Little boys in straw trilby hats? Tick!
Men in Deus ex Machina (if they’ve got children) or Superdry (if they don’t) vintage print t-shirts? Tick!
Rolled pastel three-quarter-length pants? Tick!
Ray-Bans, Havaianas, and trucker caps as far as the eye can see? Tick, tick, and tick!
Where else could we be but the Grounds of Alexandria, Sydney’s much-hyped epicentre of everything organic, sustainable, inner-west, New Class, cashed-up, and Bourgeois Bohemian, or “BoBo”, to borrow David Brooks’ perfect portmanteau? A Stuff White People Like theme park, the Grounds is an eco’stainable paradise reclaimed from Bourke Street’s post-industrial ruin, just the place to park your Audi 4WD and unexplainable job title to entertain your “Nothing But Flowers” fantasies for a couple of hours.
And a couple of hours it will be, given the ridiculous popularity of the place. As Disneyland is to the American lumpen-masses, for the keen observer of Sydney’s tribes, the Grounds is the perfect place to observe the moneyed inner-west hipster in his natural environment.
Of course, it is not just the people who make a theme park, it is also the attractions: Thrill at the chickens scratching around in their coop! Coo at the baby pig rooting around in his pen complete with cubby house furnished with not-unpricey dog bed! Admire the “kitchen gardens” as lush as the fairways at Augusta! Ponder the “Research Facility” where scientists work in three shifts to discover the perfect ristretto! Flatter yourself that everything you’re about to eat, when you finally get the chance, will come from flora and fauna so lovingly tended!
And indeed it is a good thing that there’s so much to do because it takes forever to get a table, though whether the activities create the wait is very much a question of which came first, the biodynamic chicken or the free-range egg? Regular readers of this site know that queuing for restaurants is something the Prick has never understood. Queuing for nice, pleasant, but in no way spectacular café food makes no sense at all. Yet having come this far, we couldn’t really abandon the project.
Taking the host’s word that it would be about a half an hour for a table, we took the opportunity to call in at the epically great Salt Meats Cheese next door, something which made the short hop over from Stately Prick Manor worth the trip even without a visit to the Grounds. There we stocked up on salamis and cheeses and ‘nduja and American goodies like Tabasco-brand Bloody Mary mix and hot sauces and flavoured salts (we’ll be sprinkling some espresso salt over a chocolate ganache one of these days), looked into some pasta classes (they’ll do a kids’ party if you ask!) and had a great chat with one of the gents staffing the galeria del jamon who, in great contrast to every other counterman in this town, hands-down refused to sell us anything until all of us had tried it first.
Eli, the Middlemost Little Prick, declared, “I could live here. Seriously.”
We nearly would have had to move in given how we found things back at the Grounds: A half-hour wait turned into forty-five, and “it’ll be longer than five more minutes, but less than ten” turned into another twenty. Despite this, new customers kept joining the queue, happy to take their buzzers and the promise of a ninety-minute (!) wait.
What were they waiting for? The same thing as us: Food which, when we finally got to a table, was good, fine, and would be lovely at any corner café, accompanied by service that was friendly and efficient. Everything was as nice and inoffensive as a gaggle of Enmore playground mothers nodding over the wisdom of a carbon tax or the right-ness of public schools. “Breakfast burgers” were perfectly pleasant creations on brioche buns. Banana bread was fresh and moist. A “Turkish-style” eggs dish kind of missed the point with under-done, al dente-to-the-point-of-crunchy beans and under-seasoned everything. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Paying $7 for jelly jars of ice dressed with orange-carrot-ginger juice was mildly annoying, but like losing a few euro to gypsie scammers in Piazzo San Marco, it’s just the sort of colourful rip-off that comes with the territory. Even the Herald’s Terry Durack, whose Peter Pan complex regularly leads him to talk up any joint where more than two customers are wearing Onitsuka Tiger sneakers, could only bring himself to give it a 13/20, which is probably fair.
So why bother? Well, if food is your thing, you shouldn’t. Because what is on offer here is not a meal but a Rousseauian fantasy of a society remade where the cosmopolitan city dweller’s life is no longer divorced from the farmer on the periphery and where the middlemen, those evil corporations with their false consciousness-creating marketing schemes, are cut out of the equation. Thus the Grounds is not just a (wildly successful) capitalist project, but a socialist and revolutionary one as well: It may not have worked out so well when Pol Pot, Mao, and Castro sent their urban intelligentsia to the fields, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring the fields to the urban intelligentsia, right?