12 39 Phillip St Newtown, NSW 2042
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 7am-2pm; Sun 8am-2pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
If there's one thing dominating eating "out" in these restricted times, it's packaging and lots of it. Any food ordered from cafes and restaurants for delivery, or click and collect, comes in layers of containers, boxes, wrappings and cups made from plastic or cardboard, all carefully stacked inside bags garnished with a stapled receipt.
Takeaway was always like this but lockdown has upped the ante on disposable guff strewn around the table after a sandwich and a milkshake. It's like unwrapping at Christmas except I'm not collecting the greaseproof paper and food-stained boxes to smooth and fold flat until next year.
Our order from Soulmate, a bright open-plan cafe on a native plant-filled corner in residential Newtown, is waiting on the counter. It's framed by big black-edged windows, a long area of tables and chairs (now quiet and empty), plywood shelves bearing bags of Single O Origin coffee and Haon-Ga Tanzania and San Jose Colombia filter coffee available on tap.
The four month-old cafe, which has links to Good Fella cafe in Bella Vista and Tuckshop cafe in Glenhaven, has a big, wide sun-drenched front courtyard, now anchored by a QR code check-in table with hand sanitiser and taped-down menus.
Usually it's a hotly sought-after sitting spot allowing fans to sip a batch brew, soak up some rays and people-watch in this secluded backstreet intersection. Today, locals, tradies and blow-ins wait patiently on the polished concrete terrace for their lunch orders.
From a cabinet resplendent with almond croissants, custard tarts, thick biscuits and chocolate brownies we choose an olive oil mini cake, iced with a snowy mountain-like topping, and a slice of pumpkin pie. Staff smile through masks from a semi-open kitchen beyond the till.
With lingering outlawed, we repair to the car, busting open six boxes of food. Huge, flat-cut hot chips steam up the windows. Soulmate's deli hoagie, an foot-long open soft roll loaded with salami, ham, mustard pickle, provolone, tomato, iceberg lettuce and herb mayonnaise, is devoured. Squeezed together it's a triumph of tangy, smoky juiciness bound by pillow-soft bread which can't contain running drips licked off hands and arms.
Also excellent is a breakfast burger which features a pork and fennel patty layered with melted American cheese, fried, folded egg, a hash brown and house barbecue sauce. If you can't sit in a real cafe to eat this beauty, it's no less a joy to munch it in a small parked sedan across the road.
From the cup holder, we suck on a red smoothie, made from mixed berries, banana, chia and coconut milk, a drink that portends sweetness and fruit overkill on looks alone, but is mellow tropical bliss savoured across the day between bouts in the fridge.
It's the same with the olive oil cake and pumpkin pie, the first lemony perfect with thick cream cheese trimmings, and the second a glistening darkly golden American classic with excellent pastry. Paired with Soulmate's McHenry, a black coffee topped with sweet whipped cream, life is good crammed behind a steering wheel, surrounded by cardboard cartons, licking custardy pumpkin sweetness off each finger.
Lockdown or not we'll be back for Soulmate's other enticing menu beacons. In particular liquorice bread with cultured butter, the black sausage sanga with sambal sauce, herb aioli and chopped onions, and, the most popular menu item, a basic bae roll featuring bacon and egg on a potato bun.
We'll pack the car with plates and cups, stick the recyclable packaging in the compost and wait for the same plum car spot. Whatever it takes.
Main attraction: Comforting, reinvented breakfast and lunch classics, some with an American flavour, in a sun-filled laidback secluded inner west corner spot.
Must-try dish: The breakfast burger's pork and fennel patty, melted American cheese, fried, folded egg, hash brown and house barbecue sauce is a hands-down classic.
Insta-worthy dish: A foot-long, open-style deli hoagie, with salami, ham, mustard pickle, provolone, tomato, iceberg lettuce and herb mayonnaise. And a golden slice of pumpkin pie.