THE Little Champion (T.L.C.) has got involved in the market game and is one of the organisers along with two mates – a passionate Frenchman and an enthusiastic foodie – of Sydney’s newest produce market in the leafy inner-eastern suburb of Woollahra.
She texted me last week as she needed my help with her hubby and my best mate REG aka Real Evil Genius. REG was a bit out of character (he was apparently going “all gourmet”), and she asked me to come along one Sunday and catch up with him at the market for “an intervention”.
If it was true that REG was “going all gourmet” then she was right to start worrying. You may remember REG from a previous blog. “Gourmet” for REG is wearing a bib while breaking into a chilli crab sipping his cocktail of choice (either a shandy or a West Coast Cooler). I confronted REG over the phone. He confessed that ever since T.L.C. and her mates started the market he would return home each Sunday afternoon with bags full of jars of granola, cheeses, French pastries, artisan breads and flowers. To my surprise he was getting a taste for a salad mix from the providers of all things leafy to none other than restaurateurs Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry.
The Baronets of Balmain and I caught up with REG and his daughter, Little Nipper, at the Woollahra Artisan Market on a recent sunny Sydney spring Sunday. It’s a small market tucked behind Zigolini’s on Queen Street and is reminiscent of the type of village market you would find in suburbs and villages of France. And that’s exactly what its creator, Woollaraha local Alain Schwerm, is trying to emulate. From what I saw, smelt, heard and experienced he is on the way to making this one of the best suburban produce markets in the city.
The first thing that stood out when we arrived was that many of the stallholders (such as the elegant ladies that run the stall selling woven market bags and French linen), would greet you with an enthusiastic “bonjour” (in true French accents), giving this market a real Continental vibe. Secondly is the array and quantity of produce; and thirdly, not a bric-a-brac stall in sight.
REG and Little Nipper wanted to take us to some of their market discoveries (I think REG couldn’t wait to try the samples as almost all stallholders had an offering to entice a purchase), so the first stop was “Yummee” operated by a family that made their own organic granola. The granola was good, especially highlighted when layered with the fruity compote that they also sold. The family also makes its own peanut spread (which would be excellent on top of some steamed veges Indonesian gado-gado style), and an almond paste.
Yummee was in-between a young lad surrounded by bottles of a wine spritzer called “Sofi” and a couple of kids spruiking the health benefits of their bottled virgin olive oil from Rosto Grove in Merriwa up in the Hunter Valley. Rosto produces two varieties – a mild drop (Mellow) and a pungent beauty (Extra Oomph) which had lashings of banana and pepper tones. REG bought a bottle to send home to the Baroness.
Next door was a stall managed by an extremely fit and health passionate women from “Running Hearts” who made her own protein balls and other healthy snacks. The Baronets consumed enough protein ball samples to satisfy Arnold Schwarzenegger and gave them the thumbs up (I am now watching to see if Gob and DJ Hoot bulk up in the next week). They insisted that I buy a box for the Baroness (so I did but I suspect it was a ploy to raid the box back at home).
I then felt a tug at my jeans. DJ Hoot was pointing at sticks of salami opposite. You never get between DJ Hoot and fermented sausage – she’s a connoisseur of it and puts other eight year olds to shame when ordering pizza (with hot pepperoni every time). There were three styles of the Sicilian-inspired sarda for tasting. Also for sale was saucisson sec, pork rillettes and chicken parfait. To one side and on a grill were large chorizo sausages on sticks spurting out their spicy perfume of minced pig and chilli for sale as a snack. And that is where I lost REG.
But not to worry, the sophisticated Frenchman Alain got me back on track. As we strolled he told me he wanted to create a real produce market like the ones back home – something he thinks is lacking in suburban Sydney (which is true as most of the established ones here are turning into outdoor dollar shops and flea markets).
Alain said he got initial support from some of his French food-loving/making compatriots and proudly told me they had a stall selling the classic and rare Boudreaux pastry canelé (the recipe dates back to the 1700s), and a stall (La Planchette) that had about 20 imported cheeses including comté cheese. He spoke excitedly of the stall owners who made the effort to bring fresh fruit and veg from places like Dural and Vineyard and other artisans giving the market a go.
The emphasis on produce (and being slightly selective on who they have), has worked. The small group of French foodies have been joined by other select producers selling good old cottage-industry wares which a proud Alain said was extremely satisfying and encouraging as it will help to make the market a permanent fixture.
As we chatted we stopped outside a food cart operated by Bar Phở. Alain could tell that the irony of having a Vietnamese street cart selling noodle soup in a “French Market” was not lost on me.
“You see we even have French Indochina represented,” he joked.
I caught up with REG and Little Nipper at “By Constance” which was home to the famous canelé. These delectable sweet pastries can be sampled and must be tried. A canelé is a small, airy pastry with a soft custard center and a dark caramelised crust. One of the nicest sweets I have had in a while (think of a marriage of creme brûlée and panettone). Taking home a packet was a must.
Next door was “Common2Us” from Dural with a selection of quality fruit and vegetables. Across the way the Baronets were studying the huge jar of bees busily making honeycomb at the Maya Sunny Honey stall. Next door, salad merchants “Salads Direct” were selling fresh herbs in pots and bags of salad mixes ($5). I grabbed a bag of these wonderful washed and crunchy leaves which I was told would last for a week in the fridge. I got six individual serves out of the bag and the Rosto olive oil was the dressing of choice at evening meals.
My final purchase of the day was a jar of “Take2Eggs” lemon butter from a lady next to Phở Bar. It has been an excellent accompaniment to some freshly-toasted banana bread and is similar to a spreadable rich lemon curd. She also had some jars of preserved lemons and an organic orange marmalade.
With bags in hand we caught up with T.L.C. and Little Nipper buying bread and chocolate croissants from the Organic Bread Bar. REG also appeared and told me he had just knocked off a grilled chorizo on a stick. He had a big glob of reddish fatty goodness seeping into his shirt as proof.
“Should’ve asked for a bib,” I told him.
Next to REG, as if they were his prized possessions, were two cases of the Sofi wine spritzer which he said he had just bought.
I turned to T.L.C and whispered: “Situation normal, no intervention required”.
The verdict: Produce driven market with the vibe and sophistication reminiscent of a local community market in a small French provincial town. Will make its mark in Sydney.
What: Woollahra Artisan Markets, 53 Moncur Street (corner of Queen Street or second entry at Queen Street and Dorhauer Lane) Woollahra, NSW Australia. Open Sundays from 8.30am to 2.30pm (until Christmas). Web: www.woollahraartisanmarkets.com/
Visited there: October 2014.