Meet The Corner Cafe Serving Its Community In More Ways Than One
There are plenty of beachside cafes in Sydney, but this little corner one on Balmoral Beach is determined to be different. TJ Viljoen and Lizelle Viljoen, are South African nationals, who made their move to Australian shores in 2009. After falling in love with Sydney, they had a particular eye for Balmoral Beach, admitting it was a favourite spot of theirs. In 2018, TJ retired from corporate life, and ventured into the hospitality business, armed with only a love of food and a vision: to link their African roots to the business.
“We come from a long line of farmers, and we grew up as people of the land, so we wanted to instil that into our business, which is when we came up with the concept of pasture to plate and named the business, Pasture of Balmoral,” says TJ.
Lizelle added, “pasture means a place of peace and tranquillity.”
They source their produce from local growers, focusing on supporting smaller businesses that share their values of being ethically sourced and organically produced.
“Our eggs come from a lady in Kangaroo Valley, who recently lost a large percentage of her flock in the bushfires, so it was important for us to support her. Our garlic is grown by a lady in the Blue Mountains, and we just found a grower in the North Shore supplying vegetables and fruit. Even our fish is sustainably caught. It’s important for us to understand where the food comes from,” says TJ.
While a good menu can only get you so far in the hospitality business, TJ and Lizelle both devote their success to their team. From the back of house staff to the manager running the floor, when customers step inside Pasture of Balmoral, they notice a well-oiled machine, producing great coffee, and even better dishes.
For a beachside cafe, Pasture of Balmoral, goes above and beyond with its menu, especially dinner, all thanks to the new head chef, Federico La Porta, from Rome. La Porta, moved to Australia to challenge his cooking skills, working in kitchens such as Ormeggio at The Spit, to small bakeries, and a six-month stint as a farmworker. Now that he’s landed at Pasture of Balmoral, he’s found his home.
“I got the call from my friend who was the previous head chef, and asked if I wanted the job. I said yes, and just fell in love with the place, and people,” says La Porta.
“I have a lot of freedom to experiment with the menu, and it’s much more relaxed than most fine-dining kitchens in Sydney.”
La Porta’s skills shine at dinner, where the menu goes from rustic Australian brunch and lunch to playing with textures, dried aged beef, and fine dining plating. Diners can expect fresh fish of the day, with sauteed greens, roasted potatoes, and eggplant puree, or a range of housemade pasta dishes, including squid ink fettuccine, and pesto gnocchi.
Although his background also lends a hand when it comes to producing meals, most others were unsure about it at first. La Porta recalls when cauliflower popcorn was added to the menu.
“No one believed in it, but TJ and Lizelle said to put it on the menu to see how it goes, and it quickly became a favourite with our customers,” says La Porta.
During the pandemic, Pasture of Balmoral, much like other restaurants were faced with empty dining rooms. Instead of closing, they adapted their business, looking for new ways to support the community that supports them.
“We gathered the team, sat down and spat out ideas. I didn’t care if it was bad or didn’t make sense, I told everyone to just share any and every idea, because we were stuck. Eventually, we played to our strengths and started doing takeaway coffees. Federico also made fresh pasta, which we sold, and pasta sauces,” says TJ.
Soon, Pasture of Balmoral became the local corner shop, but instead of slinging packaged ice creams and chips, they were serving fresh Italian pasta dishes, and the coffee they’re renowned for.
“We had people drive from out of town come here for coffee and food. The community pulled us through the pandemic, and we couldn’t be more grateful,” says Lizelle.
To pay it back, Pasture of Balmoral offered free coffees for emergency workers. When word spread over the radio, they were overrun with police officers and nurses.
“One day, we had someone radio in that we were offering free coffees and there was a line of police cars out the front, all waiting for coffee. People thought it was a COVID breach, but we had to tell everyone, they were just here for coffee—it was bizarre,” says Lizelle.
Post-pandemic, Pasture of Balmoral continues to serve its community, from bus drivers to local dwellers.
“We love serving the community, and it’s a big part of what we’re all about here. We have the bus drivers jumping out to collect their coffee mid-route, and garbage truck drivers, doing the same. We’re not afraid to give out free coffee to regulars, and we love when we see familiar faces,” says TJ.