Ashfield Apothecary review

Love is at the heart of this small, fetching cafe in Ashfield.
Love is at the heart of this small, fetching cafe in Ashfield.  Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

19 Charlotte St Ashfield, NSW 2131

View map

Opening hours Mon-Fri 7am-3pm; Sat 7am-2pm
Features Breakfast-brunch, Family friendly, Cheap Eats, Outdoor seating, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Views
Phone 0423 495 012

If anything sums up Ashfield Apothecary, a small, fetching cafe in an emerald and red-tiled inner west heritage building, it is listening to owner Mandeep Bhusal talk about love.

"Everything we do here is made with it," he says. "The coffee, the food, this beautiful shop. When I first walked in the door I absolutely fell in love with this space. The sun streaming in, the art on the high ceilings, the beautiful windows. It has some divine energy I feel every day."

Bhusal opened Ashfield Apothecary in late 2019 after years of thought. A decade as a chef, barista, and cafe manager, in venues ranging from a major city hotel to cafes The Pig and Pastry, Brewtown and Three Williams, distilled his vision of the perfect small food and coffee spot.

Mortadella, salami, bocconcini cheese and pickled pepper sandwich.
Mortadella, salami, bocconcini cheese and pickled pepper sandwich. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

He wanted to be ethical, emphasise a small seasonal menu and offer distinguished coffee from local independent roasters and small-scale international growers.

The interior, he decided, should be "a home away from home" prompting him to spend months sourcing materials such as Australian-made hand-painted tiles for the interior, hand-varnishing every timber fitting and driving far and wide to source the right table legs for a bench table.

"I'd rather invest in the things I love than any other option," he says.

Porridge served with saffron-spiced poached pears, rhubarb jam and a dusting of coconut.
Porridge served with saffron-spiced poached pears, rhubarb jam and a dusting of coconut. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Today, as the sun streams through mottled, stained-glass windows, peaceful wool-wrapped people sit munching bowls of coconut crumble porridge, each prettily staged with halved, saffron-spiced poached pears, dollops of rhubarb jam and a dusting of coconut.

Their measured grazing even extends to lo-fi reading of printed newspapers. 

A second table bears plates of burnt eggplant, truss tomato, capsicum and Persian feta daubed with house-made pomegranate walnut relish with a side of halloumi, another of the house-made winter dishes added by Bhusal and chef Amish Ghimire in recent weeks.

A bowl of burnt eggplant.
A bowl of burnt eggplant. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

There are only six dishes available, three staples and three seasonal options, alongside baked goods including pastries, croissants and brownies. Everything is made in-house, bar the croissants, and all baked goods feature gluten-free flour or almond meal.

If it's Friday, a pistachio-speckled Persian love cake sits fresh out of the oven. Dropping in here is like visiting a friend's kitchen to see what's baking in the oven or simmering on the stove.

Coffee is ethically sourced and carefully brewed at a blushing pomegranate-coloured coffee machine framed by bags of Sample Coffee from Rwandan coffee producer Philippe Sinoyobye, Catapult Coffee from Honduras, whitewashed brick walls and cascading pot plants.

A smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese, dill and pickled onion.
A smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese, dill and pickled onion. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Today's espresso of the day, a fruity Rwandan brew, is offered in a cup and saucer, whether the order is takeaway or not. There's plenty of room to sip it standing at the counter and Bhusal provides a glass of water to clear the palette before drinking.

We linger with a fat, toasted mortadella, salami, bocconcini and pickled pepper sandwich, which is excellently soft, tangy and chewy. Also fine is the smoked salmon bagel, with cream cheese, dill and pickled onion, and best if lightly toasted.

The drinks menu, with iced tea, cold pressed juice, a mixed berry smoothie and kombucha, also offers four milkshakes, the crowning glory of which is a gingernut version, sprinkled with crumbs of the teeth-cracking biscuit. In line with Bhusal's general sugar philosophy, it is not too sweet.

Baked goods include pastries, croissants and brownies (above).
Baked goods include pastries, croissants and brownies (above). Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Ask Bhusal about his indefatigable efforts to source the Tasmanian oak wood for the floors and bench tops, his dedicated relationship with local roasters Single O, Proud Mary, Market Lane and Sample, and the careful matching of Ashfield Apothecary's tote bag and cockatoo-bearing long-sleeved top merchandise with the tones of the exterior tiles.

"I've tried to make a one-stop shop for coffee with a menu that complements it," he says. "We try our best to do something that's different, that separates us from other cafes."

The best thing, he says, is people asking about the coffee but also the food and how it's made. 

"When they do, if they want to know more, I give them the recipe," he says. "Why not? It's all about sharing. It's all about cooking with love." 

The low-down

Ashfield Apothecary

Vibe Neighbourhood coffee haven with seasonal food in beautiful heritage building

Go-to dish Mortadella, salami, bocconcini and pickled pepper sandwich

Insta-worthy dish Coconut crumble porridge with saffron poached pear