Working in St Leonards, whilst not the city or North Sydney, is still a handy location. Yet, you can count the number of good coffee places in the vicinity of the station with one hand. So when a new cafe, Cavalier Specialty Coffee, popped up, it immediately perked my interest.
The place itself is an unassuming, rustic looking café with lots of natural wood and copper finishing and a bit of an old-school-new-school touch (which is handy, given it’s also the name of their signature dish!)
Walking into the café, I was immediately welcomed by the service staff, guided to the first available table and asked if I already had a drink in mind or if I would need a minute to review the drinks list on the menu.
In between waiting for my coffee and checking out the food options, I looked around and noticed that the layout of the café is such that the customer has full visibility to the staff/chef at work and vice versa. Chef Harry clearly loves what he is doing by the way he was whistling, smiling, and chatting merrily with customers as he worked, all the while deftly and expertly preparing his food.
It is also no coincidence that the café’s sous vide machine sits prominently within the chef’s arm reach. The café’s signature’s dish, oldskool newskool salmon is prepared with this very cool contraption and it has to be close by, as this has been, far and away, the most popular dish recently. One other facet of Cavalier that intrigued me is the café’s use of unique distinct ceramic items by H2 Ceramic Creations., from the sugar and salt bowls on each table, to the teapot and cups used for their filtered coffee.
Finally, after much anticipation, the oldskool newskool salmon dish is served. To say I was floored by the presented dish, is an understatement. On one side of the plate, the salmon sits in a circle ring, topped with a generous dollop of black caviar. On the other side of the plate, arranged in a curved line, is an alternate of rings of lightly charred onions and two perfectly poached eggs with a crunchy topping, separated by slivers of crisps, the whole line decorated by little pink meringues of hung beetroot yoghurt, flowers and dill. It was a harmoniously balanced piece of food art.
Taste-wise, the salmon, sous vided then flaked, was cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Paired with the caviar, this combination gives a salty yet subtle briny taste that invokes memories of the sea as you savour each bite. The little mounts of beetroot yoghurt give the dish a tart element. The crisps dividers as well as the topping on the poached egg gives the dish a crunchy element, and the separated rings of lightly roasted onion, gives the dish a charred characteristic. As I broke into the poached egg, the yolk oozes out and works to bind the dish together with all the other elements.
Tucking into the dish, I began to realise how much effort the chef has gone to, to include as many taste sensations as possible into one single dish. It is no coincidence that the chef (who also happens to be the co-owner of Cavalier Specialty Coffee) is also trained in fine dining, which explains the attention to detail and the creativity and innovation in each dish’s presentation. When I finally finished, I could only agree that he has definitely succeeded in creating a restaurant quality dish not only in looks, but in taste as well.
The Hipster’s Morning Ritual is worth a try, just for the name itself! It has some of the most ‘trendy’ ingredients of the moment – kale and, the rather unassuming, cauliflower. Cavalier’s approach is subtle, beautiful and expertly shaved cauliflower heads that sits with kale, quinoa, and hazelnut curd, all spiced with dukkah. For a dish dominated with vegetables, there’s so much flavour, with the highlight being the marriage of the hazelnut curd and dukkah. Move aside a couple leaves of kale and you are in for a surprise, with two beautifully shaped and perfectly cooked poached eggs. There’s richness, ‘greeness’, crunch, and freshness from the herbs. And, crusty bread on a board is also on hand to mop up all that yummy goodness!
A lot of care and thought has been placed into the coffee as well, from the brewing technique, right down to the selection of the coffee bean. Their cold brew is made with their own house blend, the filtered coffee is made with beans from Small Batch Roasting Co., (a boutique coffee roaster based on North Melbourne), while the rest of the coffee is made mostly with beans sourced from Marvell St Coffee Roasters, (a coffee roaster based in Byron Bay). Customising the coffee bean for each drink type, gives each drink its own unique taste and characteristic and lets the barista showcase his 18 years’ experience in food and beverage industry.
The barista explains that by using their own house blend for their Cold Brew, they are able to achieve a consistent and strong flavour from the brewing process, giving the drink a robust, yet not overpowering, taste.
The Cavalier pour over coffee, made with roasted coffee beans from Small Batch Roasting Co., is not one of those coffees where you sip, savour and move on. This pour over approach begins with fan fare, where the barista brings the brewing cup and apparatus to your table. This is like the ‘teppanyaki’ of coffees, where the barista would brews your coffee from scratch, at your table. He starts by scooping out a precise amount of ground coffee and placing it into the filter cup, lined with filter paper. Then, he gradually adds hot water, ensuring that the water does not overflow. Filtered liquid gold is then collected in a ceramic pot and poured out and served in matching ceramic cups.
We are informed by our barista to try the coffee two ways. Firstly hot, which reveals hints of brown sugar, and milk chocolate. As the coffee cools, the taste morphs into a more subtle flavour ,that has hints of dried mangos, leaving a dry sweet sensation, best described as甘甜 (gan tien) in Chinese.
Before heading back for the afternoon grind at work, I sneak in a cappuccino. It’s a creamy coffee and lightly bodied, with a chocolate flavour that accompanies each sip. It’s definitely a blend of coffee that will appeal to all coffee lovers.
I walked out of the cafe knowing that despite its small size, this place way exceeded my expectation. The whole time I was there, it felt more like a restaurant than a café. This is a place not just about casual coffee and meals, but a showcase of the passion and pride the Cavalier’s chef, barista and service staff. And that passion is in what they do every day and reflected in the food and service quality.