Me & Art cafe in Surry Hills. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Spin a disc, pick up a loaf, knock back a whisky - or have a coffee even. The latest batch of cafes look like small bars and act like indie coffee labs and artisan bakeries. Their food is adventurous (read up on arepas, bureks, shanklish), the tables are ironing boards or granny's hand-me-downs. Milk shakes are big, Middle Eastern baked egg dishes are the new egg-and-bacon roll, tea is taken seriously, and even art galleries are roasting their own coffee. Here are 10 of the hottest and newest.
The Butcher's Block
Hot order Beef and red wine pie with mash, $16
Cocoa and Milk cafe in Leichhardt. Photo: Edwina Pickles
What was a butcher shop in Wahroonga village is now The Butcher's Block, a long, skinny cafe that finishes in a sunny outdoor terrace. George Karnasiotis and son Anthony pay homage to the site's history by embedding the butcher's original cleavers in solid wooden doors as handles. Coffee is Allpress Espresso Carmelo blend ($3.50) with hints of orange peel and bitter-sweet cocoa, served almost too hot to sip. The open coffee window gets crammed in the morning, but for the locals it's all about lunch on the back terrace. Burgers, pies and meatball sliders are the big orders. 15 Redleaf Avenue, Wahroonga, 9487 8136.
The Rag Land
Hot order Pork belly and egg roll, $8
Kepos St Kitchen in Redfern. Photo: Edwina Pickles
The days of zillion-dollar fitouts are over - nobody wants to walk into a new cafe feeling tense for the owners, already in debt for the interior design. Ragland hits just the right note with its handed-down furniture, hands-on food and hand-on-heart attitude. David Jiew works the Human Cannonball blend by Golden Cobra into a dark, caramelly piccolo latte ($3), but grab an ironing-board table and stay for spicy smashed eggs and avocado on toast, nasi lemak, or a minty lemonade from the urn. 129 Raglan Street, Redfern. No phone.
Hot order Pikelets with mascarpone and stewed peaches, $9
It's hard to believe a kitchen is in this tiny wedge clinging to a shady Darlinghurst corner, but it's there, sending out simple, hangover-friendly food while grooving to the Kinks. Andy Kennedy and Chris Bull draw a mixed inner-city crowd for their slow-cooked beef burgers with pickles and provolone, and smoked ham and swiss-cheese sandwiches. The Bankastan blend from Sydney roaster The Little Marionette is all toasty hazelnuts and peppery spice in a piccolo latte ($3.50), and there's a good coffee window if you have to grab and go. 128 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst, 9380 9390.
Me & Art
Hot order Gluten-free, dairy-free almond milk and apple bircher muesli, $4
This teeny, two-storey Surry Hills cottage somehow manages to operate as a new-wave Japanese art gallery, an all-day cafe and a coffee roaster. ''Coffee guy'' Ely Galbally moved from Melbourne to tend the space-age Keys van der Westen triple-boiler Spirit, a machine that turns the making of a simple latte ($3.50) into a creative act. A small range of vegan-friendly food is brought in, including chia seed porridge and raw brownies, but it's the glittering bambi art, freshly roasted coffee and sweetness of the set-up that does the trick. 62 Mary Street, Surry Hills 0409 069 430.
Hot order Breakfast plate of boiled egg, fried eggplant, tahini and zhoug, $12
There's something about a collaboration between a coffee roaster and a baker, and Chippendale is giving thanks Paul Geshos of Mecca Espresso and Simon Cancio (ex-Luxe Bakery) are both those things. Perch on a swivel stool and watch the baker work his magic, then team a rich and hazelnutty piccolo latte ($3.50) with a sourdough sandwich of braised brisket, home-cured pickles and anchovy mayo or a seedy, fruity muffin. Be aware - no tea, no skim and no credit cards. 206 Cleveland Street, Chippendale 9698 7880.
House Speciality Coffee
Hot order Avocado on toast, $7
This seriously small and subterranean corner cafe tucked away in behind the Toby's Estate mother ship on King Street is seriously appealing. That could be because it's full of bearded boys wearing bush hats, because the turntable in the corner is spinning Creedence, Chicago and the Byrds, or because the grandpa furniture goes so well with the grandma crockery. The food options are limited, but it has nailed the simple things, such as the perfect avo on toast. It has great milk shakes (trend alert) as well as nutty, spicy Blend 11 coffee from The Little Marionette ($3.50). Janis Joplin would just perch on an upholstered milk crate and stay all day. 9 Knox Street, Chippendale, 8957 4664.
Kepos St Kitchen
Hot order Egg and bacon brioche roll, $13
What is it with Israelis and food? They just nail that bright-healthy-spicy-Middle East-Mediterranean street food thing so well - even at breakfast time, which is a hard call for most. Michael Rantissi serves up Sydney's brightest and best new breakfasts and brunches (they say it's the ''new Bills'') at this light and white corner cafe, which is co-owned with Kristy Frawley. Go for the house-made felafel, coriander tahini and tabbouleh studded with pomegranate pearls. Even the deep and earthy coffee ($3.50) feels good for you, courtesy of local roaster The Grounds. 96 Kepos Street, Redfern, 9319 3919.
The Roots, North Sydney
Hot order Roast pork and crackling sandwich with redcurrant jam, $11
Brett Conway likes having weekends off, so North Sydney was a smart choice for his new half-inside, half-outside cafe tucked under one end of the Greenwood Bridge. After a couple of years on the machine at Three Blue Ducks in Bronte, he's a big fan of Single Origin Roasters, which supplies the house blend, as well as four light roasts a month for gentler brewing methods such as pour-over and syphon. The media and agency creatives of North Sydney are hoeing into the sandwiches, house-made relishes and brownies, and making calendar notes about the free cupping sessions at 5pm on the first Thursday of the month. Shop 7, 2 Elizabeth Plaza, 83 Mount Street, North Sydney. No phone.
Cocoa and Milk
Hot order Cheese and spinach burek, $10
Dan and Bianca Angelov are Leichhardt locals who have made the C change, moving from careers in marketing to running a cafe. Their freshly painted terrace house with its outdoor terrace and growing walls of pot plants hums with freshness and light. The T2 teas and certified organic Giancarlo coffee ($3.50) are professionally handled by barista Bronwyn Coker, and Bianca's Balkan heritage means the bureks of beef or cheese and spinach often outsell the Italian piadinas. There's always a beer of the month, too, which would go well with the chunky beef and lamb pies. 22 Norton Street, Leichhardt, 9560 4493.
Suzie Q Coffee & Records
Hot order Arepa, avocado, poached eggs, herb salad and lime, $13
The giant Woodstock photograph mural on the wall sets the scene: deejay Jordan Deck's laneway cafe is the place to go for groovy music and tasty food. And good coffee. There are rows and rows of vinyl records, which you can play or buy. Wooden planks come out topped with prosciutto, feta, boiled egg and crunchy toast or arepas, golden cornmeal hot cakes. The Dukes Coffee Roaster, all the way from Melbourne, provides silky smooth notes of cocoa and smoked almonds, and tea is from Tea Craft. 1/18 Hutchinson Street, Surry Hills, 9332 2739.