Photo: Domino Postiglione
The big order at this pretty, new Mona Vale cafe is cappuccino and chips. Never mind that the cappuccino is made from an exclusive blend from Single Origin Roasters, and the chips are skin-on, hand-cut and come in an enamelled beach bucket; it's what the woman reading the newspaper to my left is having and it's what the three young girls down the other end of the long communal table are having. It must be some new Palm Beach Diet I haven't heard about.
Of course, there's a lot more to Armchair Collective. Like armchairs. The creation of interior designer Pip Robb and restaurateur Andrew Goldsmith of the frantically popular Boathouse at Palm Beach, it's a lifestyle homewares store, vintage furniture upholsterer, sunny beachside cafe, florist and commuter-stop coffee window, all rolled into one.
''This is very like your house, isn't it?'' observes one diner, looking around at the oversized lampshades, white-washed furniture and pastel-coloured milk-bottle vases on sale. ''Yes, it is,'' nods her friend. ''This could be an expensive lunch.''
Not that the menu is particularly pricey; it's the add-ons. I get away with just four red-and-white tea towels ($24) and a bunch of yellow roses ($15) but my friend wants to add a vintage Parker Knoll wingback armchair ($1690), charmingly reupholstered in Sanderson's Tree Poppy.
Armchair Collective would have to be one of the most delightful spots on the northern beaches. Its wide smile of a shopfront opens to take full advantage of the winter sun, with grassy views of the park opposite and the noise of crashing waves just half a block away. Chunky recycled wooden furniture spills out on to a terrace, as joggers tie their dog leads to table legs, mums park their kids at the communal table and teens and tweenies gather over old-fashioned milkshakes to talk about whatever it is that teens and tweenies talk about.
It's also great to see a wine list with nothing listed over $34 (except for a $90 Bollinger), and with almost everything available by the glass. A Devils Corner pinot grigio from Tassie's West Tamar ($7.50/ $34) is as crisp and clean as my new tea towels.
The lunch menu borrows pretty freely from the Boathouse, with its piled-high burgers and beer-battered flathead and chips. The Collective burger ($16) is reasonably successful, with a bun of just the right heft holding Swiss cheese, lettuce, house-made pickles and mustard aioli as well as a somewhat charred beef burger. It comes with a big bowl of the aforementioned fries that are good, hot and salty. There is also a token fish dish, of grilled crisp-skinned ocean trout ($25) resting '90s-style on a dull potato salad coated in herb mayonnaise.
The best bet appears to be the good-looking steak sandwich ($17) of smartly cooked beef on an olive-oil panino with goat's curd, roast tomato, salsa verde and rocket, teamed with a pile of house-made potato crisps. An antipasto platter of olives, chargrilled vegetables, rillettes and cured meat ($16) is a bit of a dud, with commercial-quality salami cut, strangely and off-puttingly, into squares.
Apart from the steak sandwich, I can't get too excited until I return for breakfast and discover the Collective's real calling. This place was made for mornings. The outside terrace is standing room only, a painted table is piled high with the morning's papers and, inside, family groups and girly gangs are getting together over bowls of porridge and eggs every which way. Seriously good eggs they are, too, from a stunning bacon-and-egg roll with rocket and aioli for just $8 to creamy, chilli-spiked scrambled eggs ($16) and baked breakfasts of eggs, spinach, beans and sausages ($18).
The BRT ($12), a killer double-toastie of smoky bacon, rocket, fresh tomato and creamy aioli wrapped in paper is ridiculously large and ridiculously impossible to stop eating. Tea is loose-leaf and prettily presented, and the coffee is beautifully balanced, with no harsh edges. There's also an assortment of attractive cakey things ($5.50) made especially for the cafe, including rich little orange friands and trays of muffins.
Yes, it's just a cafe, with an ad hoc service system in which you order, pay and grab a number and a chair; but it's more than that, too. It's a slightly mad and very charming attempt to reupholster the traditional cafe structure, giving it a cheeky freshness and new life.
Address 9 Darley Street East, Mona Vale, 99992871
Open Daily 7:30am -4pm
Cost About $50 for two, plus drinks
- 02 9999 2871
- Prices - about $50 for two, plus drinks, about $50 for two, plus drinks
- Opening Hours - daily, 7.30am-4pm
- Author - Terry Durack