The Garden Room: Landscape designer Phoebe Pape’s cafe

Combining a passion for beautiful gardens and great food, landscape architect Phoebe Pape’s Sydney studio/cafe is designed to cater to both writes Helen Redmond.

Many inspired home cooks, spurred on by the responses of family and friends, dream of opening a place of their own, somewhere to share the food they enjoy with a wider audience. Daunted by logistics, especially those already embroiled in a successful and demanding career, most renege. Some, like Sydney landscape architect Phoebe Pape, just get down and do it.

Pape’s newly relocated studio and aptly named cafe The Garden Room is a welcome foray into the surprisingly undernourished culinary market on Sydney’s northern beaches. A committed home cook, Pape has always nurtured a passion for “wholesome, real, down-to-earth” cooking. Invitations to dinners at home, upwards of 20 guests chosen at random for shared interests, are keenly sought affairs; usually spontaneous, they are often last-minute, mouth-watering feasts using fresh local market produce.

A lauded landscape architect, Pape’s career has flourished alongside that of her ex-husband and business partner, architect Peter Stutchbury, sharing a vision for natural, sustainable design. Now working solo, her practice Pape Landscape Architecture is taking on new projects from Palm Beach to the Bellarine Peninsula. Her new cafe venture in a leafy side street in Newport is a direct result of her hunt for a workspace. Scanning vacant offices nearby, she noticed a former hair salon for lease, with adjoining rooms that could combine an airy working studio with her dream of a cafe, producing the simple wholesome food she loves in a topical garden environment.

The cafe’s concertina windows open onto the street at counter-height, where the barista makes freshly brewed coffee, tea or milkshakes served in old-fashioned aluminium tankards with striped paper straws – a nostalgic nod to Pape’s childhood. On the side are pastries, toasted sourdough topped  with Pape’s own homemade marmalade or perhaps a slice of lemon meringue, made to a closely guarded recipe. Customers will find assorted garden books to read, and buckets and vases filled with fresh flowers sold by the bunch. “Whatever takes my eye at the market,” Pape says. “I’m not a florist!” Also in the selling mix are commissioned handmade ceramic plates by David Edmonds and the recycled timber boards on which the food is served.

The studio is adjacent to the cafe, and consultations are by appointment. A four-metre long mobile work table made by local builder Jeffrey Broadfield is screened from the street and cafe by a mobile vertical planter, a garden wall currently bursting with hot pink bromeliads. Pape plans to host her famed dinner parties here on a semi-regular basis, where invited artists, designers or architects will speak, and occasional guest chefs cook up a storm. “Spontaneity, simple delicious food and wine, friends and strangers, who may become friends, in an irresistible atmosphere,” explains Pape. “I’ve always loved the European concept of the shared table.”

Bookings are coming in fast: information travels by social media to let regulars and newcomers know of menus and dining dates. Informal garden workshops for small groups are also on the agenda. The work table is cleared for weekend breakfasts, lunch – or whatever seizes Pape’s fancy. “I love the idea of collecting a fresh risotto and a bunch of flowers on the way home,” she says. “It will grow and change; it’s very much a spontaneous and organic approach to food, not
unlike gardening.”

The Garden Room 7 Robertson Road, Newport NSW.

Originally published within Vogue Living Mar/April 2012. Available on news stands and on Zinio now.

Producer/text: Helen Redmond
Photographer: Nicholas Watt

One Response to “The Garden Room: Landscape designer Phoebe Pape’s cafe”
  1. Pamela Makin says:

    Welcome to Newport – we love what you do – Pamela

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