Life in Brisbane is a rolling celebration. I'm here to invite you to the party. I'm new to the game of free-lance and excited to throw my passion into something.
Published June 13th 2012
Image courtesy of Little Ethel's website.
Sydney has much to offer. To describe its rich diversity in culture, scene, style and food would be to only scratch the surface. Last weekend I chanced upon a place that was simply no exception. After enjoying the spectacular ride over the majestic Anzac Bridge, an experience I never tire of, I alighted on Mullens Street, one of the main fairways that winds itself through Balmain. There is something distinctly unique about Balmain. Though only a short ride from the city, when you enter Balmain it's almost as though the air changes slightly and the sun perks up just a touch. The streets have a gentle quietness and everything feels as though it's just been washed, wrung and hung out to dry in the breeze.
Mullens Street is quiet and unassuming. Equally as unassuming is the little sign which appears to pop out of no where after a short walk down what almost feels as though it should be a cobbled road. "Little Ethel's", reads the window, indicating that I am in the right place. I didn't know what to expect, having simply Googled cafes in Balmain and chancing upon this one, whose name I thought was cute. Upon entering the small café, soon realizing why I was told earlier that day on the phone not to worry about making a booking, I was met my a smiling and somewhat striking waiter in a bow tie and checked shirt, who nodded his welcome. I wasn't sure which era I had stepped into, but I like it already. A quick scan of the place presented an eclectic décor of retro Formica furniture of burnt orange and off white, carefully arranged cuckoo clocks and haphazardly places post cards on the walls. The corner in front of the café window consisted of a raised platform just big enough for two, adorned by plastic grass and garden furniture. I half expected to see a garden gnome peeking from behind the chair.
Image courtesy of Little Ethel's Facebook profile.
Knowing those I was meeting were running late, I chose a table large enough for three and arranged myself in a seat from which I had a good view of the place. A table in one corner offered pitchers of cold water, to which I helped myself. The waiter was attentive but relaxed, instinctively noting my body language which read "I am waiting for people (indicated by my three water glasses), and am happy with my book and water in the mean time". He gave me several minutes to get settled, disturbing me only once to ensure I didn't want a coffee while I waited. I appreciated his discretion.
While waiting for my friends I began exploring the menu. Struck by its simplicity, it was clear that it had been designed to suit most tastes, but only offer "cozy" food. I was amused by the "Toast Sampling Plate" - an assortment of different breads and conserves – for when you just can't decide. Home made beef pies, your standard breakfast items such as scrambled eggs and hash browns, soup of the day and assorted sandwiches. But what really caught my eye was the sparkling glass case at the front of the counter. Immediately I recognised half a dozen of my favourite desserts - lemon lime tarts, crème brûlée , caramel shortbread and chocolate ganache being just a few. The waiter stood amused as I came close to drooling slightly.
For lunch I settled on (what I expected to be) a simple ham and cheese toasted sandwich. Instead of your standard coke, lemonade etcetera Little Ethel's stock an Australian-made brew, of which I had the cola. Friends ordered a combination of teas, the home made pie, croissants with raspberry conserve and an apple and rhubarb crumble. Everything was simple, yet perfect. My ham and cheese consisted of generous slices of leg ham on crust cob loaf, perfectly balanced with the right amount of cheese and their "secret" ingredient, garlic aioli. I am always impressed when an establishment can take an every day dish and make it just that little bit special. Best of all, practically everything on the menu is under $10, which is incredibly rare these days.
For a lazy Sunday afternoon which combines a homely and relaxed atmosphere (the cute waiters don't hurt either) with comforting and cheap food I highly recommend Little Ethel's. We were the last group to leave but put under no pressure to rush, despite the café soon closing and were satisfactorily stuffed for around $12 per head, including drinks and desserts. Little Ethel's specialise in catering. See their website for more details.