Rockleigh Café in Coolangatta stands out for its difference. A street away from gleaming white sand you’ll come across the equally white-washed wooden shopfront of the café – fresh and bright yet earthy, reminiscent of a farmhouse.
There’s also something grounded about its owner, Ben Moffitt. Growing up in a third generation dairy farming family on their property ‘Rockleigh’, near Bega, New South Wales, today’s trend of growing your own food was just a part of life.
“I learned lots of things from childhood, living and working on the land,” Ben tells us. “The food we ate was produced out of our vegie garden and orchard. We had to work hard as there was always more work to be done.”
The family also owned several hospitality businesses, a path Ben took in his career, working in cafés in London for many years before moving back to Australia.
He’s been planning his own coastal farmhouse café for more than two years, the plans simmering away as he researched locations and menus.
“I love Coolangatta for its small coastal town feel. There are a lot of retired people here. In some ways it’s a hard market to crack, especially when you open in winter,” he says, laughing about his timing, “but there’s less stress because Coolangatta is less saturated with cafés than other suburbs.”
“I surf here, and when you come up off the beach there aren’t that many places that serve really good coffee,” he says, adding that the Gabriel coffee so expertly prepared by Grant, the barista, is part owned by Dean Hyland of Barefoot Barista.
“Consistency; that’s what is needed,” he continues. “There’s a growing demand here with new high rise buildings going up in Kirra, Southern Cross Uni students around as well as tourists from Victoria… Coolangatta is at the point where Palm Beach was a couple of years ago, before the rush of development it’s going through now.”
While Rockleigh’s menu doesn’t really reflect the food of Ben’s childhood, he says that the principles of provenance are the same. Everything is bought from farmers on the Tweed Coast, organic grass fed meat from a local butcher, and there’s business in return with producers recommending the café to friends.
Nothing is wasted. Fortunately, Chef Mitch Hadi, who has worked in fine dining restaurants in Sydney, shares Ben’s philosophy. They’re making their own jam, chutneys, sauces and peanut butter, preserving their own lemons, fermenting and pickling to change the taste of foods, just as Ben’s mother did on the farm. It’s all part of the rustic farm-to-plate feel of the place, reinforced by the coastal farmhouse clad with the warmth of reclaimed wood walls, doors and windows balanced by the vintage pressed metal counter façade. Earthy. So very different to the urban cafés just a few suburbs north.
Salads and toasties round off a carefully chosen all-day menu, so inviting that every dish looks appealing. We decide on the feather light Chilli, corn and coriander fritters loaded up with house-made tomato salsa, haloumi, avo and a poached egg ($17), as well as Mushroom bruschetta with fried enoki, dehydrated duxelle and a poached egg on Panya sourdough ($18). They’re two popular savoury options, but the plainer not-so-fancy Poached eggs and bacon on sourdough ($9) is the bestseller with locals.
“People here love their brekkie, and it’s a large percentage of our trade. We work with diners to give them what they want. Many of the dishes can be tweeked to be gluten or dairy free or vegetarian,” he says.
It’s the locals particularly that Ben wants to look after, the 80% of his clientele who he knows; the ones who frequent his café several days a week. To keep their interest and to test the market, the café runs a couple of weekly specials.
But there’s one dish that won’t be coming off the menu anytime soon: House-made crumpets with honeycomb, burnt pear, mascarpone, shaved hazelnuts and saffron honey ($15). Though it’s a time-consuming three-hour process to activate the dry yeast and prove the dough, there’d be hell to pay if this signature dish was not available.
Crumpets with butter and honey were never served like this on the farm! But the origins are there – homemade, grounded, real. Maybe the soil hangs onto farmers like Ben somehow, keeping them bound to the land. You may not know their background when you first meet, but the evidence is all around you in this café. So, when you find out, you’re not at all surprised.
112 Griffith Street, Coolangatta Ph: 07 5599 1745
Open: Mon – Sun 6am – 2.30pm
NOTE: Two photos credited to Rockleigh Cafe.