A few weeks ago I was down in ‘The Mount’ on the Limestone Coast for a book event and stayed overnight with good friends. Mount Gambier is in the neck of the woods I grew up in – just a short drive from the family farm at Naracoorte, the Coonawarra wine region and the picturesque seaside town of Robe, where I spent childhood summer holidays. The region is filled with world heritage natural sites and the Mount is described as ‘a city of craters, lakes and caves’. If you’re planning a road trip from Adelaide to Melbourne via the spectacular Great Ocean Road, it’s worth a stop to view its greatest attraction, the Blue Lake, which fills the crater of an extinct volcano. The water mysteriously changes colour with the seasons, turning an intense, deep turquoise blue in November and back to steely grey in March.
As we chat into the night, my friend Kathy tells me about Metro Bakery & Café, her favourite café in this small regional city that has tongues wagging for all the right reasons.
The next morning we arrive early for breakfast. The Mount is renowned for its cold, frosty mornings but we soon push open a door to a room that is warm and inviting: rustic timber floors, dark wood, jazz playing. We could almost be in Melbourne. And, like Melbourne, the coffee is great.
Metro, derived from the Greek word Metrio, means ‘in the middle’ or ‘meeting place’. It’s the idea of community coming together and it certainly seems true to its name as I watch a loyal band of locals stream through the door, stopping to snatch a quick morning coffee & pastry and to read the morning paper.
On the counter is a basket of buttery croissants au beurre, made and baked on the premises from a century-old traditional French recipe, and a tray of croissants aux amandes. There seems to be a focus on traditional French baking as well as Greek and Italian and as we wait for our breakfasts I chat to Toni Vorenas – who owns the café with her husband Theo – and find out why.
‘A French trained pastry chef literally knocked on our door and asked for a job. He had tried every bakery in Mount Gambier. At that time we did not make anything in-house and had no equipment,’ says Toni. ‘He started the bakery with us from the ground up. He brought over another pastry chef, also French trained, to work with him and he is still with us today. We have since hired three local boys who are all learning the skills.’
What began as a simple coffee and sandwich shop has evolved into a thriving European style bakery, café and bar and among the pastries now made in-house you will find pithiviers, mont blancs, opera cakes, escargots, and little lemon and raspberry tartlets.
‘I am Sicilian and my husband is Greek so our café food is also heavily influenced by our cultures,’ says Toni. ‘Our focus is on tradition – as well as using traditional methods of baking we also make our own sugo (passata) once a year. We use a lot of produce from my father’s garden and we have our own substantial herb garden out the back.’
The croissants aux almonds tempt but I decide on something more substantial and my Metro Big Breakfast arrives. Roasted tomatoes, smoked bacon, Spanish chorizo, sautéed mushrooms, mozzarella and herb potato rosti, basil pesto, and poached eggs with sourdough. Enough to keep me going for the entire day!
Artisan loaves and baguettes are made on the premises, with gluten-free options, and there is traditional baklava, cannoli and tiramisu.
Metro also does interesting light lunches from soups and salads to pasta. There’s a range of gourmet baguette sandwiches served all day, or you may prefer Chickpea & Haloumi fritters, Braised Pork Belly or a Terra Rossa Beef Burger.
Two years ago Metro started opening in the evenings as a dessert bar with plated desserts from the kitchen. ‘We still run the dessert bar but we have also added cafe style dinners,’ says Toni.
Oh, and that croissant aux amandes. I took one to go. It was très bon!
*For more information on the Limestone Coast click here.