Haven: a place of safety or refuge. “A safe haven in times of trouble.”
We can add one more definition to the word Haven: a specialty cafe, and one of the only ones where you can get your coffee tailored to suit your very own, highly individualised palate. Now that sounds like the right kind of Haven for coffee lovers. Now, let’s seek coffee refuge!
Date Last Visited: 26/6/15
Address: 30-34 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Recommended Dish(es): genmaicha chicken burger, braised lamb & quinoa salad, the coffee
Haven – Specialty Coffee
The Usual Disclaimer applies, as I’ve been invited to Haven twice – once at the end of summer, and once for their (current) winter menu.
Owner Roy Yu has opened a venue of significance. Sydney’s coffee is good enough to take to the world stage, yet there is a dearth of cafes that put the choice into the customer’s own hands. Haven Cafe bucks this trend, and here’s how it works:
The infographic is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t mince words. Suffice it to say, I’m willing to wager that coffee nuts will have a lot to enjoy about Haven. Not a batch brew in sight – each cup is always done one at a time. Completely diacritic.
Winter Menu / Tea-inspired Series
Ah, but if Haven’s just about coffee, this post would not be worth writing. Coffee is a life elixr, but the cafe that serves it would not be worth revisiting (in a sit-down sense) if the food isn’t up to scratch. Here, Haven’s offering is possibly even more unique than their take on a cuppa. Its primary foundation? Asian cuisine, particularly with a wholefoods/healthy eating twist. However, extreme foodies won’t be left out, as there are a few calorie-slayer options on the table.
Think items like soba, black quinoa salads, tea-infused black rice puddings, burgers, and so on. As far as uniqueness goes, Haven’s food does not follow the same tried-and-true trends of other cafes. You won’t be seeing eggs benedict on the menu, that’s for sure.
One aspect of Haven’s winter menu is their tea-inspired series. A selection of dishes that all have some kind of tea element, which takes the front seat, rather than being a differentiator for its own sake. Haven appears to take their tea as seriously as their coffee – its placement is as prominent as the bean.
So what does this all add up to, in terms of a cafe experience? The answer lies somewhere in between a tea house, and a food cafe. Of course, should you choose to focus purely on the drinks, you can certainly do so – in which case I would recommend sitting at the bar and getting a crash course from the baristas. Alternatively, plonk yourself down at the table and you won’t even have to see a drop of coffee.
Either way, it’s going to be Haven.
But enough talk, let’s get to the food.
And then there’ll be more talk; sorry.
On the one hand, you may expect that Haven’s pride in their coffee would extend to their latte art. I expected beautiful foliage and elegant, long-necked beasts of beauty, probably with wings. What I got instead was a wilting leaf and a…cloud? While the lack of latte art was disappointing, it would be more disheartening if I judged the coffee based on it. There’s a lot more going on beneath the foam, so to speak.
Do you notice the little dish on the side, filled with little bits of chocolate & crushed nuts? As my skim cap is tailored to bring out nuttier notes (I didn’t fiddle with the default formula too much), the coffee comes with an appropriate pairing of chewables that, when taken with the coffee, greatly enhances its flavour.
It’s a little gimmicky, but I can’t deny it does work – the surprise would be if it had no difference. On my previous visit to Haven near the end of summer, my coffee came with sultanas as I had asked for a fruitier pick. The coffee itself? It’s good – I can’t discern the difference between good and great, so realistically all I can honestly tell my valued readers is that at the very least, it’s going to be a good coffee. At best? It could be one of the better/best ones you’ve had. I know a few friends that have incorporated Haven’s coffee into their daily ritual. If its pick-up-and-go traffic is anything to judge by, I’d say they’re playing the coffee game quite well!
Ok, so we’ve established that you’re not likely to get a bad drink at Haven. What about their food? Let’s start with the spread.
There’s a bit of chewables here to work through, but let’s start things on a high note with the one dish to rule them all – on the bottom right, the genmaicha chicken burger.
Genmaicha is Japanese for green tea that’s combined with roasted brown rice. As a result, you receive the astringency of green tea, paired with the nuttiness of brown rice. I first discovered this kind of tea flavour in Via Tokyo’s genmaicha soft serve. I never looked back – it added incredibly attractive notes to the soft serve, and I had no doubt it would be the same for the burger. Oh hell, it delivered.
But first, the burger itself. Generous pieces of chicken, impeccably grilled, sits aboard a bed of fried Chinese cabbage and that, on top of a toasted soft bun with flaked almonds on the side as a texture booster. The cabbage feels a little profuse, and its watery crunch perhaps a little out of place, but that chicken alone is actually worth writing home about. I’m not a chicken burger kind of guy, but if they’re all like this, I’m going to start eating my words retrospectively.
Where the genmaicha makes itself manifest is in the ochre-coloured sauce that is thankfully liberally slathered over the burger. I’ve had a lot of good burgers in 2015, but there is very little hyperbole when I say that the way this sauce pairs with the burger is outstanding. It’s effectively a savoury caramel, with notes of bitterness, a very slight touch of acridity and an overall nuance of tea. This is a complex sauce, alright. It ties everything together, and you know how I knew this for sure? Because I hadn’t even realised that this burger lacked cheese until I had finished it. The sauce is so good, cheese was literally not required. I’ve never said that before about a burger before. Ever.
This burger is not perfect, the slaw is superfluous, the chicken is cut a bit thick and large at times, but my goodness, that genmaicha sauce. All this, for $14 – a steal.
For those who can’t stomach a burger (you guys & gals read my blog?), Haven’s got you covered with a host of salad options. The one we tried was the braised lamb shoulder w/quinoa. Quinoa features prominently on Haven’s menu – in summer, they even had a black quinoa dish. They take this stuff seriously.
This dish is a potpourri of texture – crunchiness of pickled cabbage, creamy & briny feta, slick pumpkin, sprouts and so on. This is the primary reason for ordering the dish – it’s a party in the mouth. In terms of flavour, the feta does a good job of covering most bases, however I find the lamb a little lacking in the wow department.
Overall, a nice dish that doesn’t break the calorie bank, but I was missing that genmaicha burger with every bite of this dish. Not to say that a salad can’t be as good as a burger – but this one ain’t.
The most interesting dish in Haven’s tea-inspired lineup is the soba noodles in miso, Earl Grey & lavender broth. On the surface of it, this presents in an extremely appealing way, as almost every featured ingredient is befitting of my appetite. I love the wheaty texture of soba, I love miso full stop, Earl Grey’s my Christian Grey, and lavender broth is something I’m willing to try.
Did I just make a Fifty Shades of Grey reference on this blog? Alright, I’m going to take a break from writing. Be right back while I undergo a dedicated memory lobotomy.
Well that was quick. So where was I? Ah yes, something about Earl Grey… Ahem, the soba, please. Aside from what’s listed above, the dish also comes with tofu and generous portions of juicy mushrooms. It’s vegetarian – and gluten-free, for what it’s worth.
This is lining up to be a cracker of a dish. Unfortunately, some firecrackers, when lit, fizzle out. This firework is, morosely, a lacker. There’s nothing wrong with textures here – the soba is al dente, the mushrooms are so juicy they’re almost like meat, and the tofu & bok choy are top notch. What’s problematic is the underlying flavour profile of the broth itself. Nothing worked. It was a cacophony of flavour, dissonant in its aroma, aftertaste and piquancy. The lavender broth didn’t play well with the umami of the dashi. Then, the dashi was set off-balance by an unexplained, incredibly sour flavour which made almost everything taste off-kilter.
Put simply: I didn’t like it. Neither did the Lady. We couldn’t finish this – the gravity of the situation is real.
This dish can be fixed if the lavender and whatever’s causing that acridity is removed. It would go a long way to being an acceptable dish. A shame, as Haven’s summer soba is far superior.
There were a few tea-inspired desserts on the menu, but what really caught my attention is the clever portmanteau in the Masfogato. Instead of your usual ice cream + espresso shot (naughty naughty if you went for amaretto!), Haven’s version substitutes in frozen mascarpone for the ice cream, and adds in chunks of Madagascan dark chocolate brownies. The espresso remains. Presentation? Top notch, especially with the walnuts & icing sugar on the board – though a pity that all the condensation prevented me from taking a good picture of the insides!
So how does this cheesy twist stack up against a vanilla (heh) affogato? It’s not all rosy. A lump of frozen mascarpone just isn’t the same as a scoop of sweet, creamy ice cream. Mascarpone by itself doesn’t really have all that much flavour, so it doesn’t do much by itself. That’s assuming you could even dig into it, as it’s so hard, even hot espresso takes its sweet time to melt the stuff. On the other hand, the brownie is sensational – rich, dense and oh so satisfying.
The right way to eat this affogato is to be patient as the mascarpone melts, then mixed in with the brownie – be liberal with mixing. The result? A creamy, cakey mess that’s quite the delight. It won’t appeal to everyone – I wouldn’t personally get it again, but it’s nice to see Haven trying something different.
And that’s it folks – a taste of Haven’s philosophy, coffee food, and a general gist of what it’s all about. I’ll leave you with some pictures of Haven’s summer menu, but I won’t get into the details as you can’t order them anyway. I will however present some minor commentary – especially for dishes that I hope make a return when summer next rolls around. Until then, enjoy your Haven!
Haven’s Summer Menu
A mocha (made w/Madagascan dark chocolate), and a coffee tailored to present fruity notes. In few words – the mocha is really tasty. Not something I usually drink, but this hot choc avoids being overly sweet, which is why I bypass them in the first place. It also tastes a fair bit more complex. Dark hot choc is the way to go!
Familiar themes, anyone?
This was a disappointing salad, to be honest. Good textures, but virtually absent of flavour.
A robustly produced soba dish that I sorely miss. I wish meat was included but it seems like Haven’s tack is to serve soba as a vegetarian option. Can’t fault that! The mango and tofu are unconventional toppings yet in a mysterious play well with the dish’s dynamic.
I am quite disgruntled that the soy chai panna cotta is no longer on the menu. This was a thoroughly enjoyable panna cotta, with strong notes of chai – and it’s lactard-friendly to boot! The candied lemon and pistachio brittle are a little superfluous, but the hero of the dish is truly valiant.
This post is based on two sponsored visits to Haven Specialty Cafe.
What’s your favourite dish at Haven? Do you have a favourite coffee? Let me know in the comments below!
- Coffee tailoring is unique even amongst the crowded Sydney cafe market
- Some truly uncommon cafe food you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else – the genmaicha burger is unbelievable
- The food can be extremely hit-and-miss, highly dependent on how well you know your palate and what you order
- I worry there are not enough good food choices on Haven’s menu to warrant sit-down traffic. More revisits may be required
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F5.5 | A3