When it came time to compile this list last year we had a lengthy shortlist led by names such as Rising Sun Workshop, Neighbourhood by Sean McManus, Meet Gerard and Hills Bros.

This year it’s a different story. While the rate of new café openings has been consistent, we’ve seen far fewer new places add creativity or refinement to the game.

That is, besides from these five venues.

Cuckoo Callay Surry Hills
Rather than opening a copy of the original Newtown Cuckoo Callay, owners Ibby Moubadder and Eleanor Harris decided to step it up a notch. Taking over the corner Ampersand spot, they created a beautiful sun-lit space by weaving in the Cuckoo Callay pink, green and white colour palette. They then recruited Bathers Pavilion head chef Jason Black to create a menu peppered with fine dining technique. Recently, they brought on a new head chef, former Dolphin Hotel sous Adrian Jankuloski, to take it further. Now the menu includes dishes such as a pretzel bun with a san choy bau sausage patty; and triple-smoked bacon, cheese, crisp curly potato and gochujang aioli.

The Grounds of the City
Visiting The Grounds of the City is like walking into a theme park. One minute you’re among the bustle of CBD traffic and the next it feels as if you’re sitting in a luxurious 1920s train carriage. Just go with it. Sit down, enjoy the backdrop of antique crockery, coffee equipment and jazz. Chat to the coffee sommelier, order a plate of poke, a steak or even a dashi oyster. Once you think it’s all over, a trolley stacked with pastries will appear at the side of your table. Since it’s there, you may as well order one.

Meet Mica
Of all the new cafés in Sydney, none better summarise current trends than Meet Mica. Like many ambitious new venues, the kitchen is run not by a sandwich hand, but by a chef, Lee Li, with fine dining pedigree (formerly of Tetsuya and Kensington Street Social). His menu, like many before it, is heavily influenced by East Asian cuisines, along with a few lavish creations designed as much for a diner as for Instagram. Unlike many others though, this one isn’t just style over substance.

Regiment
Takeaway coffee in the CBD sure has changed. A few years ago it was hard to get a decent espresso in the city, but now, at Regiment, you can get an expertly brewed Five Senses cup – an exceptional filter coffee made instantly (they’ve got all the gadgets); kombucha on tap; Mörk hot chocolate; sodas with organic ingredients; and takeaway salads and bagels that wouldn’t be out of place on a good restaurant menu.

Saga
Classic French choux pastry desserts, Paris-Brests, with pecan pie filling; takeaway tiramisus; miniature cakes topped with torched swirls of meringue; flowers and chocolate crumbles; sundaes with everything. Andy Bowdy is back. Bowdy made a name for himself as pastry chef for Hartsyard and this year, for the first time, is running his own kitchen. For us that means creative desserts; Artificer coffee; some playful savoury dishes such as corn pudding and breakfast rice; and sambos named after inspiring folk from Bowdy’s life.