September 2020: A1 Canteen has announced it will close on October 10, 2020, so you've only got a little time left to book in. Reservations can be made on 02 9280 3285 or online.
If Clayton Wells’ newest dining venture is a canteen, then it must have travelled here from some utopic future where the word canteen doesn’t carry with it the suggestion of pies, strawberry milk and iced doughnuts. And yet there is something distinctly utilitarian about the Automata chef’s second space on Chippendale’s tightly packed dining hub on Kensington Street. The mostly grey colour scheme is of the kind that you’d call ‘elegant’ if you like Nordic minimalism or ‘functional’ if you prefer to dress in primary colours. The kitchen is big and open, but not grandstanding: there is no roaring hearth; no elaborate centrepiece; just a well designed hub of cookery featuring a lot of easy-clean steel. And still it’s one of the most exciting openings of 2018, because accessible food with fine dining credentials is exactly how Sydney likes to eat right now.
Nothing exemplifies the ‘come one, come all’ attitude like broad opening hours, because Sydney is a brunch town now and A1 has a licence that kicks off at 10am. That means if you want a 750ml amber ale from Marrickville’s Wildflower brewery to go with your curried scrambled eggs, branston pickle, cheddar, sour cucumber and leg ham on an English muffin, you go right ahead and live your life. The muffuletta pressed sandwich is already reaching cult status on Sydney’s takeaway lunch scene thanks to a ration of 9:1 filling to bread with mortadella, salami, capsicum, spinach, artichokes and olives.
Wells and the know when to pump the gas and when to coast, so you can choose your lane. Maybe it’s a forthright gewürztraminer from WA with your lunch, or maybe it’s a freshly cracked tin of Tecate on the table while you wait for your morning omelette. A1 Canteen is the vehicle for good times and you can take it for a spin whenever you like.