You can never go home again. It’s a splintering thought. It’s one that could slide into a philosophical bog about the sense of home. Is it a suburb? A group of people? A collection of rooms and soft furnishings? Or is it as basic as a good coffee, toast and avocado served with an Australian accent while the sun warms your neck?
This is my first trip to ‘Down Under’ that hasn’t included time in Castlecrag. The Crag; a hamlet of sandstone and native bush, nestled next to Middle Harbour on the north side of the Harbour Bridge. A suburb designed by Walter Burley Griffin- the man who also designed our nation’s capital. It’s a place where the street names are inspired by parts of a castle; the rampart, the bastion, the parapet. At one end there’s the boat shed down an impossibly steep drive; so steep it was the cause of one of the only fatalities from shark attacks in Sydney. Back in 1963 Marcia Hathaway was wading in the shallows of Sugarloaf Bay when she was bitten. It was the steepness of the slope down to the bay that hindered the ambulance. She died of blood loss. That was a road I used to whimper about walking up on my stumpy six year old legs. Around the bay there’s the bush amphitheatre; a place of Christmas eve carols by candlelight, sitting on stone steps under the shadows of banksia bushes and the watchful eyes of possums.
At the top of the hill there’s the school; where 20 years ago along with my sister and the rest of the members of the ‘Rockley Street Gang’ I would clamber, in pale checked uniforms, our lunchboxes blocks on our backs, chilled by drink bottles filled with frozen weak orange cordial.
In January my Dad and step mother became the last member of the immediate family to leave The Crag. And so, it’s time to find new places that feel like home.
Armchair Collective is exactly that sort of place. It’s tucked into a street, within sandy-feet-sprinting distance of Mona Vale Beach, about 45 minutes north of Sydney’s CBD.
This is my Dad’s new stomping ground. A place where the sun streaks pink over Scotland Island at night and the transport decisions involve bicycles, walking and kayaks as often as cars. When he suggested the morning after I’d travelled for 30 hours that we might be up and out the door for a walk on the beach and breakfast at 7 am, I baulked. I negotiated for 7.45 am. I soon learn he has his reasons.
Early in the morning the beach is crisp and clear, unfettered by scores of nippers (Australiana for young kids who are part of surf life saving clubs). And better than that, there’s time for a walk and you can still claim a table at Armchair Collective.
This place is popular for a reason. It’s popular with surfing Dads and Mums on bikes. There are kids and northern beaches hipsters in wayfarers and loud board shorts bouncing about. There are Masterchef judges at the table next to you.
It’s part stonkingly good place to eat and drink and part homewares/gift store (beautifully refurbished chairs are the signature item). It’s the brain child of interior designer Pip Robb and restaurateur Andrew Goldsmith. They’re also responsible for the glorious Boathouse at Palm Beach.
Here you order at the counter, behind the bounty of fresh flowers for sale.
The baked version of eggs, spinach, beans and sausages ($18) was enough to slow The Hungry One in his tracks when we first ate here at Christmas. That is, after he made his way through a chocolate milkshake, served with a dash of whimsy in retro milk bottles.
But the real winner to me are the spicy scrambled eggs. They come with a serious kick of cayenne pepper, a slow roasted whole tomato, fresh baby spinach leaves, sourdough toast and the requisite slices of avocado.
Add two adored members of your family to the table, the slight grit of sand still under your toes, three flat whites and some slanting sun and it’s a collective cushion of knowledge. Home isn’t a suburb. It’s not even a house (even one decorated with spectacularly refurbished chairs and jaunty teapots). It’s people, sunshine, broad accents, fresh air. And the taste of avocado on toast first thing on a Saturday morning.
The Armchair Collective
02 9999 2871
9a Darley St East
Mona Vale, NSW 2103, Australia