The list of reasons to love Alexandria is getting longer by the day. The largely industrial suburb is undergoing quite the gentrification process, helped along in no small part by the opening of megacafé The Grounds of Alexandria earlier this year.
It is also home to the Mitchell Road Antique and Design Centre – a sunflower yellow warehouse of vintage curios – and the lush Sydney Park, plus it boasts an aircraft hanger-sized Dan Murphy’s. Directly opposite that glorious cavern of cheap hooch, in a lovely, refurbished warehouse, you’ll find Bread and Circus Wholefoods Canteen.
The canteen shares the massive, open space with Don Campos, the second flagship store for the Newtown coffee masters who take on the responsibility of caffeinating anyone who walks through the doors. Interestingly, Bread and Circus don’t deal in coffee – they are totally bean free – but if you’re in need of something stronger than the 18 different teas on hand, you're welcome to BYO espresso from Campos. Clearly these guys play well with others: Campos takes care of getting the time-poor buzzed in a hurry, while Bread and Circus tend to the slow grazers with tisanes, juices and smoothies.
The communal vibe extends beyond beverages. There are six long wooden tables and at peak times they are constantly at capacity. As soon as a seat vacates, people practically commando roll in to fill their spot. Knocking knees with your neighbours and asking them to pass the honey pot and pink salt flakes is all part of the fun.
The menu is big on sharing too. There are five vegetarian-friendly salads that you can mix and match on an enormous sharing plate, but if your hunger stops short of voracious, the regular size easily feeds two. The wintry eggplant and capsicum option has more in common with a ratatouille than your garden-variety salad and is a little wet for us. Garlicky fronds of roast fennel with couscous are a better bet and help absorb some of the excess moisture on the plate. The zucchini and kale salad with parmesan gets our vote, especially when livened up with a side of poached, organic chicken. Don’t eat meat? Try some tangy goat's cheese or boiled, biodynamic eggs instead.
You'll never look at vegan food the same way after downing a bowl of the dairy-free 'foxy winter porridge'. The creamy, vanilla- and cinnamon-scented oats come with soft coconut ribbons, a topping of crunchy hazelnuts, toasted seeds, currants and granola clusters. Slices of orange are the finishing touch, adding a citrusy punch that tempers the comforting heft of the porridge.
Looking for a lighter, more transportable option? They also do sandwich boxes (biodegradable, of course) with all manner of organic fixings for tasty sangas that you assemble yourself – it’s the Ikea of lunches.
The fitout feels like French country done inside a nursery. There is vegetation everywhere. Flowers, plants and kitchen knick-knacks decorate the tables, plus there is a scattering of the day’s most aesthetic produce like capsicums, pomegranates, eggplants and butternuts. The seats are a combination of old wooden benches and sweet, striped canvas stools, and to one side a gardening bench is completely covered in plants and herbs potted in an odd assortment of containers, jars, bottles and cans.
The menu, which changes daily, is available as a PDF for anyone who likes to pre-plan their meals, but not knowing what’s in store is what makes each visit an adventure. The breakfast menu is a little more consistent and they bake their truly excellent, plate-sized spelt and chocolate cookies everyday so you can always count on a sweet treat for dessert. Really want to keep things wholesome? Grab a bar on conscious chocolate – raw, organic, handmade, and gluten-, soya- and dairy-free – for later on.
If you’re fond of free-range, partial to permaculture and generally just a big ol' fan of things like quinoa and buckwheat, then you can't go wrong at Bread and Circus. With toast coming in at seven bucks a pop, it won’t be the cheapest breakfast you’ve ever had, but we’re thinking it’s likely to be one of the most conscientiously nutritious and down-right ethical meals you’ll eat this year.