822 George St Chippendale, NSW 2008
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 7am-10pm, Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 8am-3pm|
|Features||Cheap and cheerful|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||02 8004 6975|
Why go to a cafe run by a cafe chef, when you can go to a cafe run by a restaurant chef?
And not just any restaurant chef, but James Metcalfe, British-born former head chef of the high-flying Becasse, who has worked for Marco Pierre White, Gary Rhodes, Phil Howard and Justin North?
And whose high-end technique is now lifting the humble toastie, eggy breakfast and salady lunch to heights rarely seen?
Enough with the questions – the answers are clearly "I don't know" and "Why am I not at Saint George right now?"
Saint George segues from morning cafe to office lunch spot to cosy wine bar in the space of 12 hours, no mean feat. The high-ceilinged, glossy-tiled, 45-seater sits on the well-worn commuter path between Central Station and Central Park. A communal table takes the high ground right down the middle, and broad wooden tables and comfy seats line the walls.
When he's not here, Metcalfe also runs JRM Hospitality, which supplies top-level trained staff for corporate events. We diners get the benefit – staff are proactive and lively.
The sourdough toasties are legends in their own lunchtime, especially the muffuletta ($15), stacked with way too much (that's not a complaint) swiss cheese, smoked ham, salami, roasted peppers and black olive butter. Its walls are so crisp that if you go knock-knock on them with your knuckles, someone will answer "Who's there?"
We're talking restaurant quality at cafe prices. The bread is sourdough from Luxe Bakery. Butter is cultured Pepe Saya, yoghurt is the excellent Schulz Organic Dairy, cheddar is Maffra, eggs are from Kangaroo Island, brisket and silverside are wagyu, and the rump cap with fries is Rangers Valley – yet there's nothing over $26 on the menu for breakfast or lunch.
It's the eggs, though, that are the clinchers. Pause for a moment, and imagine the omelette Arnold Bennett ($19). A small fry-pan is piled high with the softest, creamiest scrambled-eggy omelette, groaning with tender smoked haddock and riched-up with a glazed mornay sauce. It's classic Marco Pierre White at the Mirabelle in London (where Metcalfe worked two decades ago).
Then there's the greenest, freshest, prettiest, pink-and-green salad of soft, slow-cooked salmon broken up over baby gems, green goddess and shaved fennel, frondy with dill and chervil ($18). Soft-boiled eggs are tucked in like babies – not blue-ringed and hard-boiled eggs, nor ooey-gooey 61-degree eggs, but Goldilocks eggs. Juuuust right.
A Toby's Estate custom blend is channelled through the gleaming Victoria Arduino by cheery female baristas, fuelling a non-stop trade in takeaways. A piccolo latte is off-beam – smoky and slightly acrid – but the following week, the same order is all toasty, woody, hazelnut-and-cream. Not sure what happened there. Take it with a lemon tart that's all tang-and-meringue for $5, or a picture-perfect Brillat-Savarin cheesecake for $14.
At night, it's spritzes and serious cocktails that speak of infusions and smoke, to go with chicken liver parfait and butter-roasted pumpkin; just the ticket before braving the crowds at Central Station.
Loving How every female employee is offered complimentary membership of WOHO (Women In Hospitality), a not-for-profit that fosters development of women in all facets of the industry.
Not getting Why there are no hooks for bags under the communal table. What are we meant to do, sit on them?
Vegan factor They claim to "accommodate all dietary requirements" but there are no helpful V or VG clues on the menu, so ask the staff.
Overheard "Hey, they have happy hour here. Let's come back and be happy."
Caffe latte $3.50