Bad Dining? Sunrise Cafe

by TheEA

A Canberra institution you never knew existed: Sunrise Cafe

Over the years we’ve seen a large number of venues come and go. Others appear to be dyed-in-the-wool institutions who maintain inexplicable popularity no matter how classless or banal they may be. Then there are a sacred few who, through sheer passion, hard work and the dedication of a loyal customer base, survive without many Canberrans even knowing of their existence.

It is in the spirit of this final category we’d like to introduce you to The Sunrise Cafe, the oldest friend you never knew you had.

So, where is it?

You’ve walked past this place a million times without ever opening the door to discover what is inside. Located on the exit to the Sydney Building’s service laneway, you’ve probably been too concerned about crossing the driveway without being wiped out by a delivery of Jim Beam for Mooseheads to consider this city stalwart.

We decided to pop in for a thirty minute lunch, unaware it would take us thirty years… Into the past.

The decor

To say the interior is original is an understatement. The Sunrise Cafe could be heritage listed for its tiles and light fittings alone. To the left on entry is the sandwich bar offering bog standard meats with bog standard veggies on bog standard bread. Still, one can hardly complain about the value – a sign, surely printed via dot matrix, advertises these treats for $3. If we were still students, we’d probably live here.

Further along, opposite the entry is the hot food counter. All manner of treats are available, including a selection from a dozen bain-maries gently streaming under hot lights. The owner is ready for us, and with the experience of time immemorial senses our indecision with a wild gesticulation at the menu board above. “We can make anything.” Well, anything pre-‘80s no doubt. We rely on our visual skills and order the in-existence Chicken Meatballs with Makaroni (sic).

We make our way into the corral of chairs and tables in the centre of the cafe surrounded by a metre high fence. No, really. The bright orange vinyl seats are in perfect harmony with the decor and in magnificent condition. It’s hard not to suspect there are another 50 in his garage to ensure another couple of decades out of the square tables with wood grain laminate. The design theme is nothing if not thorough in its implementation.

Sunrise Cafe: A certain 'je ne sais quoi'

A certain ‘je ne sais quio’

Here comes the grub

The food is delivered on plates that would make Lonsdale Street Roasters green. A sea of brown and orange and yellow (strike three for the consistent colour theme) sits before us, and we take it all in with a slight hesitation. This is indeed ‘dude food’ with no sign of any greenery whatsoever. It all fits: we haven’t observed a female customer since setting food in the place – and this is a busy Friday.

We pick through the plate, finding it a little difficult from a textural aspect to separate the ‘makaroni’ from the sauce. From a flavour point of view it’s easy – the sauce has a delicate tang while the macaroni is outright bland. Enough chicken meatballs float about to justify the meal’s name and cost (a paltry $6.50), but really only just – they’re almost as rare as chicken teeth.

Then, when we’d almost lost all interest in the plates before us and had zoned off to 2CC and Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs, a discovery was made.

Yes, a discovery

CHIPS!!! Well, we hadn’t even noticed the sly little buggers, all tucked up in between the sauce and the decorative edge of the plate. To be fair, there were in fact only four, the quattro of which were skinny enough to give the nearby toothpicks some body issues, but at least they were there. Perhaps we’d stumbled across some new kind of fusion cooking prevalent on the Southern side of Alinga Street? We’ll have to check with The Pancake Parlour who have surely concocted every flavour combination known to humankind.

While digesting our curios lunch, we spy a couple of hundred bottles of wine the line the western all of this ancient and holy place.

Wait, there’s booze?

There certainly is – and quite a lot of it. In fact, the pittance charged or the salad rolls and liquid pasta dishes seems to be easily offset by the endless stream of Bus Interchange Boozehags parading through to stock up for the afternoon. One might suggest cardboard handbags of Dry Red are replenished more frequently than the lasagna. Well, at least pasta sauce (unlike Coolabah wine) is better the next day.

And to be honest, a lot of wine on offer is of more than exceptional quality and value. If one was in need for some BYO to a long afternoon ‘meeting’ you could do a lot worse in Civic than make a selection from The Sunrise’s shelves.

We were also stunned to realise that for $4.00 you can buy a peanut butter sandwich and wash it down with a stubbie of VB. That in itself is something extraordinary in this day and age. A bowling club couldn’t match that price.

All food groups covered!

All food groups covered!

The Verdict

Bad dining experiences come from venues over-promising and under-delivering. You could never accuse the Sunrise Cafe of the former, while the latter could only be achieved by the worst kind of incident. Still, the Sunrise cafe is bright light in the city’s kaleidoscope of cafes, offering what it does with brutal honesty and brilliant smile.

Oh, and the $5 bacon and egg rolls look like and absolute godsend in case of one martini too many on a naughty Thursday night. McCafe can’t even come close to that one.

The Sunrise Cafe
106 Alinga St
(at Verity Lane)
Canberra City