80 Commonwealth Street Surry Hills, Australia 20100410 311 494
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 7am-4pm, Sun 8am-4pm|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
Time was, a project was something you did at school. Now it's somewhere you go for coffee. By tagging your business ''project'', you're telling the world it's a collaboration, a co-op, a work in progress. The Paramount Coffee Project, an alliance between coffee pioneer Mark Dundon of Melbourne's Seven Seeds and Russell Beard of Reuben Hills, is all these things and more.
They could have just agreed on a house blend, but that would have been too easy. Instead, they've shaken up the whole dang thing with a constant rotation of guest coffee roasters and residencies, sending small batches of ethically sourced beans to several different Australian roasters and serving their different interpretations of the same coffee side by side as both espresso and filter. It makes for an instant coffee masterclass in a cup. A single estate Colombian coffee in a piccolo tastes bright and clean, with subdued acidity and aftertaste. A week later, and the coffee is an organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from the Konga Co-operative; delicately citrussy and as fragrant as jasmine tea. Don't come here if you need a punchy dark-roast coffee, in other words; but do come if you're up for something new and nuanced.
The separate espresso and filter bars and the almost Amish details - white tiles, concrete floors, pinafore'd young staff, communal tables - are held together by the corseted Art Deco bones and soaring ceilings of Paramount House, home to the deliciously restored Golden Age Cinema.
Chef Brett Barbuto's rollicking menu has an American vibe, from double-fried chicken and softshell crab po'boy to a burrito-like arollada. It's hipster food, workshopping melted cheddar, hot dogs, kale, milk buns, peanut butter and jelly milkshakes, potato crisps, avocado and dill pickles. A sharply acidic dressing takes the fun out of a bowl salad of chopped poached chicken, grapes, walnuts and buffalo mozzarella, and there's something a bit weird about eating fried eggs with waffles, even with thick-cut bacon and lemony guacamole. The people's vote (those people I'm with, at least) goes to the giant sweet waffle with peanut butter ice-cream, dulce de leche and hazelnut instead.
But the food's not necessarily the thing here. It's the bravery, creativity, coolness, the beautiful collaborative space, and the challenge thrown to those with a fixed idea of what coffee should be. That's the real project.
Do … share a table, not just a wireless hotspot.
Don't … have your usual. Try something new.
Dish … Sweet waffle, peanut butter ice-cream, dulce de leche and hazelnut.
Vibe … Creative, collaborative, cool.