The phrase ''the old city'' brings to mind cobblestone streets and gothic towers, but the aesthetic of The Old City cafe is not quite so mediaeval. The place is jam-packed with knick-knacks that appeal to its husband-and-wife owners, Wiam and Anthony Farrugia, including a bicycle from the 1960s, antique cameras, paintings by David Bromley and a rag doll sitting on a piano.
All for sale, none of it is really old in the European sense, but it creates a feeling of history and discovery, which is what the Farrugias liked about the old cities they visited during a recent overseas odyssey.
''During our travels, wherever we went, we found ourselves interested in old cities,'' Wiam says. ''We thought, 'Let's open something that reminds us of the places we have been.'''
Despite their itchy feet, the Farrugias adore Balmain, and their cafe is becoming a community hub. On Wednesday nights, diners come for live music and silent movies on a big screen. Amateur photographers meet at the cafe every month before heading out to capture the local sights. The Farrugias make everyone welcome, chatting as they serve coffee and food.
The quiche lorraine ($13) has just come out of the oven, Wiam tells us. It's an excellent recommendation, its creamy filling encased in flaky pastry. The big breakfast ($21) is generous, piled high with eggs, mushrooms, bacon, chorizo, tomato and avocado on sourdough toast.
The coffee, an organic blend from Sprocket, is rich and gutsy - all the more delicious because it comes from a ''carbon-conscious'' roasting process, with leftover grinds fuelling the roaster.
The Farrugias's sustainable ethos feeds their love of antique curios. ''Most objects we have in the shop have lasted decades, and more than likely will last longer,'' Wiam says. ''It's the opposite of consumerism.''
The Old City
Address 1/386 Darling Street, Balmain, 0410 467 610
Open daily, 7.30am- 3.30pm, and Wed, 6.30pm-10pm
- 0410 467 610
- Opening Hours - Open daily, 7.30am-3.30pm, Wednesday evenings, 6.30pm-10pm.
- Author - Louise Schwartzkoff