Aussie breakfasts are legendary the world over, and we damn well know how to do them right here in Sydney. From the best cheese toastie around to that liquorice bread, here's our list of where to go and what to order at the best cafés in Sydney.
Best for... mid-week crumpets
Petersham has always been a destination suburb for some hangover-busting Portuguese chicken and custard tarts. But look a bit further and you’ll discover that this little pocket of the Inner West is kicking goals on all fronts when it comes to eats and drinks. And now a sunny corner café is charming the early risers with coffee, crumpets and a brisket for breakfast. You’ll find this café in the leafy backstreets behind the station. Sunshine streams through the windows and washes over a simple room of charcoal grey banquettes, bentwood chairs, claw-footed tables and tiled counters for coffee and food. Vegan naysayers should stick a fork in the roast cauliflower salad. Golden brown florets of cauliflower dominate a jumble of shredded kale, pickled cabbage, puy lentils and blanched, toasted almonds in a sweet vinegar dressing. Prefer meat? Indulge your love for brisket with tender strands of slow-cooked beef on extra crunchy potato hash with a poached egg, a swirl of zesty parsley and garlic sauce and some crunchy onion rings to top it all off. Once you’ve laid the foundations of your day with some savoury victuals, consider the crumpets: four little guys that actually sit somewhere between a crumpet and an English muffin (mumpit?). Petersham has been quietly amassing a seriously fun food and drink portfolio of late. With the addition of Brighton the Corner you have yet another good reason to invest your time here.
Best for... breakfast in the west
Foraging for treats at the foot of the gargantuan Westfield and government buildings that dominate the skyline around central Parramatta may not seem like a fruitful endeavour, but behind the station you’ll find a colourful café doing the best breakfast in the west. It’s not much more than a brightly painted corridor with seats spilling out onto the footpath, but they manage to fit friendly staff, great coffee and speakers playing Rodrigo y Gabriela inside. Tired of the traditional morning line-up? Shake things up with a round of baked ricotta with a poached egg, babaganoush, field mushrooms, cooked cherry tomatoes still clinging to the vine and a golden baked block of polenta, all under a lean-to of crackers spiced with za’atar. Bring your friends-with-dietary-requirements along for a bowl of sweet, nutritious brown and red rice with quinoa, poached rhubarb, fresh blueberries and strawberries, walnuts, pistachio and mint. It’s dairy and gluten-free, and more importantly, delicious. Their coffee comes care of Smith’s Fine Tea and Specialty Coffee, their sister café and roaster a few blocks over, plus they brew a seriously excellent masala chai if you have time for a pot. Need a tall glass of refreshment? They pour a sweet, floral rose hip and hibiscus tea over ice with lemon wedges and fresh mint. Bring on the summer.
Best for... killer views
Ferry commuters are lucky enough to travel on Sydney's most scenic mode of public transport, but those that alight at Kirribilli wharf are extra-spoiled with this beautiful café. As ferries roll in and out, glassy green waves lap up against the weatherworn wooden wharf – turn left to catch a ferry or veer right in to Axil. The setup is like a boat-driver’s-quarters-turned-café, but the furnishings pale in comparison to the natural décor this little outlier café is blessed with. Through rusted iron window frames you’ll find uninterrupted views of Sydney Harbour. While the menu isn’t extensive, the few dishes they do have tick all the right boxes. Try the house-toasted muesli topped with braised rhubarb, which also makes an appearance in a vanilla milkshake (just like a freshly baked pie, only frothy). Savouries run to pulled pork and a little dish they’ve dubbed the 'buttered Arabian eggs'. Sweet onion relish is softened by licks of yoghurt and butter, combining to make a neat hollandaise substitute. Add in two soft poached eggs and malty sourdough, and then pull it all together for a veggo breakfast that doesn’t even give us a second of bacon-FOMO.
Best for... food you can feel good about eating
Here at Gratia, all the money you spend goes to charity. Our pick is the brisket. House-made flatbread studded with fragrant nigella seeds encases big hunks of tender, slow-cooked meat, earthy sautéed mushrooms, caramelised onions and melted cheese. There's a lightly dressed salad on the side – spinach, rocket, coriander, mint – which keeps things balanced. It’s a great dish that’s impossible to eat neatly, and would cure any hangover in one fell swoop.
Best for... croissants, cakes and coffees on the sand
There are a few seats lining the wall of this adorable café, but why sit inside when Freshwater beach is but a five-minute wander? It’s the window display of cakes that will stop you in your tracks – meringues dusted with cocoa; lush cakes and brownies; flaky croissants and chocolate-studded bickies. The flourless chocolate cake is undoubtedly one of the best in Sydney: rich and deeply chocolatey, it’s been double-baked with two lots of batter so that the top stays slightly undercooked and sinks into moussey tenderness on the fork. The Norfolk shortbread is a revelation. The pastry is layered up like a mille-feuille, so that each piece of rich, flaky shortcrust breaks off into buttery shreds in the mouth, bringing with it bitter hits of caramelised currants. Eccles cakes are a bit of a thing right now, being served at Nel and Silvereye (two Northern English head chefs will do that to Sydney). Here at Mrs Jones the pastry is filled like a pie with Christmas-spiced sultanas, grated apple and citrus. After something more savoury? Try a hot steak pie or sausage roll, the pastry of which must have been made by butter-loving angels. All the breads, made daily in house, are organic. The white sourdough has a nice sour taste with a crisp shell and bouncy, aerated interior. Or why not go rogue with the seeded buttermilk and treacle bread? It’s faintly sweet, very moist and nutty in flavour. This with a side of jam at brekky will do us nicely thanks. They're using Colombian beans from La Hacienda Caffe for the coffee and the flat white is smooth and silky, with only the faintest hint of fire.
Best for... brekky on the run
Beloved Surry Hills institution Single Origin Roasters now has an outpost squarely in the middle of the business district, and it offers so much more than beans. It’s a simple fitout – essentially just a shopfront with a bench top and a few stools. But it’s slick, too, with artful, rusty metal features and portholes revealing a selection of coffee bags (which, by the way, you can purchase and take home). Look up and you'll spy a cloud-like ceiling installation by artist Renuka Fernando. The coffee here is predictably excellent. An ultra-smooth flat white is of the variety you want late on a Sunday morning – just creamy enough, with a grind that speaks of vanilla beans and fire at the same time. As middle-of-the-work-week indulgences go, it is a total treat. SOR’s famed banana bread with espresso butter is on the menu, but we're taken with the Breakie Box – a brown cardboard pack filled with two perfectly poached eggs, a pile of toasty flat bread, garlic-slapped hummus and a fragrant coriander salad. It's breakfast by way of the Middle East – fresh and clean, and boasting a nice hit of nuttiness from the tahini-rich hummus. But let's sashay to France for a minute, and talk about the "Mr Croque" cheese toastie. The bouncy, chewy sourdough comes from the Bread and Butter Project, and it’s filled to the breaking-brim with generous swathes of tender leg ham, a lick of Dijon mustard and a thick layer of cheddar cheese-enriched béchamel. Then it’s fried. In butter. On the side: a tart salad of pickled vegetables and rocket to cut through the richness. It's a bloody glorious thing – one of the best sandwiches in the CBD, hands down. Order it.
Best for... organic, ethical baked goods
Try all the breads and get a ‘fish cracker’ on the side. It’s made from veggies and flax (the recipe changes day-to-day) topped, when we visit, with house-cured moonfish, crunchy fennel, creamy avocado, peppery mizuna and miso sesame powder for extra umami. It’s a truly beautiful plate befitting of any fancy restaurant. But here it is in Brookie for just $12.
Best for... a cheeky mid-week breakfast meeting
All hail the breakfast plate – the plate-sized buffet for one. This is one of those ‘ticks all the boxes’ scenarios. The corner café on a leafy pocket in the back streets of Marrickville serves up a breakfast menu of familiar twists on old favourites. Add braised lentils to eggs fried in olive oil, or go straight for a bacon and egg roll with wilted greens and chilli marmalade aioli. That breakfast plate involves thick slices of juicy ham, tomatoes quartered and dressed with two types of sesames, ricotta, a lobe of avocado, a perfect poached egg and a couple of pieces of buttered toast. Pair that with a hot pink special of beetroot, pear and ginger juice and a ristretto and that’s the day. If that hasn’t put a stopper on the nascent hunger pangs, consider a cookie. They move hundreds of these chewy, chocolaty, salty calorie rafts on a Saturday. On that, it’s probably the worst day to try and eat here – the queues can eat way into the morning. Make a move to turn up here as they swing open the doors or just bunk off work for the morning to guarantee a taste of the good times.
Best for... big tables, booked in advance
Why Bill Granger waited up till now to open in Bondi is a total mystery. The queue’s a mile long, but nobody seems to care – partly because it’s a scene in itself waiting for a table and everyone seems to know each other, and partly because the turnaround is unusually quick. Most couples are only waiting five or ten minutes. Try risking an eight top, though, and you might be hanging out for a while (also, why didn’t you book? You can, if there’s a group of eight or more. Remember that!) The big question this morning is whether ordering a smoothie of mango, avocado, cucumber, almond milk and aloe is a good idea. The answer is no. And yet, at least three other people in the room are joyously sucking theirs down. Ah, Bondi. For everyone else, there’s a shakes menu (chocolate fudge!), house-made sodas (fizzy liquorice root!) and frappes (watermelon and lime!). ‘Broken eggs’ with sourdough crostini pretty much just translates to a fairly firm ricotta and spinach frittata covered in toasted pine nuts, served in a little cast iron pan. On the other hand, brown rice stir-fried with prawns and slices of chorizo is spiced up considerably with fresh chilli, a side of chilli sauce and a thicket of coriander leaves. Add a squeeze of lime, a wobbly poached egg and a side of kimchi and you’ve got modern Australia on a breakfast plate. It works, too. Breakfast at Bills isn’t cheap, but then a morning meal in Sydney rarely means getting away for less than $50 once you’ve factored in coffee, juice and an extra serve of smashed avocado – let alone a little sneaky breakfast dessert. Love to hate it or love to love it, Bills continues to deliver a level of food and service most Sydney cafés aspire to.
Best for... a post-swim feast
Once you’ve wet your gills at Bronte Beach, slope up the hill to Three Blue Ducks for the coconut and lime rice pudding brightened with fresh strawberries, stewed rhubarb, amaranth and soaked chia seeds crunched up with a Brazil nut crumble. It’s a meal fit for a health conscious king. Don't roll with sweet breakfasts? Order the hot-smoked salmon. Flakes of oily pink fish scattered across a bed of just-wilted kale arrives with two poached eggs dusted in a fennel seed and hazelnut dukkah on top. A slick of herby labne, a squeeze of lemon juice and a swipe of chilli provides all the condiment backup you’ll need. Order a coffee. They do good work with beans from Single Origin Roasters. Order two – you won’t be sorry. Prime position is out on the breezy footpath where you can watch the parade of coastal folk and their perky pooches while demolishing a tiny, two-bite lemon meringue tart. Prefer to take shelter from the morning rays? The café is split over two rooms – one is a timber-lined bar and the other a more casual café complete with octopus mural – and tables are in high demand so make it a midweek visit or prepare to brave the weekend crowds.
Best for... health nuts and coffee nerds
To us, Ruby’s ticks the ever-challenging box of ‘cafés that serve food that’s as good as their coffee’. For all the raw and paleo gear (stay right where we can see you, super food muffin. You too, bulletproof coffee) they offer (it’s inescapable once you pass Bondi Junction), there’s also a smart mix of regular deliciousness to be had. Slow-cooked brisket, all smoke and barbecue, is served with a side of ‘slaw, rice, beans and a squeeze of lime. It’s Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy in a breakfast. A massive gingerbread-flavoured milkshake comes ice-cold and frothy with a crust of cinnamon powder. And the banana split will pretty much end you for all other desserts: white chocolate ice cream is scooped over runny salted caramel, chocolate fudge, covered in banana slices and a thick blanket of praline. Goddamn. Sydney cafés may pop up every second day but few deliver with the same dedication to their neighbourhood and their own good taste the way Ruby’s does.
Best for... the best bacon and egg rolls
Most of the time, cafés get bacon and egg rolls wrong: the bread is too dry, the bacon portioning too stingy, and atrocity of atrocities: the egg yolk is overcooked. Not at Rolling Penny in Newtown. Here, the breakfast roll sees a big white roll stuffed with two perfectly poached eggs, a heap of crispy bacon, a thicket of fragrant coriander and parsley, fresh spinach leaves and a slick of mayo and spicy house-made, sour tomato relish. Add a splash or two of Diemens hot sauce for extra punch, but really this is just a beautiful plate of food as is.
Best for... a breakfast adventure
Have you ever tried real South Indian food in Sydney? Unlikely. So we ventured out west to see if we could track some down. If you’re like us and like a bit of spice at breakfast time, don’t miss the uttapam. Often described as ‘Indian pizza’, it’s a base with toppings, but that’s where the similarities end. Like dosa, the batter is made from fermented lentils and rice, so it’s nice and sour. But unlike dosa, it is served thick and spongy and studded with goodies. You can have it topped as you like at Janani, but we love just getting a bit of everything on there: carrots, onions, tomatoes – the lot. You even get six delicious curries/dips on the side. Winning! Another brekky option is idli. The batter is made of the same ingredients (fermented lentils and rice – Indian food is nothing if not resourceful), but instead is cooked using small moulds, so that the result is like soft little rice cakes, ready to be dipped and guzzled. You get a dip of sour veggie sambal, chilli sauce and cooling coconut chutney, and a coriander chutney to keep things herbal.
Best for... intrepid eats in Manly
If you’re in Manly, Showbox is an excellent little café on Whistler Street where drinking vinegar is a treat and not something that happens if you blaspheme in front of your gran. The vinegars in question hail from Portland and you can choose between pomegranate, ginger and honey. They mix one part vinegar with four parts soda water. Our ginger number is sweeter and fizzier than kombucha, but the fermented kick at the end makes it a far more interesting and refreshing beverage than your average soft drink. Consider us converted. On a stinking hot morning they also bottle up dark brown medicine bottles with cold brewed coffee that you pour out into a glass tumbler over ice – it’s a pick-me-up with all the theatrics of Scotch and none of the burn. If it’s too early to brook anyone messing with your caffeine delivery system, they have Mecca beans for milk coffees, a rotating roster of beans like Melbourne’s Seven Seeds for those who take it black and Reuben Hills on the filter list. Now that you’re awake and your digestion is in tip-top shape it’s time for sustenance. The ‘pegg roll’ (aka breakfast roll) is a sesame seed bun stuffed with folds of cheesy scrambled egg, crisp fried pancetta, rocket, a chunky onion relish and mayo. They also have hot sauce on the table to fire things up. Their banana pancake gets puffed up in the oven, ending up like more of a syrupy pudding than a pancake – it's one for a sweet start.
Best for... a beautiful breakfast in the far north. With dogs!
When people talk about great cafés in Sydney, they too often fail to take their minds very far past the bridge. Big mistake. Because Smalltown in Avalon showing them how it's done. Take the trout fillet. Two fat lozenges of seared, warm, just-cooked fish sit beside jewel-cut pickled beets, zingy goats curd, charred asparagus and two lightly poached eggs. There’s even toasted rye slathered in butter on the side so you can make a sanga of it. Too posh? No problem. Go for the Big Boy, a bacon and egg roll packed tall with two softly fried eggs, heaps of bacon, sweet caramelised onions, Swiss cheese, salad and a duo of sauces. If you prefer a sweeter breakfast, the ricotta pancakes have your name on them. Studded with poppy seeds, drenched in maple syrup, topped with fresh berries and finished with a splodge of creamy ricotta and a showering of edible flowers, they're a charming way to start the day. Another bit of sweet’n’light are the daily-made doughnuts, which are soft and yeasty, with a crackling exterior. The chefs come up with a new variety daily, and the morning we visit it’s Earl Grey and poppy seed. The dough is savoury and chewy – almost like a Dutch oliebol – and the tea-infused glaze is harmonising and sweet. Their coffee beans are supplied by Single Origin, and the baristas can be spied behind the counter measuring out the grinds to get every cup just right. The flat white, made with the Silverbee blend, is smooth and caramelly but not overly smoky. It’s one of the best coffees you’ll find up this way. Bring your dog and make a day of it – travelling this far north has its rewards.
Best for... early breakfast with a clear conscience
Set an alarm for breakfast here. Anything post 8am and you’re playing with fire. Such is the popularity of this tiny corner café, offering a menu of rustic breads, house-made pickles, community sourced fruit and veg and their very own honey (bees permitting). While it might sound like you’re eating in a cult – and they’ve caught more flak for their café than most in the area, having suffered through broken windows and graffiti (“fuck off yuppie scum”) – it’s actually pretty straight. They’ll pull you a deliciously oily ristretto using beans from Sample coffee, or mix a prune shake and serve it in a sweet little glass milk bottle. A poached egg roll with ham and kale is a single-handed win, while fig toast spread with fresh curd, blobs of carrot and lime jam and a sprinkling of toasted almonds and mixed seeds is sweet and delicious though better shared as breakfast seconds rather than the main event. There’s plenty of local love for Cornersmith – get on the bus.
Best for... breakfast ramen. Say no moreThe breakfast ramen at RSW is such a good idea that our heads hurt a little from the excitement. It’s a beautiful big bowl of rich, fatty broth made from an infusion of buttered toast, topped with stretchy, firm noodles made exclusively for Rising Sun Workshop to their own recipe. The whole lot is topped with a just-set onsen egg, shards of crisp bacon and a charred tomato – the savoury, umami depth of which is a strike of pure genius.
Best for... pancakes in the Rocks (the good kind)
Finally, the Rocks has an awesome café. Order the pancakes, or should we say 'pancake'. Nine inches wide and an inch thick (it's fried then baked to retain that height) the beautiful beast is fluffy, light and almost like a moist sponge cake. It’s served drenched in tart lemon curd and topped with slivers of toasty, crunchy almonds, fresh strawberries and blueberries. There is a massive quenelle of cheesecake cream bedecking the top and - genius of geniuses - little sprigs of lemon myrtle that add spice and perfume. It's like Uncle Buck’s pancakes and lemon cheesecake are having a party and you're invited. If you're a sweet tooth at brekky, don't think. Order it.
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