We’ve all been a victim of an unsuccessful analogy. You know the kind where you (or someone else) starts off with, “Well, you see, it’s kind of like X, except that…” and then proceeds to list so many ways in which it is not like X at all that you’re wondering why the analogy was drawn in the first place. Similarly frustrating is when you go out to eat and settle on a menu item, then the staff say apologetically “Well, you see, you can have X, except we’re going to have to hold the garnish, and the bread, and the topping because we’re just fresh out of all those. But you can still have the sauce?” And you end up with a chicken sandwich with no chicken and no bread. Which isn’t really a chicken sandwich at all.
Such experiences are unsettling, in a somewhat existential way, because they cause us to question the fabric of our being. What is it that makes a chicken sandwich a chicken sandwich? How much can you take away or substitute before it is one no longer? What does it become? I had such an experience last weekend. But you know the most unsettling thing about the experience? I walked away wanting to come back for more.
I had been hearing only good things about Salvage Specialty Coffee for quite some time, and the public holiday Monday plus the glorious food photography on their Facebook page pretty much sealed the deal. It was time to take the biggest leap of all. That’s right, it was time to head OTB*. Upon arrival I was a little taken aback by the realisation that Artarmon is outrageously suburban. Duh. Salvage is located in the paved Wilkes Avenue next to Artarmon train station, amidst the leafy streets of Sydney’s North Shore. It’s an interesting space because the Avenue itself, which is much like an open-air arcade, feels a little tired. And very suburban.
An assortment of Japanese restaurants, discount stores and miscellaneous shopfronts keep Salvage company. The crowd is an eclectic mix of hipsters, families and older couples and most of the seating is outdoors, consisting of quirky wooden seats and both communal and individual square tables. Inside the vibe is a bit edgier, with Reuben Hills-style neon lighting and a few tables squished in between the baristas and the chefs, as well as some window seating. We arrive at noon, an hour before their closing time – although you wouldn’t know it given the sheer numbers of people still brunching happily. A friendly young gentleman comes over relatively quickly to take our coffee (and Chai) orders and to inform us that sadly we can only have the things on the blackboard menu that aren’t crossed off.
After putting on my glasses, I realise that sadly this leaves us with only two options. Oh, or muesli. I adore muesli, but generally not after twelve, so that leaves us with a cheese and dried olive toastie or sourdough with poached eggs, smoked salmon, smashed avocado, and watercress. The politely apologetic young man then explains that actually, they have run out of avocado. Oh, and watercress. And he’s not sure about the salmon either. But he earnestly offers to check what else they have floating around. Given I’ve eaten my weight in cheese in the last week, this is looking like a better option than the toastie, so I accept. So does my patient brunch companion, who is probably thinking I’m crazy for suggesting Salvage at this point. But he’s so damn nice about it, you just can’t be grumpy.
While we wait to see what they can do in the kitchen, our coffee and chai arrive. The Mecca latte is delightful, although I’m a little miffed that in a place with such clear attention to detail in the decor they serve lattes in cappuccino-style cups. There’s nothing quite like drinking coffee out of glass. It’s also a pretty big cup. But all these trivialities aside; it’s well made, the perfect temperature and tastes heavenly.
And when our food arrives, I realise we have made the right decision. Our brunch comes out as two medium-sized slices of soy and linseed sourdough (lightly toasted), topped with two perfectly poached eggs and a generous heap of smoked salmon on each slice. The salmon is mild in flavour, saltiness and smokiness. They have even managed to rustle up a few stray bits of watercress and some dried olives to garnish the top. Aesthetically, it’s stunning. Taste-wise, it’s delicious. Practically, it’s filling. Yes, Salvage, you’ve ticked every box. You get the impression they’ve thought carefully about each element on the plate when sourcing their ingredients. High quality eggs and salmon, great sourdough and some interesting garnishes make for a deceptively simple brunch. Deceptive because what seems so simple to get right is actually pretty damn tricky. Have you ever tried to poach an egg perfectly? Yeah, well I have. It didn’t end well.
Salvage, Salvage, Salvage. Not only did you get me OTB*, but you managed to rise above a serious end-of-the-long-weekend food shortage, and to transcend a tired old suburban arcade. Seriously friendly staff, seriously good coffee and seriously fresh produce – ticks all round.
*Over the Bridge
Best Bits: convenience (right next to Artarmon train station), fresh produce that’s been carefully selected and elegantly put on your plate with minimal interference (classic poached eggs and salmon are the go).
Worst Bits: primarily outdoor seating in an area with little ambiance, lattes in cappuccino cups not glassware.
Price Point: $$
Go here for… gritty inner-west/inner-east cafe style on the North Shore.
What you should know: wet weather could be tricky given the nature of the seating arrangements.
A bit like: Reuben Hills (Surry Hills), Little Marionette (Annandale), The Shortlist (Redfern).
Salvage Specialty Coffee
5 Wilkes Avenue
Artarmon NSW 2064