Spring has sprung and as the flowers bloom all over town, the seeds have been sown for a new foodie playground in Pialligo.
The Kitchen Garden at Rodney’s – housed inside the landmark nursery, Rodney’s Plants Plus – has been a staple on the café scene in Canberra since 1996. It’s a bustling sprawling indoor-outdoor space with a cracking all-day menu, inspiring specials, rotating cake fridge and the bonus of serving wine. The café has been taking nursery eating to a whole new level for over a decade but remains family-friendly with its permanent fixture of an outdoor playground and dedicated children’s menu.
It is a real family affair behind the scenes as well.
Husband and wife team Nathan Kleinig and Emma Toll operate the café while Emma’s parents Rodney and Cheryl Toll own the nursery.
“My parents started the nursery 46 years ago and are still actively working and running the business and there are two more daughters who work in the nursery,” said Emma.
“Nate and I took over the café 11 years ago and have grown it to what it is today and have loved being a part of such an amazing family business. When we first took over, it was a very small operation and over the years we have grown it to an entity, going from 10 staff to an amazing team of 30.”
The dynamic and energetic couple bring their complementary experiences to the venture which has gone from strength to strength under their leadership and guides their big expansion plans.
Nathan as the Executive Chef grew up in a food-obsessed family which inspired him to do his apprenticeship at 17 and saw him work in iconic Canberra kitchens including at Parliament House.
Emma grew up on the property in Pialligo working within the family business and has always had a love of food, plants and the connection they have. She studied horticulture and worked overseas for several years before moving back to Canberra.
Expanding and renovating The Kitchen Garden at Rodney’s has long been on Emma and Nathan’s mind. This year it is coming to fruition.
“We finished the first part of the expansion and renovation in August. The idea had been in the pipeline for three years and came about as we had outgrown our kitchen. We literally gutted the whole café and started from scratch. We had a seven-week turn around with builders working day and night and all weekend to be able to deliver the beautiful space we now have. We managed to double the size of our original kitchen as well as extend the front of house indoor floor space,” explained Emma.
“We wanted to have a conservatory feel to the new indoor café along with a French farmhouse look. We have used lots of soft greens, white, grey, black, and oak. We wanted the space to feel light and airy and calm, a little slice of chic country charm surrounded by beautiful lush green plants.”
Along with the cosmetic changes, the food offering has also been revamped.
The kitchen will be making even more use of their unique nursery surrounds by potting up herbs, edible flowers, and reinvigorating the vegetable gardens onsite. The café menu has also had a facelift. It is packed full of hearty all-day dining options like the Gardeners breakfast with two poached eggs, bacon, chipolata sausage, hash brown, mushroom, and roasted tomato or Rodney’s steak sandwich with beetroot relish, rocket, caramelised onion, aioli, and a serve of chips. The changing specials menu is an opportunity to showcase seasonal produce.
For my recent sun-filled visit, I sat outside basking in the regional setting surrounded by gloriously green pots and shrubs and sampled a dish from each menu.
From the specials, I tried the Braised Gundagai lamb with a herb and barley salad finished with homemade labneh. The tender lamb medallions nicely fulfilled my carnivore cravings while the creamy tangy labneh was the star on the plate bringing the salad all together.
From the café menu, I tried a dish that would have satisfied Elvis’s cravings – a stack of Buttermilk pancakes with honeycomb butter, banana, finished with maple syrup, and an added side of bacon. This dish was a big hunka-hunka love. The challenge was getting the perfect bite with a little of each ingredient and not skimping on the honeycomb butter.
The coming weeks will also see the team take over another part of the nursery and complete their plans to become a one-stop foodie destination to potter around in.
As Emma explained: “We are bringing a brand-new concept to life in September and building a deli/food emporium and florist. We are very excited to be adding to the experience that people can come out and spend a day browsing the nursey, dining in the café, and picking up delicious cheese and other local goodies to take home.”
The Kitchen Garden At Rodney’s is located at 24 Beltana Road, Pialligo. It’s open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm daily.