Cornersmith pop-up review: Root-to-leaf menu a tribute to artist Janet Laurence

Until June 10, there’s an accompanying Cornersmith pop-up cafe on level four, and its menu riffs on the greenery and ideas found in the environmentally focused artist’s work.

Top to Tail Beets.

Top to Tail Beets.Credit:James Alcock

Cornersmith seems perfect for this collaboration, as its various businesses (two inner-west cafes, plus its Marrickville picklery) are all about respecting the landscape: staff use Australian-only ingredients, minimise food waste by turning scraps into pickles, ferments and condiments, and organise ingredient exchanges with locals – so excess backyard crops can be swapped for coffee and other goods, instead of being left to rot in gardens.

Nothing edible should really go in the bin – and in fact, Cornersmith’s co-owner Alex Elliott-Howery believes this so strongly she used to travel around with a ladder in her car, so she could direct her kids up trees to save mulberries that were about to splatter all over the footpath (she retired this waste-saving exercise when her children were too big to climb the rungs).

“I love how Janet highlights the environmental challenges we face and gently encourages [us] to make changes,” Elliott-Howery says.

So getting involved with this cafe pop-up was a no-brainer. Along with Cornersmith chef Greer Rochford, Elliott-Howery created a plant-based menu for the MCA that takes a root-to-leaf approach with ingredients.

Vegan Surprise.

Vegan Surprise.Credit:James Alcock

“All the excess parts that usually end up in the bin get used somewhere else on the menu,” Elliott-Howery says. So you can order a pineapple and coconut cake that’s sweetened with syrup made from pineapple skins. Or “Top to Tail Beets”, which uses every element of beetroot in a rye sandwich with labne and native dukkah.

There are creations inspired by specific artworks, too. The healing tea is influenced by Desire (Elixir Lab) and draws on the soothing properties of certain plants (rosemary, cinnamon and bay leaves to aid digestion, lemon myrtle and mint for their anti-inflammatory qualities).

There is plenty to look at outside while you're dining.

There is plenty to look at outside while you’re dining.Credit:James Alcock

Cornersmith left the MCA with a master recipe that can be adapted to what’s available, and while the tea is understated in flavour (and it’s hard to detect the locally sourced honey that’s meant to sweeten it), it’s admirable as a waste-free drink that can be punched up with old excess herbs and stems that might be lying around.

Another example of smart repurposing is Cornersmith’s “kitchen scrap kimchi”. It seems perfect for the pop-up’s kimchi and cheddar toastie (except when your order has been left waiting on the pass for a little too long), but its fermented cabbage flavour – which is centred more on tang and sourness, and is so gently spiced that even the most chilli-fearing among us can handle it – shines on the “vegan surprise” plate: a biting contrast with the crunchy slaw, briny pickles and fiery tomato chutney that’s there to accompany the slices of sourdough bread.

Pineapple and coconut cake served with pineapple skin syrup.

Pineapple and coconut cake served with pineapple skin syrup.Credit:James Alcock

If Sydney’s love for Cornersmith comes from its close-kit neighbourhood feel and its friendly way of producing forward-thinking food using old-school methods, something does get a little lost in the MCA cafe’s translation – particularly its impersonal canteen setting, where a take-your-number approach to quickly processing diners can’t compete with Cornersmith’s genuine intimacy.

But having another venue convey its vital message about sustainability is no bad thing. And that grand view of the Sydney Opera House from this pop-up’s location is hard to complain about. That combined experience may very well be better than a postcard of the exhibition.

THE LOWDOWN

Main attraction: Smart, sustainable dishes inspired by Janet Laurence’s eco-minded exhibition.

Must-try: The “vegan surprise” plate.

Insta-worthy dish: Almost anything with the Sydney Opera House as your backdrop! But especially the pineapple and coconut cake with pineapple skin syrup.

Drinks: Campos coffee, $4-$5; T2 tea, $4; Cornersmith’s healing tea, $5.

Prices: From $6 for the pineapple and coconut cake to $16 for autumn salad with caramelised leek, pear, walnut and feta.

Hours: Daily 10am–5pm.


IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

MARY’S CIRCULAR QUAY

7 Macquarie Place, Circular Quay

The team behind Sydney’s best burgers have set up harbourside. They’re still weeks away from finishing their revamp of the beloved Basement site, but in the meantime, they’ve opened the upstairs area – and everything on the menu (from the cheeseburger to the fried chicken) is available as a vegan alternative.

MUSEUM OF SYDNEY

Corner Phillip and Bridge Streets, Sydney

Exhibitions on show include How Cities Work, an immersive cityscape created by talented illustrator James Gulliver Hancock; a street photography exhibition that covers Sydney from the 1930s to the 1950s, and Yura Nura: People & Country, which reflects on the colonisation of Australian land from Indigenous viewpoints.

CHAT THAI

Gateway Shopping Centre, L05/1 Macquarie Place, Circular Quay

This huge outpost of the much-loved Sydney institution has a menu that’s almost as big as the 148-seat restaurant itself. The steamed rice flour dumplings and coconut and turmeric recipes are just some of the highlights you can order. This is a good pre-theatre pit stop and a great refuge from the typical tourist traps.

ROSLYN PACKER THEATRE

22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

Catch the upcoming slate of Sydney Theatre Company shows (including productions with big hitters, such as Mia Wasikowska in Lord of the Flies) and other productions such as Sydney Dance Company’s Bonachela/Obarzanek double bill in November.

BENNELONG

Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney

Yes, the pavlova in the shape of its Sydney Opera House location is still on the menu – and so is the eight-texture chocolate cake that originated from Peter Gilmore’s Quay restaurant, too. But have you tried the neenish tart with mulberry ripple ice cream, the chef’s inspired tribute to the classic Australian bakery staple?

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