Hills Bros looks like one of those office-building cafes destined to serve only the people who work above it, because no one else would notice it. It’s in a shiny Martin Place foyer. There’s no signage, and it’s barely visible from outside. “It's very small. It's like a little annex of Reuben Hills,” says Russell Beard, owner of Hills Bros, Reuben Hills and Paramount Coffee Project. But Hills Bros isn’t a regular office-foyer cafe.
As soon as word spreads about its coffee; achiote (a zingy Mexican-spice paste) chicken tacos; and bacon-jam topped congee, it will be a CBD destination. The city hasn’t traditionally had a lot of cutting-edge cafes, but Hills Bros is the latest to join a swathe – such as Ms Murray, Cross Eatery and Zeitgeist – that are challenging the stereotype.
“I tried to keep the vibe, but make it different for the city market, where people are less adventurous,” says chef, Naoya Shimada (formerly Rueben-Hills sous). The vibe comes in the form of Latin American- and Asian-influenced cafe fare, but with a more health-oriented approach. In place of the fried chicken and candied-bacon French toast at Reuben, the city cafe has a salad styled like a bowl of ramen; roasted veggies; and an oatmeal-based breakfast waffle with a brûlée half banana, quince curd and a side of orange-spiced almond milk. “The idea of coming to Reuben Hills is that it might be a treat. ‘All bets are off, let's fucking order deep-fried chicken’. In the city, people just want to have something easy,” says Beard.
They may say the menu items are more ordinary, but there’s certainly some head-turning options, such as the open cheese-and-tomato toastie with vegemite dust (exactly what it sounds like, Beard says), and Bircher muesli with coffee cherry and rhubarb consommé.
The fit-out (by Alana Cooke, Porter + Maple and Ficus Constructions) is much the same – accessible but innovative. It’s open, flowing into the foyer and filled only with a counter and a series of staggered concrete benches, which are strangely reminiscent of a video game.
5 Martin Place, Sydney
Mon to Fri 7am–4.30pm