In the three years since its opening, Element6 has cemented itself as the northern Sydney suburbs’ answer to the rustic-quirky aesthetic of inner-city cafes, and is a definitive local favourite, if the diversity of its customers is anything to go by.
Housed in an old heritage building where large structural changes are not allowed, there’s a sense that the café has had to mould itself to the rustic charm of its setting instead of consciously creating it. What results is a quirky, eclectic atmosphere of mismatched, secondhand chairs, exposed lightbulbs and little details like gardening pots to hold utensils, cupboard doorknobs painted as parachutes and tiny vintage schoolyard chairs outside, for the kids.
Element6 is also definitively a café made for daylight hours and fine days. Everything, from its 6:30AM – 3:00PM weekday opening times, its food and furniture, is enhanced by the glow of sunshine and cloudless skies, though it could also be a warm, bustling hub on greyer days and cold, winter air.
We are led to the patio out back, just opened in June 2015, which is flooded with light and a more peaceful alternative to the liveliness of its main section. I do find myself wondering how the windows, with their clear plastic covers, will hold up on a rainy day though, or if the concrete walls will insulate quite as well.
The ‘solids’ menu incorporates a diverse range of flavours, alongside typical modern Australian breakfast classics, particularly showcasing Asian and Mediterranean influences. It sources its coffee from Double Roasters and our hot drinks were solid – the Flat White ($3.50) was strong and smooth and the Chai Latte ($4) was creamy, fragrant and not too sweet. That being said, you really want to go to Element6 for its cold drinks.
One of the standout cold drinks is the Green with Envy smoothie ($7.50), which incorporates kale, celery, spinach, mint, cucumber, silverbeet, apple and agave. It’s incredibly refreshing and perfectly balances all its components in a smoothie with a light, natural sweetness that would be even more perfect on a muggy summer day. The foamy Honeybee Smoothie ($7), comprised of banana, yoghurt, cinnamon, ice cream and honey, is slightly thicker and creamier but, again, incorporates natural sweetness from honey, which makes it more subtle than sugar.
The first dish I ever tasted at element6, several years ago, was the House Granola with Yoghurt, Seasonal Compote and Fresh Fruit ($11.50) and I’m pleased to see that its quality has held up over the years. What really strikes you about this granola is just how incredibly fresh it is and how balanced the flavours are. Each hazelnut and almond is fresh, fragrant and crunchy, as are the granola clusters. The thick, fresh yoghurt tempers the honey-based sweetness of the granola and its tang is, in turn, mellowed out by the sweet, fresh blueberry compote and a hit of cinnamon from the spiced pears. This is another must-have, even in winter, though it really shines in warmer months.
Vegetarians looking for a diverse meal will love the E6 Fav Rosemary Garlic Mushrooms ($16), which features two poached eggs, haloumi, baby spinach and roasted tomato on sourdough. The haloumi is crumbly and packed with flavour, and not at all rubbery. The sourdough, with a light, crunchy crust, is perfect for soaking up the runny egg yolk and tomato juices.
For those looking for a more substantial meal, the 15hr Slow Pulled-Pork Roll ($16.50) is for you, though I’d argue it was more of a burger than a roll. The sauce for the pork reminds me a lot of Chinese char siu sauce, which has a sweet, barbeque-like flavour that does not contain the acidic vinegar flavours of more traditional recipes – an interesting take. It may have been a side effect of the cold weather, but the pork was holding itself together a little better than pulled pork should. Granted, this problem may be alleviated by eating immediately, while piping hot. The apple in the fennel coleslaw adds a refreshing sweet note that neutralises the bitterness of raw red cabbage and rocket. For its price point, element6 gives a generous helping of each element.
Though it’s located conveniently on the street running parallel to West Ryde station, element6 still feels a little out of place, as the only café in the quiet, sleepy strip of stores that includes a Vinnies, a deli and Indian grocery mart. Excluding those who pass it on their daily commute to the station, it’s a place that you must choose to visit, instead of settle for, out of a myriad of other dining options. The fact that so many go out of their way to pay it a visit is testament to its quality – and may be a stroke of genius in terms of real estate selection.
At the moment, Element6 is its own competition. The question is: how will it challenge itself next?
65 Ryedale Rd, West Ryde, NSW
Phone: (02) 8021 2838
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of element6.