Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Brunch at Cuckoo Callay, Newtown, Australia

One of my favorite things about Sydney is the cafe culture.  Cute cafes, with excellent food, are can be found all over the city.  Nearly everywhere serves breakfast (and weekend brunch) and puts serious energy into the menus, not just boring eggs and toast.  In particular, I'm always interested in the sweet items (ok, no surprise there), but they go so far beyond your standard pancakes/french toast/waffles, like the fantastic breakfast rice pudding at Pinbone or the unique breakfast tapioca pudding at Devon cafe.

I always try to plan at least one brunch adventure with co-workers when I visit, and usually I take it as an opportunity to venture further away from the city center, since we have the time on a weekend.

Last time, I dragged a group to Bread & Circus, and it turned out to be very lackluster.  The time before that we went all the way to Bondi, for the breakfast feasting platter at Trio, with both french toast AND pancakes (and bircher muesli, and 3 savory dishes ...), but it too wasn't actually very good.

This time, I picked a location in Newtown: Cuckoo Callay.  It is, uh, located at the train station.  And has a menu full dishes with names like "Magic Mushrooms", "Pretty in Pink", and "The Sideways Shuffle".  The egg dishes all feature 63° poached eggs, the fries come topped with bacon mac and cheese, and of course they have Nutella milkshakes.  It seemed likely that I was setting myself up for my third strike, trendy but wouldn't deliver, but, the menu was just far too tempting for me to pass up.
A feast!
My group of 4 met at 11am on a sunny Sunday morning.  We were able to get the last table inside, and the restaurant stayed packed the entire time we were there, although queues never built up.  We ordered 2 savory egg dishes, one sweet dish, and one side dish, which was plenty of food for four.

Service was typical Newtown cafe service, by which I mean, we were paid attention to to take our orders, but after that, we were never checked on, the food took quite a while, and we did have to flag someone down for the bill.  Basically, what I've come to expect.

And the food?  It was as ridiculous as I knew it would be, except, well, it was also delicious.  We had a wonderful feast, and I'd gladly return, particularly as I know Cuckoo Callay rotates the menu fairly often.


As I said, the location is at the train station.  Literally.
Outdoor Seating.
The majority of the seating is outdoors, under an awning, right up near the train platform.  A bit of a strange ambiance, but, I think the awning, umbrellas, and hanging plants in particular helps make it feel like you are not dining on a train platform?
The outside area also features windows for takeout orders, for coffee, pastries, and a reduced menu, and, um, haircuts?

It was bustling, likely a great option for those actually taking the train.
Pastry Counter.
Inside was a pastry counter with incredible looking muffins (that I somehow didn't get in my photo) and gluten-free cakes.
Espresso Bar.
The espresso bar is also inside, serving both the seated customers inside and takeaway guests through the window.

The espresso bar rotates different single origin beans, and you can find the details of the day's offerings on the board.
Inside Seating.
The remainder of the seating is inside, which is where we were seated.  The inside is very small, but was a lot more quiet, so I'm glad we were able to get one of these spots.

Most seats are along the walls on blue benches, but our table was more central, so we had wooden chairs.  Tables were also wooden, as was the floor.  One wall was all mirrors.
After we ordered, we were provided a can (from seriously old Campell's soup!) with cutlery and napkins for each of us, and tiny little share plates, as we indicated that we'd be sharing everything.

We were provided no extra utensils to serve, which did make cutting up and serving some of the dishes a bit difficult and thus we wound up with mac and cheese in our pancakes, but, alas, it was fine.  The little tiny share plates however really were too small, and it was impossible to try more than one dish at a time.  Still, I guess we give them credit for providing share plates?


The drink menu is two pages long, one full page devoted to coffee beverages, beer, and wine, and the other to "exotic" juice blends, tea, milk shakes, and "cuckootails".

The milkshakes looked very tempting when I saw several go by, but they were huge, and we were planning to order sweet brunch items, so we choose to forgo the milkshakes (but the peanut butter & jelly, "matcha bliss", or even salted caramel really were calling my name!)

The "Cuckootails" include standard brunch favorites like bloody marys and mimosas, but also a drink dubed the "Frozé", a slushie drink made with rosé wine, strawberries, rose water, and, duh, watermleon.  If not for that watermelon, you know I would have ordered it.

Instead, we stuck mostly with coffee drinks.

When we were seated, chilled water glasses with ice cubes and a bottle of tap water were provided.  The chilled cups was a nice touch.
Decaf Long Black, Alchemy.  $3.50 + $0.50 (decaf).
Cuckoo Callay seems to take their coffee seriously.  They have several single origins, make cold drip, have a chemex ... but, the decaf?  Not good.

I tried one hot, and I tried one iced, and both were not good.  Very very strong, very very bitter.  No sweetener nor milk offered.
The Newzealander. $8.
"Kiwi, apple, basil and lime."

One of my companions went for one of the exotic juices, and although she offered me a sip, I declined because I knew the juice bar had watermelon.  Still, it was a looker.


We were there for the food.  There was no question.  A menu of ridiculous names, and fascinating ingredients.  Narrowing in on just four dishes was extremely hard.

Cuckoo Callay's signature dish is the Bacon Mac Daddy: a croissant sandwich, with a poached egg, and ... bacon mac and cheese.  We knew we needed to at least try this famous, and very Instagram-friendly dish.  And everyone also wanted the chips (yes, fries, dear Americans), which were also topped with bacon mac and cheese.  Even though that meant we'd double up on the bacon mac and cheese, we decided quickly on these two items.

Next, I knew we needed at least one sweet dish.  I had my eye on the fondant pancakes from the first day they arrived on the summer menu, and it was pretty much non-negotiable that we were getting them.  Lucky for me, everyone else agreed.

Our fourth item was the hardest.  My second vote was for "the healthy granola dish", which is actually vanilla bean panna cotta with raspberry granola, pomegranate & raspberry coulis, and "textures of berries".  Um, panna cotta for breakfast?  Yes!  But the others were less excited about that.  There was also coconut pudding with rosewater and strawberry jelly, white chocolate ganache, and fresh kiwi and strawberries (again, pudding for breakfast!!) but I failed to get traction on that either.  My group wanted something savory, and we had plenty more choices, like the Mah-Sriracha with sriracha hollandaise, the Magic Mushrooms with a crumbed egg, The Sideways Shuffle with crab cakes, the Piggy Lilly with ham and cheese croquettes and green pea panna cotta ... so many options.  In the end, they wanted something with more vegetables, and I opted out of expressing opinions on the final item, since I knew it wasn't likely going to be what I wanted, and I was more than happy with the other three dishes anyway.

Decisions made, our order was quickly taken, share plates were brought out, and then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  40 minutes from the time to order until our food arrived, which seemed quite long for a cafe.  We were completely ignored during that time, no refills of beverages offered.

Still, my grumpiness faded as soon as the food arrived.  It was worth it.  So worth it.
 M.A.C Cosme Chips. $14.
"Bacon mac’n’cheese chips - awesome!"

The first dish we all dug into was the M.A.C. Cosme Chips, because it was the only one where sharing actually made sense.  I think we were all intimidated by cutting the others into 4 portions, plus, how do you not just dive into this?

The base was chips, standard fries, not thick nor thin.  They were fine, but just fries.

The fries were smothered in mac and cheese, and the mac and cheese turned out to be amazing, even though, I'll admit, it didn't look like much.  It looked like Kraft dinner.

The pasta was straight, standard macaroni.  No fun shapes, nothing out of the ordinary.  It didn't look particularly creamy nor cheesy.  It wasn't crazy decadent.

But it was good.  Very good.  The cheese sorta tasted like cheese wiz, which I don't mean in a bad way.  There was something immensely comforting and satisfying about this mac and cheese.  I couldn't get enough of it.

The bacon I could have easily done without, as it was Australian style, flabby bacon, and I only like really crispy bacon.  On top was lots of green onion, which added some color, but was quickly lost among the fries and mac.

Overall, I could care less about the fries and bacon, but that mac and cheese was just really damn good.  We all really enjoyed the mac, and agreed that it was shockingly good, in ways we couldn't really pinpoint.  The others mentioned appreciating that it didn't feel too heavy, and not quite as guilty as some mac and cheese can be.

The mac was my favorite savory dish, and made me not care that the $14 price was a bit high for a bowl of fries with a scoop of mac and cheese on top.
Bacon Mac Daddy.  $18.
"Double smoked bacon, bacon mac ‘n’ cheese, 63° poached egg, tomato relish & fried shallots in a croissant."

The mac and cheese was featured again in the signature Bacon Mac Daddy, a dish that turned out to be fairly hard to split, but I'm still glad we ordered it.  It was served open faced, but I believe you were supposed to turn it into a croissant sandwich, and somehow eat it that way.  Most of my group ate it open faced, but I managed to make a mini croissant sandwich.

The base was a huge croissant, grilled.  It was crispy, and a decent croissant.

On top of that, bacon mac and cheese, just like the chips.  It was again amazing, creamy, cheesy, comforting, and awesome.

On top of that was more bacon, large slices of flabby Australian bacon, that none of us were really into, and we left unfinished (actually, literally, the only thing we didn't finish out of all our dishes).

The egg was nicely poached, and once we cut into it, the oozy yolk added an additional layer of richness and creaminess (as if the dish really needed it!), and of course, great egg porn.

It was loaded up with crispy shallots, which were also amazing.  I loved the crunch they added, and the flavor pop.

The menu said there was tomato relish, but we never found it.

Overall, this was ridiculous, but good.  Does it make sense to eat a huge croissant stuffed with mac and cheese?  Carbs in carbs!  Bacon two ways?  Fried shallots?  No, no it does not.  But that doesn't mean it wasn't great.  The croissant wasn't necessarily anything special, and I'd leave off the bacon, but that mac and cheese, particularly with the shallots, was just too amazing.

One diner declared this his favorite dish, and I gladly literally scraped up every last bit of cheese from the plate, just like another did with the fries.  These dishes were winners.
 Gorgeous George. $19.
"Smashed avocado and roasted truss tomatoes on sourdough served with shanklish, house-made basil pesto, yuzu sesame and a 63° poached egg."

For a healthier dish with vegetables, the group went for the Gorgeous George.  The base was sourdough toast, which I don't like, and the primary component was avocado, which I'm allergic to, so, it wasn't exactly hard for me to pass this one up.

The others said that it was a very good version of avocado toast, and praised the pesto in particular.

I was interested in exactly one thing on the plate: the shanklish.  Cuckoo Callay managed to find an ingredient I was unfamiliar with!  Shanklish is a type of cheese, and I was able to grab a bite from the corner of the plate.  It was soft, salty, and very herby, although maybe that was pesto mixed in?

Anyway, not the dish for me, but one diner said it was her favorite.
Summer Lovin'. $20.
"Lemon & white chocolate fondant pancake, vanilla crème fraiche, blackcurrant ice cream swirl, macadamia crumble and sour cherry sauce."

And finally, the dish I was waiting for, the fondant pancake.  It was stunning.  In looks, and in taste.

All our dishes arrived at once, and I think we were all a bit intimidated by this one.  Cutting up the Bacon Mac Daddy was a ridiculous feat, but, breaking into this was something else entirely.  Plus, shouldn't we eat the savory first?  Except this was hot, and the ice cream would melt ...  I wished we had asked them to course our meal a bit better, starting with the chips, then the two egg dishes, and then this.  Anyway.

Did I mention, stunning dish?  It turned out to be fairly easy to portion into four sections, which I quickly set about doing once coming up for air after a pile of mac and cheese.

On the plate was the pancake, 4 dots of vanilla crème fraiche (perfect, one for each of us!), a small scoop of ice cream perched on macadamia crumble, more crumble, lots of fresh strawberries, edible flours (yup, 4 of those too), and a little pitcher of sour cherry sauce.
Fondant Pancake: Inside!!!
I cut into the pancake to portion it into four chunks, and my heart skipped a beat.  The center was molten, and liquid white chocolate came spilling out everywhere.  Much like the yolk from the poached eggs, except, um, white chocolate.

Oh, yes.

The pancake was a thing of wonder.  The outside was like a baked cake, but inside was a thick liquid core.  Liquid white chocolate.  Crazy sweet.  Crazy rich.  Crazy delicious.

The macadamia crumble, much like the fried shallots from the mac, added a great crunch and textural element.  I appreciated how much crumble was provided, both under the ice cream and on top of the pancake itself.  We used it all.

Speaking of ice cream, the blackcurrant ice cream was fine, although not particularly memorable.  I do always like ice cream with my hot desserts though, and I appreciated the cold element here.

The vanilla crème fraiche I expected to really care about, since I love that sort of thing, but alongside the fondant and ice cream, it somehow disappeared.

And finally, the little beaker of sour cherry sauce.  It was tart, and good to have something to cut the sweet, but we all agreed we still didn't really taste it much.  After we finished everything else though, one diner decided to finish off the sour cherry sauce (and, it wasn't me!), and discovered it had cardamom in it.  The rest of us didn't really believe her, so we all took a spoonful of the sauce on its own, and, yup, it had cardamom.  No question.  It was quite strong actually.  But none of us tasted it when all combined together.

Overall, this dish was great.  Lots of textures, lots of flavors, multiple temperatures, but very sweet.  The entire concept of the fondant pancake was new to us, and I think we were all fascinated by it.  That said, I think it needs some refinement.  It was a bit sad that several elements were entirely lost in the dish, simply over powered.  Still, highly recommended, and I'm curious to see them evolve this dish.  I kept following Cuckoo Callay on Instagram long after I left Sydney, just to play along from home.

My favorite dish, one other diner's favorite dish, and the other two both said it was just too hard to rate on the same scale as the savory dishes, but, if they could order only one thing, they'd go savory.
Cuckoo Callay Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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