Café & Cucina injects a bit of homey charm into an otherwise light industrial corner of Surry Hills. Against a backdrop of whining drill noises, passing men with hard hats, and anonymous white rag trade vans vying for limited parking, I pull up at a distressed red, white and green painted wooden table in a stiff black metal chair.
Inside you’ll find a handsome, smiling barista manning a red La Marzocco coffee machine, and a steady flow of acolytes there to receive his blessings. Behind his head, a chalkboard menu divides the food offerings into panini, burgers, pastas and salads, each category inflected with an Italianate leaning.
Fresh figs lure me into a Pizza ($13) that teams them with prosciutto, plentiful rocket and dribbles of melted Gorgonzola cheese. The thin, biscuit-like base isn’t particularly pizza-like, but in this instance, it works against the seasonally appropriate, fresh topping.
On this visit, I forgo life giving caffeine for a Hh Helping Humans Living Ginger Beer ($4.80). With a scientific looking label, it’s an almost savoury ginger beer made with fermented ginger - strong without being aggressive - sweetened with monk fruit concentrate (a natural, no calorie sweetener) rather than sugar.
“I’m not being creepy, or maybe I am?” A personable waitress entertains me by expressing her internal monologue as she ducks under my outdoor table to retrieve an errant spoon. On my second visit a few days later, when I’ve settled myself in the darkened interior space, she greets me with the warmth of recognition.
This time I’m eating Cannelloni ($12.50) stuffed with spinach and ricotta. It strikes me as a bit boring at first, but it improves with seasoning. Dusted with parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves, this simple dish grew on me as the fat stuffed pasta tubes were toothsome rather than sloppy, and the tomato sauce was bright.
The source of the café’s popularity with local workers however, is undoubtedly the coffee. A cluster of brown bags tell me it's their own house blend, roasted by Merlo Coffee Roasters who have been in the industry since 1992. My Latte ($3.80) is served hot, with good round flavour and not a hint of burn. It’s satisfyingly uncomplicated... and, did I mention the handsome barista?
Cafe & Cucina of Surry Hills
24 Cooper Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9211 5885