Sunday stood soaked in the mid-winter Sydney rain outside the warm glass-enclosed interior of Cafe Free. Inside, daylight filled the space and highlighted the breakfast counter on the left, the tables for two or groups in the centre, and the more informal bench seating along the wall to the right. A nicely done bright green floral backdrop highlighted this wall. Ahead at the counter, there was quiet but efficient activity as the waiters took eat-in and takeaway orders. Though not overly hectic, the cubical dining space was abuzz with a constant flow of customers.
We placed our order for drinks and quickly decided on our lunch choices from the concise, no-fuss menu. Yes, they have a relatively short but well-defined catalogue each for breakfast, lunch and kids' meals, concluding in a very impressive collection of drinks. And all of these reasonably priced foods are available in options of gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free or lactose-free. A big bonanza for tender tummies!
Cafe Free is conveniently located in the town centre of Neutral Bay with easy access to both public transport and street-side parking (there is paid as well as free parking down Wycombe Rd and along nearby residential by-lanes). Glass panelled external walls afford diners a wide view of the tree-lined Yeo and Wycombe streets. The cafe interior is rather plain and simple except for the green wall and the well-stocked counter and crockery shelves for embellishment.
Once the mocha was served, rather swiftly, with the Neapolitan cake (I could not resist requesting it to be served prior to our meal), we relaxed at our corner table taking in the view of the brilliant orange, red and yellow hues of the Chinese Tallow trees glistening in the rain. To my husband's joy, the mocha had an appealingly thick foam. He sipped on its rich chocolaty flavours with approving nods. The colourful little tower of the pretty cake had its stack of pleasure reserved for me. Knowing it was both gluten and dairy free, I had half expected it to be a bit stiff but it surprised me with its moist fluff and the creaminess of the frosting. Fab job there pātissier!
The waiter appeared again with our second drinks in hand, wearing the same friendly smile as before. The main course followed next. We had ordered a Mango Cocoshake and a freshly squeezed juice called Glowing Goddess to accompany our lunch. The shake, served in a gigantic tumbler, looked too voluminous to be enjoyed with main course, But as the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. And thus, we were wrong to judge the drink by its container. It was a refreshing tropical mix of coconut milk and mango pulp, and quite breezy at that. As for the latter, it lived up to its name. The vibrant orange Glowing Goddess was truly divine. Served with a star-shaped slice of carrot, a pineapple heart and a tight-knit protein ball composed of coconut, cashew nuts, dates, rice malt, pea protein and lemon oil, it made for the perfect health drink. Kudos to the concoctions!
We had chosen three dishes for the main course: Chicken Kebab Wrap, Soft Taco Fajita, & Fish and Chips. Well, before I can get into the story in the wraps, let me rave about the crunchy bits. That gluten-free batter on the fish with a hint of pepper was the best I have had in a while. The battered fillet had been fried to such perfection that even though the outer skin was rendered super crispy, the slab of fish had retained its moist succulence. Similarly, the sizable proportion of chips was as crunchy as it could get. The fish was fresh as was the serving of salad with greens, baby tomatoes and cucumbers chunks. The salad and the silky tartare dipping sauce equipoised the oil content of the dish.
The Chicken Wrap had a soft gluten-free cover with generous portions of roasted chicken fillets, quinoa tabouli, hummus and rocket in a tasteful combination. But it felt a little dry compared to its taco counterpart. Since it was filled with roasted chicken, a larger dosage of hummus would have compensated for the lacking lusciousness in bites and fetched it full marks. Nonetheless, it fared well.
Our lunch concluded gleefully with the Taco Fajita. The mellow texture of the gluten free taco was commendable while grilled lamb slices, capsicum, onion, avocado constituted the fantastic tasting fajita. The accompanying salsa verde dip had a controlled tang and complemented the dish fittingly.
Given the rise in detection of food-induced gastrointestinal allergies, especially those related to the hypersensitivity to gluten and lactose, whereby restrictions pertain to almost everything that entices the tastebuds, Cafe Free is a boon in disguise for foodies otherwise overwhelmed by the usual tummy tormentors. The cafe goes on to prove that a chef's mind works best when faced with ingredient deficit. It would be a delight to see Cafe Free off-shooting through the rest of greater Sydney.