• When the roller door is up, we swear we could almost be sipping coffee in the south of France. (Instagram)
Whether you like your car parks brimming with Reuben sandos or your tennis whites with a side of Portuguese vongole, we go in search of a few not-so-usual suspects that are all about coffee, food and booze.
By
Farah Celjo

20 Sep 2018 - 1:18 PM  UPDATED 23 Sep 2018 - 4:29 PM

There's something exciting about stumbling upon a café or restaurant in places you never thought would. Finding that little pocket or that hole-in-the-wall that wants a local revival to happen. While there are many places with a deep underlying history, story or quirk under their mats, here are a few gems worth the double take. 

 

Sydney, NSW


Casa Do Benfica

For the record, Casa Do Benfica is the epitome of hide-and-seek. It's your usual Tennis Club at the front, with a Portuguese feasting menu out the back. With good home-style Portuguese cooking front and centre, guests can expect generous portion sizes, great seafood dishes - their famous amêijoas (vongole) and povinhos (small octopus) - all paired with bread, olives and Portuguese vinho verde.

Uncle Kurt's 

Underground feels, banging cocktails, jaffles, bagels and deli-smoked meats alongside hip-hop beats, Uncle Kurt's is the little hideaway delivering on all these fronts. Located at Horwood Place, Paramatta beneath the city centre car park, this New York-inspired dive bar is ramping things up with a wicked cocktail list - their herbaceous floral take on a Negroni, which is also served in a dainty Turkish teacup not to mention their Carpark Martini - kaffir lime leaf-infused gin, sage-infused dry vermouth with their housemade bitters, packed with spice. Reubens are a calling and double-parked just took on a whole new meaning.

The Incinerator

You guessed it! Designed by Walter Burley Griffin in the 1930s, the ground floor of this building used to be a functioning incinerator. Since then it has been transformed into a licensed cafe that incorporates a seasonal and sustainable menu. The spacious interior, open kitchen and high-ceiling really command the space and the rows of tables and chairs are positioned on concrete floors, which coincide with the cafe's rustic warehouse charm.

Salt Meats Cheese

If there's one thing you can bank on it's the Italian stylings of Salt Meats Cheese. Already all over double (and triple) carbs at their NSW locations of Bondi Junction, Broadway, Circular Quay and Drummoyne, south Sydney siders can also rejoice as the family-owned restaurant group comes to Cronulla, taking residence on the old heritage-listed Commonwealth Bank building. This 87-seater restaurant is hitting all the right Mediterranean notes, both on the menu and in vibe as the exposed brick, white walls and large windows set the scene beautifully for Spritz o'clock, and antipasti boards - just in time for the warmer weather.  

Chew Chew

Don't deny your pup, its chance to dine out. North side of the bridge, pet food store Chew Chew takes dog-friendly to a whole new level thanks to their dedicated restaurant menu - entirely for pooches! Mini, small or large, you can select from a three-course set menu, canine-friendly brunches and risotto-style lunches and also afternoon doggie cappuccinos. And for those special occasions, they've got your furry pal covered thanks to a variety of housemade treats including, iced and naked birthday cakes, cupcakes and jelly. Because they're family!

 

Melbourne, VIC


Rudimentary

Breaking through the high-rise development realm is cafe and community space, Rudimentary. For over a decade, it was nothing more than an under-utilised car park, so with some epic ideas and a limited budget, the parking lot was transformed. The building itself is constructed from 3 x 40 ft robust shipping containers and the use of sustainable materials as well as implementing composting facilities and a 20,000 litre rainwater tank to water the plants was front of mind. Their garden features herbs, vegetables, fruit trees and edible flowers, which are all destined to make it onto your plates.

Jury Cafe

From a prison decommissioned in 1997, to a light, bright Nordic chic coffee shop (I never thought I'd write that sentence), you've just locked eyes at Jury. You'd be hardpressed to find something about this cafe online, but it lives within the bluestone of the historical site, Pentridge Village - formerly known as Pentridge Prison. Thanks to plywood, timber and concrete, the contrast between light and shade comes to life, with a splash of pastel for effect. 

Convent Bakery

Once a home for the Sisters of Good Shepherd, the Abbotsford Convent with its 11 magnificent buildings is also home to their Convent Bakery. Nestled within the wall of the Convent Annexe or Kitchen wing are two magnificent wood-fired masonry ovens, which were built in 1901. Amazingly it is in these ovens that the Convent Bakery freshly bakes a variety of wood-fired bread, pizza, pastries daily, as well as bread classes that are open to the community. 

Switchboard

A little slice of cosy antique heaven, Switchboard is a coffee-lovers hole-in-the-wall located in a laneway by the Manchester Unity Building dating back to 1932. It has all the makings of a large storeroom, but this coffee, cake and toastie pocket is all about wooden stools, "just like grandma's" crockery and Japanese wallpaper - it sounds a little mismatched, but it's rather charming.

Higher Ground

Somewhere in between a cafe and a restaurant sits Higher Ground. Unless you know about it already or have the address in-hand it's pretty easy to slip past this building by Southern Cross Station and be none the wiser. Except for perhaps, the queue of people that usually trickle around the corner. A close sibling of Top Paddock and The Kettle Black establishments, Higher Ground was a heritage-listed 1890s working power station power, which explains its 15-metre high ceilings, oversized cathedral arch windows, concrete pillars and exposed brick walls, which were all part of the building's original aesthetic.

Roller Door Cafe

When the roller door is up, we swear we could be sipping coffee in the south of France. What was originally a tool shed, became a three-stool takeaway coffee shop in 2010 and now it's got all the trimmings - commercial kitchen, heated courtyard (which makes it pet-friendly, too) all with the roller door still intact. Good coffee, a close-knit team and a simple and hearty organic menu are what makes this West Melbourne back-street gem a local favourite. #rolluprollup

Now it's your turn to tell us what you've uncovered and where?

Want to discover more great places in unlikely locations? Watch Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux Jnr Wednesdays 8.35pm on SBS and then on SBS On Demand

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