Hornsby hero ... The Refinery Espresso. Photo: Fiona Morris
In dreamy European cities where fresh bread is bought twice a day, the local baker often becomes the town confidant. In Sydney, that honour is usually bestowed on our baristas. They're the first to know when someone is quitting sugar, going on a health kick (soy, decaf) or silently nursing a mid-week hangover (double shot, bacon-and-egg roll to go).
I am reminded of this as I line up outside The Refinery Espresso. On a sunny Saturday morning, regulars wait patiently not only for their caffeine fix but also for the chance to shoot the breeze with their beloved coffee maker, Andrea Manfe.
Even in my under-caffeinated state, it's hard to ignore the magic. Manfe, who set up shop on a quiet, tree-lined street in Hornsby last April, has already amassed the kind of following that puts his inner-city cohorts to shame. With his Triplette Mirage cranking along in full force, the North Shore native churns out up to 100 cups of the good stuff during rush hour, all the while listening attentively to his customers' weekend plans.
Indoor and outdoor seating. Photo: Fiona Morris
Like many suburban cafes, the all-day menu is designed for a broad appeal. Breakfast traditionalists are well catered for with old favourites such as eggs benedict (served with a tangy avocado salsa and organic sourdough from Brasserie Bread) and the ubiquitous big fry-up among more adventurous offerings.
We nab a seat near the coffee bar after a short wait. It's a compact space, but pops of yellow amid exposed brick walls and blond wood panelling brighten up the interior. The fit-out takes a minimalist approach, with no faux vintage furniture or cutesy memorabilia strewn on tiny table tops. Instead, our sightline is drawn straight to the shiny machine tucked away at the back of the cafe.
A cheery waitress informs us the coffee is roasted on the premises. Every Monday, Manfe whips up a four-bean house blend sourced from Colombia, Cuba, Ethiopia and Brazil. Having previously owned a coffee wholesale business, he has always been keen to roast his own beans. This explains the cult status of his brew: the macchiato has a silky mouth feel and packs an aromatic punch, while my brunch partner's latte boasts a creamy, almost chocolatey finish.
Huevos rancheros (rancher's eggs) ... the fragrant tomato sauce and spicy chorizo make a fine marriage. Photo: Fiona Morris
Buoyed by the much-needed morning buzz, we turn our attention to food. The huevos rancheros (rancher's eggs) is a play on the traditional Mexican dish that usually comes with a bed of refried beans, fried eggs and tortilla topped with lashings of tomato chilli salsa. However, the Refinery version is closer to the popular Middle Eastern baked eggs, shakshuka. Multicultural origins notwithstanding, the fragrant tomato sauce and spicy chorizo make a fine marriage.
And despite the slightly overdone egg, the medley of potato cubes, delicate beans and capsicum still proves immensely satisfying. We are told the Italian scrambled eggs is a house favourite and it's easy to see why. Shards of sweetly crisp prosciutto provide a welcome contrast to the soft, pillowy curds, while the generous pecorino shavings add a savoury hit.
Less impressive are the corn fritters, which are comparatively bland and the batter underdone.
The '90s accompaniments of sweet chilli sauce and a dollop of sour cream don't do the otherwise modern menu justice.
A smarter move would have been to save room for one of their plump, Instagram-famous cinnamon scrolls.
With Manfe at the helm of this thriving neighbourhood cafe, it's no wonder locals can't seem to stop talking about it.
As for those who live on the wrong side of the bridge, just don't leave without a second round of the outrageously good coffee.
THE PICKS ITALIAN SCRAMBLED EGGS; HUEVOS RANCHEROS
THE COFFEE REFINERY ESPRESSO FOUR-BEAN HOUSE BLEND
THE LOOK MINIMALIST CHIC THE SERVICE UPBEAT AND WARM
THE VERDICT A HORNSBY HERO
- 0402 590 250
- Prices - Breakfast $4-$16.50.
- Features - Cheap and cheerful, Outdoor seating
- Owners - Andrea Manfe
- Opening Hours - MON-FRI, 5.30AM-4PM; SAT, 6AM-2PM
- Author - Candice Chung