Sydney's top 20 cafes 2017

Asian mash-ups and booze for breakfast are the key trends for 2017 and, as this sneak peek from the first national Good Food Guide proves, Sydney could not be better caffeinated.

Seriously, it's a wonder we sell any home-brew coffee machines at all in New South Wales. Our cafes are awesomely good, and getting better. They offer a madly diverse range of brews, care about the provenance and back-story of the bean itself, and package it all up with a great deal of style, a lot of craft, not too much froth and a sprinkle of insouciance.

There's a real sense of our cafes moving to next-level status, either by offering a tight sharp focus (see Regiment), or taking on the restaurant business with full service and style (see Grounds of the City).

Acutely aware of the hospitality industry's increasing skills shortage, the far-sighted roasters are also investing in education and training. Five Senses, Single O (formerly Single Origin Roasters), Gypsy Espresso, Little Marionette, Toby's Estate, Black Market Roasters and more, are all working to raise barista skills on everything from espresso extraction to correct service etiquette.

And we're not just drinking our coffee here, we're taking it away – overseas. Russell Beard and partners Mark Dundon and Ping Jin Ng of Paramount Coffee Projects in Surry Hills opened in Los Angeles in 2015, and are building a new 280 square metre cafe and coffee-roasting facility in downtown LA. "We want to extend the revolving producer residency concept that has been so successful for us in Sydney," says Beard.

Savoury toast with raw shaved brussels sprout, lemon zest, chilli, toasted at Two Chaps.
Savoury toast with raw shaved brussels sprout, lemon zest, chilli, toasted at Two Chaps. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Here's a bunch of top cafes for 2017, picked by our highly caffeinated Good Food Guide team for either coffee, food, or the whole darned package. But first, a few industry trends on tap.

Breakfast booze

You can blame the lockout laws for this one – if Sydney can't go out late for a bevvy, then it sure as hell wants a martini with breakfast. .

Under the menu heading "Drank", Alexandria's Mecca offers breezy Campari and verbena spritzes, green tea gin and garden sodas, cascara rum punch, and coffee negronis, from 10am. Coffee! In a negroni! Double heaven! And at the Grounds of the City, you can order an espresso martini that comes with an espresso and whiskey mister, also from 10am.

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Asian mash-ups

"Were you ever that kid at school who was too embarrassed to bring out your lunch? We were those kids," says the multicultural mash-up of a menu at Boon Cafe. It explains the generational shift in so many of our most exciting menus, as "our version" of a sandwich (or breakfast, or coffee) stands up for itself in our proudly diverse society. Boon Cafe leads the way with croissants slathered with lime green pandan cream (divine), and a Big Breakfast tray of sourdough toast, rice congee, satay and smashed avocado that miraculously feels so right. For more, check out Devon cafe in Surry Hills, Oratnek in Redfern and Kentaro in Surry Hills.

CBD = Caffeine Business District

Coffee. It's the only reason we get out of bed in the morning and go to the office. Where once the CBD was a caffeine desert where you had to go blocks out of your way for the right brew, it's now a maze of great coffee options; from Central Roasters by the Metro Theatre and Coffee Alchemy's Gumption in the Strand, to CBD imprints of Edition Coffee Roasters in Circular Quay and Single O on York Street. Add the Cross Eatery on Clarence, Skittle Lane on King, the mighty Pablo & Rusty's on Castlereagh and SAL in Chifley Tower, and your survival juice is never far away.

Standing room only

Industry leaders such as Single O are desperate to reduce our dependence on single-use coffee cups. "The tide is turning with attitudes to coffee cups, and we're keen to smash it out of the park with our Short Stay Coffee," says head barista Angus Lindsay. They hope we'll all adopt that Italian espresso bar culture of standing "al banco" (at the bar) for a quick-but-good coffee served in a ceramic cup before going on our way. Bravo.

Latte at Two Chaps, Marrickville.
Latte at Two Chaps, Marrickville. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Next-level cafes for 2017

The Alchemist Espresso

Look for the old VB sign on Carter Street, then head inside for a beautifully made Gabriel Monte Carlo blend coffee or Single O pourover with an egg and bacon stack on the big share table. Jon Menck and Emma Fryar mortgaged their home to open this coffee-centric cafe in a former bottleshop, because they thought it was a good idea. So does Cammeray.

8 Carter Street, Cammeray, 0418 977 082

bills

After 34 years of getting up early to cook breakfast bills in Darlo needed a nip and a tuck. London-based Bill Granger threw it to Julie Meacham and Bruce Nockles for a gorgeous '60s facelift that refreshes this lovely little corner building. The classics are still in place – ricotta hotcakes, sweetcorn fritters – as well as a killer white peach bellini. Coffee, as always, is from Single O.

The refurbished Bills in Darlinghurst.
The refurbished Bills in Darlinghurst. Photo: Petrina Tinslay

433 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst, 02 9360 9631, bills.com.au

Black Star Pastry

One of the smartest operators around town, Christopher Thé, now has three Sydney coffee-pastry locations. Here in Rosebery, the raw brick, converted warehouse allows wings to spread, so settle in for your favourite – strawberry and watermelon cake, Persian orange cake or lamb shank and red wine pie – with an equally well-crafted Little Marionette espresso, cold drip or filter.

85-113 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery, 02 9700 7686, blackstarpastry.com.au

Shuk Cafe in North Bondi.
Shuk Cafe in North Bondi. Photo: James Brickwood

Boon Cafe

Those excellent people from Chat Thai run a character-filled cafe that fuses 80 per cent East with 20 per cent West. Go for breakfast and a superior Single O Killerbee blend coffee, then pick up takeaway som dtum salad for lunch and the makings for dinner from the adjacent Jarern Chai produce store, and you're set for 24 hours.

425 Pitt Street, Haymarket, 02 9281 2114, booncafe.com

Bread & Circus Wholefoods Canteen

The food here is so bright and fresh, the coffee cups so pink, the flowers so cheery, that you are nourished in both body and spirit. Vegetable-centric and market-influenced, B&C dishes have the best titles (Breakfast with Gwyneth is quinoa and kale with two fried eggs). Match a make-your-own sandwich box with a smooth coffee from Melbourne's Padre or a fine white, green or black tea.

Green Shakshuka on a wooden board with olives and grilled sourdough at Shuk Cafe.
Green Shakshuka on a wooden board with olives and grilled sourdough at Shuk Cafe. Photo: James Brickwood

21 Fountain Street, Alexandria, 0418 214 425, breadandcircus.com.au

Brewtown Newtown

Instagram's favourite honeycomb-tiled tabletop is still as fresh as a daisy. Opened by Simon Triggs and Charles Cameron, this Newtown back street powerhouse keeps pulling the crowds, with its coffee roasted in-house every day. The vast space is also the home of the Brewnut cronut/cruffin, coffee-rubbed brisket with hummus and toast, and soft polenta with field mushrooms, soft poached eggs and shaved parmesan.

6-8 O'Connell Street, Newtown, 02 9519 2920, brewtownnewtown.com

Mecca Cafe in Alexandria.
Mecca Cafe in Alexandria. Photo: Ben Rushton

Cornersmith

Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant are cornering the market in corner cafes with this prime position opposite a leafy park. Cornersmith 2.0 is meat-free (spaetzli with poached egg and crunchy crumbs, winter toast with pickled turnip, apple and avo) but otherwise sings the same song as the Marrickville mothership: long counter, high/low seating, excellent Mecca Roasters coffee and Tea Craft teas.

88 View Street, Annandale, 02 8084 8466, cornersmith.com.au

Edition Coffee Roasters, Darlinghurst

  • Edition Coffee Roasters (dinner) review
Nahm prik num on sourdough at Boon Cafe.
Nahm prik num on sourdough at Boon Cafe. Photo: Jennifer Soo

The DIY chirashizushi taco is a must, especially pimped gangland-style with shellfish and gold dust. Detail, craft and a simple Scandi/Japanese aesthetic raise this sunny little corner site above the crowd. Daniel Jackson and team apply the rigour of a fine-diner to their job, taking pride in their Elixir cold-brew coffee, Orion draught beer and chef Jack New's Japanese/Oz menu.

265 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst, editioncoffeeroasters.com

Garcon

Coffee roaster Ed Cutcliffe catches the Tramsheds crowds with this lively, inside/outside French-inspired cafe and bar, complete with on-site vintage Probat coffee roaster and rich, caramelly Little Marionette caffe lattes. The all-day food menu runs from chia and black rice pudding to satisfying brunch baos of chorizo, tortilla and mojo verde.

Boon Cafe in Haymarket featured in The Sydney Morning Herald's top 20 cafes list for 2017.
Boon Cafe in Haymarket featured in The Sydney Morning Herald's top 20 cafes list for 2017. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Tramsheds, 1 Dalgal way, Forest Lodge, 0497 347 302, garcon.com.au

The Grounds of the City

This isn't so much a cafe as a phenomenon. All the energy, detail and craft unleashed on the Grounds of Alexandria has been rerouted into this clubby, boothed, opulent, decadent and highly serviced cafe in The Galeries. The copper bar equipment, the uniformed staff, the beautiful Yassica and her trolley of exquisite cakes, the side dishes of bacon, the cocktails, the coffee sommelier, the steak sandwich… we are bereft of speech. Book ahead, or join the long queueueueueue.

500 George Street, Sydney, 02 9699 2235, thegrounds.com.au

The Grounds of the City.
The Grounds of the City. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Kepos Street Kitchen

Sydney loves Israeli and Middle Eastern flavours – it suits our climate, our greed, and our shared way of eating – and Tel Aviv-born Michael Rantissi's menu acts like a magnet, pulling us back to the original snug, welcoming corner cafe he runs with partner Kristy Frawley. It's all good – the falafel for breakfast (falafel, hummus, labna, soft-boiled egg, taboon bread), the croissant sandwich with soft-boiled egg, coriander, tahini, crumbed eggplant and olives, and The Grounds coffee.

96 Kepos Street, Redfern, 02 931 3919, keposstreetkitchen.com.au

Mecca

It's all about light and shade in the tall-ceilinged, split-level, white-walled warehouse cafe and roastery on an unparkable section of Bourke Road. There's clever contrast, too, in the polished menu of "chook rolls", brown rice and millet salads and coffee caramel waffles. The Mecca brew is all hazelnut, chocolate and herbs and there's filter, chai, iced and nitro brew (frothy, cold-drip coffee on tap, like a draft Guinness).

26 Bourke Road, Alexandria, 02 9698 8448, meccacoffee.com.au

Paramount Coffee Project

PCP brought a new concept to the Sydney coffee scene, sourcing its coffee from a mix of exceptional local and international roasters and presenting it a number of ways. Likewise, the food is rethought, so there's peanut butter jellytime sago, chicken 'n' biscuits, and creole jambalaya. The open space in Surry Hills' lovely Paramount House building is awash with light, the perfect millennial meeting place.

80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, 02 9211 1122, paramountcoffeeproject.com.au

Petal Met Sugar

Florist meets patisserie in small Woolloomooloo atelier and has a very sweet time. The coffee is Gabriel, and you'll need it to counterpoint Elsa Li's exquisite tarts and gateaux, especially the salted caramel tart with caramelised popcorn and gold sea salt. There's a cheese scroll and yoghurt with granola, but this little gem is all about sweetness and light. And flowers.

68 Sir John Young Crescent, Woolloomooloo, 02 9360 6226, petalmetsugar.com.au

Regiment

Zach Hiotis' well-curated modern cafe tucked into Regimental Square on George Street looks very in control of its destiny. From the matt metallic cutlery to the natural wood fitout dominated by two powder-coated Synesso Hydra machines, it stylishly delivers a high level of excellence in Five Senses coffee, kombucha, and an onsen-eggy, breakfast-bowly kind of menu – mostly to take out, as there are few tables.

333 George Street, Sydney, regimentcbd.com.au

Room 10

A recent refurb has added more seats to this tiny Llankelly Place pioneer, but the focus has always been strong on great coffee and a considered food offering. Owner Andrew Hardjasudarma does Mecca Roasters proud, and is as happy serving peanut butter on soy and linseed toast as he is lamb, tabouli and tahini wraps and grainy salads. Current collab is with chef Adam Wolfers and his weekly changing soups such as matzo ball, with bagel and smoked sour cream.

10 Llankelly Place, Sydney, 0432 445 342

Ruby's Diner

The sunny, streetside Waverley home of the full-bodied $2.50 piccolo (co-owner Ed Devlin refuses to charge piccolo-lovers more, in solidarity), Ruby's offers everything from Single O beans as filter and "chillter'' (served over ice), to buttery Bulletproof coffee enriched with whey protein, and maca-milk turmeric lattes. It's the same story with the food, which can take you from a raw breakfast salad of kale, broccoli almonds and feta to the famed Ruby's beef burger in a flash.

173-179 Bronte Road, Waverley, rubysdiner.com.au

Shuk Bondi

A new Israeli-inspired bakery next door… a dedicated vegan menu… teff pancakes… Shuk hasn't let the sun rest on innovation since it opened on this big Bondi corner in 2013. Yoni Kalfus, Erez Beker and Ariel Hefer "shuk'"up Bondi with the kind of food they grew up with in Israel. That means both red and green shakshuka, cilbir bagel with labna, avo and scrambled eggs, and coconut malabi with rose petals, with beans courtesy of Bay Coffee Roasters.

2 Mitchell Street, North Bondi, 0423 199 859, shukbondi.com

Three Williams

Truffles! Truffled sweet potato fries with three-cheese sauce; loaded mushrooms toasty with gruyere, fried eggs and shaved truffles; truffles cookies and cream. The Three Willies, already famous for their narnies (sarnies made with naan), double down in truffle season (now until the end of July) with a dedicated menu. Coffee is Single O – and so far, not truffled.

613a Elizabeth Street, Redfern, 02 9698 1111, threewilliamscafe.com

Two Chaps

The girls wear frangipani in their hair and the boys wear hats – there's a supercool '70s garage vibe in the air at this very-Marrickville cafe-bakery, with its communal dining spilling out into leafy Chapel Street. Baked goods are outstanding, from sourdough crumpets with jalapeno-whipped feta to take-home breads, and coffee is their own tough-love Blind Roaster, all scorched almonds and richness.

122 Chapel Street, Marrickville, 02 9572 8858, twochaps.com.au

The Good Food Guide Awards presented by Citi and Vittoria will be held in October. The national Good Food Guide will be available at bookstores, supermarkets and newsagents around Australia.