The Grounds of the City

Time Out (Sydney) - - Food & Drink - Lee Tran Lam

THIS HAS GOT to be the most beau­ti­fully de­signed café in the CBD. The be­spoke taps are so stylish they de­serve their own In­sta­gram ac­count. The kitchen range­hood – with its bur­gundy-red curves and pleated de­tail­ing – would prob­a­bly take the tiara and sash if there was some uni­ver­sal beauty con­test in its cat­e­gory. Even the re­ceipts are pretty at the Grounds of the City.

It’s no sur­prise that this venue is so good­look­ing. Its pre­de­ces­sor – the Grounds of Alexan­dria – has been one of the top ten In­sta­grammed places in the coun­try, beat­ing pop­u­lar Aus­tralian land­marks (hav­ing an in-house stylist prob­a­bly helps). But this in­nercity spin-off – which sits on the ground floor of the Ga­leries – is no thought­less car­bon copy of its older sib­ling. If the orig­i­nal Alexan­dria mega-café is a sprawl­ing block­buster, then the Grounds of the City is like an in­ti­mate pe­riod movie. Its yes­ter­year-Paris-bistro look has been grandly set de­signed by Acme & Co and in­cludes book shelves made from 300-year-old French oak; cof­fee grinders up to a cen­tury old; but­ler trays sourced from Lon­don; and a pressed metal ceil­ing time-lapsed with Porter’s Paint to look like it’s weath­ered decades of dis­tress. It looks spec­tac­u­lar.

Like the orig­i­nal, the Grounds of the City has all-ages ap­peal, at­tract­ing ev­ery­one from dessert-ob­sessed schoolkids to tai­lored busi­ness lunch­ers, and the menu skips across de­mo­graph­ics and eras, too. Bistro clas­sics are cov­ered (steak with Café de Paris but­ter and fries), as well as ‘Very 2017 Dishes’: a pokestyle chi­rashi salad bowl with a zingy sesame­lime dress­ing, and a ‘mac and cheese’ re­boot made with almond milk, roasted nuts, charred cau­li­flower and folded pasta sheets – con­sider both hits. Bur­rata from Mar­rickville gets a flavour boost from olive dust, brioche and herbs but the ac­com­pa­ny­ing heir­loom toma­toes ar­rive un­der-sea­soned and soggy.

A menu stand­out is the af­fogato. Pour your espresso shot over the tiramisu ice cream so that it melts through the milk-chocolate crust and det­o­nates a clus­ter of pop­ping candy that snaps and crack­les. It’s one of many ways the venue show­cases

its cof­fee (cour­tesy of the in-house roast­ery at the orig­i­nal Grounds) – there’s also a barista bar, cof­fee ‘som­me­lier’ and tast­ing board that high­lights its sin­gle-ori­gin range. The tray in­serts ad­ver­tis­ing ‘The Grounds Acad­emy: to per­fect and serve’ may seem over the top – like a Port­landia-style show about baris­tas prose­cut­ing cof­fee crimes – but like the tea lady who roams the venue with a dessert trolley, it’s all fuel for a venue pow­ered by the­atre and charm.

Ev­ery­one – de­spite the gen­er­ous serves – man­ages to va­por­ise their plates clean, even the guy next to me who or­dered half a free-range Ban­nock­burn chicken with broc­col­ini and but­tered baby pota­toes. The Grounds of the City def­i­nitely scores high with its fan­base. And what a fan­base. There are lunchtime queues at 11.30am, but the SMS-alert sys­tem makes the wait rel­a­tively pain free. And that’s no sur­prise – the own­ers have thought of ev­ery­thing dur­ing the three years it took them to cre­ate the Grounds of the City. Right down to the de­sign of the re­ceipts and the taps.

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