Lately I feel like the CBD cafe scene is really opening up, at least in terms of coffee. The little cluster of espresso bars in the CBD has been drawing me in of late, they’re the perfect pitstop on my way to work.

Yet another stop on the Clarence/Kent Street trail is Vella Nero, originally Velluto Nero. It may be the branding that put me off (I don’t generally associate a black/aqua colour combo with coffee) or maybe it’s the fact that they’re always packed with business people, but I never got around to checking this place out. But now I have an office job, I figure its ok for me to hang out in a business-person café.

The decor here is nothing to write home about but on the flipside, the place is packed with enough coffee gadgetry to fill my Christmas stocking for at least the next 5 years. When I get to the counter (it’s an order-and-pay-at-the-counter deal) the girl who serves me is incredibly friendly. When I pay, she stamps a card for me, asks me my name and writes it on my card, along with my coffee order.

Don’t be fooled by a quick glance inside – there’s plenty of seating upstairs and that’s where I decide to sit. I don’t have to wait long for my macch and they even bring a little glass of water which is always dandy. The coffee is good, nice and short and visually appealing – I’m very easily impressed by a coffee with striations.

Overall, in spite of how busy the place is the service and coffee are top notch. I would definitely visit again. Pity they’re not open on weekends.

Vella Nero Coffee Couture
259 Clarence Street,
Sydney NSW 2000

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It seems a little hub of coffee goodness is developing around the Clarence/Kent Street area. Maybe it’s Clover Moore’s laneway project, maybe it’s the hipster vibe radiating from the likes of Grandma’s Bar and Stitch, maybe it’s the I- don’t-have-time-for-crap-coffee-can’t-you-see-I’m-a-businessman ambiance of the CBD. I suspect it’s some combination of all three. Either way, it can only be a good thing for someone like me. That is, as long as it’s not a weekend.

Kent Street Specialty Coffee is obviously on Kent Street, between Druitt and Market Streets in what has traditionally been a bit of a coffee desert. Recently though solid coffee options like Klink and Le Grand Cafe have changed all that, although the area unfortunately still shuts down on the weekends.

I arrive early one morning and it’s freezing cold. Just for something different, I order a macchiatto. It takes a little while considering I’m one of three customers, but they bring me a glass of water which I appreciate. The macch has a good crema and is a tad longer than I like, but this is more of a personal preference than a criticism. Maybe I’ve gotten too used to the short shots that are all the rage these days.

The place is cavernous, all exposed brick, pillars and wooden floorboards. I’m a fan of the aesthetic but it’s a bit cold in winter. All in all I’d say it’s a good place to throw back a coffee and dash off to get on with your day, so it fits right in to the area.

Kent Street Specialty Coffee
414 Kent Street
Sydney, NSW 2000

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Something you will never, ever hear me say about a café, bar or any other place is that it is ‘so Melbourne.’ I know what people mean when they say that. I can even see what they’re talking about in my mind’s eye. It’s some kind of kitch, bentwood chaired, astro-turfed, bicycle-wheels-dangling-from-the-ceiling, exposed-vintage-lighbulb-studded hole-in-the-wall with hipster clientele and fashionably–mussed student waiters. It’s zany. It’s ironic. It’s ‘more european’. But I refuse to use this term.

I’ve never understood the Melbourne/Sydney rivalry, mostly because it is so one-sided. People from Melbourne will always try and sell it to you, as if Melbourne invented any or all of the following things: coffee, hipsters, black clothes, laneways, graffiti. They’ll give you one million reasons why it’s better than Sydney. But Sydneysiders don’t give a damn, and I in particular don’t give a damn as long as the coffee’s good. We all like upcycled vintage sideboards, we just don’t talk about them all the time. Oh and p.s.- there ain’t no such thing as a long macchiato.

Klink Handmade espresso is the kind of café that would be right at home in Degraves street or equivalent, but I won’t hold that against them. You’ll find it in the foyer of the Gaffa gallery, housed in a strawberry ice cream coloured heritage building. It’s on Clarence street, near the astro-turfed Grandma’s Bar and a couple of other coffee places with good reps. There’s not a lot of room to sit, so if you’d prefer takeaway you can order through the window.

Klink, like The Kick Inside uses Golden Cobra espresso. I wasn’t disappointed with my macchiato as it came complete with a jug of frothed milk, just to be on the safe side. That was helpful as my coffee companion found her espresso a tad bitter and so ended up with a macchiato after all. Sit down coffee is expensive here- $3.40 for a macchiato. But it’s a good place for a quick coffee and a chat.

So, what’s an expression that drives you mad?

Klink Handmade Espresso
281 Clarence Street, Sydney 2000
(04) 1511 8505
Monday-Friday 7:00am – 3:00pm

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There’s an interesting phenomenon when it comes to coffee in the Sydney CBD. It’s fast. It’s cheap. It’s abundant. It’s usually pretty good. But there’s not often time to blow your mind at 9:45 on a Tuesday morning. And come the weekend, going out for coffee becomes a daunting prospect as the men and women in suites retire to the inner and outer suburbs for a spot of R & R and CBD coffee more or less shuts down.

Another phenomenon is the ‘black holes’ all over the CBD. Sure, you’re spoilt for choice on the Surry Hills/CBD border, but what about Chinatown/Ultimo? I struggled to think of anywhere off the top of my head, but then, Ultimo never really occurs to me as a place to go for coffee. Until now.

There are a few well known ‘solid’ cafés in the CBD and Mecca is often cited as one of them. They now have three stores, one at 67 King Street, one at 1 Alfred Street and the newest addition in Ultimo at 646 Harris Street, just down from ABC studios in what used to be Gloria Jeans. Having previously checked out their King Street café I decided to give the Harris Street Mecca a go as it is sort of walking distance from my place and only opened last month.

The interior of Mecca is quite spacious so there’s plenty of places to sit, with polished concrete floors and sheet glass windows. The decor is sparse but welcoming, old-style wooden school chairs and polished black tables arranged in an orderly fashion. Not unlike Don Campos, the decor screams professional, but in this case with a touch of quirkiness.We ordered and payed for our two macchiatos at the counter before sitting down. Our coffees came promptly and were a tad milkier than many macchiatos, but I never consider that a problem myself. The flavour was creamy and rich and it was nice to sit for a while and not worry that we were taking up a table. I’m used to the cramped cafés of Newtown and surrounds which are generally pretty tiny, not the kind of places where you could spend the whole morning.

Mecca also have a breakfast and lunch menu with various toast-with-stuff options for breakfast and sandwiches, salads and Panini for lunch, which all seemed very reasonably priced. There is also a liquor licence in the works. All in all a solid experience and I would definitely visit again.

What are your top picks for places to go in Ultimo?

Mecca Espresso
646 Harris Street Ultimo, 2007
(02) 9280 4204
Monday-Friday: 7:00am – 4:00 pm
Saturday: 7:00am – 3:00 pm

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