And now for the good news. Cafe dining rooms are back and, with their delicious coffee, croissants, brownies and everything bacon, they are likely to be the first step through the portal back to dining out for many of us, for five very good reasons:
1. They're open by day – because who wants to go out on a dark, rainy night any more, ever again?
2. They're fast and flexible.
3. They're relatively cheap but still offer a great dining experience, at a table, with a chair, with other people in the room.
4. They need as much help as restaurants, having just as many casual and visa-holding staff (and please, leave a tip if you can, on that tap-and-go card).
5. They have the stuff we missed the most – breakfast and brunch eaten at a leisurely pace at a table other than our own, the banter of baristas and staff, and above all, egg-and-bacon rolls.
So in my ever-changing role of reviewing whatever the hell is open then rewriting it because everything has changed again, I've headed out to explore who is supplying the essential services of coffee, breakfasts, brunches and cafe lunches. Plus, how they are handling post-COVID protocols – and just how good is their egg and bacon roll?
Blackwood Pantry, Cronulla
Having never operated as a takeaway venue before, Blackwood pivoted fast, and now offers a healthy/comfort food menu and takeaway counter. The pastel-toned Luchetti Krelle fit-out is as fresh as ever, and so is the basil yoghurt for breakfast from co-owner/chef Rob Lechowicz, zingy with fruit, nuts and a superior toasted granola ($14.50). It's Cronulla, so "nourish bowls" mix it with smashed avo, toasties and Turkish baked eggs, and Mecca's house blend ($3.80) is all nuts and chocolate.
Bacon and egg roll: Soft and squishy milk bun with egg, double-smoked bacon, and a top tomato chutney, $12. 7/10
Dining window: 45 minutes.
Takeaway? Available daily, pre-order or walk-in. Local delivery $5.
Protocols: Strong sanitiser regime, two adults per table, social distancing, minimum spend, contactless payment.
Open: Breakfast and lunch daily.
Shop 5, 33 Surf Lane, Cronulla, 02 9544 4857, blackwoodpantry.com.au
Karoo & Co, Wahroonga
It's woolly-jumper weather in Wahroonga, and all socially distanced tables are taken in this moody, rustic little spot tucked away in a village precinct in Fox Valley Road. Meet-and-greet cafe by day and pizzeria by night, its feed-the-people menu is augmented by perky, nutty coffee ($3.80) from Goliath Coffee Roasters of Wetherill Park, and heaps of freshly baked cakes and pastries. The acai bowl feels too cold for winter, but homemade pies hit the spot.
Egg and bacon roll: An all-day beauty of a two-hander sesame seed bun with multiple layers of bacon, two over-easy eggs, spinach and your choice of sauce, $12.50. 8/10
Dining window: Nothing strict by day, 90 mins by night.
Takeaway? Cakes, pies and coffee by day; pizza and pasta after 5pm.
Protocols: Social distancing, cashless payments, order at counter, napkin-wrapped cutlery, no reusable coffee cups.
Open: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
4/178 Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga, 02 9489 0261, karooandco.com
A1 Canteen, Chippendale
Clayton Wells has reopened his more casual cafe/canteen across the Chippendale laneway from Automata (also open, with limited seating). The Single O coffee ($3.50) has depth and body, the playlist is eclectic, and breakfast now runs all day, for which we are truly grateful. Lunch on LP's juicy sausages with lightly curried scrambled eggs and a buttery English muffin ($16) or a colourful rice bowl with avocado, kimchi, corn, pickles and a poachy ($17) and feel almost normal again.
Egg and bacon roll: A1's equivalent is a well-engineered toasted sanger with grilled bacon, cheddar, rocket, jalapeno sauce and a fried-to-order egg, $16. 7/10
Dining window: No time limit, but if you see people outside waiting for a table, keep it snappy.
Takeaway? Full menu available through the coffee window.
Protocols: Your name and contact number are taken for tracing purposes, and cutlery is brought on a separate plate, not set by hand.
Open: Breakfast and lunch daily.
210 Kensington Street, Chippendale, 02 9280 3285, a1canteen.com.au