Charlotte Cafe, the local’s secret

by Forager on May 2, 2009

Charlotte Cafe is in a location in Birchgrove that has seen a lot of turnover over the years. There has been a diverse variety of establishments there from seafood restaurants, cafes to perhaps even a dentist at some point. The distance from the hustle and bustle of the main Balmain foot traffic on Darling Street probably contributes to the turnover. So we weren’t expecting much when we booked a family dinner at this little local eatery.

But don’t let this modest find fool you – we were pleasantly surprised at our experience at Charlotte Cafe. The restaurant is a family affair run by mother and son duo, Jason and Helen Ghebar. They’ve had the restaurant for 6 months and their passion is palpable. We ask Jason for recommendations and he proudly enthuses about the specials list – all home style dishes prepared fresh daily by his mother. His enthusiasm is infectious and we can’t pass up anything he recommends. Whilst we waited for our dishes to arrive, we get a plate of complementary starters – a selection including some rice and lentil salad, kibbeh, and potato salad. They’re all good but the potato salad dressed with a coriander flavoured dressing is really popular with our table and is gone in a flash. It’s so good we decide to ask for another serving!

Our entrees arrive and we share the fried cauliflower with garlic tahini and paprika; the fatoush salad with fried Lebanese bread and a trio of home-made dips: tzatziki, hummus, and babaganoush with fresh Turkish bread. Again all were good, but the babaganoush dip stands out – it is fabulously rich, smoky and garlicky. We learn from Jason that all the dips are made fresh daily and that the darkness of the babaganoush is a sign of both the freshness and lack of preservatives.

The first of the mains to arrive is the diced lamb with pomegranate molasses. This dish is compiled from the stuffings for kibbeh – diced lamb, pine nuts, onion, a generous lashing of pomegranate molasses and herbs and spices. It’s meaty, savoury with a hint of tartness from the pomegranate molasses. The rice with almonds and pinenuts served with an artichoke and goats yoghurt sauce arrives next. The sauce is very tasty and transforms the dish into something else. We have the cabbage rolls to finish off the mains – these are cooked in a tomato based sauce so appear dry but are moist in the middle. The co-pilot comments that even though he normally isn’t a fan of cabbage rolls – these are really good.

As we’re finishing the mains, the couple next to us are tucking into a double custard tart. It looked so good that even though we’re pretty full we decide we had to try some between us and make the order with Jason. He takes our order and reveals that it is actually his birthday and promises us a slice of his birthday cake too. Both were rich, sweet and delicious.

The verdict at our table is unanimous – if you’re looking for delicious, simple, home-style comfort food – here’s the place you’ll find it. And it’s very affordable – the meal fed 5 of us for a little over $100. But what really makes this place different is the atmosphere. You instantly feel welcome, familiar and right at home. Customers aren’t looking for the world and it doesn’t require silver service and designer interiors. Jason and Helen have got that mysterious balance of great food and service just right. And their passion is admirable – instead of taking the night off on his birthday, there was Jason at the cafe, busily scooting from table to table making sure all the diners were well looked after. We left the cafe very full and satisfied customers, we were already planning our next dinner there and all quietly determined to support this local gem.

127 Rowntree Street, Birchgrove (near the corner of Rowntree Street and Cameron Street).
Open daily for breakfast and lunch from 6am – 4pm. Open till 9:30pm for dinner on Thurs and Fri nights.
Bookings or enquiries on (02)9810-1119 or 0403 924 168.

Foodie in the know:
This cafe is very popular with early morning commuters and apparently makes a pretty mean coffee too. BYO available.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella May 4, 2009 at 6:35 pm

Wow a host that give you complimentary starters and some of his birthday cake? What a host! What was the double custard like? I’m intrigued by the name!

2 Forager May 5, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Hey Lorraine – It was the first time we’d been there and it was instantly so familiar, warm and friendly. Like we were old friends. The double custard tart was rich, creamy and very sweet – but then, I think by that stage they could really do no wrong by us.

3 @OggieBad May 6, 2009 at 6:35 pm

This sounds like my kind of place, the atmosphere is extremely important when it comes to enjoying my food. How do I get there from Surry Hills?

4 Samboha May 6, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Damn good coffee there too… and the free WiFi makes it a great place to do a bit of email catch-up.

5 Forager May 7, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Hey @OggieBad – I know you’d love this place! Great comfort food, no fuss. The easiest was is to catch the 441 bus from the QVB bus stop – there’s a bus stop right outside Charlotte Cafe.

Hey Samboha – welcome! I haven’t made it there for a morning coffee and if I had one with dinner I’d be hyperactively annoying the co-pilot with chatter until 3am. I’ll have to get there for a weekend brunch coffee ;P

6 Oggie Bad May 12, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Can you take me there one day … pretty please? :-)

7 Capo For Guitar May 21, 2010 at 2:12 am

Ooh shoot i just wrote a big comment and as soon as i hit reply it came up blank! Please tell me it worked correct? I dont want to submit it again if i don’t have to! Possibly the blog glitced out or i’m an idiot, the second option doesnt surprise me lol. many thanks for an excellent blog!

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