Stepping into the shoes of another long-held local establishment is never an easy feat. Cafe Patina in Wahroonga opened last October, and has since carved itself out a following with a timely approach to the preparation of food that makes it stand out from the run of the mill suburban eatery.
An ethos of all things homemade heroing many of the dishes, including the milk flavourings, the peanut butter and even a homemade cola, makes Café Patina a breath of food purity.
“We even fry the chips in lard rather than canola oil and make everything gluten-free,” says co-owner Hilary Wallace, a health coach and wife of the Chef.
Everything is prepared with great attention to detail and care, borne out of a “health crisis” which forced Hilary to rethink her eating habits. So the restaurant serves the sort of food she eats at home, food “that my grandmother would recognise – chemical-free and unprocessed.
“The menu is Modern Australian café food. We focus on honest, whole food comfort cooking, supporting regional producers and providing organic produce where possible, with plenty of healthy dietary alternatives available.”
Chef is husband Stewart Wallace, previously Executive Chef at the both the Garfish Restaurant Group and Café Sydney, binging with him considerable international expertise in superlative seafood cooking coupled with stunning presentation. Interestingly, Stewart first worked in this very venue when some 25 years ago as Head Chef of the Coonanbarra Cafe, and returns to his old haunt and the suburb he grew up in, after opening restaurants in London and Cape Town.
What’s on the plate
We start with warm amuse bouche – shot glasses with a cream of fennel with saffron, a sublime concoction served warm and pale. Then the entrees – I have oysters done three ways – crisp fried with a soy mirin and ginger dipping sauce, one drowned in a bloody Mary shot and the third with a mignonette dressing. For this oyster aficionado, this is absolute heaven, all three accompaniments never overwhelming the natural creamy tang of the oysters.
“This is crazy delicious,” I remark profoundly to my dining companions.
My husband chose the chargrilled octopus with aioli, with enough tang and tentacle to bring out the Neanderthal. Our other dining companions opted for the maple cured Atlantic salmon with pickled ginger, and the stupendous tasting plate – a work of art in four acts featuring soupcons of duck liver parfait, salt and pepper squid, tea-smoked duck and maple cured salmon. Each one is delicate, delicious and executed with finesse.
The mains are a good while coming, but somehow this doesn’t detract from the company, the ambience and the expectations that they would be as memorable as our first course.
With my friend having an honest, golden flakey pastry topped snapper pie with a confit of garlic and soubise sauce, my generous plate of garlic prawns with ten plump prawns doused in a garlic butter with a side of lemon aioli, we weren’t disappointed.
The boys went silent as they fell upon their choices of chargilled grass fed sirloin with a dauphinoise and sauce bearnaise, and the daily special of grilled swordfish and a cauliflower puree. As Wallace is a fish chef, all seafood was cooked to perfection, with a respect for the product clear in its cooking and presentation.
And despite the lateness of the hour and the feeling of repleteness, we order two desserts to share between the four of us – a delicious chocolate mousse topped with a honeycomb mousse on a raspberry malt and white chocolate crumble. The crunch of the crumble combined with the velvety mousse was highly seductive and had my “I don’t have a sweet tooth” spouse tucking in.
The other dessert – a flourless orange polenta cake – was also delicious and moist but probably not best eaten up against the dazzling chocolate confection.
And the surrounds? The Cafe has had a refurbishment (with a nod to the heritage style of the Sir John Suleman designed property), but keeping much of the beautiful dark wood of the former café, the same leafy outlook across the park, and an outdoor terrace providing the chance to eat al fresco.
Cafe Patina ticks all the boxes for a sublime dining experience, raising the bar for local restaurants in this part of Sydney where restaurant quality Australian cuisine is often in short supply.
64 Coonanbarra Rd, Wahroonga.
Tel: 9489 0980
Café Patina is open 7 days a week for breakfast and lunch and dinner Wednesday to Saturday. On Wednesday & Thursday nights there’s a set menu of $45 for 2 courses and $55 for 3.