It was once a forbidding slum, but now the scariest thing about this inner-city utopia is the waiting time to get your coffee on a Sunday morning. No visit to Sydney is complete without a repast at the undisputed breakfast capital of Australia – here are the places you need to know about. Gear up for Single O cold drip, corn fritters from Bills, ethical eats from Gratia and the Shift, shakshuka from Four Ate Five, waffles from Paramount Coffee Project and so much more with our bumper 26-venue list of excellent Surry Hills cafés.
Want the best of the brunch? Check out our guide to the 20 best breakfasts in Sydney.
After a dining hit list? Brush up on our guide to the 50 best restaurants in Sydney.
The best Surry Hills cafés
Go here for: The perfect summer brekky
When Four Ate Five opened in 2010 we gave it our first ever five-star rating for a café. In the interim, things have only improved. Your classic 485 Breakfast is a satisfying Middle Eastern plate of sour, salty and spicy things comes with a warm bagel or pretzel from South Dowling Street’s Organic Bread Bar. Dip the bread in the small bowl of hummus and chickpeas and dig into three cubes of feta, a half boiled egg, pickles, radish, cucumber, baby tomatoes, pickled red cabbage and pilpelchuma – like Libyan Jewish sambal.
Go here for: Some of the best brews this side of Central
This Surry Hills mainstay takes a two-pronged approach to improving your morning – grab a takeaway coffee from the espresso bar, or take your time and hoe into the full breakfast and coffee menu at the sit-down café further up Reservoir Street. Coffee is their main game here, and the menu of both caffeinated beverages and eats is dynamic and fun – there are pour overs and Aeropress coffees, and healthful bowls or bacon and egg rolls.
Go here for: The best Brazilian breakfast in Sydney
If you think that only $35 in a swishy hotel would get you an all-you-can-eat breakfast cake buffet with pots of dulce delicia, trays of tarts, rows of fresh croissants and glimmering chocolate bundt cakes, you’d be wrong, and off by ten bucks. Every Sunday, Ovo Café, a Brazilian joint hidden inside the Oxford Square shopping centre, puts on just such a feast. And at $25, its exceptional value if you like your fruit salads bottomless and you have no family history of diabetes.
Go here for: The Huevos Divorciados – it’s somewhere between a taco and a breakfast sandwich
This long, skinny venue rolls up the garage door at the rear to let a whole lot of light and fresh air in from the back laneway. This is also where the takeaway crowds wait for their coffee. It’s the kind of place that is always three quarters full no matter when you visit, partly due to their house-roasted coffee, and partly due to the appeal of the Central American flourishes on the menu, the result of their coffee sourcing trips to the region.
Go here for: Seasonal menus and an A+ soundtrack
They take provenance seriously at Suzie Q, with free range eggs and meat, local juices, native honey and coffee from Dukes Coffee Roasters in Melbourne. They also take their music seriously. There are records for sale and the soundtrack here is perfect for daytime snacking.
Go here for: Sydney's most famous breakfast dishes: the ricotta hotcakes and corn fritters
Sometimes you drag yourself to a café to cure a hangover with bacon, and other times brunch is an event, which is when you go to Bills. Dress up, aim for one of the window seats and embrace a little breakfast cocktail – everyone is doing it here so you’ll get no side eye. This is the number one spot for American style-brunching with booze, where your perfectly poached eggs are served in a light, bright, elegant space and white awnings keep the sun off the footpath tables.
Go here for: Left-of-centre breakfasts in the precinct of cool
Located within one of the hippest buildings in Surry Hills (you’ll find Golden Age Cinema downstairs and the Paramount House Hotel upstairs), this bright café delivers a menu that manages to straddle both America’s deep south and Japan’s urban precincts. There's three-metre high floral displays warming up the slick concrete floors, a '90s hip hop soundtrack and an intricate, coffee-nerd pleasing menu.
Go here for: The sausage rolls and a sweet and milky iced coffee
You'll find Bourke Street Bakeries right across Sydney, but its flagship is in the centre of Surry Hills. The corner bakery is never empty – locals file in at 7am for olive oil loaves, at midday for a beef brisket pie accompanied by chocolate milk and at 3pm for an afternoon caffeine hit (and it's worth noting they are open till 6pm, making it one of the few places in Surry Hills that you can get a late arvo latte).
Go here for: Pork katsu sandos and breakfast ramen
They do an all day brekky and lunch menu here, meaning you can have shoyu ramen for brekky or a chasu pork and egg roll for lunch, along with a coffee by Little Marionette. The pork katsu sando is the all-day star here and comes served with crunchy lotus root chips. The pork wears a crisp, golden brown shell and a perfectly juicy, just-pink interior. Bitey mustard breaks down the cabbage ’slaw, while just-sweet tonkatsu sauce brings it all together.
Go here for: Creative plant-based eating
Surry Hills has long had Yulli’s to cover your veggo nights out, but there’s now a daytime destination in the Shift Eatery, a vegan café and delicatessen peddling super sandwiches, tiny sweet treats and solid coffee. There are eight sarnies on the menu that use meat and mayo substitutes, many of which are inspired by popular carnivorous favourites. The ‘Join the Club’ piles up “chicken” schnitzel, “turkey” slices and “cheddar cheese”.
Go here for: Prime people watching at a Crown Street institution
This Crown Street staple has been pumping out chicken meatball sandwiches, freshly squeezed juices and Little Marionette coffees for 18 years, which is a serious lifetime in café years. The sharehouse-meets-farmhouse furnishing vibe runs right through the wide, street fronted cafe. There is also free Wi-Fi; the service is very friendly, and they do both all day breakfasts and lunches, so you’ll never get menu-FOMO.
Go here for: A dose of coffee nerdiness
Like the mystical wardrobe to Narnia, Sample Coffee is a cupboard-sized portal to a whole new dimension of caffeinated bliss. This Surry Hills coffee nook serves up excellent espresso care of the Pacemaker house blend that they punch out double time on two coffee machines – your standard café workhorse plus a lever press machine that produces a softer, more delicately flavoured shot.
Go here for: Matcha treats
It’s no easy feat to set up shop in Surry Hills, a precinct that is already densely populated with cafes, however this Japanese-influenced hot spot is making its mark in the suburb’s (almost) saturated cafe scene with an inventive menu that features a lobster congee and croissant with crab and egg salad. The lava French toast has the centre carved out and filled with creamy matcha ganache. You dress the toast box with condensed milk which complements the bright, unadulterated flavours of green tea.
Go here for: Charitable, nourishing eats
Gratia, like its neighbour and sister venue Folonomo, is a not-for-profit restaurant, and at the end of your meal you are awarded rubber bouncy balls to the amount you have raised from eating there. You pop them into charity jars of your choice as you leave, so you can decide where 50 per cent of your money is going (the remaining 50 per cent is donated to the Pure Foundation, the charity collaboratively established by founder of the café, Matthew Byrne). The coffee beans come from Chatswood roastery, Gabriel Coffee, and result in a silky-smooth, deeply chocolaty flat white.
Go here for: Croissants dipped in melted chocolate
It's a teeny-tiny space – just a hole in the wall with a few benches outside. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in attention to detail, because as you'd expect, the coffee here is the best we tried in Surry Hills: smooth, rich, balanced and smoky. They serve very few snacks, but there’s gluten-free, dairy-free doughnuts or fresh croissants that you can dip in a pot of melted chocolate for an extra dollar.
Go here for: Decadent crab omelette filled croissants
These guys get the elephant stamp for creative menu design. They were early adopters of the 63° egg, and people love their stuff so much they opened a second venue at Barangaroo (which is where the soft serve machine is now located) and one north of the Bridge. In winter they have a truffle menu, and in summer, shaved ice desserts are the go to.
Go here for: Coffee
Artificer is not about cake. It's not about sandwiches or even a nice cup of tea. Artificer is about one thing: coffee. That's all they sell. Co-owners Shoji Sasa and Dan Yee are sourcing the beans themselves and roasting them onsite, and what they don't know about beans isn't worth knowing.
Go here for: The chocolate babka
It’s the first Shenkin café that has opened outside of the Inner West, but the Surry Hills venue continues to offer more of the popular Israeli-influenced dishes and speciality coffee that its Westie brothers and sisters have become known for. The family-run business now operates five cafés and two dedicated espresso bars across Sydney.
Go here for: A+ vegan and veg brekkies, including Ali’s Balinese fried rice
There are only so many versions of avo toast you can eat as a vego in Sydney before you crave a hot brekky that’s more inventive than tomatoes and mushrooms. Enter the O Café, an organic eatery on Crown Street’s tight huddle of cafés that is not pulling its punches when it comes to plant-centric dining.
Go here for: Café classics
You know what the mark of a good café is? Asking if you’d like your bacon crispy, with no provocation. These guys have been cranking out the goods for years now, and while the room is still the somewhat utilitarian, high-ceilinged space lined in dark timber finishes, the coffee and eats never fail to get the job done.
Go here for: Upmarket, European morning meals
We think people consider Orto Trading Co more a dinner destination but head here in the AM for a Surry Hills brekky that is much more comfortable than the pocket-sized brunch spots in the neighbourhood.
Go here for: French cakes on a beautiful terrace
You may have walked right past this bougie patisserie on Crown Street, but Chez Sun has a secret: a beautiful, French-inspired tiled terrace with striped awnings and potted plants. There’s about four tables up there, but they take bookings and also do a proper, tiered afternoon tea if that’s your jam.
Go here for: Arepas
This place pretty much consists of a couple of seats inside and out, a coffee machine and some friendly staffers alongside a few Colombian mainstays on the menu, but it’s got heart. The arepas are bright yellow corn pucks filled with whole corn kernels. Break open the flour version and discover a river of melted cheese. On the plate, there’s spiced shredded pork, guacamole, sour cream and a spicy corn and tomato relish. It’s pretty much a builder’s lunch.
Go here for: Coffee and a sanga loaded with spicy meatballs
This little bolthole next to the Hotel Hollywood is like an external battery pack for Surry Hills office workers who come in for a re-up before meetings, after meetings, and just because they haven’t stood up in a while.
Go here for: A promptly served carb-fest
In a time of paleo diets and kale smoothies, the humble spud is often overlooked, however Mad Spuds isn’t about trends, and instead celebrates the humble tater and its great potential as a vehicle for flavour. On the menu you’ll find everything from potato skin tacos to rosti, boxty (that’s a Irish potato pancake) to fried potato cakes, alongside full English breakfasts, salads and sandwiches.
Go here for: Coffee happy hour
This isn’t a long brunch spot, it’s a gently rock’n’roll hole in the wall with some footpath tables and a menu that isn’t trying to steal your lunch money for the week. A good spot for a hangover fly-by, when only bacon can save you, and they also discount your coffee order on weekdays from 2pm until 3.30pm.