Nans – and grandfathers, and grannies and pops – are no strangers to the role of muse in the hospitality industry. We've been sipping tea-infused cocktails from china cups and getting acquainted with the delights of homemade pickles and preserves for years.
At Nan's Place, a tiny corner cafe that opened in Zetland in October, that influence is palpable, from the name to the menu. But owner Jodie Johnson has wisely shown restraint on the theme, avoiding the obvious – floral upholstery and lace curtains – in favour of a clean, bright space with white walls, grey-painted furniture, a colourfully tiled floor and aqua ceiling. Nostalgic touches include a jar of Minties sitting on the counter next to biscuits on a wire rack, and sweet family photos on the menus. A "groceries" basket, also on the counter, offers takeaway Brickfields loaves, eggs and newspapers.
We arrive for lunch on a Saturday to find the cafe filled with blokes, either sitting alone with the paper or enjoying a bro brunch. By the end of our meal, the gender balance has flipped, as several groups of girlfriends arrive for afternoon tea. The vibe is cheerful and warm, and the soundtrack skips from Creedence Clearwater to Dolly Parton.
The all-day menu is roughly 36 per cent nan-inspired, 48percent on-trend and 16percent cute. Fond after-school-snack memories may be stirred by a two-cheese and Vegemite toastie, but a raw kale salad with preserved lemon, white bean, pinenuts, tomato and currants is strictly for adults. Soft boiled eggs – a specialty of Johnson's nan – are updated with herb salt and Brickfields sourdough soldiers, spread either with Pepe Saya butter or Vegemite and cream cheese. A half ruby grapefruit – so '70s – is sweetened with coconut sugar and toasted almonds.
Johnson is a former manager at Reuben Hills, the source of Nan's coffee which is taken seriously. Filter and single origin are on offer along with long blacks and lattes.
Our black and brown rice salad is virtuous yet satisfying, a crunchy, fragrant tumble of asparagus and spring onions with grilled shiitake mushrooms and skinny enoki mushrooms fried until crisp, with fresh mint and parsley stirred through the brown rice and black sesame seeds.
A sandwich of corned beef with bread and butter pickles, sweet onions, mustard and salad leaves is fine, if lacking punch; but a roasted chicken club sandwich is excellent, with the standard fried bacon, avocado and strong cheddar enlivened with pickled zucchini and coriander aioli.
As nan knows, presentation makes all the difference when it comes to having company for lunch. Salt and pepper is served oh-so-adorably in an egg cup, the salt in the cup and the pepper in the rim. Filter coffee arrives in a delicate spherical glass, snug inside a green knitted cosy. It is very strong, with hints of burnt caramel, while a flat white is smooth. A hot "Mylo" is a slightly more grown-up version of what comes out of that famous green tin: less sweet and with extra malt.
We finish with fried scones, known to many Australians as puftaloons. Served hot with mascarpone and strawberry jam and studded with dates and dried sour cherries, they might be even nicer than nan's. Best not to tell her ...
2a Portman Street, Zetland, 8084 0731
Tue-Fri, 6.30am-3.30pm; Sat, 8am-3pm
Menu Australiana meets modern cafe
Value Good. Sandwiches, $12; salads, $14; coffee, $3.50-$5.
Recommended dishes Black and brown rice salad, fried scones, club sandwich.