Paying tribute to her late mother, Anna Allison went all-in when she opened The Lion and Buffalo two and a half years ago. “I wanted a warm and friendly place with a menu that celebrated local produce as well as my Polish heritage,” Allison tells SBS.
Growing up in a close-knit family in Szczecin, Poland, eating out was a luxury that didn’t exist in her world. Rather, she grew up on food rations with limited fresh produce. “I remember my mother being so creative with her ingredients to create something so delicious for us.”
For an hour each week, Allison and her sister would tune into the Australian TV series, Return to Eden. “I remember saying at the age of eight, ‘I have to go to this country’, and I promised myself that one day I would come to Australia.”
As a young girl, she was equally glued to her mother’s apron as she was to Australian soaps. “My mother and I would bake cakes, talk food and share stories. It was a time when women would be at home, swap recipes with each other and share their baking secrets – I absolutely loved that time with her.”
From peeling apples to beating the meringue until it turned glossy, it was her mother’s apple cake that she first learned to make from start to finish. “For a young girl, this cake was heaven – the smell of cinnamon that filled the kitchen – it will always remind me of my childhood and my mother.”
Allison came to Sydney 14 years ago with no grasp of English and no family. She worked across various hospitality and office jobs before finding her very own nook – The Lion and Buffalo – in the seaside suburb of South Coogee.
“The idea was to mix Polish with modern Australian food in a café-style space,” she explains. The cafe menu began with her mother’s recipes and the cakes from her childhood.
“With cheesecakes, cherry, choc-hazelnut, apple and karpatka (Polish mountain cream cake) – these were all my mother and I really wanted to share them with the locals.”
The apple cake is now their bestseller and the beauty of this recipe (besides its homely touch) is that it’s light and not overly sweet, which means the apple and cinnamon do all the talking. The perfect breakfast cake, if you will.
Cakes aside, expect more usual breakfast suspects like eggs, avo, breakfast rolls, and Single Origin coffee. Lunch signals heartier dishes like wagyu beef with grated wasabi and potato mash and 15-hour slow-cooked lamb with house couscous. If you aren’t a creature of habit then their regular rotating specials menu should keep you on your toes.
The Polish heavy hitters include a locally-made Polish sausage, house-cured smoked salmon, and a Polish-style hamburger. Her mother’s hotcakes recipe, as well as a selection of housemade cakes, jams, preserves, sauerkraut, and pickles, also feature.
“We do our pickles, not in vinegar, but in a salt-fermentation, which is how we did it back home.”
Unsurprisingly, it’s these home-style recipes that have struck a chord the most with locals.
“I really want to introduce more Polish foods onto the menu. I grew up eating and loving everything Polish we have on our menu, so it makes so much sense to me to share the things I loved with everyone around me.”
Coming soon, you’ll find stuffed cabbage rolls and mulled wine. And no eastern European café is complete without a little spirit behind it, so Żubrówka (Polish vodka) is available to order. The bison grass spirit is dry and herbaceous, and here you can order two shots with a little apple juice.
“This is what we call our apple pie,” says Allison.
Looks like apple cakes and apple pies are warming up this coastal corner.
Celebrate their 3rd birthday on Saturday 25 Aug and grab a piece of Anna's late mother's Polish cream pie or karpatka. Get the recipe here.
203 Malabar Rd, South Coogee
Open 7 days, 7am – 3pm