I'll be upfront. I was a big fan of the first incarnation of The Front Cafe and Gallery. I loved the grunge and live music and late nights. It was the perfect place to spend a Friday afternoon, rediscover Stone's green ginger wine, settling into one of those cushy couches they had out the front with a book and not a care in the world. When the new owners refurbished in 2018 I was somewhat skeptical. It looked a little homogenous, another cafe fitted out in pale wood, modern but without much soul.
I still reminisce whenever I go back there, but I'm finding more and more that this new version is perfectly fine as well, indeed the past few visits have pleasantly surprised me.
On this occasion we're there for a late breakfast. There's a hum. People waiting outside for coffees and takeaway. The socially distanced tables are all full, and with no bookings for tables fewer than four, we're lucky to snaffle one in the space in front of the kitchen. In the gallery space, there are some people eating, a woman is enjoying a coffee and a book, a man has his laptop out and is working away. Like many good neighbourhood cafes we run into several people we know, a reminder how grateful we should be here in Canberra that we can still enjoy eating out and see people we love.
The menu is an all day one. The old faithfuls are all there: avocado, haloumi, bacon, eggs, rosti. I guess the trick for these "modern cafes" is to put their own spin on dishes, find new ways to serve things, taking them beyond standard fare. And The Front manages to do that with the meals we order on this occasion.
The highlight is the speck ($19), lightly smoked pork belly with fried potatoes, poached eggs, seasonal greens, parmesan, confit eschallots and garlic. The pork belly is to die for, sliced thinly, almost like a thick bacon, it's tender with a little caramelised crisp around the edges for good measure. I just wish there had been more of it on the plate. The eggs are well cooked. I can't poach an egg to save my life and I'm always thrilled when you cut one open and the yolk oozes out creating a little sauce all of its own. The broccolini is a nice touch here too, our seasonal green, there's a little bite and it offsets the richness of the pork belly and fried potatoes. There's a liberal sprinkling of parmesan to bring it all together.
Our next dish is the rosti ($20), a couple of zucchini and sweet potato rosti with poached eggs, house-made hollandaise, rocket and house kraut. These worry me a little when they come to the table, the rosti are very dark, they almost look burnt, but there's no trace of that in the flavour. There's a crunch to the outside, the centre is well-cooked and they're well seasoned. The eggs here are coated in a hollandaise that's been coloured with what looks like paprika, two little golden globes; they're a little bit smoky in flavour and ooze perfectly, the rosti benefits from the additional moisture from the eggs. The house kraut is a surprise too, sharp and full of flavour.
We feel rather decadent ordering dessert at breakfast, at least that's what we tell ourselves the pressed French toast ($18) is. It's served with seasonal fruit, a shortbread crumb, ice cream and maple syrup. Ice cream before 10am? Why not? Who's to judge us. The toast is served in a thick wedge and the consistency is somewhat like a bread and butter pudding, perhaps a little dry but mouthfuls with the ice cream and syrup work well. We get strawberries and bananas with our order. I've seen it served on other occasions with blueberries and raspberries and they would have been welcome here. The crumb has plenty of bite, not a soft shortbread at all, and it works here, adding texture and an element of surprise.
I'm not a coffee drinker but my companion tells me the coffee at The Front is very good. There's a connection to the Two Before Ten empire and that's the coffee used here, a single origin, a milk coffee blend, a batch brew. Judging by the number of takeaway coffees they do in the hour we're there they are obviously doing it well. The drinks list also includes a range of teas, some chai, hot chocolate and some cold pressed juices and some kombucha.
I know it's not right to tell people how to run their business but I wonder why The Front hasn't moved on to dinners and more late nights. That was the idea back in 2018. It would be nice to see how they could transform this space once again. Despite all the COVID restrictions Tilley's, a couple of doors down, has been doing a roaring trade. The Front has such a nice aspect, late afternoon sun would flood the outside area. It would be nice to be able to have a wine with the sun on your back and some of that speck. But in the meantime, The Front is all about early mornings. Good coffee, favourites given a delicious twist, efficient service, a hum. Sometimes it's better not to dwell on memories and enjoy the present.
The Front Cafe and Gallery
Address: 1 Wattle Place, Lyneham
Hours: Monday to Friday, 7am to 2pm; Weekends and public holidays, 8am to 2pm.
Owner: Blake Proberts
Chef: Ayeisha Oorloff
Vegetarian: Plenty of good options
Noise: No problem