34 O'Riordan Street Alexandria, New South Wales 2015
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 7.30am-5.30pm; Sunday 9am-5pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9318 1442|
Note to cafes, restaurants and bars the country over: pay for your Spotify. That way, when you're filling your venue with the rich brass of Louis Armstrong, he won't be interrupted by ads for the new model Range Rover (out now, apparently).
Anyway, whatever. What's a few words on a hardy all-terrain vehicle compared to this surprising find – a properly excellent Italian cafe hidden in the back of furniture store, Coco Republic. There again, who knew there'd be anything to find beyond a luxurious solid wood ping pong table, expensive vintage surveyor sticks and an $18,000 hut made of gnarled twigs (ready-made creation for Burning Man? A gusty house for a very rich hermit? A leftover from the final scene in True Detective?).
But there it is, and it's all thanks to consulting chef Alex Kearns. Remember him from Glebe Point Diner and the late Neutral Bay diner? Well, this is his latest project: a menu of tiny sandwiches, crostini and salads.
All out of a kitchen roughly the same size as the interior of an Italian speedboat, with about as many mod-cons. Not that it really matters when they're pumping out perfectly seasoned and dressed salads. Packed with dill, mint and parsley, shreds of baby cos, fanned out slices of deeply blushing fig. Musk and creaminess comes from bloblets of goat's cheese and there's the crunch of toasted walnuts. All that, and a deft shaving of parmesan.
Drinks-wise it may just have to be a slightly over-extracted espresso or an iced green tea. Never fear, though. Campari and friends are on their way. And there lies the rub: they're still waiting for their liquor license. Service, too, flip-flops from fairly competent to slightly strange.
Not that it really matters when you're in a glass room etched in gold with shelves filled with beautiful glassware, piles of Italian edition Elle Decor and dancing metal crabs.
Back to those tiny sandwiches, it's hard to look past provolone and velvety salty slices of prosciutto sandwiched between two fingers of oiled bread then pressed wafer-thin. Or take a fluffy chicken and celery sandwich so soft and yielding you could practically gum it. A crostino of chewy bread topped with fresh curd and (mmm, more!) prosciutto also has hidden in its many excellent layers, a few toasted pine nuts and sweet and sour raisins.
If there was a $50 bellini on offer, it'd be an instant little Venice in Alexandria.
Pro tip Skip the vaguely underwhelming sweet pastries and order an extra sandwich instead
Try this The world's thinnest toastie
Like this? Try La Rosa for casual Italian in lush classic surrounds. The Strand Arcade, shop 133/193 Pitt St, Sydney 2000, (02) 9223 1674, larosathestrand.com.au