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Published July 17th 2011
Oxford Street in Paddington is a mixed bag. As likely as you are to stumble upon a great little shop or café or restaurant, it provides more than its fair share of dingy places you wouldn't touch with a barge pole. As luck would have it, Ampersand Café Bookstore is one of the good ones.
From the street it looks fairly small and perhaps even a little uninviting, but a trip inside reveals three levels of second-hand books, with nice wooden tables and antique chairs scattered throughout in clusters of twos and threes. There are also some larger communal tables on the ground and second floors.
It's a pay-at-counter-and-take-a-number arrangement, so I placed my order – I got the "Tuscan," which turned out to be a chorizo, cheese and rocket sandwich ($8.90), and a long black ($3.50) – and I parked myself at one of the main benches on the top level, just as David Bowie came over the sound system (I should mention here that they have a seriously good taste in music).
In front of me was a lady reading a Kindle. To my right a girl sat working away on a laptop. Perhaps not the best sign of the times for a place selling books, but there you go. Nevertheless, only about five minutes had passed before my food arrived – served on a delightful antique-looking china plate – and I was happily tucking in.
The sandwich was really good. The ingredients were housed in a crusty rosemary and olive bread, which went really well with the Tuscan theme (and taste) of the rest of the sandwich, and the whole thing was toasted for good measure. The coffee was strong but not bitter – they use New Zealand-based Allpress Espresso beans and it had a pleasant sweetness to it.
For those looking for something more substantial, their menu also includes a Wagyu beef burger with fries or a risotto-stuffed tomato (both $15), as well as a steak sandwich or pasta with smoked trout ($14.50 a piece). There is also a range of your typical breakfast options starting from $7.90 for banana bread.
It can be tricky to get a table during busy times – breakfast or peak lunchtime on weekends, for instance – and it probably has a lot to do with the fact that when people do get a seat, they tend to get settled there to read or work or chat with friends. That's not such a bad thing, though, and probably speaks volumes about the kind of place it is. With its shelves filled with books and its comfy, worn-in furniture, Ampersand is a cosy affair. A snug little place. It's like your grandma's house, just with better music.
Sounds like nice a nice place. I love second hand bookstores, so my heart started beating at the sound of three levels! Wow! The risotto stuffed tomatoes sound delicious. Plus, I just love the word ampersand so I already like this place. I'll have to check it out next time I am in the area.