dish.
61 Albion Street
Surry Hills NSW
(02) 9211 5556
Best bits: the menu, the location.
Worst bits: the price of the coffee ($4 for a latte), the volume of the electro-house music (you’d be forgiven for wondering if it’s still saturday evening and you’re dreaming your way through brunch).
Go for… paradoxically innovative yet crowd-pleasing cafe fare in a chic space
Coffee: Reuben Hills
Price Point: $$$
What you should know: you can enter from the front or the back, there’s a reason they’re famous for shakes, mineral water comes in a carafe and you get unlimited refills.
A bit like: the Norfolk, the Carrington.