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By Trish Roberts
May 01, 2012

The Grounds of Alexandria

The Grounds is innovative, idealist and a little bit chic — in the best possible way.
By Trish Roberts
May 01, 2012

The Grounds is an ambitious new project that seems more likely to be located in Portlandia than Sydney. It's innovative, idealist and a little bit chic - in the best possible way.

The priority here is the 'grounds', in both senses of the word. First up, the coffee. Jack Hanna, AKA 'the youngest barista to ever win a world title', is one of three at the helm of this project, so that the coffee is extraordinary is no surprise. At $3.50 for a small and $4 for a large, you can also afford to squeeze in more than one. The Flat White lives up to the name this humble coffee is earning in places like Soho, strong and creamy. Non-coffee drinkers should make the most of the Chai Latte ($5.50), which is rarely made this well. And if you'd much rather avoid caffeine altogether, opt for a seasonal Fresh Squeezed Juice ($6), which comes straight from the garden and is served in a jar cup.

Then, there's the grounds of the place itself. The team behind the Grounds have taken an industrial warehouse and transformed it into a homely, wholesome sanctuary. In fact, it's almost a town. There's the garden, which grows produce for the kitchen and doubles as an outside eating area for take-away meals. Listen carefully, you'll find the chickens around here too. In the same vicinity is a kids' playground or, if you really want to keep them busy, you can enroll them in a gardening class. The on-site bakery also serves the kitchen, plus it provides take-away. There's a coffee roasting facility, incorporating testing and a boutique school. And of course there's the cafe itself, occupying the heritage warehouse building.

When we arrive on a Saturday morning, the place is brimming with families, children joyously patting ducks, bunnies and guinea pigs that don't look too perturbed by the attention. It's tempting to see this as some kind of cult - though one that truly justifies the following.

Ultimately, the main reason for our enthusiasm is the food. While the breakfast has been much hyped, we think the lunch could be a pretty even match. To prove our point, we turn up at brunch and try one meal of each. The Rolled Eggs with Crispy Quinoa ($16) convince me that quinoa is not so overrated after all. They deliver a satisfying crunch amongst this delicious mix of soft boiled eggs (free range, of course), asparagus, garden herbs, tomatoes and truffle oil. It's hard to fault. Despite my dedication to this dish, I still have a case of order envy - it seems like everyone else in the place has opted for the Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Cheddar ($16). Must do next time around. Our lunch option, the Hand Made Pappardelle ($17), is also extraordinary. With slow-braised lamb that falls from the fork and fresh peas, this would almost challenge A Tavola's Ragu - and a meal here is substantially more affordable.

The only downside of this experimental paradise that we can see is the time you're likely to wait to get fed. Turn up early, plan a weekday visit, or pack your patience and wait for a table with a coffee in the garden.

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