Tucked away in a corner of Kambah is a ray of sunshine in cafe form.
Jose Blanco and his wife Bridget Meli opened this cafe just six weeks ago and it’s already become a firm local favourite. The cafe brings Jose’s Colombian and Venezuelan heritage to the couple’s home suburb of Kambah with Latino-inspired breakfast dishes in a cosy, friendly atmosphere.
Locals have embraced the new cafe at the Carleton Street Shops. When I visited on a Tuesday morning, the place was comfortably busy with a steady stream of customers enjoying the light interior and the rear deck which overlooks a grassy walkway and park. Jose was practically able to point out their house and said their son attends the nearby school.
“I would say a good 75 per cent are locals, or our neighbours. I see these guys catching the bus! Their love and support have been unreal, just amazing,” Jose told Region.
As a trained chef, Jose has worked in several popular Canberra businesses like Močan & Green Grout and Three Mills Bakery. He explained that he wanted to draw from various South American influences for the menu, from Mexican tacos to Argentinian chimichurri.
“It’s what I know how to cook the most. It’s what I’m most comfortable with. I know the flavours, I know the traditions, I know the cooking techniques,” Jose said.
“It’s all things I’ve learnt since I was little and I looked at my Mum, my Grandma or my Dad cooking.”
The menu is small but diverse, with dishes suitable for a range of dietary requirements, sweet or savoury lovers and those looking for more adventurous options.
I decided to try the Oaxacan Lamb Taco while my friend had the Black Bean Stew Caraotas. The tacos were deliciously soft and perfectly warm, with enough pulled lamb to fill me up while still being able to fold and eat the taco with my hands. An abundance of fresh herbs, delicious paprika mayo and the tang of pickled onions balanced out the meaty filling.
The black bean stew is essentially a baked egg dish, served in a cute terracotta ramekin. Warm spices, tender black beans, and two perfectly cooked eggs in a tasty tomato sauce, with some toast for dipping.
The classic B&E roll also has a Latino makeover with chorizo instead of bacon, provolone cheese and house-made salsa, but there are regular eggs on toast options with all the usual sides too. Jose explained that he will be changing the menu regularly to use seasonal ingredients.
The sweets cabinet is well stocked too. There are plenty of Three Mills pastries, but we couldn’t go past the house-made flan baked by Bridget. It’s soft and sweet, with delicious caramelisation.
The interior of the cafe also draws on Jose’s South American heritage, with warm terracotta tones and lots of textures. Jose and Bridget designed the space themselves, with Bridget explaining that they got “pretty good at bargain hunting” in the process and Jose joking that it looks a lot like their own house.
While Jose is a seasoned hospitality professional, this is Bridget’s first time working in the industry. She trained as a nurse and worked in the disability support sector before the couple opened Cafe Blanco. She’s planning to incorporate her professional experience into the cafe by providing employment opportunities for disabled adults.
“It’s so hard for people with disabilities to find employment. It’s not even about the money; it’s about finding a meaningful place to work. So that’s my vision for the business,” she said.
Jose says his family is very proud that he is using the family name for the cafe, and they’re hoping to visit from their home in Colombia to see it themselves soon.