Bondi Beach is Sydney’s most famous landmark, outside of the iconic Opera House and harbour itself. The surrounding suburbs are densely populated, but the neighborhood has until very recently been dominated by a proliferation of a tourism-fuelled culture, epitomised by the gaudy bars and personality-less fast food joints that line foreshore. This milieu has typically been more than enough incentive to keep locals living the details of their lives elsewhere, but that’s starting to change.
As Sydney’s culture shifts, so too has Bondi’s. Lying a just minutes from the beach, shooting off from Hill Street, a steady and recognizable process of reclamation and gentrification is taking place. Sensory Lab is a part of this process, in a bright new development at the centre of Hill St. that’s clearly aimed to locals and the local culture.
Sensory Lab Bondi is the newest member of the St Ali Family, and their first location outside of the city of Melbourne. When I visited on opening day, the staff included Ross Quail (St Ali Family’s operations manager), Matt Perger (sitting Australian Barista Champion), and Emily Oak (The Family’s point person in Sydney, with an extensive global speciality coffee CV). Each espoused to me the core focus of their new store: simplicity and quality.
Beyond a small cluster of tables at the entrance, ‘Coffee Inside’ is tiled into the concrete floor as the small space opens out. A simple bench interpolated with angular alcoves and half moon tables takes one side. Opposite, the bar runs half the length of the bare concrete wall. The glass cabinet under the register houses the extent of Sensory Lab’s edibles: pastries from Penny Fours sit alongside traditional bagels from a local baker.
The bar space is clean and functional. A brand new La Marzocco Linea PB is used to prepare espresso drinks, flanked to one side by SSM’s milk distribution unit – The Juggler – holding bladders of Sungold Jersey milk. On the other side sit twin Mazzer Robur E’s, full of Sensory Lab’s newly alliterated Seamless blend, rotating shot for shot in aide of temperature control. Day one’s single origin espresso was Colombia El Silencio.
In something of a notable twist, all filter coffees at Sensory Lab will be made as a ‘coffee shot’. If you’re unfamiliar, the ‘coffee shot’ is a technique for making filter-style coffee using a traditional espresso set up; it’s meant to achieve a cup of brewed coffee similar to say, an Aeropress or a batch brewing machine, and was popularised worldwide after Australian Barista Champion (and Sensory Lab co-owner) Matt Perger served it in his 2013 World Barista Championship routine.
At Sensory Lab Bondi, the drink’s preparation utilises the Mahlkonig EK-43 grinder and a La Marzocco GS-3 espresso machine, kept idling at a low temperature. The ‘coffee shot’ is further achieved using an adjusted tamping technique that negates the need for filtering. Served in locally thrifted mugs, these ‘coffee shots’ may well epitomise the ethos at work here at Sensory Lab Bondi: simple, quick, efficient, consistent and delicious, and yet, able to evoke curiosity from coffee enthusiasts around the world.
More photography from Matt Davis at Sensory Lab Bondi here.