Squeeze & Grind

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After placing my order, I find my partner sitting in the ‘Hipsters Corner.’ There are no Hipsters in sight, and my partner definitely doesn’t cut the grade sans bushranger beard and weird haircut, it’s just that the sign says so. As I pull up my Astro Turf covered wire pew and place items that roll off a table placed at an impractical angle for a table, I am told we are staying put, as it’s the sunniest place in the house. And who doesn’t love a bit of winter sun? Squeeze & Grind on Camden’s main drag is a cool looking place so I am surprised to see a breadboard of scones sitting on the counter. My spread arrives looking very impressive and after I manage to stop it from rolling off the table I take a closer inspection. The whole thing is unnecessarily over sweetened. I know it sounds ridiculous, but sickly sweet chocolate sauce that is more at home on a kiddies sundae should not be served anywhere near a scone – cross-contamination of flavours that do not pair well is inevitable. The jam is super sweet rather than fruity and the sugary cream is straight from a can. The scone isn’t bad, actually with the right accompaniments it would taste great, but the sickly chocolate syrup, jam and cream are overpowering. I like the fact that diners can sniff and choose their tea of choice from the row of loose-leaf teas displayed in small spice jars on the counter.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: An interesting range of loose-leaf teas served in a good-sized pot.

Price: $$

Overall: A cool hip hang out.

Location: Shop 2/3, 180-186 Argyle St, Camden NSW 2570 Ph: 02 4655 5663
www.squeezeandgrind.com.au


Reviewed July, 2014

Melaleuca House

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As a first time visitor to the Australian Botanic Garden in Mt Annan, several things impress me. Firstly, it’s a pleasant day trip from the city (outside of the hot summer months) and the area is home to some unusual things. From the higher points in the Gardens, Sydney’s CBD looms on the horizon and in the opposite direction are the Blue Mountains. Close by you look over pockets of suburbia as Sydney expands ever further towards Canberra. This is Sydney’s southwest, and if you keep your head down, i.e. not looking to the horizon, you could be a million miles from anywhere. Set in 416 hectares of hills and lakes, the Australian Botanic Garden displays over 4000 plants and features the odd outdoor sculpture blended in to the landscape. The Human Sun Dial and the Blue Tree as well as pockets of species-specific forests make the Garden an interesting place for a cycle, walk or picnic. Amongst it all and not far from the PlantBank (a research laboratory) is Melaleuca House, which acts as a cafe, restaurant and function centre. It’s built for all temperatures in mind: comfortable and cosy inside, covered seating on the deck and a relaxed and shady courtyard so parents can keep an eye on kids in the nearby playground. The jumbo scone makes up for a double serving and is surprisingly soft and fluffy, tasting, as it should rather than how it looks (like a bread roll). Although the jam is sweet and sickly, the thickly whipped cream is a bonus and helps boost the overall quality of the spread.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: Several choices of pyramid tea bag tea served in a small pot.

Price: $$

Overall: A surprisingly pleasant urban escape.

Location: The Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan Dr, Narellan NSW 2567 Ph: 02 4648 3318
www.melaleucahouse.com.au


Reviewed July, 2014

Champagne Charlies

DT@The Carrington Hotel-Katoomba#2

Over the years I have enjoyed a Devonshire Tea or two at Champagne Charlies, the lobby bar at The Carrington Hotel in Katoomba. The art-deco landmark is still holding on to its grandeur, although these days it does remind me of a combination of ‘Faulty Towers’ and the recent movie ‘The Grand Hotel Budapest’ (in its latter years). It’s Sunday afternoon in the middle of the Yuletide Festival, so it’s busy. People are rolling in and the skeleton staff just can’t keep up. It’s also a tad chilly in front of the bar (the lounges in front of the fire are all taken) even though there’s a massive albeit slightly defective heater on the wall beside us, so we are forced to keep our coats on. Still, I just love it here – we just don’t have a lot of buildings in Australia (compared to Europe) that transport us back to another era. After placing our orders at the bar (all very comical), our scones arrive well before the drinks. The scones taste like they are straight out of the oven, big and slightly crispy on top. Although agreeing that the scones are mighty fine, my fellow diners are not impressed with the accompaniment of blackberry jam/cream combo that’s served in the same dish. There’s not enough of both to easily lavish on the scones for starters and you have to either delicately dig in to the jam and cream separately or just give up and smear them on together, which isn’t ideal. I do like the jam though, and the cream is firm (from the fridge) but a tad sweet. Shame about the slow service and the tea arriving over 10 minutes later than the scones. Available from Thursday to Sunday.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: A small variety of black and herbal teas served in a good-sized pot.

Price: $$

Overall: Gorgeous art-deco splendour.

Location: The Carrington Hotel, 15-47 Katoomba St, Katoomba NSW 2780 Ph: 02 4782 1111
www.thecarrington.com.au

Reviewed July, 2014

The Gingerbread House Cafe & Store

DT@The Gingerbread House Cafe & Store-Katoomba#

During a recent ‘girls weekend’ in Leura with a bunch of highschool friends, I notice a brochure for The Gingerbread House Cafe & Store in Katoomba. Although open since October 2013, this is the first time I have heard of it, despite countless visits to the Blue Mountains. Housed in an 100-year-old restored church which was previously home to a jazz club, a cafe and a French restaurant, the Gingerbread House itself is built within the cavernous structure. Owned by Josophan’s Chocolates from Leura, the shop (within the Hansel and Gretel Gingerbread House) is filled with chocolate goodies and sweets as well as some elegant tea ware. The young staff is friendly and welcoming, and work well with the creaming soda spiders, ginger beer floats and malted milkshakes on offer. Share large tables with other diners, or sit in the courtyard when it’s warmer and watch kiddies play in the garden. My table of six unanimously votes the scones as sensational. Scones with too many fancy ingredients can sometimes come across as ‘too busy’ and miss the mark, but these date and choc scones with a hint of ginger and cinnamon have nailed it. The balance of soft and fluffy on the inside with a crispy outer is enhanced by the perfect combination of just the right amount of dates and chunks of chocolate without overpowering the suggestion of ginger and cinnamon. Scoring extra brownie points is the exquisite housemade berry jam, which is beefed up with fruit rather than sugary syrup. The top quality scones and jam even have me ignoring the freshly whipped cream that’s sprayed out of the same canister that is used for topping up drinks. I can only imagine that whipped cream by an eggbeater would blow this Devonshire Tea through the church roof! Considering they sell cute tea ware (teapots, cups and saucers), it’s a shame that diners can’t enjoy similar tea ware with their scones.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: Six varieties of loose-leaf tea served in a small pot.

Price: $$

Overall: Eat top-notch scones in a Gingerbread House themed historic church.

Location: Cnr Lurline & Waratah Sts, Katoomba NSW  Ph: 02 4784 2031

Reviewed July, 2014

The Cafe At Alfresco Emporium

DT@The Cafe at Alfresco Emporium#2

Not a homeware shopping kind of gal, I must say I’ve passed Alfresco Emporium many times without a thought to stop and take a peek. After a Google search for scones in Collaroy, I land on their web page and then the next day in their cafe. What a find! No doubt savvy locals have been keeping this gem all to themselves, hoping it won’t get too popular so you won;t have to queue. We arrive about an hour before its early closing time of 3pm on a Sunday. It’s empty for all of two minutes then everyone decided to have afternoon tea at once. Although we got our orders in before the rush, there was still a bit of a wait. The scones looked mighty fine sitting in their own glass display, but on arrival are slightly dry and a bit chewy on the bottom from being heated up. No doubt, first thing in the morning, they would have been exceptional. The mixed berry jam is right up my alley – rich and tart. They have jars of it and other varieties for sale adjacent to the cafe. I just want to warn you not to get excited over the mention of ‘clotted cream’ on the menu. Simply – because it isn’t. It’s double thick dollop style cream, which don’t get me wrong, is much better than some of the light whipped cream options you often get, but it’s false advertising.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: Six choices of Pure Tea loose-leaf served in a small pot.

Price: $$

Overall: The perfect place to shop ’til you drop for homewares then chill in the cafe.

Location: 1021 Pittwater Rd, Collaroy NSW 2097 Ph: 02 9919 0619
www.alfrescoemporium.com.au/cafe-high-tea

Reviewed July, 2014

The Servants Quarters Tea Room

DT@The Servants Quarters Tea Rooms-Morpeth#2

The Campbell’s Store was built in 1835 and in its heyday was THE place to shop in the Hunter Valley – the owner even minted his own money! Nowadays after a revamp (the place fell in to disrepair), it’s a destination in itself with a bunch of different shops selling arts and crafts, toys, skin products, novelty tea pots, pretty much something for everyone as they say. There’s an old train carriage out the back and if you’re a fan of ginger beer there’s the Morpeth Ginger Beer Factory. Even my partner, who doesn’t do tourist kitsch, bought a tool for his man cave. The only cafe in this complex is The Servants Quarters Tea Room, which has a large outdoor area (thankfully filled with heaters) and a cosy indoor tea room. According to Trip Advisor, the place is famous for their scones, and they get a great rap. The scones look like mini dampers and are a good size – I like them, but my partner thinks they are a bit dry today. There is a sufficient amount of both jam and cream, and although the jam is average the cream is exceptional – thick and rich without being the double thick or dollop variety. Open from Thursday to Sunday between 10am and 5pm.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream:

Tea: Some loose-leaf and tea bag teas served in a small pot.

Price: $$

Overall: Surround yourself in history.

Location: 175 Swan St, Morpeth NSW 2321 Ph: 02 4934 1857


Reviewed June, 2014

Le Beau Cafe

DT@Le Beau Cafe-Morpeth#

Le Beau Cafe has ‘women only’ written all over it. Not that men aren’t allowed, I did see one or two in there, but because it is the equivalent to women as a sports bar is to men. It feels very chic and oh so feminine, and you can’t help but feel like a lady. While my beau potters around a second-hand store, I suck up the female chatter and buzz at one of only a few free tables. The rear deck that has views of the Hunter River and the landmark Morpeth Bridge is full, and rightly so as it’s cute and cosy, and has that view! It’s too miserable today to sit outside at the front of the cafe, so I find a spot in the main area near the servery. Service is polite and swift, maybe there’s a break from the customers as it sounds as though the crowds are doing a lot of nattering rather than eating – it’s that sort of place. There is no set Devonshire Tea on the menu, which means order however many scones as you like. The waitress apologises when she delivers my scone, saying she’s run out of the packets of jam and she had to dish some out. It’s my lucky day then. Who wants to eat jam from a tiny plastic box? I’d rather my jam arrive in a dish any day. The dollop of cream on my plate is very lightly whipped but at least it’s fresh rather than from a can. The scones are the winners here: fresh, light and fluffy. Love the matching and colourful tea ware, it’s a nice touch and matches the decor. It can get pricey if you order big. I only had one scone and a pot of tea, and it cost me the same as many Devonshire Teas that come with two scones. Closed on Mondays.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: A choice of four varieties of loose-leaf teas served in a pot.

Price: $$

Overall: The cafe oozes French shabby chic.

Location: 4/142 Swan St, Morpeth NSW 2321 Ph: 02 4934 2001

Reviewed June, 2014