Barrio Collective Coffee | Braddon, Canberra

At school, I always wondered what it was like to be one of those kids that moved around with their families every few years (or less). Having grown up in little ol’ Canberra, I wondered how much more of the world they’d seen; how much collateral knowledge they’d picked up on the way. But I also wondered how they approached their relationships with new people and these new places, knowing that they would most likely be short-lived and transient.

Why the philosophical start to this post about a small, 12-seater café? Well, this week marked the start of my gradual transition up to Sydney, after almost three decades living in Canberra. And it was only when I was up there this week that I realised I’d already spent my last full week in Canberra (for now, at least). It made me realise that I had a pretty great connection with the town I’d grown up in, and also how much I’d miss about it – the open spaces, the network of bike lanes, the community minded people, the honest politicians, and not least – the incredible evolution of our cafe, bar and restaurant scene.

In terms of this evolution, Braddon has obviously been one of our biggest success stories in recent times, gathering national – and even worldwide – attention for its quick and organic development into a vibrant, cultural hub. One of the newer coffee shops along the Londsale strip is Barrio Collective Coffee, a locally-owned operation that joins a number of other Canberra cafes in (ethically) sourcing and roasting their own beans.

Located in the Ori Building next to Naked Foods, Barrio occupies a fairly small space, with a high counter bench running down the right side of the shop, and a large wooden communal table in the middle. In addition to the table, there are beautiful timber features all around the room, from the bookcase to the benchtops to the bar stools. I really like the honeycomb pattern along the side of the wall too, which makes for an interesting but not-too-distracting backdrop for your coffee.

As its name suggests, Barrio’s focus is on delivering a great coffee experience. As well as espresso-based coffees, they serve batch brew filter coffee, the manual and meticulously-cool aeropress and V60 coffees, and offer a house made nut milk for non-dairy drinkers. And for tea drinkers, their ‘Gypsy’ has a smoky-Chai-meets-Russian-Caravan flavour, served with a dab of quince jam for sweetness.

So what did we order after hearing about all that? Two flat whites.

Since we’d just been for a morning gym session, I was ready for a second breakfast, and the sourdough with bone marrow butter, fried egg and crispy shallots ($16) jumped off the page at me. I absolutely love the flavour of bone marrow, and I’m so glad it’s getting onto restaurant menus with the current trend of nose-to-tail cooking. I’ve had bone marrow all my life though - when my brother and I were growing up, our parents would make big batches of Chinese soup using marrow bones, and we would fight endlessly over who got to suck the meaty, fatty marrow out of the bone. (Well, we didn’t physically fight, but they were certainly worth getting a cut lip for – I mean, even after you'd gotten every last speck of marrow out, just the air left inside the bone was still delicious!).

My mate Killer (whose nickname is based on his surname - and ironically, he’s in the business of saving people’s lives) ordered a stroopwafel to go with his coffee. A stroopwafel is a Dutch biscuit (literally meaning “syrup waffle”), made of two thin waffles sandwiching a layer of caramel. The idea is that you put your stroopwafel on top of your cup of tea or coffee, allowing the caramel to soften and become oozy, while also keeping your beverage hot! I feel like the Dutch don’t get enough credit for this genius idea, but I suppose we have a lot of other things to thank them for - gin; the cassette (and CDs); wi-fi; the discovery of Western Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand; decades of influential electronic dance music; the origins of capitalism and financial markets; and of course, "dutch ovens". Not bad for a country with a population of 17 million.

When my dish came out, I was shaking in excitement (either that, or it was a delayed onset reaction from my pre-trainer). What would this magical bone marrow butter taste like? Cutting into the sourdough, I could see that they’d applied a generous slather of bone marrow butter, as it had soaked through the entire slice of bread! The golden, glistening butter then became a feast for the tastebuds – it was rich, oily and delicious, with a distinct meaty taste from the marrow (as weird as that sounds). The all-important cut into the fried egg got a big tick as well, as it oozed out onto my plate. Add to that the crunch and flavour of the fried shallots, and I was in breakfast heaven.

Barrio Collective Coffee is one of the places I’ll miss when I leave Canberra. Even though it’s small, it doesn’t feel cramped or overcrowded, and there’s still enough space to have a conversation without everyone overhearing. I guess I’ll just have to get my bone marrow fix from someone else in Sydney – and I think I know just the place to go...

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