by Simone Fox Koob
In a city with such a deeply ingrained cafe culture, relying solely on the quality of coffee to attract customers isn’t always a guarantee. These days you have to work the quirk, blending quality coffee and food with art, music, themes and unique backdrops to turn a quick drink or bite to eat into something more memorable. From the heart of the suburbs to the centre of the city, if you’re searching for more than just a cup of coffee then here are our top picks.
The Reformatory Caffeine Lab
If you’re looking for a quick pick me up in Surry Hills, this unusual cafe does the best coffee in the area. The decor theme combines comic book villains with a crazy scientists lab, encapsulated in the chalk wall mural that takes up one side of the long, black interior. A bust of The Joker watches from above the pastry counter as you order your coffee, and the caged lightbulbs illuminate the intricate coffee machinery that creates exceptional filtered, brewed and cold-drip coffee. Coffee making here is a serious science.
The Reformatory is definitely geared towards coffee lovers, as the owners produce new blends each week and are passionate about international beans and differing flavours. There is no seating in the cafe, but there is a standing area with wall-mounted metal benches for those who want to experience the Lab’s unique blends in the cafe. Coffee served in-house comes in specially designed tilted cups on wooden boards designed to accentuate the aroma of the coffee, with a glass of mineral water to refresh the palate. The espresso is served in glass test tubes with a small dish of the ground bean.
While the cafe revolves around the coffee, there is a small selection of pastries from Oregano bakery, including their legendary scrolls and donuts, to complement the beverages.
Where: 7b/17-51 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills
When: Mon – Fri | 6am-4pm | Sat | 6am-2pm
Fika Swedish Kitchen
Straight from the land of contemporary, quirky style, Fika Swedish Kitchen brings the Scandinavian love of coffee and transplants it into the middle of Sydney’s cafe scene. Just off the Manly Corso, Fika translates as ‘taking a break for coffee and a bite to eat’, and this laid back atmosphere is hugely popular with the locals. In the pastel style of Kikki K and IKEA, the clean cut, colour coordination is fresh and minimalist, but its the traditional Swedish food that gives it an exciting twist. Swedish pastries like semlor, cardamon buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream, and Kladdkaka, chocolate cake, are delicious to enjoy with a coffee or tea. The savoury options like the Swedish meatballs and Danish style tapas board, Smorrebrod, bring proper Scandinavian food to Manly and offer an exciting lunch alternative.
The coffee here comes from Campos, but Fika also serve Bryggkaffe, a Swedish filter coffee that is only $2 a cup with free unlimited refills. Swedish tea, with flavours like “smultron and elder” or wild strawberry and elderflower, are on sale in store or in take away packs. Side note – you can also get a free coffee if your name gets picked on name day (a Swedish tradition since the 1750s), so check the website regularly for this perk!
Where: 5 Market Lane, Manly
When: Sun – Tues | 7am – 5pm | Wed – Sat | 7am – 10pm
Contact: 02 9976 5099 | www.fikaswedishkitchen.com.au
Suzie Q Coffee and Records
A cafe fused with a record store, Suzie Q Coffee & Records boasts a great mix of three of Sydney’s favourite things: coffee, organic food and great music. The Surry Hills site was built from scratch, with the dominating feature being the massive black and white mural photograph of Woodstock (taken by Elliot Landy) that speaks volumes about the relaxed style of the cafe and its devotion to quality music.
The menu has a Middle Eastern influence (think Ottolenghi), and all the food is locally sourced and changes with the season. Lunch dish “The Bazaar”, consists of roast cauliflower, baked eggplant, chickpea puree, drizzled in house labne and pomegranate seeds, is a serious winner. A small but carefully chosen list of wine and beer is also available throughout the day if you are in the mood.
Besides the food, the stand-out feature of Suzie Q’s is the music – selected carefully by the staff, the background music ranges from classical jazz, to rock and techno songs from their record collection, and they stock a second hand record collection with a mix of soul, funk, reggae, electronica and rock ’n’ roll. The cafe is located in one of Surry Hills small laneways, so the lack of traffic noise means you can enjoy the tunes away from the hustle of the city.
Where: 1/18 Hutchinson Street, Surry Hills
When: Mon – Fri: 7am-4pm | Sat – Sun: 8am-4pm
Inspired by the whimsical journeys of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Cuckoo Callay sits in Newtown station’s concourse. The work of two locals, the quirky nonsensical theme complements the Middle Eastern influenced menu, reflecting the dynamic Newtown community with innovative dishes that are far from the norm.
Breakfast is served until 3pm and for good reason – the exciting menu offers their famous breakfast dish, #Hashtag Browns 3.0, combining crispy cheese croquettes with poached egg, marinated avocado and a choice of bacon, salmon or grilled haloumi. Also delicious are the pumpkin fritters and the coconut quinoa and date bircher, both on the breakfast menu. The cafe serves up Single Origin coffee as their house blend, and offer cold-drip, chemex and aeropress methods for those keen to experiment with their coffee. Nutella, salted caramel and peanut butter and jelly milkshakes top off this wacky, delicious menu.
They are currently celebrating their Bacon Festival, teaming up with local supplier Black Forest Smokehouse who source their pork from local NSW farmers, to create special dishes that champion our favourite salty meat, so get down to try it out before these specials disappear.
Where: Newtown Station, Newtown
When: Mon – Fri: 6am – 4pm | Sat | 8am – 4pm | Sun | 8am – 3pm
Contact: cuckoo-callay.com.au | 9557 7006
In the leafy backstreets of Willoughby sits The Incinerator, which was once (you guessed it) a functioning incinerator, designed in the 1930s by Walter Burley Griffin, the architect of the nation’s capital. For years the building was an art gallery, which explains the slightly offbeat style of the building, but the renovation has restored the space by using existing features, such as the chimney, to their advantage. Overlooking the gum trees of Hallstorm Park, the unconventional, quirky building sits comfortably in the surrounding landscape.
A big draw card here is the coffee which comes from the acclaimed Grounds Roasters in Alexandria, and the food is equally good – the seasonal produce and a changing menu means the experience is a huge improvement on normal cafe fare. The breakfast goes beyond the normal bacon and eggs, but it’s the lunch that is a real stand-out. Their number one dish since their opening, the wood roast chicken and quinoa with smoked yoghurt, is a reason to keep coming back, as are the slow cooked lamb sandwiches. Those with a sweet tooth will love the Tim Tam milkshake and home-made lamingtons (salted caramel and red velvet flavoured).
Where: 2 Small Street, Willoughby
When: Mon – Sun | 7am-4pm
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