It's not often you find yourself daydreaming about nature in an inner-city loading dock. But at Stix Marrickville, where just-harvested pumpkins huddle on long dark wood tables and shelves of sourdough and pickles line the airy, communal dining hall, it's hard not to let your mind wander.
In July, the former industrial space opened its roller doors as a sleek indoor-outdoor cafe. Chef David Allison is behind the project – and there's more to it than meets the eye.
The venue is part of Stix Catering, a successful 21-year-old business that produced first and business class meals for Qantas, based on menus designed by Neil Perry, for nearly a decade.
When the contract finished, Allison transformed part of the Stix headquarters into his long-time dream of an in-house eatery.
The plan took two years to hatch and it's also the missing piece that connects diners to Stix Farm – a 39-hectare organic and free-range farm on the Hawkesbury riverfront, north-west of Sydney.
That farmyard vibe at the cafe? It's a nod to the origin of Stix's highly seasonal, sustainable produce. The farm also supplies to big-name restaurants such as Saint Peter, Fred's, Ester and Firedoor.
When stock permits, you'll see a selection of organic vegetables in the providore section, next to rows of freshly baked sourdough and a colourful line-up of pickles and preserves.
As it is, most ingredients on the menu come straight from the farm. This includes protein such as chicken and pork, as well as mushrooms Allison grows in an incubator in the upstairs commercial kitchen lab of Stix HQ.
Dishes are split into all-day breakfast and lunch. But go early if you want to get your hands on crowd favourites such as the okonomiyaki.
Stix's version of the Japanese savoury pancake comes with extra vegetables and morsels of hibachi-grilled blackfish from the Hawkesbury, which has a similar sweetness to short-finned eel or unagi.
Finished with squiggles of Kewpie mayo and salty bonito flakes (which Allison hopes to switch to crisp jewfish skin to keep ingredients local), it's an unlikely but wholly satisfying morning meal.
Right now, there is a distinct Asian influence on Stix's menu, with dishes such as chicken and sweetcorn congee, a fiery XO fried rice and an eggplant katsu sandwich taking the lead. But Allison says this has less to do with being wedded to a specific cuisine and more to do with seasonality.
"The aim is to be very international," he says, "The menu [has a stronger Asian touch] at the moment because of the great produce we're getting – which is seafood-oriented."
Come spring, there might be more lamb-driven, Mediterranean dishes. And down the track, a homage to the Middle East.
"I want to put on some of the Lebanese-style dishes that I know," he says. "Things like kibbeh nayeh [raw minced lamb or beef], because my partner is Lebanese."
That is not to say you won't find cafe classics such as a steak sandwich or an omelette in the mix. But they will likely have their own surprising touch, such as a zingy beetroot relish in the former, or chunks of caramelised miso eggplant to jazz up the comforting eggy brunch.
Allison also tries to re-imagine traditionally meat-based dishes for vegetarians. A "katsu sando" – usually made with a filling of breaded pork cutlet – is tweaked with eggplant that's crumbed and marinated the same way as its protein cousin.
This inventive, cosmopolitan approach comes through in the sweets section, too. Head pastry chef Daria Nechiporenko may hail from Russia, but she'll happily take you around the world with a slice of Basque cheesecake, chocolate babka or a flaky, soft-hearted pain au chocolate. All of which will leave you as giddy with sugary joy as the intricate burnt honey cake from her hometown.
Dinner service is set to kick off in the coming months. As are guided tours to the Stix Farm. We may not be footloose and fancy free for a while yet, but there is a portal to nature in the inner west.
Stix Marrickville, 20 Chapel Street, Marrickville
Main attraction: A wide-ranging, international menu featuring top-tier produce from Stix Catering's organic, free-range farm in the Hawkesbury.
Must-try dish: The fluffy katsu sando for vegetarian brunchers and the okonomiyaki with blackfish before it's sold out.
Insta-worthy dish: Head pastry chef Daria Nechiporenko's Russian honey cake. Or anything from the impressive pastry line-up.
Drinks: Coffee $3.50-$4.50; tea $4, both by Double Roasters
Prices: All-day breakfast $14-$32; pies and quiches $8; lunch $16-$32
Hours: Mon-Fri 7am-noon; Sat-Sun 7.30am-3pm