It is a little ridiculous that it took an American living in Paris to point me in the direction of a good lamington in Sydney but that’s what happened.
A lamington is a quintessentially Australian cake. In the US, Girl Scouts sell Girl Scout cookies. In Australia, Girl Guides or school kids have “lamington drives” instead. There were periods in my childhood when I ate far too many pre-packaged lamingtons and other periods where I didn’t eat them at all. I don’t recall my mother ever baking them, though she made other cakes, but I’m sure I ate homemade versions at school fetes and the like.
What is it? It is a square of plain cake coated with chocolate and desiccated coconut. There is often a layer of jam or cream inside as well. It’s apparently very similar to the “coconut bar” of Cleveland, Ohio. The dessert was supposedly invented by accident by a maid in the kitchen of Lord Lamington, a governor of Queensland in the late 19th century, but there are differing versions of the story. Lord Lamington apparently hated the cake named after him and I’m sure he would be galled to know that its fame has so entirely eclipsed and outlasted his.
I hadn’t thought about lamingtons in years, until I read a post by food blogger David Lebovitz a few months ago. He was in Sydney earlier in the year and he had somehow heard about lamingtons and decided to go on a quest to find the best one in Sydney. I don’t think his sample size was terribly large but at any rate he decided the gong went to Single Origin Roasters in Surry Hills. He was most effusive in his praise of their lamingtons, so I decided to check it out. My friend Jessica was also keen so the plan was set – but it then took ages and ages for us to make a date without one of us cancelling our plans.
We finally caught up this morning. I left our apartment in one of Sydney’s torrential downpours but it cleared up by the time I got off my bus at the other end and it turned into a nice day in the end. I got to the café first and found a table outside. The staff were very obliging about moving the tables so that I could park my double pram. Jess showed up with her husband Andrew, who was on his lunch break for work, and her daughter Evie who is now eight months old. We immediately swapped babies for a cuddle. It really made me realise how big my twins are getting – they will be one next month and they are solid little people so there is no mistaking them for an eight-month-old like Evie.
Jess and Andrew ordered lattes but I ordered something called a “siphon coffee” from their menu, mainly because it sounded interesting. As you can see, it comes served in something that looks a little like a bong or shisha. The first picture is before they took the top part off and was taken by Andrew because I had my arms full of baby.
The coffee was Sumatran and tasted kind of pure and slightly acidic – a bit like filter coffee. It reminded me of “cupping” to test the quality of a coffee crop, something I’ve done on trips to coffee producing countries in my work as a journalist. Of course, I didn’t slurp it up and then spit it out, which is what you do when you’re actually cupping.
The food at Single Origin Roasters actually looks really good; both the breakfast and lunch menus looked great. I’d love to come back for a proper meal, probably breakfast, some time. But I’d already had breakfast and I wasn’t quite ready for lunch so I just stuck with ordering my lamington. Sadly it didn’t come scattered with dried raspberry bits but I think it was probably the best lamington I’ve ever had. The cake had a really nice texture – not dry and not soggy but the perfect amount of moisture – and I think it had been soaked in chocolate so that the chocolate permeated the outer layer of the cake rather than sitting on the surface like icing. It had raspberry jam inside, which I was happy about. I’m definitely more in favour of the jam rather than cream filling, though I would go for both if I had the choice, as long as it was real cream. Jess and Andrew thought it was pretty good too. Jess wasn’t sure if it was the best she’s ever had – but she also couldn’t think of one better.
Andrew ordered the burger for lunch and as it was now noon, I realised I need to feed the babies if not myself. I tried to order the bircher muesli but I was told the breakfast service had closed. I told the waitress I had hoped to give it to the babies but would take a look at the lunch menu and see if there was something else for them. She said she would see what they could do and they ended up bringing a small amount of bircher muesli in a coffee cup for the babies to eat. I wondered what they would charge but it didn’t show up on the bill at all – it was just a very thoughtful gift. People often complain about the hospitality service in Australia but it’s often very good – I find that experiences like this are not unusual. Thank you also to Jess for sharing bits of Evie’s finger food that she didn’t need.
As well as the café, there is a hole-in-the-wall takeaway outlet next door. As I was leaving, I saw the siphon coffee being made – very cool looking with all those flames! Even so, I think I’ll get the espresso next time.