Henry Lee’s in Redfern is a stalwart in the Sydney brunch game, despite not having the same social media clout as the usual suspects in the city. We’re here at 11.30 am on a Sunday morning, peak brunch hour (any time that’s dangerously close to ‘lunch’ is peak brunch hour) and the 40 minute wait time to prove it. The venue boasts a beautiful courtyard setting with plenty of bench space up the back, in the company of some large trees. So if you’ve got time to spare, playing the waiting game isn’t really all that bad.
The extended wait time plus the outdoor seating meant it was starting to get a little chilly, despite the best efforts of some outdoor ceiling heaters. I already had my Nespresso for the day so coffee was out of the question, although Julian enjoyed his ‘American-style’ coffee, which I can only surmise to mean the caffeinated cousin of drain water (I am kidding). They had a fairly extensive latte section (everything from red velvet to charcoal to a hibiscus rose) but straight tea won out in the end for me. I love a good jasmine tea and this one was very delicate on the nose, paired with that regal bitterness you associate with a nice strong green tea.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like mushrooms, this was a no-brainer order for the both of us. We loved the pure variety in this dish, with a particular shout out to the crunchy fried enoki threads. My poached egg was also cooked to gooey perfection. Underneath it was a cannellini bean mash which I didn’t really like, although I appreciated that the dish needed some kind of sauce or paste to prevent it from being too try. Hummus would’ve been much better! There’s supposedly a tonne of other smaller touches to this like pumpkin dust, balsamic flakes and the bread is meant to be garlic sourdough but I didn’t particularly notice any of these elements. It could be that they played a much quieter role which still went towards enhancing the overall dish. Or that I simply wasn’t particularly astute on the day, as we were pretty deep into catching up.
I don’t know who chief namer of dishes is at Henry Lee’s but the menu items all sport really random names that have (seemingly) nothing to do with what the dish is about. Why is this ‘A Place Called Home’? Whose home are we talking about, or is it metaphorical? Questions aside, I rather liked the mozzarella stuffed tomatoes, which tasted like pizza without the carbs. I don’t eat pork so I left the prosciutto behind and ate the melon separately to everything else. As a result, I think the harmony of this dish is a little lost on me. You can also see the overcooked-ness of one of the poached eggs. I’m not entirely sold on this as a dish but it’s an interesting mix of components and certainly very different to the variations of avocado toast scattered throughout Sydney.
Mushroom chips with aioli $7
Last but not least, our extra decadent serve of mushroom chips. These were salty, crunchy with an umami-ness that was brought to even greater heights when dunked into that garlicky aioli sauce. I had attempted to tactfully placate Julian with more of the melon dish above so I could sneakily eat more of these chips, but he caught on straightaway! So tasty but even the best lawyer in NSW wouldn’t be able to convince the jury that these are even remotely healthy.
What I like most about Henry Lee’s is how business as usual their approach is to their menu, without having to jump on the trend bandwagon. There’s no matcha, no freakshakes or ostentatious burgers, and not a truffle in sight (although The Ripper would’ve gone beautifully with some – just saying). It’s a throwback to simpler times, where wholesome breakfasts less their Instagrammable counterparts, was what the masses wanted.
A note on the day – Food was had with my musician-video-game-music-composer-friend Julian, and we went to the new Timezone in Central Park afterwards. Video games and arcades always make me super nostalgic because so much of my childhood was spent playing them. It’s a really cool space in and of itself, beyond the incredible fact that arcades still have a place in Sydney. Highlights were the new Point Blank X, the piano rhythm game and the updated version of Skee-ball. Be sure to check it out and give me all your tickets so I can cash in for the phat Pikachu on the shelf.