Sydney's had a love affair with breakfast since Bill Granger flipped his first ricotta hotcakes in 1993. But brunch is the buzzword of the moment, as some of the hottest restaurants in town join their cafe cousins in pumping out this crazily popular mid-morning meal to the weekend crowds. The result is that brunching in Sydney has never been so good.
The origins of the word brunch are somewhat vague. Some say the meal is a derivation of English hunt breakfasts, where riders would feast on eggs, meats, tarts and cakes after jumping fences and killing a few foxes.
The first known article on the subject was written in 1895 by an Englishman, Guy Beringer, and published in Hunter's Weekly magazine. He wrote that brunch was "cheerful, sociable and inciting … puts you in good temper … [and] sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week". He also advocated brunch as a way for Saturday night carousers to eliminate the need to rise early on Sunday. Almost 120 years later, many of us agree.
Weekends are still the most popular time for leisurely brunching, and fine-diners, such as Pinbone and Yellow, known predominantly for their evening menus, are reinventing themselves for a day or two a week.
Eggs are the stalwarts of the Sydney brunch, of course, and we love pastries and house-made sweet treats. But we're also devouring healthy options, such as quinoa in everything and kale in a few. And while brunch might start with coffee or tea, there's nothing stopping us embracing a Bloody Mary or slipping a vodka shot into our juice.
Brunch is more of a commitment than breakfast, but less serious than lunch. It's also a safe bet for multi-generational gatherings, perfect for Mother's Day, which is this Sunday, in case you'd forgotten.
So where to go? We can't list every eatery in Sydney worth its maple-cured house-smoked bacon. In no particular order, here are some we love.
For farm-to-table in the big smoke
You can do brunch any morning at Rushcutters, tucking into the signature frittata, buttermilk pancakes or the Full Rushcutters - grilled speck, crushed beans and white sausage with scrambled eggs. But Friday, Saturday or Sunday are best, as you'll also be greeted with the freshest of fresh produce on sale, greengrocer-style, in a corner of the cavernous space. Pick up super-sweet corn cobs, rainbow chard, pumpkins, herbs, salad onions and black russian tomatoes. It all hails from executive chef Martin Boetz's Cooks Co-Op farm in the Hawkesbury Basin.
Though brunch should be a leisurely pursuit, if you have to make it speedy, this is the place, with the pick of the ready-to-go pretzel rolls, supplied by Bondi's German Baker, filled with boiled egg, watercress and smoked trout.
- 10 Neild Avenue, Rushcutters Bay, 9326 9348, rushcutters.com.au
The Good Food Guide hasn't yet inaugurated a category for Sydney's Sexiest Dish. But if it did, Yellow's poached eggs with charred onion consomme would have to take the gong. Three eggs, poached to translucent perfection, float in a dreamy, smoky onion broth, topped with a jumble of pine and shimeji mushrooms, peas and snowpeas with crunchy, toasted quinoa sprinkled on top. It's a textural, flavoursome delight.
Though it classes itself as a simple neighbourhood bistro, Yellow, with its moodily lit bomb-shelter-chic interior by designer Pascale Gomes-McNabb and fabulous wine list by uber sommelier and co-owner Nick Hildebrandt, is so much more. Executive chef and co-owner Brent Savage can't quite help putting his clever technique into everything. The ubiquitous cafe-style banana bread morphs into an amazing, black licorice bread, heady with anise and dark from vegetable ash.
The crowd is a mix of all-day paper-readers, families with both little-'uns and grown-up children, champagne brunchers and stylish couples who look as though they're, well, just out of bed.
- 57 Macleay Street, Potts Point, 9332 2344, yellowsydney.com.au
For the hangover cure
While we advocate responsible drinking in these pages, it's worth following Guy Beringer's example before you come to Pinbone. That way, you'll really deserve what we think is Sydney's greatest hangover cure - scones topped with melted smoked cheese and smothered in a sausage-studded gravy. The creative brunch menu, served all day but only on Sunday, features comfort food with a contemporary twist, such as fregola and creamed corn topped with a poached egg, his and her croques, and bacon, maple and pumpkin tart. They pack a lot of bodies into this bright but cosy one-up, one-down Woollahra cottage, and it's fun to sit back and people-watch - 20- and 30-something girls out for a weekend catch-up, families with tiny babies, parents with adult children and their partners with just-out-of-bed hair, and the occasional reality television cooking show star.
- 3 Jersey Road, Woollahra, 9328 1600, pinbone.com.au
For something different
This bright corner eatery at the Paris end of Redfern is all whitewashed walls, striped banquettes and metal bistro chairs. Chef Michael Rantissi grew up in Tel Aviv and brings that Israeli heritage to each of his separate (and original) menus for breakfast or brunch, lunch and dinner.
On weekday mornings, it's peopled by business brunchers, locals in pairs, or lone diners with laptops, sipping on Rabbit Hole organic teas and coffee from The Grounds. On weekends it's more of a destination eatery and gets very, very busy.
The menu is a treat. Hearty trifle is served in a parfait jar, a thick layer of cinnamon sugar-infused cous cous topped with berry compote, and yoghurt blended with house-made Turkish delight, saffron and rosewater. KSK chips'n'egg updates the time-worn greasy spoon favourite. In Rantissi's version, thick, crisp-fried polenta chips are stacked like cuisenaire blocks and topped with creamy herb-laced feta-scrambled eggs and slices of bastourma.
- 96 Kepos Street, Redfern, 9319 3919, keposstreetkitchen.com.au
For a Turkish feast
Sunday brunch at Efendy is a spectacular feast. Inspired by the sumptuous breakfasts and seasonal cheeses of the eastern Turkish city of Van, it includes about 30 different delicacies piled high on long wooden boards. Designed to share, the spread encompasses cold mezze such as Aegean green olives, air-dried bastourma and fiery muhammara dip; grapes and melon; ramekins of tangy pomegranate molasses and house-made cherry, rose and walnut jams; and hot dishes including tomatoey menemen eggs, cigar borek and spice-laden sujuk sausage. Peppered among it all are cheeses, including goat's feta and tulum, sheep's milk kashkaval, as well as a wicked kaymak (clotted cream) doused in honey and sprinkled with walnuts. Scoop it up with freshly baked pide, simit and pogaca breads.
- 79 Elliott Street, Balmain, 9810 5466, efendy.com.au
For hours of family fun
Brunching at the Grounds is a perfect family affair. For a start, the famous pig, Kevin Bacon, and his clucking and baa-ing
pen-mates provide almost as much entertainment as a visit to Taronga Zoo. Be warned, though, that the place gets packed and parking is a nightmare. If you don't want to wait for a cafe table for a rustic brunch, order takeaway sandwiches, wraps or salads instead - or a burger from the garden grill - and eat them on shady tables dotted among the vegie-garden beds. The bakery has a good line in decadent pastries, muffins and tarts, but ultimately it's all about the coffee with a showpiece roaster and a changing menu of single-origin beans. That, and the weekend produce stalls selling fruit and veg, preserves and breads if you haven't had your fill.
- 2 Huntley Street, Alexandria, 9699 2225, groundsroasters.com
For all things sustainable
Cornersmith is not just a cafe, it's a community with sustainability as its core. (They've taken the gong for sustainable practice in the Good Food Under $30 guide for the past two years.) Every ingredient on the menu at this former Marrickville butcher's shop has a provenance and most of it is made from scratch on site. While the hours and the menu take you from brekky to arvo tea, it's really all about all-day brunching.
Tuck into perfectly poached Archerfield eggs with runny, deep-amber yolks, served with Bread and Butter Project sourdough and a choice of house-made chutneys, or the Cornersmith plate (it changes monthly), which might be pickled Western Australian sardines with kale and apple salad. The Picklery just down the road is a hub for classes and workshops, and an endless supply of pickles, preserves and cordials so you can take a jar of Cornersmith love home.
- 314 Illawarra Road, Marrickville, 8065 0844, facebook.com/Cornersmith
For pizza for breakfast
Weekend brunch at Italian diner Cipro is a happening thing, so come early or expect to wait. If you fancy pizza for breakfast, this is your place; the mushroom and artichoke pizza comes with a side of scrambled eggs. The menu includes ricotta baked with eggs, cherry tomatoes and peppers with smoky grilled speck, or bacon and egg roll with potato cake and house-made sausage. The crowd of inner-urban hipsters is as good-looking as the industrial-chic space with its huge open kitchen, dark lacquered tables and cushion-scattered timber banquettes along the walls.
- 9/21 Fountain Street, Alexandria, 9698 4183, cipropizza.com
For dumpling lovers
Remember yum cha? Before all those trendy cafes and sunlighting fine-diners joined the brunch movement it was Sydney's massive Cantonese restaurants that held the power, with brusque service and trolleys laden with bamboo baskets criss-crossing the floor. For many people they still do.
Sydney has bigger and busier yum cha locations, but Zilver brings a modern sensibility to the genre with superb, clean-tasting dumplings - including arguably the best har gau in town - and crockery, napery and flower arrangements that are a touch finer than you might find elsewhere. Extra dishes, including Peking duck, can be ordered from the kitchen.
- Level 1, 477 Pitt Street (cnr of Hay Street) Haymarket, 9211 2232, zilver.com.au
For refuelling after catching a wave
With a surfer-dude culture and a bunch of talented chefs behind the burners, the Ducks has become the cafe-restaurant that personifies Sydney's relaxed beachside vibe. By night there's serious culinary muscle being flexed by the chef collective including Darren Robertson and Mark LaBrooy but mornings are a more laid-back affair, a time for catching up over a single-origin coffee and tucking into bircher muesli, house-baked pastries or scrambled eggs with black sausage, before heading to the beach. There's a strong focus on local produce; Iggy's bakery, four doors down, supplies what many argue is Sydney's best bread, and the Ducks crew grow many ingredients in the restaurant's backyard.
- 143 Macpherson Street, Bronte, 9389 0010, threeblueducks.com
The younger sibling of the enormously popular Palm Beach original, The Boathouse at Balmoral overlooks Middle Harbour. The short menu fuses time-worn breakfast classics with healthier dishes such as mushroom and eggs with barley, kale and salsa, and quinoa bircher with dates and nuts.
- 2 The Esplanade, Balmoral Beach, 9974 5440, theboathousebb.com.au
Steaming bowls of pho dac biet, an incredibly fragrant beef noodle soup, into which you pile basil, bean sprouts, lemon and chilli sauce, are the main drawcards at this authentic Vietnamese eatery.
- Shop 12, 117 John Street, Cabramatta 9726 4583
Health nuts and vegetarians will rejoice at this Bondi Beach cafe's menu, which includes a green brekky bowl of kale, spinach, coriander, mint, parsley, eggs and avocado.
- 7/110 Ramsgate Avenue, North Bondi, 9300 0111, porchandparlour.com.au
Eating scrambled eggs with Avruga caviar on the shady, breezy verandah while the kids play on the lawn is a fine way to start the day at this family-friendly cafe. An inner-west gem.
- 378 Great North Road Abbotsford, 9712 5638, pratocafediner.com.au
The slickly designed World Square location is still the nicest place for a late brunch, but the expanding Din Tai Fung empire, which includes Westfield, North Sydney and The Star, now has an eatery in Chatswood, with Chippendale due to open soon. Wherever you land, the expert in-house noodle-makers turn out the same moreish fluffy buns and perfect soupy pork dumplings.
- Shop 11.04 World Square, 644 George Street, Sydney, 9264 6010, Westfield Chatswood and other locations. dintaifungaustralia.com.au
It's really breakfast on offer here (until 10.30am weekdays) in the street-facing cafe space. A taste of the strawberry, watermelon and pomegranate salad, rice pudding with salted caramel, or loukaniko sausage and baked giant beans will whet the appetite for Peter Conistis' Greek fare inside the restaurant.
- 238 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, 9098 1111, alpharestaurant.com.au