In Sydney, brunch is no warm-up act. What is served across the city – after alarm clocks are muted – is seriously good in its own right and not just a precursor for the day's remaining meals. At hatted restaurants, the early start is a way for top venues to reveal a more casual side to proceedings, while still allowing diners to witness good cooking at close range. These eateries present convincing reasons for you to abandon your toaster and well-intentioned muesli collection this weekend.
Paper Bird is a fast mover – it scored its first hat only three months after opening. Its team was behind the much-loved (and much-missed) Moon Park though, so perhaps that instant adulation is no surprise. If chefs Ben Sears and Eun Hee Ann took us on a direct flight to Korea with their last venture, Paper Bird includes stopovers in other Asian territories.
The rice bowl with pork floss, pickled onion and tea egg, steeped overnight in oolong and spices, is a bestseller, while the standard scrambled eggs become not-so-standard when served with thick-cut bacon rashers marinated in char siu sauce and then grilled to a satisfying, loud crisp. Yes, there are mushrooms on toast, but they are presented with chilli jam, a fried egg and the crackly pay-off of fried Thai basil on top. And the featured potato bread (like all the slices here) is courtesy of Sydney institution Bourke Street Bakery – the former occupants of this basement-level site in Potts Point and current co-sponsors of Paper Bird.
The menu contains some flashbacks: the dorayaki (Japanese pancake with red bean filling) is similar to something Sears used to make for Andrew McConnell at Melbourne's Cutler & Co. At Paper Bird, it is translated as an ice-cream sandwich with red bean, vanilla parfait, sesame and honeycomb praline and salted caramel. Chase it with a Bloody Mary that is dosed with soy sauce, black vinegar and Korean chilli flakes. Or one of pastry chef Yu-Ching Lee's fantastic creations – her chocolate yuzu loaf might be one of Sydney's best cakes right now.
46a Macleay Street, Potts Point, (02) 9326 9399, paperbirdrestaurant.com
Saint Peter deserves special inclusion for legitimising having fish and chips for breakfast. Off Paddington's main drag, Josh Niland and his team are serving a version of the beachside staple – with original twists. The market fish (currently Bermagui pink ling) is coated in a beer, vodka and honey batter, then served with bracing yoghurt-based tartare, house-made gherkins and of course, gloriously fat hand-cut chips.
Saint Peter has made a name for itself as the indie restaurant that could – scoring the New Restaurant of the Year honour in the first-ever national Good Food Guide – and for showcasing Niland's ingenuity and resourcefulness with seafood. At an OzHarvest event with Massimo Bottura, he transformed cobia fat into a chocolate and caramel slice, topped with fish scales and fennel seed.
This waste-not focus is reflected in Saint Peter's brunch menu, too: a designer version of eggs on toast showcases cooked-to-order marron, with the head coral scrambled into the eggs and the marron meat served on top. Similarly, crumpets – made twice during brunch service for maximum, just-baked freshness – are served with sea urchin in its shell or spanner crab with a coral sauce derived from the crab's head.
362 Oxford Street, Paddington, (02) 8937 2530, saintpeter.com.au
Kepos Street Kitchen
When chef Michael Rantissi told his mother, back in Israel, that he was opening a Sydney cafe that served falafel for breakfast, she questioned its survival rate. She assumed Australians would prefer Vegemite on toast, instead of "Dad's favourite brekkie".
She was proven wrong by the counter-argument amassing outside this Redfern cafe – huge queues regularly turned up for brunch. Rantissi received a hat soon after opening, and in perfect debate-settling fashion, his first cookbook (co-written with partner Kristy Frawley) was named Falafel For Breakfast and ended up a runaway bestseller.
Over five years, some things have changed – a recent renovation incorporated an indoor barbecue that has made dishes like pork loin with date glaze, charred broccolini, pickled carrots and haloumi possible.
There is still a strong Middle Eastern accent throughout the brunch menu – from the burrata with Persian eggplant and volcanic salt to the fried egg with thick challah bread, smoked labna, zaatar-coated avocado and watercress and hazelnut salad.
You can still get falafel for breakfast (as well as lunch!), plus the signature churros still come in a paper bag that you rigorously shake – rattling the ridged pastries in a dust storm of cinnamon sugar and creating a sweet, spiced fragrant cloud when you tear open the paper.
96 Kepos Street, Redfern, (02) 9319 3919, keposstreetkitchen.com.au
Yes, Potts Point's Yellow serves poached eggs, but in a manner inspired by vegetarian ramen: the "noodles" are julienned kohlrabi and the broth is a roasted vegetable stock, given an extra flavour jolt from mushrooms and nori. It is the kind of welcome move you will find at Yellow – inventive, surprising and unlike anything else around. Bonus: it is also a safe space for anyone hiding from avocado on toast and other overdone staples.
While Brent Savage's team flipped Yellow into meat-free mode in February 2016, the brunch menu only followed suit last year. So the smoked brisket pastrami and house-made pancetta are gone, but Savage and head chef Chris Benedet remind you that a dish does not require animal protein to achieve lift-off. A serving of miso milk crumb, corn custard and Job's Tears (aka Chinese pearl barley) is proof that a breakfast dish headlined by eggs does not need to rely on toast.
In any other case, you would back away from a brunch dish featuring wheatgrass – except here, where it shares room with pecorino curd and purple asparagus. And the signature licorice bread has been a fixture since Yellow started brunch service in 2014. These charcoal-black slices – with their aniseed depth and darkly sweet flavour profile – are too irresistibly good to ever exile from the menu.
57 Macleay Street, Potts Point, (02) 9332 2344, yellowsydney.com.au
When Acme started playing the brunch game last year, it did so with a strong shot of originality.
In a town overrun with chia puddings, acai bowls and coconut yoghurt, the Rushcutters Bay venue was rolling with fried chicken and ube (purple yam) waffles as well as roast pumpkin with coffee brown butter. Fruit salad was not a bland, cold mess of melon offcuts and sad berries, but a summery breakfast of marinated plum, whipped ricotta and wakame dust.
Just as Mitch Orr and crew reframed its dinner menu as pasta remixed by Chinatown, Acme's brunch detours through Asia, too. You might notice charcoal-cooked minute steak with shiitakes, or leather jacket with white tea broth and spinach, or sinigang, a Filipino tamarind soup, on your table.
Orr constantly shakes up the $50 four-course set, but one permanent fixture is the "filo sanga" – it is like the dream-universe version of a sausage and egg McMuffin, as rerouted through the Philippines. Featuring longanisa (Filipino sweet sausage), fluffy slices of pan de sal (made at Superior Bakery in Sydney's west) and a poached egg with a self-detonating yolk, this dish is a riff on Orr's favourite breakfast.
60 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay, weareacme.com.au