The vibrant Chippendale precinct around Kensington Street is about to shine a little brighter with the opening tomorrow of A1 Canteen, an all-day restaurant from respected Sydney chef Clayton Wells. With plenty of take-away options, a liquor license from 10am and casual menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the 55-seat venue could become a defacto dining room – albeit a highly stylish one – for nearby apartment dwellers, office workers and guests at The Old Clare Hotel.
"There's a lot of people coming down here now," Wells says. "The street's changed a lot in the three years since we started Automata."
Automata, Wells's starred fine-diner, and the award-winning Old Clare Hotel are located just metres up the laneway; other neighbours include Kensington Street Social, Handpicked Wines' cellar door, a new Palace Cinema and the hawker-style stalls of Spice Alley. While it's a busy neighbourhood, Wells says there was no place that people could wander into at any time of day, whether to get a take-away sandwich and Single O coffee or a drink and snack before dinner.
As if in answer, A1 Canteen will open five nights a week, offering a flexible menu of large and small plates plus sides, along with three desserts and cheese. Hungry diners might spring for the whole flounder doused in Espelette butter and finished with fried curry leaves or perhaps the Rangers Valley black Angus hanger steak, which comes with a fermented mushroom butter and pickled wood-ear mushrooms. Smaller dishes include steamed tua tua clams in anchovy butter and torched bonito with pickled onions. Heading up the kitchen is Wells's former sous-chef at Automata, Scott Eddington.
The wine list is tight and mostly under the $100 mark, full of drops that Wells describes as clean, fresh and "a little bit eclectic". A1 will start pouring from 10am so those looking for a breakfast cocktail can choose from one of several Bloody Marys or restaurant manager Rachel Trewin's Spritz made with a house shrub of pineapple and marjoram. Then there's the A1 Canteen pre-batch cocktails: take your pick from Negronis, Rob Roys and Foghorns.
Luckily, then, that breakfast is a hearty affair. Dishes from Wells's 2016 brunch pop-up, Auto.lab, re-appear (hello, bacon and cheddar sandwich) alongside blood pudding, open omelettes and an English muffin of curried scrambled eggs and LP's Quality Meats' pork sausages.
"I used those sausages at Auto.lab and they were some of the best sausages I've tried," Wells says.
Take-away is a focus, with a dedicated window on Kensington Street where you can pick up breakfast (there's five items designed to go) or reset your weekday lunch routine with either a first-class sandwich or a make-your-own plate of salads and meat. For now that could be hot smoked trout and salsa verde paired with a salad of broccolini, romanesco and wakame dressing, but the selection will change regularly. Sandwiches - made on bread from Dust Bakery or Sonoma - include a salt beef bagel, roast chicken with preserved lemon mayonnaise and a heart-stopping fried eggplant number with provolone cheese and romesco.
The restaurant fit-out by Automata designer Matt Darwon of GP2 Projects follows the pared-back style of Wells's other venues, with a muted palette of white, black and grey accented by cherry marble-topped tables, plenty of natural light and Bauhaus-inspired cantilever chairs.
"In the morning, there's beautiful sunlight coming in and then it gets a bit more moody come night time," Wells says.
Whatever time you visit, whatever mood you're in, it sounds like Wells and his team have something in their bag of tricks to suit you.
A1 Canteen, Ground Floor, 2-10 Kensington Street, Chippendale, NSW, no phone, a1canteen.com.au. Open from Wednesday 20 June. Breakfast and lunch Mon-Sun 8am-3pm; dinner Tues-Sat 6pm-10pm.