Lola Berry, cook and author; of Darlinghurst
"It's full of heart and soul – and because I love pancakes and they do the world's best paleo pancakes, I reckon. It's got a really sweet vibe. It's got a little spot at the back where I sit and it's where I wrote my last manuscript. They bring me little things to try; I won't even order it and they bring it as a little surprise. And they do my favourite smoothie. Well, there're two that I love and one's called the Green Warrior and there's one that's full of protein that's called Morts.
"It's really sweet, it's kind of quaint and it's got a little bit of an inspiring feel. At the back there's a big mirror and it says, 'You look good today' and their mantra is 'Love your guts'. When you get some takeaway, they have sheets of butcher's paper with inspirational quotes on them. At the moment they have the Einstein one: 'Imagination is better than knowledge.' "
"Paleo pancakes – they're pancakes made with grain-free flour. And the green bowl, which is amazing, thick with fruit and coconut on top. They also do a caveman bowl, with pumpkin, eggs, sauerkraut – a big, yummy delicious bowl of goodness. I sometimes have their chai on coconut milk, it's delicious."
"I love crispy salmon, I do that in coconut oil and I make a really good mashed avocado to go with it. I go through phases: when I'm travelling a lot, sometimes the cooking falls by the wayside, but generally I cook nine out of 10 meals at home.
"I have a smoothie and juice recipe book coming out on November 1. There're enough smoothies in the world for everyone to have their own favourite, but for me, a handful of baby spinach, one frozen banana, a handful macadamia nuts, almond milk, a little bit of maple syrup and a pinch of cinnamon is the best. It'll look like pond scum but it'll taste awesome.
"I've just shot a pilot and I'm about to go into book-tour mode, that'll take me through to the end of the year. And then I have another book coming in February. I tend to spend about three months solidly recipe-testing."
1/256 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
0413 495 784, www.proteini.com.au
Smoothies, $9.90; breakfast and lunch $9-$26. $40 for two, plus drinks.
3.5 OUT OF FIVE STARS
Mason jars, mason jars, mason jars … Everywhere I look, there are mason jars (and chopping boards with corner holes). Where have all the glasses gone? I wonder in a faintly Pete Seegerish way. Perhaps they're hiding in the same place sugar and non-sourdough loaves have got to. Sydney's a cruel place for out-of-vogue sustenance-related bits and pieces. Remember when jars were a peculiarity rather than a buy-10-at-Kmart blanket cafe rule? Glasses – so 2014.
They're not hiding out at Proteini, which not only has plenty of jars but plenty of variations on green juices and health-promising smoothies with which to fill them.
I duly order what Miss Berry advises, and a few extras, like the green hydro smoothie. It sounds like a renewables plant but is actually a very icy, very filling gloop of maca and cucumber and coconut and banana, and is a meal in one that I eat/drink on the outdoor tables overlooking the Darlinghurst end of Crown Street. Behind me, Proteini's long, simple and open cafe space is dotted with pot plants and daubed with a big "Hello" above its door. It's breezy and sparing, with a bit of kick-about honesty thrown in. And it's not all about meat, either – the menu's vegetable-happy, coconut-heavy and only a little fleshy.
My paleo pancake has very high hopes attached (I'm looking at you, Lola Berry) but like all thick, American-style pancakes, this one's on the spongy side. It's topped with blueberries and mint leaves, which take it from lacklustre to jammy. But my banana bread – a miniature loaf all to myself – is nutty and bouncy and filling and, most importantly, not overly sweet and cakey at all (because we all know that banana bread really ought to be called banana cake).
Salmon bruschetta with poached egg, sauerkraut and a side of avocado is a combination I have no hesitation in calling practically perfect morning fare. The same applies to a macro bowl that is everything a nutritionist might put into one vessel, had they the chance. Salmon and egg and quinoa and seeds and sauerkraut and cashew and zucchini hummus tick all the boxes in unglamorous gut health and downright bold flavour. Hence the "Love your gut" stickers that dot the joint and its products.
Perhaps the most loving to my insides on this morning is my super bowl. It's been through a powerful blender, so resembles nothing of its components but the menu promises me that the bright green bowlful before me is spinach, coconut, avocado, chia, mint, cucumber and protein powder. Like everything here, it's rather beautiful too, topped with fanned apple and toasted twirls of coconut. For simple food, done in as hands-off a way as possible, each dish is pretty as pie and made with a smile and in a jiffy, plus it's not bad value for food that goes against the mass-market grain.
The coffee's by Will and Co and a counter of everything-free sweet things, including salted caramel slices, is like swimming into a $20 note in the ocean: where's the catch?
Still, there's something paradoxically gluttonous about my approach to this style of eating: there's the temptation to eat more with more abandon than one might usually. Or perhaps that's just me, gorging on the novelty, which kind of detracts from the point. But the revolution of alternative diets, sugar-freeness, grain scepticism and the like has done one great thing for us all: it has opened us up to the possibilities of kitchen-cupboard diversity. Who knew, back in the day, that you could bake a cake using coconut flour, and whiten tea with almond milk, or that there are at least 10 ways to sweeten something without the service of cane sugar?
Discovering new flavours, new recipes and new places, via the palate, can only be a good thing. And to leave brekkie full and with some bright new knowledge is a pretty damn wholesome way to start the day.