Sensing a theme? The Little Mule Cafe in Stanmore. Photo: Fiona Morris
Stanmore has a new attraction, and hitching a ride on it will only cost you a dollar. Sam, a rather old-school looking, coin-slot operated children's ride, has put his shopping centre days behind him, taking up residence in a corner of the Little Mule Cafe. Bought second-hand, this broken-down amusement has been given a new lease of life not only in the cafe, but as an entirely new animal.
''My brother-in-law bought it on eBay,'' cafe owner Liz Condon says. ''It was a horse. He converted it into a mule, he put bigger ears on it, and a tail.''
Condon's cafe opened last May and I guess you could say is following a similar path. She's given this 1890s-era shopfront a bright, light and fun fit-out. The mix of seasonal dishes, good coffee and friendly service has won fans in the area. And there's a new energy in the small but bustling cafe scene on Stanmore's shopping strip.
Campos is the coffee of choice at the Little Mule Cafe. Photo: Fiona Morris
Weekends in particular at the Little Mule Cafe gather a crowd, especially for takeaways. A steady coffee queue forms around the counter during my visits. The deft hand of barista Tim Stinson produces a well-balanced flat white from the Campos Superior Blend beans. It's sweet and creamy while also delivering a decent caffeine hit. A different single-origin bean is on offer each month too.
Beautifully presented but less successful is the sticky chai. The honey-soaked chai spices are infused in a small amount of hot water then topped up in the teapot with warm milk. It's comfort-in-a-glass, arriving ready to be poured into a pretty tea cup and saucer with a dinky miniature milk bottle on the side. But it's a little on the mild side.
Condon's compact menu offers up cafe staples including eggs, sandwiches and salads but with a twist, such as the curried-egg sandwich - a retro classic updated with Indian spices and sprinkled with crispy pappadums. Condon brings to the business 15 years' experience as a chef, including four with Fratelli Fresh. Most of the food is made in-house, from the cakes to the mayonnaise to the hummus. Bread is supplied by The Bread and Butter Project.
Transformed ... Sam the mule.
From the breakfast menu, the compact burrito is a complete package. The tortilla is wrapped around beans, fried egg, cheese and avocado, then toasted until crisp. The beans are described as ''spicy'' on the menu, but sensibly they're more breakfast-spicy than blow-your-head-off.
Fresh coconut water ticks a box for the health conscious, as does the house-made maple-baked granola, topped with Greek yoghurt and fresh peach slices. It is nice and light, albeit a little sweet from an abundance of dried fruit in the granola mix.
The most expensive item on the menu clocks in at $16 and gives good bang for your buck - poached eggs, hummus, dukkah, rocket and a generous portion of smoked salmon, all served on a piece of toast. It's enjoyable, but does feel a little like two breakfasts in one, the smoked salmon dominating the lovely flavours of the dukkah and hummus.
Grabbing the newspapers from the nearby communal table, we're in the mood to linger. A second coffee order is just as good as the first, but in need of a sweet accompaniment. A still gooey-in-the-middle chocolate and pistachio brownie is a good pick.
Around us, a new mum sits in the bay window with her little one beside her. On the smaller tables, both high and low, couples natter quietly and parents grapple with milkshake orders and requests for that $1 to give Sam a whirl. How he ended up there can be explained by Condon's childhood nickname, the little mule.
''It's what my dad calls me. I'm one of seven children: you know, kids are stubborn and want to do their own thing,'' she says.
LITTLE MULE CAFE
THE PICKS BREAKFAST BURRITO, CHOCOLATE AND PISTACHIO BROWNIE
THE COFFEE CAMPOS
THE LOOK BRIGHT, HOMEY AND FUN
THE SERVICE LOW KEY AND FRIENDLY
THE VERDICT STANMORE COFFEE LOVERS, GIDDYUP!
- Prices - Breakfast $5-$16
- Features - Family friendly, Cheap and cheerful
- Chef(s) - Liz Condon
- Owners - Liz Condon
- Opening Hours - TUE-FRI, 6.30AM-3PM; SAT-SUN, 7.30AM-3PM
- Author - Sarah McInerney