In Short: Brilliant coffee, a diverse menu with unique creations, relaxing well thought out space
What’s in a name? That’s the question I find myself asking each time I step into a cafe. Henry Lee’s is no different. Some quick research reveals, the name is inspired by the song Henry Lee sung by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. Curiously, it’s a melancholy tale of love, jealousy and murder. It’s a haunting song that grows on you, but then dulcet tones of Nick Cave usually has that affect on me. Perhaps the mood of the song is a reflection of the area pre gentrification. The best way to get to Henry Lee’s is via Hart Street. As I walk up the quiet street, there’s nothing much that gives away that a great cafe is just a few steps away. I actually happened on the cafe by a little sign on Cleveland Street, otherwise I would have walked right past. Upon entering the café, Henry Lee’s kitchen is to your right, and there’s seating area for 10-15 people inside, but it’s the courtyard which is the place to be. It’s a beautifully bright and laid out space. The genius is the roof with it’s interweaving beams which provide shelter from the elements, yet are not fully joined, which allows streams of light to the fill the seating area. With the heaters radiating their heat downwards, the coolest winter mornings are still comfortable. Even when fully loaded, the chatter fills the space to provide a beautiful dining ambiance. While some other cafes may claim ocean or harbour views, I think this one of the coolest food spaces to chill over coffee and food, as you are cosseted and insulated from the chaos of a big city.
Not long after settling into our seats, our coffee and tea arrives. I am no stranger to the blend used by Henry Lee’s. It’s a Little Marionette Blend No 7, Sanchez. It’s a punchy coffee with enough bite to cut through the milk. Served at perfect temperature with a nice depth of flavour and smooth milk work, it is the perfect coffee start to our brunch.
Mavis has gone down the tea route today and she samples a red chai chai chai from Tippity Teas. Her tea is presented in a cute arrangement with a beaker style cup, and white tea pot. It’s not your typical chai, with a bouquet of flavours including hibiscus, rooibos, honeybush, and rosehip. That along with traditional chai spices deliver a beautifully perfumed tea. Once you lift up the cup to take a sip, you will be able to smell all the spices and flowers that has gone into making the tea! It’s a beautifully balanced tea with complex flavours of sweet and spicy.
As our tummies begin to rumble at the food porn on tables nearby, our food makes an appearance. First off it’s a carny sandwich which is comprised of a generous serving of free range shredded chicken which is roasted with a herb stuffing. Accompanying the chicken is toasted garlic corn kernels, celery, kale, tarragon mayo and it all sits in between 2 chunky slices of house sourdough bread. The flavours of the sandwich are reminiscent of a mighty fine home cooked roast chicken dinner. Elements like the corn and tarragon mayo really do elevate the dish.
I ordered perhaps the prettiest looking dish on the menu. I love it when a cafe pushes the envelope, and I doubt many menus in Sydney have a sardine dish on its menu. Pickled sardine is made up of the aforementioned fish with vibrant tomatoes, fennel, and pickled lemon. All of this is beautifully layered on sourdough toast. I love how the flavours of the sardine isn’t diminished by the pickling process. It’s a firm, meaty textured fish with clean flavours. The slight acidity from the tomatoes cut through the oils of the fish, and the lemon provides a delightful zing. It’s a well thought out dish, and definitely is nice counter to the standard cafe.
One of Coco and Vine’s mantra is : If a menu has a burger, it must be tried ! The Higgs bacon blues burger differs from a traditional burger is that the main feature isn’t a beef patty, rather this burger is a homage to bacon. There’s free range bacon, a coffee infused bacon jam, and a supporting cast of poached egg, smoked paprika and kohlrabi remoulade, cucumber pickle. It all sits in between a brioche roll. The bacon jam reminds me of a nam prik pao in its flavour profile. Slightly sweet, sour and spicy. Of course the bacon flavour is ever present with every bite. A perfectly poached eggs creates a little yolk stream as it flows onto the plate. Cubes of zucchini provide a crunch factor. It is recommended that you mop up the left overs with the soft brioche bread. This is another smashing dish by the Henry Lee’s team.
Henry Lee’s has quickly zoomed up the ranks of my list of cafes I would recommend. It’s a short 10 minute walk from Redfern station and sits only minutes from the Central Park development. With a constantly changing menu mated with superb coffee, I know we will definitely be going back to see what the team have come up with.