Short Black Panther

Megan Johnston
Short Black Panther: a Mortdale cafe with an elegant, unfussy feel to its interior.
Short Black Panther: a Mortdale cafe with an elegant, unfussy feel to its interior. Photo: Rachel Murdolo

42 Pitt Street Mortdale, New South Wales 2223

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From Penrith's Henri Marc cafe to the Tuckshop in Glenhaven, Sydney's burgeoning cafe culture is spreading to the 'burbs. Now the denizens of Mortdale can count themselves caffeinated with the arrival of Short Black Panther, a hip neighbourhood haunt that opened in January.

Born and raised in the area, owner Danielle Sheriff did not hesitate when she spotted the vacant shopfront off the main drag last year. In just a few months, the then 21-year-old snapped up the space, fitted it out and swung open the doors. She did much of the grunt work herself, with help from family, bringing the necessary business smarts from stints as an executive assistant in the corporate world and as a barista at top-notch venues Palomino Espresso and Excelsior Jones.

Once occupied by a pharmacy, the site was stripped back to basics, leaving timber floors, panelled walls and a pretty, perfect ornate chandelier. Bare white walls, an open counter and a large trestle table, decorated with only a pumpkin and a watermelon, lend the space an elegant and unfussy look that feels bigger than it really is. There are family touches, too, with old photos on the wall and menus tucked inside the covers of children's books. Her dad lent a hand, painting the cute white chairs that are dotted around the room.

The breakfast sambo from Short Black Panther in Mortdale.
The breakfast sambo from Short Black Panther in Mortdale. Photo: Rachel Murdolo

On a busy Sunday morning, our group snaffles the best perch in a sunny nook beneath the leadlight windows. Outside, cyclists hit the espressos and inside, young couples and families flip through newspapers and tap at laptops while munching into sourdough and sipping lattes.

Sheriff is working madly behind the counter, churning out Five Senses coffees and Tea Craft teas. A cappuccino made with Crompton Road house blend is smooth and caramelly, and an iced tea from the "secret menu" (get Googling) is pleasantly floral without being overly sweet. A cold batch-brew filter coffee lacks clarity but the punch we've been seeking is delivered by a Single Origin Ethiopian YirgZero guest espresso. It's strong and full-flavoured and just what we're after.

The pick of the all-day brekky menu is the breakfast sambo. A fried egg and bacon are piled onto toasted sourdough covered in cheddar and aioli. It is a rustic affair - crispy and crusty in all the best ways.

The frittata with mushroom, capsicum and pumpkin.
The frittata with mushroom, capsicum and pumpkin. Photo: Rachel Murdolo

Mashed avocado on toast is taken up a notch or three with two perfectly poached eggs and a squeeze of lemon, adding lovely bite to an otherwise modest option.

The frittata wins a young fan at our table, who is barely old enough to eat but is already tugging eagerly at colourful morsels of mushroom, capsicum and pumpkin.

Tempting options from the updated quarterly menu include a breakfast burrito and smashed pumpkin and goat's cheese pane. For lunch, there's a compact list of sandwiches and salads to choose from but we're told the pulled pork brioche roll with old-school slaw is the star.

By now we're on the prowl for something sweet so gravitate towards the cake counter for a piece of apple pecan cake and mum's date slice. Neither are much to look at but taste-wise they're amazing. The cake is the spicier and nuttier of the two while mum's cooking oozes a fruity caramel consistency that dissolves on the tongue.

Our waitress does a fantastic job accommodating our odds-and-ends ordering but a nearby table gets antsy when the pace of service doesn't quite keep up with a sudden influx of caffeine-hunters.

The crowd keeps piling in. The locals must have heard. There's a cool cat on the loose and it's well worth a visit.