Long gone are the days of meagre food offerings and weak cappuccinos at galleries and museums; this venue can rival any Surry Hills cafe. With high-calibre casual fare, Cafe at the Gallery is worth a visit as a destination in itself. Dare we be such philistines as to suggest, you could just as easily come for the food and stay for the art.
Vast windows allow the sun to stream uninterrupted into the modern and open-planned space. The green carpet is a little abrasive; however, the succulents, communal wooden tables, chalkboard menu and old-fashioned style aprons give the place a few touches you might find at some of the hipper places in town. There’s plenty of seating for the buzzing crowds, and outdoors is a prime spot with a pleasant view of Woolloomooloo. Expect to share your crumbs with the colourful rosellas.
The cafe has certainly been reinvigorated under the new management of Morsul (ARIA, Chiswick, North Bondi Fish), owned by Matt Moran, leading Australian chef and restaurateur, and his business partner Peter Sullivan. They have devised an extensive menu from light snacks, salads and main meals to desserts. The food is ultra-fresh, as they stress that absolutely everything is made onsite.
For some menu items, such as the signature dish of fragrant beef tagine with pistachio couscous ($19), the produce is sourced directly from Matt Moran’s own farm, in this case the beef. It’s first-rate fare, the meat is so tender it just falls apart on your fork. Unsurprisingly with the Morsul brand, there is ample evidence of care and passion — it’s not about providing snacks to hungry hordes of gallery-goers but creating a foodie destination in itself.
The duck and pea jaffle ($12) is a Moran staple, and a casual play on the chef’s signature duck and pea dish from the early days of ARIA. The rich, warm filling of shredded duck and softened peas is neatly encased in crunchy toasted jaffle. If you’re perusing art on a Sunday morning, there is the poshest hangover cure in town — the toasted egg and bacon sandwich with Middle Eastern spiced eggplant chutney.
The salads are like works of art, vibrant and beautifully presented. The citrus cured salmon ($16) with garden-fresh cos and creamy gravlax dressing is given a level of complexity with gorgeous pink sour grapefruit slices, fragrant dill, crunchy croutons and crisp but finely sliced radish. The light beetroot with quinoa salad ($14) is brightly coloured, with red and orange beetroot pieces (the latter having a sweeter taste and softer texture) and, layered upon the nutty, pink-stained quinoa, shaved translucent fennel. It's all dressed in a sharp lemony vinaigrette.
Now onto the sweets (a day of wandering around a gallery usually calls for an afternoon pick-me-up). The milkshakes, in their tall milk bottle jars and complete with colourful paper straws, aren’t just pretty to look at. The icy-cold Belgium chocolate milkshake (large $6.50) is sufficiently frothy, and the rich chocolate has a sophisticated not-too-sweet taste.
Team your Single Origin caffeine hit with one of the delicious pastries, and you’ll be reinspired to tackle the latest exhibition. The passionfruit brulee tart ($8) is creamy and zingy, with a crumbly biscuit base. Similarly, the pastry for the sour cherry and frangipane tart ($8) is pure buttery goodness enhanced by the slightly warm filling and served with sweet whipped cream.
As part of the gallery's Art After Hours, the cafe is open late on Wednesdays, so you can grab a bite to eat and enjoy the musical performances, late-night talks and a screening from the excellent curated film series.