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Surry Hills is a funky inner city neighbourhood filled with endless varieties of restaurants, cafes and quirky bars wedged in between centuries-old terrace houses. It is one of my beloved areas of Sydney to enjoy; its vibrant hospitality offerings or simply for a scenic afternoon stroll. Conveniently located minutes from Sydney’s Hyde Park and Central Station, Surry Hills has become one of the most popular areas day and night amongst locals and visitors.
In this guide, I would like to shine some well-deserved light on the less-known establishments of Surry Hills, in the hope that you can also enjoy this charming neighbourhood away from the main drag.
Where can you get excellent coffee in Sydney, you ask? Literally everywhere. Australia, especially Sydney and Melbourne have an unbeatable coffee scene serving world class espresso day in day out.
Something immediately caught my attention. Three words, straightforward and simple: ‘café con leche’ which became part of my daily vocabulary when I used to live in Madrid, Spain. It literally translates to ‘coffee with milk’ in English - which is latte, in coffee terms. So I went in desperately wishing that I could get a decent café con leche, and boy was I not disappointed.
What’s special about “Café con Leche” is that the owner, John who is from Medellín, has a direct relationship with his coffee bean farmers back in Colombia. He ensures that everything from the harvest to the roasting process are entirely sustainable whilst providing the greatest quality of coffee for the consumers. Sourcing their coffee beans from a single country not only ensures consistency, but it also supports individual coffee farmers in a bigger way. The result is a full flavoured coffee with a rich texture perfect to be consumed with milk or on its own.
As part of their Colombian heritage, they also offer their signature hot chocolate, but this one comes with a twist. It comes with a side of soft cheese which you stir into the chocolate to add a slight savouriness to the drink. Do try it if you are curious.
With its all-glass exterior and minimalistic fittings, this espresso bar would be easily mistaken as a boutique or a gallery space. To my delight, it actually houses one of the best places to grab a flat white or two. Upon chatting with one of their friendly staff, I discovered that their coffee beans are widely sourced from Ethiopia, Kenya and Timor-Leste, to name a few, giving you something slightly different every time you go back. Apart from their coffee, they also provide delectable pastries and donuts from the famed Short Stop Donuts. Due to the current restrictions, all their coffee training and workshops are on hold and they are currently only serving their coffee to-go.
Yes, this place deserves another worthy mention. Despite the name, Café con Leche does not just provide excellent coffee, but it’s also one of Sydney’s best kept secrets when it comes to Colombian culinary spots. Although it’s been around for almost a decade, it's safe to say that only the Colombian expats know about this joint and frequent it on the weekends for their homely brunch menu. Everything on the menu is lovingly made on-site providing clienteles with a slice of Latin American soul. Colombian style empanadas and arepas (cornmeal cakes) are the everyday go-tos. They are stuffed generously with different types of filling and in the case of the empanadas, the pastry is pleasantly flaky. If you are wanting something a bit out of the ordinary, you can try their hearty ajiaco (creamy chicken soup) and delicious tamales.
This is a second cafe venture by Chef Kenny Takayama from the famed Cafe Oratnek in Redfern. Still upholding the same high standard and philosophy to food - “make it fresh today, make it fresh tomorrow”, this Japanese inspired brunch spot is one that you cannot simply miss. Their brunch menu is fresh, seasonal and seductive ranging from a saucy Japanese curry udon with honeycomb tripe to their renowned pork katsu sandwich that is worth the 15 minute wait.
Once you devour all the savoury dishes, I would also highly recommend ordering a couple of Cafe Kentaro’s signature matcha desserts as well. Their lamington matcha is a recent addition that is selling like hotcakes for good reasons. The true star however, is the picture-perfect matcha mille-feuille (pictured below). A generous piping of house made matcha custard wedged in between crispy stacks of kinako (roasted soybean flour) pastries, topped with fresh fruit is what dessert dreams are made of. Make sure to go early to avoid missing out.
Whether you are there to grab a quick coffee and dessert or having a full blown-out brunch, Cafe Kentaro is a no-fail plan.
If you are in the craft spirit scene, I’m sure you’ve heard of Australia’s Four Pillars Gin Laboratory and Archie Rose Distilling Co. These two award-winning gin producers have undoubtedly spotlighted the massive potential of Australian branded spirits. But there is a new celebrity in town and it’s taking us back to one of the oldest spirits in Australia: Rum.
A true blue Australian craft rum distillery based in Sydney, Brix Distillers has proven to be one of Surry Hills’ hidden gems. Emerging from a monopolistic rum market, Brix strives to shine a new light on Australian’s rum by crafting their own unique final product that is Australian-sourced and produced.
Founded by three best friends and their fiery love of rum, Brix opened up its distillery and bar in 2018. Since then, Brix has managed to challenge the Australian palette with its focus on utilising molasses from Queensland along with native ingredients such as Australian bush currants and lemongrass, that resulted in three award-winning selections of Brix Rum - White, Gold and Spiced.
Jan - Brix’s very own rum expert is both passionate and knowledgeable about all that Brix offers. He and his team will be able to thoroughly explain the distilling process as well as concoct mouth-watering cocktails at the bar. In fact, if you need a bit of a shake-up to your weekend, you can sign up for their cocktail class every Saturday in which you will learn from Jan how to make the perfect Brix Mojito and Spiced Rum Espresso Martini. You get to enjoy those classics with a two-course meal as well as a tour of their on site distillery ($85). Don’t worry the venue is a registered Covid-Safe establishment and the Brix team has taken the necessary precautions to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort.
Whether you are a rum enthusiast or someone who seeks a bar with quality cocktails and ambience, I’d recommend you visiting Brix and supporting local businesses. If you prefer to enjoy your drinks at home, you can also purchase their signature White, Gold and Spiced Rum in store or online.
Surry Hills is sure full of worthy hidden gems. Whether you live in the area or simply exploring the area for the day, don’t forget to support the local businesses during these challenging times.