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 good-looking. 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 inner-city 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 found in 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 poke-style chirashi salad bowl with a zingy sesame-lime 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 like a joyful soundtrack. 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 – it sounds 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.