The inner west and inner city have long been able to claim they have the best coffee in the city. But the leafy lower north shore is experiencing a cafe renaissance. Here is a taste of what’s on offer north of the bridge.
The Alchemist Espresso
Using The Cornersmith in Marrickville as a loose footprint, Willoughby locals Jonny Fryar Menck and his wife, Emma Menck Fryar, opened The Alchemist on a quiet corner in Cammeray. Allegedly once a sly grog shop in the ’40s and ’50s, the site was more recently a bottle shop – the unmistakable green of an enduring VB sign is the giveaway.
“We wanted something like this [The Alchemist] ourselves without having to cross the bridge every time. That’s what really sparked this,” Fryar Menck says. “The inner west has any number of places like this but the lower north shore is bereft of these kinds of cafes and wine bars – local hangouts, basically.”
A Breaking Bad vibe inside is achieved with chemistry-inspired wall art, beakers for milk jugs and elements of the periodic table instead of table numbers. Aside from that, the mood is eclectic; green vintage pendant lights hang over the coffee machine, and antique Japanese fishing lanterns are mounted on an old timber painting board at the back.
Everything is either made in-house or ethically sourced from likeminded producers such as The Bread & Butter Project. Hungarian-born Andrea Puspoki heads the kitchen, but the only taste of her background is the Hungarian coffee cake. There are other baked treats such as sticky Dutch slice (date and ginger), which is Menck Fryar's grandma's recipe. Breakfast includes salted caramel and banana French toast and a double-cheese BLT with Red Leicester, Stockman’s Cheshire and streaky bacon. For lunch there’s Moroccan spiced chicken salad. Fryar Menck also makes kombucha.
The Alchemist is pet and cyclist-friendly, and there is the option to sit curbside. Bike parking is in the works.
8 Carter Street, Cammeray
Mon to Fri 6.30am–3.30pm
Sat & Sun 7.30–3pm
With more than 15 years of experience between them, Theo Verhoeven and Gareth Elliot are the mates behind The Mowbray. Bench stools surround huge bi-fold windows in this light and breezy cafe, which bridges the divide between indoors and out. Inside there’s a large communal bench with black tiles. Exposed brick, polished timber and pendant lights round out the popular coupling of finished and raw materials.
According to Verhoeven an all-day menu has proven popular with locals, and the cheeseburger with dickles (deep-fried pickles) and potato gems are a hit, too. Dunromin Farm in the Hunter Valley supplies free-range eggs for the BAYO (bacon and egg roll on a charcoal bun) and the mushrooms with creamy scrambled eggs, watercress, pecorino and goat’s cheese on miche bread. Berkelo is behind the sourdough and Nutorious supplies doughnuts and muffins.
“Our suppliers have the same passion as we do for the industry and they are very close to us,” Elliot says.
It’s the same story for the coffee. Local boutique companies such as Single Origin Roasters, Reuben Hills and Sample Coffee Roasters provide the interchanging blends.
Feel free to bring your four-legged mate along and make the most of the “dog-parking” chain out front.
130 Mowbray Road, Willoughby
Mon to Sun 6.30am–4pm
Little Giant Roasters
David Ruslie also thinks it’s unfair the inner west gets what he believes to be the best coffee experiences in Sydney”.
“So we agreed that the northern suburbs would be a good point to start our journey to making a ripple in the industry,” Ruslie, co-owner and director of Little Giant Roasters, says.
Ruslie is the former head of operations at the Don Campos Specialty Brewing bar.
“We want Little Giant Roasters to be the place that people go to every time they think of an excellent coffee experience.”
A no-fuss menu (Ruslie cites a tight cooking space as the main reason for this) focuses on local and, where possible, ethically sourced food that evokes childhood memories. The Three Little Pigs is the cafe’s take on a sausage roll. It has pork sausage, pulled pork and crackling dust topped with cabbage slaw on a milk bun.
Ruslie worked with Charlie Luong of ArtisanSmith on a fit-out that combines natural materials with high-end finishes; 117 pieces of hand-cut Italian Carrara marble tessellate and American oak tiles make for one seriously slick coffee bar.
Little Giant is working with Toby's Estate at the moment. The plan is to roast its own beans down the track.
525 Willoughby Road, Willoughby
Mon to Fri 6.30am–4.30pm
Sat & Sun 7.30am–4.30pm