378 Great North Road Abbotsford, New South Wales 2046
|Opening hours||Mon-Tues 7am-4pm; Wed-Fri 7am-10pm; Sat 8am-10pm; Sun 8am-4pm|
|Features||BYO, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa|
|Phone||02 9712 5638|
The waitress is amused observing our indecision. The kids can't choose between spaghetti and meatballs or the croque madame, eventually going for both. She suggests the latter could be too rich. But she hasn't accounted for Archie and Lulu's unusually hearty appetites, and they're having none of it.
It's school holidays and we've been a little hopeless in terms of planning activities and play dates, so I decide a restaurant treat is in order. We've always been fans of Copo in Drummoyne and have been keen to give newish sister cafe Prato, in Abbotsford, a try.
We're delighted to find a garden setting with expansive lawns and a lovely heritage building. A century ago it was part of a huge waterfront estate owned by the Grace family and used for weekend recreation by Grace Bros employees, along with sporting facilities including bowling greens, tennis courts and cricket pitches. When Nestle bought the property in the 1920s, the pavilion continued serving the same purpose.
It's a glorious sunny winter's day and everyone is outside on the wide, shady verandah, with a mother's group set up on the lawns in front and babies crawling in all directions.
Archie is clearly in tune with the sporting history and insists on retrieving his football from the car and playing kick to kick with himself on the lawn before, during and after our meal.
Lulu decides a caramel milkshake is in order. It's heavenly, with the syrup home-made. She asks me how to make caramel, and I explain it's basically sugar and cream cooked together. Oddly, she's quite perturbed by this, announcing emphatically, ''I'm never eating caramel again.'' It's a strange reaction from someone who counts cake as her preferred food group.
It's almost salad weather, I think, as I eye the baby beetroot, black quinoa and goat's curd combination on the menu. But not quite. I opt instead for a delicious, hearty fish pie, the Spanish mackerel filling wonderfully smoky and creamy and topped by golden, crunchy breadcrumbs. I'm not disappointed.
There's much to love about Prato. Chef Brock Coffey cures his own bacon, ham and speck, smokes fish and makes his own creme fraiche, mascarpone, butter and buttermilk. It's a level of care and a standard of cooking you might not expect in a relatively simple suburban cafe. The cakes and sweet treats are all made on the premises, and include (during our visit) chocolate ricotta cake, caramel oatey slice and carrot cake as well as home-made bikkies.
Archie's a bit of a spaghetti-and-meatballs connoisseur and scoffs his serve, although he is slightly critical. ''It's just made with sausage meat, mummy, not real meatballs.'' Questioning Coffey later, I discover he was quite right.
Mustardy bechamel is smeared over the croque madame, which is topped with a golden fried egg. It is rich but completely delicious and in my opinion the only rival in Sydney to Alex Herbert's famous Eveleigh market version, albeit more authentically French. The waitress needn't have worried; the kids wolf it down. But there's no room for cake.
Do … go for breakfast, too, if scrambled eggs and caviar are your thing.
Don't … forget the footy to kick on the lawn.
Dish … Smoked fish pie with peas leek and potato.
Vibe … Breezy, relaxed and family-friendly, an unexpected suburban oasis.