The Australian food and hospitality industry never sleeps. From the quiet pre-dawn preparation at a Melbourne bakery, through to the late-night wind-down of a Perth bar, we look at a day in the life of the people working to keep Australian cities in perpetual motion.
3am. Tivoli Road Bakery, Melbourne
The only sound Michael James hears on his early-morning commute is the spinning wheels of his bike. It’s still dark when the head chef arrives at Tivoli Road Bakery in the back streets of South Yarra. He greets his two fellow graveyard-shift bakers, who are already in the kitchen prepping for the day ahead, and the quiet continues as the trio kneads, mixes and bakes.
“It’s therapeutic, the silence,” says James. “But also lively. You work hard and then you get to see the bread rise and come to life before you.” Among the loaves James and his team make are sourdough; spelt; soy and linseed. They also make croissants, fruit danish pastries and chocolate brownies. Next come the sandwiches, pies and sausage rolls, made last so they’re fresh for the lunch rush.
At 7am the front-of-house staff arrives and brews the bakers their first coffee for the day. Half an hour later, at 7.30am – four and a half hours after James first dismounted from his bike – Tivoli Road’s first customer walks through the door.
James’s wife, Pippa, works front of house. She chats to the regulars as a line grows out the door. It’s easy conversation to make. “People are always saying how good it smells in here,” she says. “It’s always a happy place to be. Just before 9am Michael pulls doughnuts fresh from the oven and a new queue forms.
By the time Michael finishes at 2pm, he’s thinking about coffee again. If Pippa can knock off early, she’ll likely join him at their preferred spot, Admiral Cheng-Ho. The day awaits.
7am. Edition Coffee Roasters, Sydney
As the greater city of Sydney roars to life, Darlinghurst is just lazily waking. If Daniel Jackson, co-founder of Edition Coffee Roasters, can hear dance music playing from his workplace as he arrives just after 6am, it’s a good sign. “If the music’s up loud it means my chef’s in a good mood,” he says.
Jackson opened the cafe in 2015 with his brother, Corie Sutherland (since moved on), as a cultural fusion of their two favourite destinations, Scandinavia and Japan. Coffee is central to Edition’s offering, featuring selections of single-origin/estate green beans for the batch brew, pour-over, and cold brew coffees. Teas include chung feng jasmine from China, and gyokuro from Japan.
As the kitchen preps for the venue’s Nordic-Japanese menu – which includes sticky mushroom brioche with Japanese slaw, and Honningkage (Danish honey cake) with gingerbread polenta – Jackson opens the cafe at 7am and begins chatting to regulars picking up their morning coffees.
“We talk to people about their dogs, their break-ups, their work; it’s good to have a chat and get them going in the morning,” he says. Jackson’s team will pump out about 80 cups during the pre-work caffeine run.
By 10am the atmosphere has calmed, but that doesn’t mean empty tables. “It’s a cool spot to just hang,” says Jackson. “We’ll have artists, designers and architects coming in for business meetings, or travellers just cruising through.” If he’s in the mood, Jackson will make plans for a knock-off drink around the corner at Love, Tily Devine. But for now, lunch is whatever the chef serves up at work.
12pm. King Arthur Cafe, Brisbane
At one of the inside tables, there’s a writer who has been jotting notes for hours. “She’s the epitome of our pace,” says Sarah Boydell, manager of the cruisy Fortitude Valley cafe.
A venture from the same team that’s behind South Brisbane’s popular Merriweather, King Arthur occupies the last in a row of petite refurbished warehouses on Arthur Street. Here there’s no such thing as rush hour. The all-day brunch menu has been prepped well before the morning coffee bustle, and locals know they can wander in whenever their stomachs sing out for King Arthur’s beloved streaky-bacon burger.
It’s a highlight of chef Dru Kokkinn’s menu, which focuses on organic produce, including Mount Cotton mushrooms and Gippsland Blue cheese. By 1.30pm it’s the house-made layer cakes, tortes and slices luring the surrounding office-workers in for post-lunch business meetings. “No two days are the same here,” Boydell says. “We’ve always got a new crowd with lots of travellers. It’s interesting trying to piece together what everyone’s story is.”
By 4pm Boydell is about to walk home, where she’ll often pass King Arthur regulars on her stroll up the street. After a quick gym session she’ll think about meeting friends for dinner at Paddington’s Hai Hai in about an hour’s time.
5pm. The Henry Austin, Adelaide
There’s not a menu in sight as The Henry Austin kitchen is briefed on the night ahead. Instead, owner Max Mason reels off a selection of dishes he’s collaboratively brainstormed earlier in the morning with his chefs and local producers. “As produce changes, so do our dishes,” says Mason. “And the produce changes every day.” Mason and business partner Tess Footner have recently transformed the site from its former life as the historic business-lunch spot, Chesser Cellars, into a fresh, new bottle shop, takeaway and restaurant hub.
At 6pm Mason leads the floor as guests start filing in. The takeaway area is already abuzz with customers dashing in for their orders, and by 7pm Mason is coordinating the serving of plates such as pressed lamb belly with Adelaide Hills peas, wild garlic flowers and oyster mushrooms.
Mason admits he’s a taskmaster, but his background betrays a soft spot. As a restaurateur in Oxford, England, he employed prisoners on day release to work in his kitchen and front of house. For The Henry Austin, he turned down seasoned hospitality workers in favour of actors, tradies and students.
“They’re not criminals – yet,” he says, laughing. “I hired people who have a passion for food. I taught them how to carry three plates. To last in this industry you need to care.” Last they must. It’s not uncommon at The Henry Austin for staff to be on the floor until midnight, before knocking off with a glass of wine together. If not alongside them, Mason will drop into late-night bar, Biggies at Bertram, to meet with friends.
10pm. Halford, Perth.
It’s peak hour at Halford in Perth’s CBD, and owner John Parker is garnishing a Singapore Sling with flower petals he picked earlier in the day to use as decoration for the drink. “We often go down to the Supreme Court Gardens nearby and pinch a few edible flowers,” says Parker.
Formerly the safe room of the 1897 Titles Office, Parker’s contemporary take on a 1950s lounge only opened last October. A child of a publican, Parker spent most of his youth living above his father’s hospitality ventures. Halford – his father’s middle name – is a nod to the lounge bar his dad opened before he was born.
“Dad used to run big boozers for blokes, and ladies never went,” Parker says. “One day he turned one area into a lounge bar. The ladies started getting dressed up and flocking there.”
The son took notice. Plushly carpeted, Halford has steel bank-safe shutters; pink, midnight-blue and chartreuse velvet upholstery; bronze-mirror tabletops; and golden-swan taps in the bathrooms. “I wanted to make it a place where you forget about where you are,” says Parker. “Where you don’t see people glued to their phones.”
By midnight the bar has served close to 100 Halford Martinis, made with gin, Lillet Blanc and apricot brandy rinse, and garnished with anchovy-stuffed olives. Last drinks are called and not long after 2am John closes the doors behind the last of the night’s guests. “There’s always a celebration here,” he says. “But the best part is there will be a new one to honour tomorrow.”
Back in Melbourne, the time difference means it has just gone 4am. Michael James is back in the kitchen. Quietly kneading dough. Thinking about coffee.