I’ve found it – the third cafe in my perfect trifecta of quirky Brisbane cafes – and just in time too, because I leave for Shanghai tomorrow – these last three weeks have flown by and it’s hard to believe I’ll be packing my bags tonight.
If you missed the first two of the trifecta, you can read about the incredible cakes and friendly sisters at Sisco, and the extraordinary coffee and 70s decor at Shucked.
Willow & Spoon reminds me at every turn of exactly what I’ll be missing in twenty-four hours’ time – a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, top notch cooking with bright fresh flavours, and most importantly, a chat and a smile to brighten your day and send you on your way feeling well-fed and happy. Shouldn’t that be what all cafes aspire to? Apparently this philosophy is alive and well in Brisbane but yet to hit the shores of China, although I live in hope.
Willow & Spoon is not what you might expect to find in suburban Alderley. Sitting in a row of old shopfronts, the cheery red walls and friendly lounge on the footpath welcome you in to an interior that looks uncannily like the weatherboard house I grew up in, although we kept our bouclé lounge suite (yes, it was called a suite) inside the house at all times. There’s a checkered red and white linoleum floor, an old white kitchen dresser with leadlight glass doors, and a cabinet housing a collection of Australian souvenir spoons. Owners Tracey Mooney and Keith Nunns want the place to feel just like home, and as they sit you down with a smile you feel instantly relaxed, and quite peckish.
It’s an incredibly gorgeous sunny Brisbane day, so we decide to walk through the cafe’s front room to the back of the house, and here’s where I get an intense case of deja vu looking at the car parked in the driveway underneath the house and the grassy garden with Hill’s Hoist. It is really just like the house I lived in at the age of seven.
But there’s where the similarities with my childhood home end, because we never ate dishes like those served at Willow & Spoon. Chef Adam Starr has taken a mind bursting to the brim with imaginative ideas and translated them into a menu full of dishes you can’t wait to taste. I haven’t been this excited about reading a breakfast menu in years.
We begin with Forbidden Fruit and the Garden of Eden – never was a bowl of muesli and fruit more enticingly named! A whole apple poached with spices is filled with creamy mousse, joined on the plate by fresh edible flowers and fruits all resting on a bed of oats roasted in Manuka honey with dried figs and walnuts. Quite superb.
We follow with Sleeping Beauty – a herby original take on Eggs Benedict with poached eggs wobbling on wilted spinach and a square of mushroom and tarragon ‘muffin’. The eggs, topped with fresh garden pea sauce, are runny and golden-yolky, served alongside sweet roast tomato honey. How can I ever go back to regular Eggs Benedict after a tasting this?
The menu treasures go on and on – The Harlequin – rich smoked cod with house-made brioche, avocado, tomato and green onion salsa and an artichoke veloute is creamy and soft, and next time I want to try Pigs in Zen – pork jowl braised in an asian master stock with enoki mushrooms, quinoa and cucumber with parsnip puree, or The Diabolical Pact – banana, date and roasted green chili loaf with kalamata labna, ricotta and confit of pineapple.
The dishes could run the risk of overly unusual flavour combinations, but all are thoughtfully, carefully and cleverly executed by Starr and are, simply, totally more-ish. Is there another breakfast menu in Brisbane with this much imagination or care in execution? And it doesn’t stop with the adult menu – children are equally well placed with a plate of Dinosaur Eggs or fresh fruit and mango sorbet.
As I move on to my second coffee, children from nearby tables are running in the open space of the grassy garden, and customers are arriving for morning cake and coffee. I bet they all leave with a smile on their faces, as I did.
Shop 2, 28 Samford Road
Open Tuesday to Friday 7am to 3pm, Saturday 7.30am to 2pm, Sunday 7.30am to 1pm
Ph +617 3113 3810