18-20 York St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Monday to Friday 7:30am to 3:30pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||0414 488 118|
In a country defined by its loyalty to Vegemite, Andrew Carter knows it's controversial to put its UK equivalent – Marmite – on his cafe menu. But Cornhill Coffee Co. in Sydney's CBD is inspired by his British heritage, so it's logical he offers the savoury English yeast extract with toast and crumpets.
Getting it on the table, however, hasn't been easy. He opened Cornhill Coffee Co. in January, but placed an order for large Marmite tubs back in November. It took five months to arrive from the UK. "So we were clearing out shops of their small jars of Marmite where we could find it," he says.
It wasn't slow shipping that delayed his supplies, but England's Marmite shortage. With pubs and breweries closed during COVID shutdowns, there was a lack of available brewer's yeast, which affected Marmite production. Brits even considered using Vegemite instead – that's how severe things got.
Marmite was originally a secret menu item at Cornhill Coffee Co., but Carter has since made it more visible at his cafe. Its lingering, umami notes can be found in the Marmite teriyaki salmon and the marinated beef short rib.
It's also offered with your choice of toast or sourdough crumpets, where its complex, syrup-like glaze might convert you from Team Vegemite to Marmite Fan.
Saying this might count as treason, but Marmite's layered flavours might be more compelling than the one-note punch of Vegemite. Guest demand for Marmite vs Vegemite is evenly split, though, says Carter. "It's 50/50 at the moment," he says. "If I hear an accent, I offer Marmite."
There's much more to Cornhill Coffee Co. than its Marmite supplies, however. Head chef Viveik Vinoharan used to work next door, at Prince of York, and has interpreted Carter's English food memories in inventive ways.
The cauliflower and cheese toastie, for instance, is inspired by the owner's recollections of his mother's version. But the chef takes it to another level with cumin-roasted cauliflower, curry leaves, crispy coriander and a glorious dusting of Grana Padano cheese.
Ditto the mushroom and leek toastie: it's flavoured with miso, three kinds of cheese, and is golden-brown from butter melting through the bread.
Also a knockout: the cumin-scrambled eggs, which rests on a flaky nest of hand-made roti and bright coriander-mint chutney. Topped with a crunchy crown of fried curry leaves and coriander, it's the kind of imaginative brunch dish that's exciting to see on a menu.
"Indian food is a big part of our culture now," says Carter, so these well-spiced flourishes reflect the cafe's British focus.
Then there's the ultra-fluffy omelette Arnold Bennett, which transports you to The Savoy Hotel in London, where that 1920s dish was invented. Named after the British author, who worked on a book while staying there, Vinoharan has tweaked it by replacing the signature smoked haddock with smoked trout instead. Cornhill Coffee Co. also offers flatbread with drunken chicken – a tribute to "how every English night out ends with a kebab", says Carter.
Cornhill Coffee Co. is undeniably Australian, too: its multicultural menu recognises that a Sydney brunch can be Japanese soba noodles, Persian jewelled rice or Indian roti eggs. Run by an owner attracted here by our soap operas, who never drank coffee before arriving in Sydney in 2005, this cafe shows that Australian cuisine goes far beyond the spread of Vegemite.
Cornhill Coffee Co.
Main attraction: Andrew Carter's English food memories are ambitiously and imaginatively remixed by head chef Viveik Vinoharan, who draws on his Sri Lankan roots and Australia's multicultural food scene for the brunch menu.
Must try: The roti scrambled eggs; the toasties are extremely good, too.
Insta worthy dish: The breakfast polenta porridge with rhubarb and cardamom or the toasties covered in clouds of Grana Padano cheese.
Drinks: Cornhill Coffee Co. is named after the area where London's first cafe, St. Michael's Alley Coffee House, stood in 1652. It's also the name of Carter's coffee roasting company, which supplies the cafe with a Guatemalan/Colombian/ Ethiopian blend for milk coffees and single origins imported from England. But don't overlook the creamy mango lassi, which is made to order, and brightly spiced with cardamom. It might be Sydney's best version of this yoghurt-rich drink. From $3.80 for small coffees to $6.50 for sparkling water.