With its opening late last year, the Gardener’s Lodge Café made the history of Victoria Park come full circle. The mostly Aboriginal-owned café, housed in a disused sandstone gatekeeper’s cottage on the edge of the Park, stands alongside a traditional waterhole used for gatherings by the Gadigal people. Add to this the café’s spotlight on native produce, and it marks something of a return to the original use of the land.
Our native flora and fauna crop up throughout an otherwise standard café menu: think kangaroo pie with bush tomato sauce, buttermilk wattleseed pancakes, and “bush syrup” cordials made from native spearmint or dessert lime. The addition of alpine pepper lends gentle warmth to a small tower of sweet corn and zucchini fritters, while a pineapple frappe gets a zesty kick from the addition of mintbush. The food is simple, the flavours clean and fresh, although unlike traditional bush tucker, it doesn’t come cheap – most dishes cost between $10-$20, with juices hovering around the $6 mark.
What makes this café so special, however, is its social purpose. Run by hospitality teacher Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo, an elder of the Gamilaroi people from northern NSW, the business is designed to give work experience to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from the nearly Yaama Dhiyaan Hospitality Training College. The staff are correspondingly helpful and enthusiastic, adding to the cheery feel of the place. The clientele seem to feel it too: the outdoor terrace, overlooking the duck ponds, is buzzing with a mix of merry old nannas dining out on Groupon vouchers and students scoffing Persian sour cherry bread over their readings.
If you’re feeling like a solid feed, or fancy a wander through the park, the Gardener’s Lodge Café makes for a peaceful place to stop off and sample some tucker.