It’s here – Agnes Bakery opens the doors to its anticipated permanent home on James Street
Agnes Bakery was born from necessity, but stayed around because of popularity. When the city shut down in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions, ‘pivot’ became the word of the day and experimental concepts started proliferating around town. Of all the operators that swivelled in order to keep their businesses afloat, few garnered such a rapturous public response as Agnes’ pop-up woodfired bakery and bottle shop. The bakery’s delightfully crusty loaves of malted sourdough, cinnamon-coated doughnuts and charred and flaky Basque cheesecakes quickly cemented themselves as must-have items, and its smoked butter became a thing of legend. More than a year on and several pop-up appearances later, Agnes Bakery is celebrating the opening of its permanent woodfired dispensary on James Street today, Thursday October 21. There will be danishes, kouign-amanns, choux buns and cakes by the slice – there will also be line snaking out the door! We took a gander at this long-awaited arrival on its opening morning.
When Agnes finally opened its doors as a restaurant in August 2020, Tyron Simon was as excited as one could be, having endured months of patience-testing delays and pandemic-induced setbacks. He also couldn’t help being a little sad, because Agnes Restaurant opening meant that Agnes Bakery – the lauded pop-up that kept coffers filled through the lean months of lockdown – had to close. A socially distanced line winding up Agnes Street and around the corner had become a familiar sight during the week, with hordes of carb-hungry locals enduring lengthy wait times to get a taste of the bakery’s scratch-made and woodfire-caressed confections and savoury morsels. Sure, the kitchen’s 24-hour operation model (implemented to ensure Agnes’ oven, which could only bake four loaves at a time, could cater to the demand) wouldn’t be missed, but the business-saving ‘little bakery that could’ continued to conjure up fond feelings. For foodies, Agnes Bakery might have been out of sight, but it was never out of mind – throngs continued to congregate en masse at every one-off pop-up appearance the bakery made after lockdowns lifted, each time reinforcing to Ty and co-owners Ben Williamson and Frank Li that Agnes Bakery deserved a home of its own. It’s been more than a year since the restaurant’s official opening took place and finally the prayers of many have been answered – Agnes Bakery’s bricks-and-mortar site is now open.
When looking for a location for Agnes Bakery to inhabit, Ty, Ben and Frank sought a space that could match the unique feeling of the product range they created. Logistically, it had to house an oven capable of not only handling the weight of sheer demand, but also baking for the group’s other restaurants, which had, until now, baked their breads and desserts in house. Location was also key. While Agnes Street’s out-of-the-way abode offers a sense of thrilling discovery for diners, Agnes Bakery’s grab-and-go style of service necessitated a site that offered more flexibility for spur-of-the-moment drop-ins. James Street, with its proximity to sAme sAme and Biànca, was high on the team’s wish list and a vacant tenancy on the corner of James and Harcourt Streets (the former home of Arc + Family) proved ideal for their purposes. Where Agnes is a moody mixture of rustic heritage and cutting-edge modern-industrial aesthetics, Agnes Bakery (designed by Richards and Spence) is light and bright with a colour palette of creams and timber establishing a more approachable character. The 70-sqm space is divided into retail and production areas, with the footprint geared towards making ordering efficient and service swift. The a cosy entrance nook houses racks and racks of baked goods (which you can gawk at through the windows while you wait) and the service counter, while in the background a bustling pastry kitchen churns out Agnes’ cracking range of carbs. At the original pop-up, Agnes’ fire-powered oven was designed to handle the cooking of protein and vegetables, not baked goods, but now the bakery’s custom four-tonne, three-chamber, hardwood-fuelled Beech oven – boasting enough room to bake 24 loaves at a time – is precisely tooled to efficiently cook breads, sweets and pastries. Around the side sits an express coffee window, where Agnes Bakery’s baristas will be slinging espresso-based brews made using a custom blend supplied by a local roaster.
When formulating the menu, the team (which includes Kirsty Mundt) has taken great care to not only deliver the crowd favourites but also enhance the range with even more appetising options. It starts with the bread. Not only are the famed malted grain and molasses sourdough, seeded, and smoked potato bread available, Agnes Bakery has also added a gluten-free loaf to its range alongside rotating experimental breads (think double-choc and choc-hazelnut sourdoughs). The range will straddle sweet and savoury, offering variations of both for its selection of kouign-amanns (buttercream and berry, torched marshmallow and passionfruit, blackberry and blackcurrant, and stracchino and zucchini) and danishes (blueberry and citrus, apple crumble, and potato and rosemary). The expanded range also includes choux filled with milk chocolate, sesame and caramel, chocolate tarts with dulche de leche and peanut, and, of course, the Basque cheesecake. Speaking of cakes, slices of carrot cake, raspberry chiffon and spiced-rum flans are available, as well as a rotating cookie, which will be inspired by iconic Australian biscuits (this week it’s mango and macadamia wagon wheels). Rounding out the savoury selection are ham-and-gruyere pithiviers with caramelised onion and mustard, and potato buns stuffed with bacon, egg and relish. Ben Williamson may also be bringing back his Baghdad Eggs – a savoury muffin he made famous at Gerard’s Bistro and brought back in pizza form for Agnes Bakery’s pop-up. Even with this mind-boggling array of options already available, the team has plans to gradually nudge the selection outward, soon introducing a lunch range anchored by sliced ciabatta filled with assorted ingredients. The larder offering will also grow, but for now guests can snag some of Agnes’ famed house-cultured, churned and smoked butter – to go with your bundle of newly acquired sourdough loaves, naturally.
Agnes Bakery is now open to the public. Check out the Stumble Guide for more information, including opening hours and social media links.
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