Wander down Marrickville's busy Illawarra Road and it is pretty clear that change is under way. The showgirls who once performed at the Marrickville RSL are long gone. An apartment development promising city skyline views and designer kitchens hints at the gentrification slowly making its mark on this suburb.
''On the cusp'' is how my brunch companion describes it.
We arrive late on a Saturday morning. Vietnamese restaurants beckon with the promise of steaming-hot bowls of pho. Not this time, though. We have a hankering for eggs and coffee, so we secure a table at the back of Vesbar Espresso, one of the new kids on the block.
The cafe is small and bustling, and feels especially so in chilly weather when diners avoid outdoor seating. The space is a bit squeezy for those eating in.
The walls are decorated with empty coffee bean sacks and shelves filled with bottles of mineral water. Two glass cabinets hint at a Mediterranean influence. The first is stacked with pastries, including chocolate cannoli and ricotta zuccherati. Mental note: leave room for dessert. The second houses assorted panini and arancini balls, facilitating quick service for a thriving takeaway trade. The coffee machine gets quite a workout: Campos is the bean of choice.
The Mediterranean breakfast is the house speciality and brings back memories of backpacking in Turkey many moons ago. Strips of cucumber and slices of tomato sprinkled with lemon pepper, dried oregano and olive oil lie on a wooden board, accompanied by little bowls of salty fetta, natural yoghurt, olives, sweet peppers stuffed with cheese, two poached eggs and two thin pieces of olive bread.
In the Italian breakfast roll are two poached eggs, a generous portion of hot, fatty prosciutto and home-made spicy tomato chutney. Cut the panini in half and inhale. The vegetarian version is similar, with thin slices of grilled haloumi replacing the prosciutto.
Curiosity gets the better of me and I order a Nescafe classic frappe from the European frappe list. It is a summer drink in Greece, the staff tell me. The sugar and milk are adjusted to my taste, but the subtle burnt, bitter flavour is not for me. Admitting defeat, I order another coffee and a sugar-dusted jam doughnut and chocolate cannoli to share.
The food and coffee are great. The only drawback is the tight confines. With the takeaway crowd coming in and out and staff rushing past, diners are in close quarters. On a busy Saturday, this is not the place to linger over the weekend newspapers, except on an iPad, perhaps. A table at the back abuts the drinks fridge, meaning someone has to lean forward every time anyone orders a cold drink (more often than you think in winter).
In the warmer months, when customers can sit outside or get takeaways and head up the road to McNeilly Park, this cafe will start to come into its own.
As we rise to leave, we hear a fellow diner comment that Newtown is expanding. ''Best of both worlds,'' someone replies. As we wander along Illawarra Road, stocking up on fruit and vegetables, fish and freshly roasted coffee beans, we can only agree.
Menu Cafe fare with a focus on Mediterranean food.
Value Good. Breakfast, $4-$15; salads, $12-$16; pasta, $10; pastries, $3.50-$8.
Recommended dishes Mediterranean breakfast, Italian breakfast roll, chocolate cannoli and jam doughnuts.
1 Warburton Street, Marrickville (corner Illawarra Road), 9558 2642
Mon-Fri, 6am-5pm; Sat, 7am-5pm; Sun, 8am-5pm.
- Prices - $50 for two, Breakfast $4-$15, Salads $12-$16, Pasta $10, Pastries $3.50-$8
- Opening Hours - Friday 6am-5pm, Saturday 7am-5pm, Sunday 8am-5pm
- Author - Sarah McInerney