Xenos Cafe Restaurant
- (02) 9439 1748
7 Burlington St,
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August 20, 2010
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Photo: Edwina Pickles
Here's a tip for breakfasting at Xenos: try to find a two-hour parking spot. A lot of the meters around Crows Nest only allow a measly hour. It's not enough. Not because the service at this Greek cafe restaurant is slow. It's simply the kind of place where you feel like settling in for a leisurely feed, a chat with friends, a family gathering or to read the paper. The whole paper. You don't want to feel rushed or have any fear of lurking council rangers.
Perhaps this unhurried feeling stems from the fact Xenos has been here forever – well, since 1969. That's a long time in cafe years. Peter and Kathy Xenos, who came from different Greek islands and met in Sydney, first opened a milk bar on this site, with linoleum on the floor and orange vinyl booth seats. After two major renovations, it has been transformed into Crows Nest's homey dining room, with a dedicated following of regulars.
At first sight, there's nothing too special about it. Compared with Sydney's newer generation of cafes, Xenos is plain old-fashioned. Slick design and trendy ingredients are not on the menu. But once you're seated, quickly and efficiently, with your coffee order taken straight away, some of the things that make people come back decade after decade start to sink in.
Top of the list is the service. Weekend breakfasts are busy but a small army of staff in smart blue shirts and white aprons handles the traffic with polished ease. There's no attitude, no dithering, no avoiding eye contact when you're trying to ask for a bottle of water. Peter, also with apron, is behind the bar, serving coffees, wiping drips from glasses of orange juice, spiking orders. His sons, Tim and Dennis, are also here and Kathy still drops in sometimes. The place runs like a well-oiled machine, to be expected after 40 years.
Next is the coffee. It's really good. Again, no trendy brands or blends or single-origin, Fairtrade beans digested by small, south-east Asian mammals. It's Vittoria, it's strong and it comes with perfect crema, whether you order a long black or a flat white.
Then there's the size of the room and the crowd. Xenos is so big that you're pretty much guaranteed a seat, even when it's busy. This also means no guilt if you hang around for another coffee, because there's no one breathing down your neck, desperate to pounce on your table.
As for the crowd, there is no single demographic – everyone is here. Fashionable young things comparing iPhones, local retiree couples, large family groups spanning three generations, gal pals sharing the week's goss at a sunny pavement table, parents with small children escaping the house. It feels as though we're all having breakfast together in a large, well-serviced, communal living room.
The food matches this aura. It's hearty and generous and follows the golden rule of Greek hospitality: no one goes home hungry.
Eggs are big on the breakfast menu – the corn fritters even come with poached eggs. Greek-style scrambled eggs with feta, chives and roast tomato are the only obvious nod to the cafe's cultural heritage and the eggs benedict comes highly recommended. It doesn't disappoint – perfectly poached on plenty of ham and spinach, topped with creamy, lemony hollandaise. I'd prefer the English muffin foundation more crisply toasted but it's a small quibble. The Greek-style scrambled eggs are good, too.
The baked beans, however, are disappointing. We were hoping for home-made, perhaps with a Greek touch. However, they're just plain old baked beans. They come with half an avocado, two roast-tomato halves and chunky, crusty, well-buttered toast.
You don't see lamb's fry and bacon on many Sydney breakfast menus. A big bowl comes piled with a stewy mixture of liver and bacon strips with onion and red capsicum in what's billed as a cream veal jus but would be better described as tasty gravy. It comes with a basket of buttered toast to soak up the gravy-jus and, again, it's no frills, what-you-see-is-what-you get fare.
With its lack of pretension and bustling but relaxed vibe, Xenos reminds me of the old-style diners that still do brisk business in New York City. May its reign over Crows Nest continue for many more years.
- (02) 9439 1748
7 Burlington St,
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- Good value
- Breakfast, daily from 7am; lunch, daily from noon; dinner, Tue-Sat 6pm-late.