The Reformatory Caffeine Lab, Surry Hills
If you like your coffee geeked-out with a side of cartoons, Reformatory’s mad professor vibe may just be for you. Owner and head roaster (and fourth generation coffee farmer) Simon Jaramillo is a man possessed when it comes to coffee, serving up all the brews you could ever need from first to third-wave to everything in between.
The cafe is stand-and-drink only, so no chairs, just a few benches attached to the comic-adorned walls. The focus here is on the coffee, but there’s also same cakey things and killer empanadas if you’re feeling peckish.
The guys here are a little intense and are bound ask you how you heard about the place; I just tell them Raff sent me. They deliver your coffee two ways; as you ordered it (espresso, syphon, however) and as ground beans, so you can get a good sniff of the pre-brewed, roasted and ground product. Between that, a glass of water, the serving board and whatever sweet treat you couldn’t resist, there’s no room left on your coffee drinking bench. Just go with it.
The Reformatory Caffeine Lab
Shop 7B, 17-51 Foveaux St
Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Monday – Friday: 6:30am – 4:00pm
Saturday: 8:00am – 2:00pm
Working a three day week has so many benefits, I can’t count them on both my hands. One of my favourite things about it is I get to go to cafes at non-peak times, soak up the atmosphere and have a couple of leisurely coffees. No matter how much fun that is though, it’s always better to have someone to share it with, to revel in it like a kid wagging school. That’s why I’m glad I got to check out Cowbell with my mate Elise of beauty blog Stuff That I Bought. What’s more, she told me her idea for The Potluck Club, so it was a pretty mach a business meeting, yeah?
The Cowbell 808 menu is a 1-pager, listing 13 items. Its a fusion of ingredients and cuisines, served up cafe style, presenting a mish mash of meal times. It’s not the usual suspects ingredients-wise, although weirdly, its what you’d expect. House made is the word du jour; these guys make everything from their own yogurt, to their own bacon. Now that’s hardcore.
Ticking off at least 2 of the 5 big Sydney trends this year, the menu also has a slight ‘americana’ influence. Case in point, fried chicken with ‘slaw, and my dining companion’s order of fat stacked ricotta hotcakes with marscarpone, bacon maple ice cream and espresso syrup. I like that they don’t separate things based on time of day – if you want to have a burger for breakfast, or a Banancolada (house made coconut yogurt with roast banana and lime), feel free. Elise declares her hotcakes delicious but super filling – she eats about half.
I’m well and truly past my one-coffee-a-day limit, ordering two macchs from the list of ‘liquid vices’ (and I had an espresso before I left home…) I’m impressed, but far too lazy to check something basic like what coffee these guys use. It’s an organic house blend, but I’m not sure if they roast it themselves or have someone do it for them. That would be because I don’t much care what coffee is used, as long as its good. Anyone who knows let me know, it seems like the kind of fact I should have on hand.
I’m not sure why there’s a basketball hoop, a graffitti mural or a disco ball in the cafe. Sure, it fits with the 80’s/music theme, but I’m not convinced it makes for a cohesive aesthetic. The rest- second hand furniture, scrabble letters spelling out the coffee menu, the huge windows flooding the room with light, the selectively exposed brick- I love.
We checked out Cowbell 808 on a Monday morning, so we weren’t faced with the hideous crowds that swamped the newly opened, Short Black-mentioned cafe in the previous couple of days. The service was beyond lovely and not pushy – the people working there were so attentive and generally, dare I say it, caring. And they didn’t even blink when I started snapping away, which is excellent, because I always feel awkward doing so. Word on the street (not sure which street, but there you go) is that the weekend experience is a lot less fun. What can I say, chuck a sickie. It’s worth it for the hotcakes and the rich, creamy macchs on offer. I will be back, if only to try the sundae.
616 Bourke Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9698 5044
Open 7 days
7:00am – 4:00pm
We don’t often have house guests as we live in a 1 bedder, but I always enjoy it when people come to stay. Last weekend I had the pleasure of hosting little bro 1 and his wife, up from Melbourne for a few days, and since little bro 2 lives in my hood now, it’s a weekend I’m dubbing ‘Sydney Quinns’. My mum made an appearance as well, although she’s no Quinn. It’s nice to be surrounded by family, I’m always surprised by how much I miss them. Guess you never grow out of that.
The only thing requested by little bro 1 (besides a trip to the dip, which I thought was open Mondays but was very much mistaken) was a decent breakky. We decided on a Monday morning breakfast and I was thinking Bang Bang, but Le Monde was on the way and had been on my neverending to-try list for almost a year. I’m freaking out a bit now not only at the size of the list but at the number of places that close down before I get to try them. The menu looked good and I’d heard tell of excellent coffee so in we went. Cross that one of the list and add ten more…
We ordered coffee and got perusing. There’s a paper menu and a blackboard specials menu, with plenty to choose from all round. Le Monde have been serving 5 Senses coffee since 2008 and we were all impressed with the depth of flavour our various brews imparted – from my macch to bro’s strong latte to SIL’s skim latte, we couldn’t fault the coffee, and it was pretty busy too. These guys have a well-deserved rep- this coffee is much more than solid – well-rounded flavour, smooth texture, perfect temperature- it wasn’t a cup of coffee your taste buds needed to consider. The flavour just makes sense to your mouth.
There’s a little bench with magazines and bar stools if you’re waiting for a takeaway or a table, and although it’s dimly lit, it’s cleverly lit, resulting in the kind of lazy afternoon light (at 10:00am?) where you can see the little dust particles flit through the air and every meal and drink miraculously becomes photogenic. It’s all warm, dark wood and sophisticated touches, classic rather than trendy or kitch- you can tell this place has been here a while (in Sydney/Surry Hills café time) and will continue to do so.
Little bro gets the bacon an egg sambo, which is generous, and SIL goes for the english muffin with basil scrambled eggs and adds spinach. I go all out and grab the haloumi and zucchini fritters, which are gorgeously soft but not undercooked, with a slightly overdone poached egg, rocket and avocado salsa. Everything is tasty and no one leaves feeling like they can’t face the walk into the city for fear of tripping over their full stomach. But its the coffee that’s really the star here.
Le Monde Café
83 Foveaux Street
Surry Hills NSW 2012
02 9211 3568
Monday to Friday 6:30am – 4pm
Saturday 7:30am – 2pm
I got an email about a month ago with the subject heading ‘Blast from the Buenos Aires past’. It was from a friend I’d made in Argentina nearly four years ago. We’d spent a week together trawling through markets and drinking 1 litre beers. Weirdly, she was from Adelaide, but now she was writing to tell me she’d moved to Sydney. We arranged to meet for (what else) coffee with her delightful beau and Canberra Caffeine-o-phile Barrister Barista (aka @canberrachino).
The four of us met at Surry Hills’ Bang Bang Espresso, which had been on my to-blog list for at least a year. Funnily enough, former DJ Alan Thompson started Bang Bang in 2009, exactly when my pal and I had been traipsing all over BA without a decent coffee in sight. An email from Alan inviting me round to the cafe for a free meal which I, dripping with reluctant integrity, turned down, served as a reminder not to leave Bang Bang on the list for much longer.
I sat outside as inside was full up but I didn’t mind as I prefer quiet and am not much for communal tables. I ordered a macch, which promptly arrived as did water, glasses and napkins. I didn’t identify myself as a blogger, so this was not special treatment.
As I wait for my chums I peruse the menu, which is massive, and about ¾ of it is breakfast. There’s a definite UK spin on things with welsh rarebit, english breakfast, scottish breakfast and a ‘posh fish finger sandwich’ on offer. I’m tempted by the corn fritters (1 kind for breakky, another for lunch) but in the end I settle on a pulled pork sandwich.The other three order a couple of nutso triple cheese burgers (the real name of the burger is is more ridic than that) on wholemeal (WTF?) and a lamb burger, also on wholemeal. Theirs come with crisps and mine comes with nothing, which is excellent because it’s *huge*. I didn’t photograph the food as we were too busy gossiping and stuffing out faces.
We were all happy with the coffee, lattes were a tad flat but that doesn’t phase me as I didn’t order them. The gorgeous flat white, as described by Barrister Barrista was:
Ok, so we went to a breakky joint and ordered sambos. Idiots. They were pretty good, but we all agreed thet were a little heavy handed with the condiments. I think I expected my pulled pork a tad spicy, but I did like the green apple slaw and the sonoma bread was good and fresh. Everything was reasonably priced and generously portioned. I will return to scoff down some breakky, no doubt. Good service, great coffee, solid food, I can see why this place has lasted so long (in Surry Hills fringe years). And Alan was very patient with me photographing the hell out of his cafe after it was technically closed.
Bangbang Espresso Bar and Cafe
113 Reservoir Street
Surry Hills NSW 2012
02 9281 0018
Café Review – Joe Black, Surry Hills
The kind of coffee shops I frequent have a well-worn aesthetic that will be some combination of the following: twee/vintage/industrial/dada-esque/retro/postmodern/kitch/European. They will also more than likely have some combination of the following design features: polished concrete floors/high ceilings/mid-century furniture/re-purposed coffee sacks/recycled water bottles/vintage teaspoons/clipboard menus/raw sugar/blackboard paint/recycled timber/mismatched chairs/bare lightbulbs.
I say I don’t like trends or fads, but of course the fact is, I like the ones that suit me. And I recognise that an interior of a café aims to communicate a message. The kind of coffee place I’m drawn to says ‘We take our coffee seriously, but we have a sense of humour. Oh and btw, The shot in your macchiato will be really REALLY short.’ Since I want a veeeery short mach, I ‘read’ the vintage/industrial aesthetic as a guarantee of the kind of ‘product’ I want. This marketing works on me. And I appreciate the aesthetic for its own sake, and of course an interior designer knows that that’s exactly what a customer like me will do.
So which came first, my longing for a short mach or my love of hipster interiors? A profound question indeed. I’d like to think my love affair with coffee mirrors that of those running the cafés I love and blog, that they get off on the kitch aesthetic as much as I do. I’d like to think it’s not all just a cynical marketing ploy.
Perhaps you can tell I’m getting café fatigue. A shame, because my outing to Joe Black in Surry Hills the other day ticked all the boxes. Vintage furniture and teaspoons, moustache logo on the paper cups, right by the Sydney CBD, open Monday to Sunday. Wait, back up, OPEN MONDAY TO SUNDAY? A decent CBD café open 7 days? Maybe I should stop being so cynical.
My macch arrives and I’m told it’s an Indian Atiki Single Origin. It’s short and strong and comes with a teensy vintage teaspoon to boot – I almost consider stealing the spoon. Of course the crockery is black, of course I appreciate the attention to detail as we pour our water from old long necks into enamel cups. Notstalgia is so hot right now, and I’m glad it’s so.
The only criticism I have comes from my café mate who later tells me Joe Black doesn’t serve juice. Knowing she’s a massive fresh-squeezed juice fan, I sympathise but then she says, no, no juice AT ALL, from a bottle or otherwise; only mineral water, coke, diet coke and ginger beer . I’m usually a big fan of shorter menus and less choice but in some cases, it just doesn’t work. I think not having OJ on a café menu is just…weird.
What about you, my first world chums? Do you ever get café fatigue?
27 Commonwealth Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
Monday to Friday 7:00am – 5:00pm,
Saturday 7:00am – 4:00pm
Sunday 7:00am – 2:00pm
So by now you probably know the macchiato is my current coffee of choice. I love an espresso or a ristretto, but a few too many black-coffee-on-an-empty-stomach days on a Portuguese holiday kinda cured me of the habit, as did my frugal nature; $3 or more for a shot of coffee with no additions just seems like bad value. A macchiato is also a bet-hedging drink; the milk tempers a short black which may or may not be brilliant, hiding any extra bitterness it may have. Here’s a list of 3 places I think make a great one (in no particular order).
1. Plunge Coffee, Summer Hill
This had been on my wishlist for ages and I wasn’t disappointed. Sitting on a street that real estate agents would describe as ‘funky’ and local council marketing would describe as ‘a village’, it’s a nice place to sit and there’s plenty of seating. The coffees here are beautiful and taste as good as they look. A bit steep at $3.50 but the milk is silky smooth and so is the flavour. They use coffee alchemy coffee.
48 Lackey Street,
Summer Hill NSW 2130
2. Le Grand Café, Clarence Street
The café in the foyer of Alliance Française sells scrummy looking pastries by Bécasse and does more substantial food as well, but I’m more interested in their coffee. All coffees are $3, unless you prepay and buy a bunch at a time and then the work out at $2.50 each. They use Allpress coffee which I like and their macs are not too long with a generous daub of froth. The service is good too.
Le Grand Café
257 Clarence Street,
Sydney CBD NSW 2000
(02) 9267 1755
3. Single Origin Roasters, Surry Hills
This macchiato is so ridiculously expensive I considered not recommending Single Origin on that basis. It is also hipster paradise and only open on weekdays. That said for $4 you’ll feel no qualms about returning it if it’s not to your liking. I’ve been there quite a few times and have never had to. You also get a choice of beans if you so desire. The branding of this place is such that 250g bags are sold at 15 bucks a pop. Not so rapt on the tiny stools and tables either.
Single Origin Roasters
64 Reservoir Street,
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9211 0665
About meSharing easy recipes, hunting down the best coffee. Honest accounts, nothing too serious. Read more...
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- Cubao Street Food, Alexandria
- The Reformatory Caffeine Lab, Surry Hills
- Brewtown Newtown
- Stay caffeinated over Christmas
- Gumption by Coffee Alchemy, Sydney CBD
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Disclaimer:All opinions in this blog are mine, an everyday, real-life person. I do not accept payment for reviews and nor do I write sponsored posts. I do not endorse the content of the comments herein.