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
Sydney CBD cafés usually have a very different feel from those on the city fringe. Your Petty Cash Cafés, you Belljars don’t really exude the same frantic, grab-your-latte-and-raisin-toast-and-run vibe that you get at somewhere like, say, Vella Nero. This is changing, or maybe I’m just paying closer attention. In any case the York Street hub, with the likes of the quirky Shirt Bar and the laneway haven York Lane is a pretty awesome place to be grabbing your coffees and lunches these days.
Palomino Espresso is the newest addition to the area. A few blocks south of Wynyard Station, nextdoor to Stitch, I literally walked straight past it on its second day of trading. And I was actually looking for it. It was only because I was looking for number 61 and the numbers were higher than that that I turned around and had a second look.
I ordered my macch and sat looking out onto the street, and almost every person who walked past did a double take. It wasn’t so much a case of ‘wow, a new café’ as it was ‘how long has that place been open?’. That’s because Palomino Espresso looks like it’s been part of the furniture for yonks. And the service wasn’t very ‘we’ve only been open for two days’ either. If they hadn’t mentioned that fact so many times, I doubt anyone would’ve noticed they’re the NKOTB.
As per usual, I just had coffee. It was good, not particularly photogenic but a nutty, vanilla-y sort of flavour. I was tempted by something that looked suspiciously like a butterfly cake, or at any rate, some variety of cupcake heavy with whipped cream. The breakkies are a bit more city fringe than dine-and-dash – I saw house baked beans and eggs benny on offer, and tons of homemade-looking baked treats. These guys serve Morgans Handcrafted Coffee, the day I went they had two choices, one of which was a Brazilian Single Origin, if that’s what floats your boat. They do cold drip and for soy addicts, it’s bonsoy all the way.
The decor is a tad quirky, with wild west themed knick knacks (there’s a horse figurine inside the espresso machine). To me, it looks like the kind of cafe you’d find in Glebe, I’m not sure why. The high ceilings mean plenty of glass street frontage, there’s enough seating and the staff seem really friendly. I am unsure of their opening hours but I am going to find out. I will be back.
1/61 York Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Monday-Friday 7:00am – 4:00pm
Taste of Sydney is held each year in Centennial Park, and until this year I’d never been. This for two reasons; firstly, you have to buy a ticket to attend (and then pay to be fed) and two I figured fancy restaurants are a bit out of my league. Oh yeah, and crowns. 1 crown = 1 dollar, that is bullshit. But this year all that changed as friends offered Senhor R and I free tickets to come along with them. Huzzah!
It was a picturesque scene as we made our way through Centennial Park (the long, slightly muddy way).
Our silhouettes would be a little wider when the night drew to a close.
Although it was quite muddy, the lights made things feel festive.
Hipsters be chillin’…
Gorgeously crispy Fried Hawkesbury School Prawns from Quarter 21.
Posicles are all the rage these days – the Fresh Pops cart.
Quarter 21 again with Slow Cooked and Caremelised Short Rib. Divine.
Pat & Stick’s Cramel Pecan Ice Cream Sanwich – I couldn’t finish it by myself!
The black label juice bar/cocktail/popup/thingummy. Weird.
Kopperburg cider. Kicks Rekorderlig’s Arse. No contest.
McLaren Vale Ale. I’m a fan.
Charlie & Co teensy Burger. It’s the first time I’d tried Charlie & Co. it was fine, overpriced though.
The Suckling Pig at Four in Hand was less than crispy.
The Beach Bar- best value (anything) in the place.
A delectable mojito. 8 bucks/crowns! We were in this weird parallel universe where cocktails are cheaper than wine. Or food. I think it’s called Brasil.
Waiting for pasta at A Tavola. A delicious 3 kinds of meat ragu, to be precise.
It’s really time to go now. But what about our leftover crowns?
Back to Quarter 21 for dessert – Hokey Pokey Ice cream Sandwich.
A lot of people I spoke to said they were less impressed with this year’s line-up than they were in previous years. They stopped serving booze at 9:30pm, and so many people found themselves with a pocketful of crowns and not much to spend them on. On leaving the park, it was pitch black, verging on dangerous as we scrambled for ANZAC parade. But overall it was a fun, if expensive night. I’d go again. With free tix (hint hint).
Ideally, we’d always have the time- and space- for a relaxed sit-down coffee in the morning sun. But in the fast-paced Sydney CBD where space is at a premium, it’s just not always possible. Luckily, limitations often breed great ideas and with these three teensy espresso bars, there’s definitely no need to compromise on quality. Here, in no particular order, are my picks for the three best Sydney CBD hole-in-the-wall coffee spots.
1. Joe Black X, 70 King Street
Not to be confused with Joe Black, Joe Black X is housed in a teensy alcove, squished up against the new Louise Vuitton store. There’s only one seat so it’s takeaway only, with menus scrawled on cardboard signs and delicious Little Pudding cakes peeking out of the display fridge. When I order my macch the barista has me watch him pour it and say ‘when’. Always a good sign.
Bean: Their own blend, roasted by Toby’s estate.
Food: Sandwiches, cakes and breakky treats abound. These guys are very diy, poaching chicken and making meusli and yogurt onsite.
Joe Black X
70 King Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
2. The Lab Cafe, 109 Pitt Street
The Lab is situated at the Pitt Street end of the Hunter Connection. They now have five stores in total. Their cakes and muffins are housed in bell jars with a bunch bagged up to go. My friend (not as much of a caffeine head as I) wanted something sweet so grabbed a muffin, which she said was delicious. And the staff are friendly too.
Bean: Di Lorenzo.
Price: $3 for a small, $3.60 for a large.
Food: Muffins, friands and biscuits.
The Lab Cafe
9/109 Pitt Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
0451 038 795
3. Workshop Espresso, 500 George Street
Workshop has been doing a roaring trade since it opened in 2009, and it’s easy to see why. There’s always a glut of people outside – I was there early one Thursday morning and all seats were taken, with 6 people waiting for takeaways ahead of me. But never fear, these guys are efficient, friendly and know their stuff. You can also purchase their signature blend to take home.
Bean: Workshop blend by Toby’s estate, a variety of single origins.
Price: My takeaway macch was $3
Food: Word on the street is they have great breakky and lunch selections – they use Sonoma bread, a lot of toast-based things, sambos and cakes.
Shop RG01A, 500 George Street, (The Galleries Victoria)
Sydney, NSW 200
02 9264 8836
Do you have a favourite hole-in-the-wall coffe place?
There’s something in the water in Alexandria. One by one, disused warehouses are being converted into cafes and bars. Sympathetic renovations abound – think Allpress Espresso, Kitchen by Mike, Don Campos, Bread and Circus or Sonomo HQ. Further afield you’ve got the likes of Brasserie Bread and Freda’s Bar and Canteen taking up residence. Add The Grounds to the list of cavernous and ultra modern spaces slightly off the beaten path of the inner southwest.
The Grounds is situated on the corner of Huntley street and Bourke Road. It’s is in the same ‘complex’ as 4143 at The James Barnes. It felt like this place would never open, but open it did for the first time yesterday, so this morning I went to check it out.
When we arrive, I count ten staff. We order our coffees and are told since we’re having them in, to take a seat and then order. The coffee takes a while, which is odd considering the gaggle of waiters clustered around the till and the small number of customers. To be fair, we did arrive at 7:15am on their second day of trade, and I know from experience that a POS system can be a pain in the arse to get going. When it arrives, the coffee is good. Well-rounded flavour, and well presented.
The Grounds is an amazing space. Imagine a kind of barn (well, former pie factory), all rustic wooden finishes and concrete floors (drool), lit with tungsten lights and dotted with industrial touches like exposed copper pipe. This space cries out to be described in cliches – rustic, post-industrial, but above all, beautiful. You can view the coffee roasters through glass panels and on the wall behind neon yellow letters spell out ‘Research Facility’.
The ‘barn’ opens out onto a large garden/courtyard and there’s plenty of seating to while away the hours. There you’ll find a micro-garden of herbs, fruit and veggies, with chickens no less, giving Cornersmith a run for its money in the made-from-scratch stakes. They also bake their own bread and roast their own beans, and plan to hold cupping and coffee making classes. If you take a quick squiz at Katie Quinn Davies’ (no relation) shoot for The Grounds, I think you’ll agree their home style food (could they BE any more on trend) looks pretty bloody scrumptious. I for one can’t wait to try it.
All in all I’m delighted to have these guys in my backyard. And I plan to spend a lot of time in theirs.
The Grounds of Alexandria
7a/2 Huntly Street (corner Bourke Road)
Alexandria NSW 2015
Weekends 7:00am – 3:00pm
The early Sydney small bars were ultra-trendy, with high price tags on drinks. I won’t name names, but their simple formula left me cold – fancy cocktails + retro furniture + no windows + overpriced bear and wine + overcrowding + nowhere to sit = not a great night out. How, I wondered, could anyone afford to go to these places and have more than one drink? Thus I became a smallbar cynic. I wouldn’t have, for lack of a better pun, a bar of them. Until Freda’s.
Freda’s isn’t small, it’s large. But it doesn’t feel large because it employs this revolutionary idea I like to call hospitality. That’s what happens when the staff can be bothered to say hello. It’s where there are chairs to sit on and music that ranges from a hum to upbeat background noise – on Saturday night, you’re just short of shouting but you probably won’t notice. It’s where the food comes out quickly and the bread comes with it, where you can order at the bar or have table service, your choice. It’s where every person that serves you treats you like a person, not a nuisance at the end of a woolworth’s deli-style queue, and you treat them like a person right back.
How to get there
Freda’s is on Regent street, just north of Cleveland. Look out for a giant red tongue of the PR agency nearby. It’s is in an alleyway, right by the dance studio, opposite the servo where all the taxis refuel. You know the place.
When you walk into Freda’s, most likely someone will greet you. If it’s early, maybe several people will. It’s an exposed brick warehouse that has been sympathetically restored, with a pared-back aesthetic, bare light bulbs, a daily blackboard menu and wooden finishes.
I recommend Happy Hour if you’re skint. They always have a $5 beer and a $5 wine and some crazy oyster deal. Around 5pm they put up their shareplate menu, it’s mostly cold stuff, things that are pickled and braised and delicious. Everything seems to come with free bread and go well with drinking. The food menu changes daily and they are renowned for their pickled octopus- sounds weird but delicious. I’ve tried their eggplant and tahini (amazing), and one weekend I think we tried everything on the menu except the sujuk, beetroot yogurt and the oysters. Everything was smashing – vinegary, charred, complex, textural. The wine list is impressive as well, and of course there are cocktails. Also, they serve lunch sandwiches. And lunch coffee.
Freda’s has its finger on the pulse, but the pulse of someone who’s just had a leisurely latte and a pumpkin scone rather than a $20 glass of champagne and a handful of speed. And it shows. It’s about to be blogged to death and recently received a favourable review in the SMH. It’s the kind of place that’s impossible not to like, like that kid in high school who was unrealistically good looking, got good marks, was great at sport and, to top it all off, nice as pie. But cooler. And with pickled octopus on the menu.
109 Cleveland Street
Chippendale, NSW, 2008
(02) 8971 7336
Monday-Friday 11:00am – Midnight
Saturday 4:00pm – Midnight
Bikes and coffee and hipsters – seemingly unrelated things come in threes. Why? Who knows, who cares. As puzzling to me as Shirt Bar was the other week and no less delightful, Lonsdale Street Roasters (or LSR as it is known) meshes this triad of seemingly random objects (yes, hipsters are indeed objects) except to me, coffee roaster+bikes+hipsters=café, where shirts+whisky+coffee=scratching my head a bit.
I think it’s safe to say LSR in the only so-cool-it-hurts espresso bar in the ‘berra, a city renowned for it’s roundabouts, public servants and, oh hang on a sec, bicycle paths. Bicycles hang from the ceiling, yellow and white magnetic letters spell out the menus, all the staff are under 25, artfully arranged bric-a-brac adorns the walls. It ticks all the boxes, the only thing missing is the Astroturf.
LSR pretty much serve coffee, as they are predominantly a coffee roaster. But they do have a smattering of breakfast, cakes and sandwiches with fashionable fillings (slow roasted pork with chipotle, anyone?). It’s order-and-pay-at-the-counter. If there’s no room inside (and I pray if you go anytime other than Autumn, there is), perch yourself on a milk crate outside.
I order a macch and Mum orders a cap, before realising yet again that that’s not what she really wanted, but as always not caring enough to change it. As expected, they do that thing that shits me where instead of 1/3 espresso 1/3 milk 1/3 froth dusted with chocolate (let’s call it an Australian cappuccino), they latte art the hell out of it so it’s basically a flat white with chocolate. Which is fine in this case as it’s not really what was wanted anyway but surely the point of a cappuccino is the foam, micro or otherwise (please not this is a generalised rant and not aimed at LSR specifically).
Of course, swings and roundabouts, anywhere you get a flat ‘cappuccino’ like this, I get a super short and concentrated macch, just the way I like it. So really, I can’t complain. Well, I will, but only on principle, and only in the safe confines of the blogosphere, never to anyone’s face.
Lonsdale Street Roasters
3/7 Lonsdale Street
Braddon ACT 2612
‘We need to go out and have coffee,’ Senhor R said sternly one morning. I sighed. ‘Fine!’ I said ‘Let’s go!”. Oh wait, that’s right. I like coffee. But when someone tells me to do something, I straight away want to do the opposite.
Not to mention that these last couple of weekends have been like mini coffee tours as we try to drink and photograph as many coffees as possible, preferably on a Saturday. This is because I started falling behind. I got a bit busy, I got a bit lazy. I got a job. I graduated. It was my birthday. These are all good things, but let’s face it, they don’t leave much time for coffee dates. I really need to get my priorities straight.
When Senhor R and I sit down in a cafe, every single time without fail, they give me his coffee and they give him mine. This happens whether the same person who took our order brings us the coffees or not, whether I order or Senhor R orders or whether we both order. Apparently a piccolo latte is a ladies’ drink, while a macchiato is super-machismo. Ah, well. I don’t mind wearing the metaphorical pants for a while.
Crave espresso is a place I’d been meaning to revisit for a while, and Senhor R kept suggesting it. So naturally, like any good girlfriend, I put it at the bottom of my list. After all, it’s not far from home and we could go there anytime. And I do wear the pants.
The cafe part of Crave espresso is located above their warehouse in Alexandria. It’s one of those you’ve-gotta-know-where-to-look places but they do pretty good trade from the surrounding apartments. When we arrived on a Saturday morning they were relatively full, but it soon cleared out. We ordered our usuals, swapped coffees and sipped. Impressive flavour, more so than I remembered. In fact, we liked it so much that Senhor R got them to grind us a 250g bag of whatever we were drinking to take away. I know, I know. I should’ve been taking notes. But frankly I was too caffeinated to care what I was drinking. I was too busy enjoying it.
I recommend checking out crave espresso if you get a chance. The owners are friendly, the coffee is solid and you can take some home if you’re that way inclined. And don’t do what I do when someone tells me to do something. Don’t do the opposite.
Crave Espresso Bar
Unit 72, 20-28 Maddox St
(02) 9516 1217
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
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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.