Hill Street in Surry Hills is an improbable location for a cafe. At first glance all we see are terrace houses and commercial buildings.
Wandering along, we eventually stumble upon a little industrial courtyard, wedged between two multistorey buildings. Nice-looking shops tempt us with lamps, couches and design-oriented homewares.
It is food we are after but the courtyard location of Youeni Foodstore also facilitates some decent window shopping.
This cafe is the second to carry the Youeni name. The original is a short walk away, across the border in Darlinghurst. Part cafe, part grocer, Youeni's ethos is simple: make as much as possible in-house, cook with seasonal produce and give the eating of meals the time it deserves.
Blankets are on the seats, which is lucky - all the seating is outside, although most of it is on a covered deck. Winter and outdoor seating could be a recipe for disaster, but the blankets ensure we are quite cosy for our as-instructed, not-so-quick lunch.
Beverages are the first port of call. It has been a while since breakfast and we each order a coffee and a juice. The juices are freshly made and served in dinky little glass jugs. I give the staff free rein with my fruity concoction and receive a juice of beetroot, two varieties of apple and a touch of ginger. It looks as good as it tastes.
Although breakfast is offered all day on Saturday, and we are tempted by the croque monsieur and white anchovies on toast, we stick with the lunch menu. The seven-hour slow-roasted pork shoulder on the specials menu appeals, but isn't ready, sadly. Instead, we opt for the braised beef cheek. This comes in slices accompanied by a rectangular wedge of carrot dauphinoise and a salad.
The ham sandwich is a mainstay of the menu and a real hit. The bread is fresh (made on site) and the ham is warm. There are flavours of mustard, horseradish and a sweetness we later realise is caramelised apple. It is a hefty sandwich and a bargain at $10. We polish off half of it and take the remaining chunk away in a paper bag.
Many of the lunch options are very reasonably priced, including the seasonal vegetable salad with goat's curd and almonds, which also costs a tenner. On our visit the salad is a mix of kale and bitter radichio. The goat's cheese adds saltiness and the almonds crunch. The only disappointment is the lack of variety of vegetables - there's a piece of potato and the rest is carrot. Nevertheless, it is tasty and the textural variance is satisfying.
Another coffee and a chocolate and salted caramel tart conclude the meal. The base is biscuity and the filling an oozing ganache peppered with crunchy salted caramel chunks. It doesn't last long on the plate.
The service is welcoming and friendly and we are asked regularly if everything is to our satisfaction. Even the chef, who sits next to us to eat his own lunch, asks how we found the meal. We spend just under two hours eating, sipping coffees and chatting, and never feel pressured to leave.
When we do get up to go, we peruse the fruit and vegetables displayed in wooden crates near the register, available for sale. We're tempted but keen for a wander so don't want anything too heavy to carry. We suspect ''a wander'' is how many people stumble upon this place on weekends. They won't be disappointed if they do.
Menu Cafe with a focus on seasonal produce. They sell fruit and vegetables, too.
Value Very good. Breakfast, $5.50-$16; lunch, $10-$20; tarts, $5; coffee, $3.50; juice jug, $5.50.
Recommended dishes Honey mustard caramelised ham sandwich; freshly squeezed juices; salted caramel chocolate tart.
Shop 3, 8 Hill Street, Surry Hills, 9380 7575
Mon-Fri, 7.30am-4pm; Sat, 9am-4pm
- Prices - Breakfast $5.50-$16, Lunch $10-$20, Tarts $5, Coffee $3.50, Juice jug $5.50
- Opening Hours - Monday-Friday 7.30am-4pm, Saturday 9am-4pm
- Author - Sarah McInerney