“People will pay $200 for a bottle of wine, and they’ll pay $3 for a coffee,” says Mike Eggert, half of the Pinbone restaurant team whose latest project is serving Chinese food seasoned with wit in a modest space in Kensington. For a lot of chefs, the restaurant route tends to have a greater appeal for that reason. But recently, a few of Sydney’s most exciting eateries have announced a foray into brunch with a fresh approach.
When ACME launched a set menu brunch in late February, Sydney’s cafe queues migrated instantly to Rushcutters Bay. Though lunch for the restaurant had never quite taken off, the promise of a long brunch was enough to pique diners’ attention. “Sydney diners just fucking love brunch,” says ACME chef Mitch Orr. It’s hard not to when the four-course menu composed of fruit, a main and a “cheeky little sweet thing at the end” is punctuated by a Filipino sausage and egg on a soft roll, dripping with barbeque sauce.
For Orr, the opportunity to launch a morning menu followed a summer-weekend stint at the Auto.Lab pop-up at Old Clare Hotel. “I always have ideas floating around in the back of my head of things I'd like to eat or cook that I either can't order in Sydney, or can't put on the menu at ACME,” says Orr. “[But at the pop-up] we saw there was a possibility to do something a bit more our style in the brunch game.”
Surry Hills’ Dead Ringer, which launched a brunch offering last week, also hit its breakfast stride during a short term residency. For director David Hobbs and the team, it was several months running the humming Broadsheet Restaurant on Danks Street this past spring that sparked the brunch idea. “There were a lot of people turning up for a boozy late morning meal,” says Hobbs. “And it sort of clicked for us that this was something that people were looking for.”
The team faced a similar conundrum to ACME: how to re-imagine a lunch menu in a locale low on offices? Make it breakfast, instead. Brunch borrows from the dinner menu’s light, French-accented Australian fare, with a tomato tart, omelette with salt cod, and “a blood sausage that’s sort of a nod to an English breakfast.” But in place of plates designed to share, breakfast orders are specifically geared to the ravenous just-rolled-out-of-bed set. Bookings are taken alongside walk-ins, which Hobbs hopes will encourage people to journey outside their suburb, safe in the knowledge that they won’t have to wait. “Dining out should be a treat,” explains Hobbs. “No one wants to queue for 45 minutes. And if you’re in a group of four in Sydney you can sometimes literally get laughed at.”
Pinbone’s pumpkin, bacon and maple tart is not easily forgotten. People loved it so much that when the former restaurant announced a one-off brunch charity event for this Anzac Day, tables were booked out within minutes. “I didn’t even put it on Instagram,” Eggert says.
In retrospect, Pinbone was an early adopter. Back in 2015 when it temporarily replaced Paddington restaurant Buzo, Eggert and chef Jemma Whiteman realised that an all-day Sunday breakfast might be the ticket out of interloper status with locals. “We were nobodies,” explains Eggert, “and obviously restaurants are a little bit more of a commitment for people; it’s your Friday night, or your Saturday night, you want to know where you’re going.” The result was a booming daytime trade so frenetic, “the freezer had to be jammed shut it was so full of supplies for the weekend.”
While Sydney’s cafe society is booming, Eggert concedes much of the industry is “run by people on the coffee side. It’s not so much chef-driven” – although that would be a controversial statement to a lot of kitchens breaking out of the avo-on-toast model.
Diners have also embraced the breakfast cocktail. Penned by founders of CBD’s award-winning Bulletin Place, Rob Sloan and Tim Philips, the morning cocktail list at Dead Ringer features a spritz, a Bloody Mary spiked with celery powder, a boozy Frankenstein’s monster of El Guapo spirit, lime, mint and jalapeno – as well as bottomless mimosas. While responsible service dictates that refills are only offered for the life of the table booking, it’s a whole lot cheaper than a plane ticket the next time you’re hankering for a NYC-style large-scale brunch. At ACME, the sharp dinnertime drinks list has been re-imagined by Cam Fairbairn to include a Bloody Mary, or Bloody Pasi, about which Orr simply states: “It's really all about the #dill.”
When it comes to weekend mornings, Eggert has a simple philosophy. “There’s nothing better than getting out, cruising in your pyjamas, looking like shit, feeling like shit and heading somewhere to eat really good food.”