What if I told you there’s a place in Sydney’s CBD where you can dine on superb food cooked by a French-trained chef, drink wine crafted by artisanal winemakers and all the proceeds of the venture go back into frontline services to help disadvantaged women? It’s happening. And there’s a table with your name on it.
You don’t have to sing for your supper at Song Kitchen – the focus is on enjoying the food, the wine and the heart-warming energy of the place. The sincerity of everyone involved comes from its driving force – only evident behind the scenes. YWCA NSW owns the building on Wentworth Avenue on the south-eastern edge of Sydney’s CBD. Under the leadership of YWCA’s Ambassador (and previous CEO) Anna Bligh AC, the goal was to develop Song Kitchen as a profit-for-purpose business. Every cent of profit goes towards YWCA programs including domestic violence prevention, early intervention and crisis response. The organisation also runs empowerment and leadership programs, women’s shelters and homelessness services.
The food at Song Kitchen is worth a visit alone. Head Chef Charlotte Gonzales-Poncet has most recently worked the kitchens at Fred’s in Sydney’s Paddington. Before that she did the rounds at Felix, Uccello, Coogee Pavilion, and before coming to Sydney from France she worked in the kitchen of Jean-Luc Rabanel’s Michelin-starred restaurant L’Atelier in Arles and at his second restaurant, Le Bistrot a Côté.
“My menu at Song Kitchen reflects my training in France and my experience in Sydney,” clarifies Charlotte. “For me, the most important thing is to preserve the integrity of the ingredients and to cook them simply and beautifully.”
Bistro classics are on high rotation. Pot-roasted pipies swim in fennel, leek, chervil and black vinegar. Ribbons of house-made tagliolini tangle with spanner crab, zucchini flowers, chilli and garlic. On site, the butter is churned, the duck is smoked and the pickles are marinated. And perhaps by osmosis, there is love in every bite.
“I’m so delighted the diners say they can taste the love in the food – there’s plenty of it. Enjoying a wonderful meal always makes you feel good, and knowing you’re making a difference by eating here makes you feel even better,” says Charlotte.
Despite the gravitas of Song Kitchen’s purpose, the recently renovated space is light and spacious with cool interiors and soulful tunes breathing life into the dining area. The YWCA’s newly christened Song Hotel (formerly the Y Hotel) above the restaurant is currently being renovated floor by floor.
Vanessa Beggs, CEO of YWCA NSW, explains how the concept came about: “YWCA NSW is one of the state’s oldest charities, and has been helping women since 1880. Under Anna Bligh’s tenure as CEO, the YWCA NSW refined its focus to concentrate on domestic violence. We committed to extend our innovative profit-for-purpose operations beyond our two Sydney hotels. The first step was partnering with Mirvac to establish a Song Kitchen café in the lobby of its CBD offices. The next step was to rebrand and update the hotels, and the final step was to set up a stand-alone café, bar and restaurant.”
Song Kitchen is that place – it dishes up breakfast, lunch and dinner, and drinks in between. “People want to make a difference and support a cause, and Song Kitchen leads the way in allowing you to do exactly that,” articulates YWCA NSW’s Ambassador Anna Bligh.
The fierce female focus is reflected in the wine list curated by sommelier Sophie Otton. Among the wines crafted by small-batch producers, 50 per cent is produced by female winemakers or estate owners. “It made sense in an organisation that seeks to support and empower women. Sophie had a number of other boxes to tick, too. She wanted an emphasis on NSW wines, boutique producers and good value,” explains Charlotte.
Song Kitchen’s location on the edge of Hyde Park attracts the work lunch crowd, and “many of our guests live in apartment buildings in the vicinity or are staying at nearby hotels,” says Charlotte. “We also find groups who drop in for post-work drinks end up staying on for dinner. Most of our breakfast customers are guests at Song Hotel, although city residents are slowly discovering us. We do great coffee!”
So how did Song Kitchen end up with its musical moniker? Vanessa Beggs explains, “In so many places in the world, songs are how women communicate, and the word itself reflects hope and positivity and strength. We also think of the YWCA NSW as the voice and advocate of women.” Diners are tuning in to this initiative in droves – feel good project meets feel good food.