Friday, August 22, 2008

The next time we are in Camperdown: The Deus Cafe.

Photo: Fiona Morris
By Helen Greenwood Via: The Sydney herald

"DEUS EX MACHINA means "god from a machine" in Latin. In Camperdown, it means the nearest thing to heaven for blokes mad about bikes.

They (and their equally mad female counterparts) head here for motorcycles, retro in design and calibrated like Swiss watches, lined up for sale inside a vast renovated former factory that fronts downtown auto alley, Parramatta Road.

They wander around, gazing lovingly at gleaming engines with names such as Triumph Thruxton, Kawasaki, Deus Grievous Angel and Drovers Dog Custom. These licences-to-speed sit pertly on their wheeled haunches like pedigree dogs at a show.

All the accessories are here too: piston hoodies, helmets named after Parisian suburbs, chukka boots, beatnik sunglasses, gripping gloves. The atmosphere is not only accessorised, it's also artistic, with books and posters and a Persian carpet.

Caffeine is the perfect partner for speed so Deus Ex Machina has embraced the espresso machine, then gone one better. It's put in the whole kitchen and created the Deus Cafe.

So discreetly is this cafe attached to the glass-fronted shop that you could easily not know it's there, or open for all-day breakfast and lunch. The shades are drawn and the signage minimal.

That's why at lunchtime on a Saturday we're pleasantly surprised to push open the side door and find the cafe is not just peopled with men sipping macchiato. Prams are parked at the rugged wooden, ultra-long communal tables. Babies are jiggled by fathers and friends while cool-as mums tuck into scrambled eggs with baked ricotta and flat-white coffees.

You don't have to sit at a table: there are low stools and bar stools, coffee tables and benches, rattan lounges and armchairs without upholstery in corners of the room.

Wooden venetian blinds filter sunlight, crimson curtains add drama and the vintage green enamel pendant lights echo the building's history. Bicycles hang from original wooden columns and the timber beams are scratched with white paint.

The feel is of an American diner meets a mechanic's workshop - with manga movies and modern art instead of girly calendars - and the menu reflects this mix of retro and techno.

The steak sandwich may come with masses of silky tresses of classic fried onions and a pile of shoe-string fries but the ciabatta bread is very now. It gets the thumbs up. Likewise the vegetarian and roast lamb sandwiches come on a floured Italian bread roll with modern condiments such as roasted capsicum.

Interestingly, the Deus Cafe is a burger-free zone. Carnivores can get a steak and there are square slices of pizza in a counter that looks too big for the purpose.

Baked lasagna, spilling from its gratin dish, looks hearty. So does the only salad on the menu, a bowl of glossy green leaves, split roma tomatoes and hard ricotta.

Pasta specials change daily. Friends reported with praise on a braised lamb ragu. Today, it's bucatini all'Amatriciana and we can't cover it with as many compliments. Although the chilli heat is subtle in a deep tomato sauce, the parsley and the pancetta slide over the teeth in hard bits and the unexceptional pasta verges on the undercooked.

Scrambled eggs are soft and creamy and come with loads of choices - Boston beans, smoked salmon, mushrooms, sausages and tomatoes - but the bacon bends like chewy plastic.

On the beverage side, we can report that the coffee has decent body and length, the berry frappe is ultra-fruity and the hot chocolate is better than most.

We'd heard that the baking was worth the detour so we sample a white chocolate brownie and a chocolate nougatine tart. Verdict: both are sensational, especially the delicate coconut and the premium white chocolate biscuity slice.

By the way, if you're thinking that deus ex machina has another meaning, you're right. It's shorthand for bad literature. When an author is so entangled in his or her plot that they have no way out and have to resort to a solution that is entirely unrelated to the story and implausible, it's called deus ex machina.

This device (think Hollywood endings in movies) brings you crashing down from your happy suspension of disbelief. At the Deus Cafe, however, nothing spoils the story.

Everything is in keeping with the belief that motorcycle culture is the coolest ride on Earth. After you've tried the brilliant take on the chocolate brownie and the contemporary twist on the steak sandwich, you might be convinced, too."

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