How much is that coffee in the window? at Urban Food Store + Cafe

by Barrister Barista

What’s new in New Acton?  Coffee is new, kids, and competition for it.  Those heading South-West of the CBD now have (at least) three cafes within  a cooee, clustering like presents under the Christmas tree of premium apartment living.

First came the developers, then came Urban Food Store + Cafe – the self-aware supermarket-cum-cafe-cum-caterer, all organic, almost all the time (they had The Hipster Factor).  Then came the crowds on the cement outside Urban Food, squinting at a new cafe down yonder.  The crowds don’t know the name of this new cafe, and when they learn it, they’ll forget it.  The new cafe doesn’t offer shelter, or corn fritters, or chairs, so two in three will turn around again and climb back up to Urban Food.  Barrister Barista turned around too, because when it comes to coffee reviewing (and trademark law), first in time wins.  But that new place, they have The Hipster Factor now, for sure.

Ah, New Acton – one is never there by accident (it seems).  BB settles in on a winter-balmy Sunday, deliberately wifi-mooching at a plum booth in the Urban Food thick of it.  This place is bizay is most senses on a SundaySans the usual crooner on cover songs, BB types away to some kind of busy industrial house music on low.  Is a  DJ’s filler track repeating? Has someone, maddeningly, left a video game or a DVD at ‘menu’?  Meh.  In time, the People in queues ebb and flow, untangled by an impressively cheerful apron (the Waitress).  Sitters get temporary asylum at tables, and orderers are pushed towards the less cheerful apron behind the counter. The music shifts to the best of Bob Marley, and we ponder that no one ever said eggs and reggae didn’t go together.

Placing The Order is not a piece of cake at Urban Food, what with all the a) queuing and b) choosing.  It’s hard to juggle a multi-faceted menu, and an iPhone, standing up.  In my day, we sat down, and we were asked if we wanted coffee before we’d even put down our 3310s.  We were asked if we wanted another coffee before we’d hand-sketched the first one to show our friends.  BB grins and bears it, evoking the ghosts of good coffees past.  Queue-front,  I clutch at a straw – The Specialty ‘cold drip’ coffee at $2.90 (cheap?).  Ordering a specialty coffee – the surefire way to avoid being pigeonholed by the vox pops as a low-voiced lattelitist.

BB’s had cold drip here before, a free sample that came with an ice cube, sugar and an almost spicy deliciousness. Today it’s pure – unsweetened, but lacking any spice aroma either. It’s smooth and flat, the table wine of coffees, if you will – it doesn’t spread to the fartherest corners of the mouth, but it does its best to effect tongue numbing magic. As a muesli-side, it’s effective.  As a time-killer, it’s excellent. One feels entitled to an hour of wi-fi, so slowly can one pour from the special baby vial (none-too-photogenic).

Sipping, staring etc., The Vibe in the adjoining supermarket continues to puzzle.  Empty aisles lend an air of impermanence to the faux-warehouse.  The suggestion that one could dance over into drygoods is naff-chic, but one notes the possibility for conversational lapses/awks. The upside is that you can get decent coffee (see below) in the same transaction (query this) as your smoked salmon, your eclipse mints, or your [firstwordfoodnecessity]. The downside of the hybrid that newspapers are unfree – they’re Food Store not + Cafe.

The People here are are all kinds – we’re sandwiched, almost literally, between Mum/Dad on banana bread and two girlfriends on goats cheese and gossip.  At some point, someone tried to cram on eclectic cred with random art (a self-portrait done by some juice glasses?).  Old-school La Marzocco machines are stuck with old-school (peeling!) ONA stickers.   We’re looking at ‘organic coffee, roasted locally… sourced from the farfetched family owned farm in Honduras… Urbanfood sales alone keep this small farm running year to year’ – can this possibly be true?  Either way, on Sundays,  The Baristas look like baristas, and sound like them too.   Subtle steam wand kisses, beans grinding occasionally, aggressive tamper-emptying…  The sounds of coffee made with love.

During second coffs, BB gets a bit ‘what’s love got to do, got to do with it’.  After waiting in line during the ceremonial cutting of a caramel slice (not ours), and the giving of extra spoons (not ours), a reg ol’ cappucino chocks up The Price of $4.50.  Is this a Sunday thing?  The Sides are on surcharge – are the bevs likewise?   After paying premium, saracasm starts flowing, like ‘how much would it cost with milkfoam?’  Because The Long is a bona fide bald-acino today, a third of a cup low on what beer drinkers call ‘head’.  Somehow, this thing is still delicious.  The tweet would read ‘a full cream frame supports warm toasty flavour up front – a flave that after a few sips is diluted with chocolate sinking at Titanic speeds’.  We guess if you can’t take the chocolate, you should get out of the kappucino, but with a little TLC (steam wand tss tss), The Pour can usually maintain some separation of powers in that respect.

On price-watch, BB goes back the next morning, and The Short redeems itself at $2.50.  There’s even some kind of el cheapo $2 takeaway deal, fighting it out with Mocan and Green Grout shovelling out takeaways down the road.  Blanket and Green Stone, as a colleague attests, is serving fluoro vests and fancy suits side-by-side on the morning we pass by, but baby, is it cold outside.  Back to the short black – a cute little guy, with golden good-lookin’ crema.  Looks good, tastes lemon face.  We twitch for the sugar, put it down.  I touch the ash around the edges, and decide to leave him for dead.  Poor little guy smells sour, and is half-drunk on Monday morning.  He’s alone in a deserted converted warehouse where hipsters used to spend all their weekends.  Someone should buy him a coffee.

The latte word: There’s room at Urban Food – aisles of it – for improvement.  If rumours are true, and Moc(h)an and Green Grout have both a chef from Silo and some plans for expansion, we could see a bit of David and Goliath go down in New Acton.  In the meantime, they’re also not the macchiato-whisperers (lemon face), and they don’t have all that Urban Food have going for them – largely, space for more than 4 people to sit inside comfortably.  BB will think twice about paying twice the price on Sundays, but trusts that inelastic demand for poached eggs will keep the punters paying.

Urban Food Store + Cafe

Corner of Marcus Clarke and Edinburgh Streets Acton 2601

Ph: (02) 6162 3440

Cafe opening hours
Monday to Friday 7am – 4pm
Weekends 8.00am – 3.30pm

(time for more web presence?)