It’s brunch with fine-dining credentials, a coffee spot that also does dinner, and it’s brilliant anytime of day. Welcome to the all-day dining renaissance
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, but don’t restrict yourself to daylight hours, because A1 Canteen also kills at dinner.
Start with Diamond Bay clams, a bowl of plump molluscs in the half shell, luxuriating in a creamy broth enriched with anchovy butter and the sharp tang of preserved lemon peel. Next, prepare to experience the secret life of bonito, served here in suede-like swatches on a bonito emulsin in a kind of flavour echo chamber of deep, savoury, saltiness. Even with the foil of fashionably fuchsia pickled beetroot ribbons, a brutishly earthy slab of blood sausage is unapologetically carnivorous, but it’s what we expect from an executive chef who is known to happily serve up plates of charred duck’s hearts at his fine-diner across the street.
We are not saying you’ll be unhappy with your order of a buttery soft whole flounder sprinkled in a fiery blanket of dried, Spanish Espelette pepper and made fragrant with crunchy fried curry leaves. In fact, you’ll be delighted. It’s just that you will also covetously eye off the Black Angus striploin on your neighbour’s table. Phone a friend and make it a double date, if only to order more.
If we didn’t know that the crème brulée was spiked with pumpkin, we might not have noticed and merely chalked this up as a gently autumnal classic dessert, which is fine given the flavour calisthenics you’ve been engaged in up to this point.
Wells and A1 head chef Scott Eddington 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 dinner, 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.
|Venue name:||A1 Canteen|
2-10 Kensington St
|Opening hours:||Mon 8am-4pm; Tue-Sat 8am-3pm & 6pm-10pm; Sat 8am-3pm & 6pm-10pm; Sun 8am-3pm|