How did an automobile spare parts retailer and a magician come to run a successful cafe in Sydney? Prepare to read a story that in theory should be impossible.
Max worked in the family business selling automobile spare parts in Bangkok,Thailand. Bank also worked in Bangkok, as a Magician and studied interior design. They both then moved to Australia to try their luck at different vocations. Bank worked in interior design and Max worked the cafe scene as wait staff. It was here that Max was first introduced to coffee. Falling in love, he focused on mastering the craft. He became a barista and later trained others in the art of coffee making.
One drunken night out, Max told Bank about his dream of opening a cafe. Their recollection of the conversation is blurry, but both agree this was the inception of what was to later become Calabur Cafe. Neither had trained in the culinary arts. In fact, neither had ever worked in a kitchen, however this did not deter them. Max took charge of creating the breakfast menu, Bank took over the dinner and they collaborated together on lunch.
Clockwise: spicy eggs, mamas pudding, granola fruit market
Location. Location. Location. The inspired young up-starts found what they'd been looking for, an old run down Japanese bar in Bondi Junction. The bar is a few blocks away from Bondi Junction Westfield. It's just below street level, making it somewhat hidden to passers-by. The kitchen has no gas, no commercial exhaust fan and no cool room. Calling it a kitchen is (at best) a stretch. The dreamers (Bank and Max) loved that the venue was underground and they looked at the kitchen as a challenge. The lighting was great and together they could envision the layout.
Photos left to right: granola fruit market; green bowl; sous vide salmon with caramelised fig & spaghetti namtok salmon
Max's passion is healthy food with bold flavours. Bank, the avid home cook, has a flair for presentation and design. Their lack of kitchen experience coupled with the inadequate kitchen facilities, would cause many to scoff at their chances of succeeding. They essentially had less than the average Australian home kitchen has to cook with.
I asked where their inspiration came from and to my shock they answered MKR, Masterchef, Chefs Table and their friends. YouTube and reading books taught them everything they needed to know to create the food they dreamed of serving.
Clockwise Vegetarian Dishes: granola fruit market; green bowl; salad; veggie bowl
I recently watched Angela Lee Duckworth talk about "grit" as a predictor of success on TED.com. Angela describes grit as passion and perseverance for very long term goals, having stamina, sticking with your future, day in day out not just for the week, the month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it is a marathon not a sprint. These boys have grit! No culinary education, no kitchen training, a location that others may consider risky and an ill equipped kitchen, but they have drive, dedication, tenacity... GRIT.
granola fruit market
Taking inspiration from MKR and Masterchef, they decided on using a blow torch, a sous vide, an induction cooker and a sandwich press to create their menus. No cool room meant produce would need to be delivered every 2-3 days and seafood every 1-2 days. This played into their passion for healthy fresh food. Having never intended to deep fry, they use oil sparingly, never use MSG, have a constant influx of fresh ingredients and make their own sauces. They also have a good balance of tasty vegetarian dishes in the daytime menu.
Clockwise: sous vide salmon with caramelised fig; sous vide scallops with spicy apple salsa; spicy tuna tartare (middle); picanha steak; larb duck; pork crackling with garlic infused mayo
Meticulously, Max and Bank spent 18 months planning prior to opening. In the first 6 months, they researched popular cafes to understand the current trends. Over the next 6 months, they created their menu, culminating in a public tasting, the taste testers were given cards to score the meals 1-10. With an average score of 7.5 they decided this was not good enough and spent the final 6 months recreating their menu. This time, they had the result they were looking for with an average score of 9. All of their hard work had paid off, and they were ready to open to the public.
mango sticky rice with pandan sauce
Calabur Cafe & Diner can be found hidden below street level in Bondi Junction, secluded from the hustle and bustle of city life. Here you will find familiar flavours presented in a unique way. I am constantly impressed with the balance between traditional flavours and modern techniques, rarely have I seen this perfected. Think Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and Western fused so that the best of each cultures cuisines shine through. Normally I am not a fan of the word fusion, but this inventive menu can be described no other way.
Clockwise: sous vide basil chicken; DIY duck salad; seafood platter; salmon starter; picanha steak; turmeric chicken; sakura cocktail; black sticky rice with mango
Each plate is beautifully presented, visually the food is bright and colourful, the aroma has me salivating before my first mouthful. Choosing what to eat is always a hard task, I have tried most items on the menu and have enjoyed them all. There are a couple that stand out to me, such as the Soft-boiled onsen eggs served with spicy tomato relish, smashed avocado infused with basil and garlic and the roasted asparagus and cherry tomatoes. Served with single origin organic sourdough, the Angel hair spaghetti with fresh sous vide Atlantic salmon, shallots, coriander, ground roasted rice and Thai style spicy and sour dressing is also a standout dish. Although, I would not hold it against you if you ordered the green bowl, the veggie bowl, the sous vide salmon with caramelised fig, or the larb duck. Honestly, you can't go wrong with the dishes.
*Fantastic breakfast and lunch dishes, with great vegetarian options.
Not so positives:
*You may walk past the cafe without realising, remember to look down.
*Dinner menu is not yet at the same level as the breakfast / lunch menu.
Note: This is an independent review, food purchased was a 50/50 combination of complimentary visits and self funded visits by "Itd be rude not to".