The current state of Sydney brunch
We weigh in on a savoured Sydney ritual as it stands to date, and those working hard to keep it credible.
The state of the brunch scene in Sydney is strong. It’s unrestrained, interesting and fluid. It’s layered with creativity, mastery and ingenuity, a sustainable slant and a heap of individuality. Brunch has evolved radically in the last 10 years — and our expectations of breakfast have skyrocketed. We’ve perfected the impossible-to-perfect, and been inventive, exploratory and inviting when a world beyond eggs on toast might have once seemed far-fetched.
So what do our breakfast plates look like in 2017? How did we get here, what’s changed, and who is leading the charge? Will we ever turn the page on smashed avocado? And how will our overall brunch agenda – progressive, robust and hyped, maintain the pace in years to come?
Brunch in Sydney may well have been the invention of Bill Granger. Since 1993, Bills in Darlinghurst, and its soon to follow sister sites on Crown Street and at Bondi Beach, have been the yardstick for our sparkly harbour city’s best breakfasts out. Those silky scrambled eggs and puffed ricotta hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter became the stuff of legend—and they still are. In the ’90s, Bills’ breezy precision and the sunlit, Aussie aesthetic changed the game. While it’s rare for Sydney venues to have a lifespan beyond a decade —come weekend mornings, we’re still queuing for a seat at Bills’ communal table.
And where Granger set a gold standard for a brunch experience in Sydney — others have boldly followed and branched into new niches. Maybe it’s our hard-edged approach to top quality coffee that’s pushed the brunch scene forward over the years, maybe it was the rise of top-down flat-lays and Instagram. At any rate, we have arrived at a pretty exciting place for morning meals.
A chef’s take on brunch is the norm for us now, and our favourite dinner spots have thrown open their doors on weekend mornings to show off their sophisticated spin on ‘eggs your way’: Yellow, Acme and Alpha are highlights as is newcomer Paper Bird, which serves avocado on toast with coriander sauce and sesame, a welcome switch up. Bronte’s Three Blue Ducks borrowed from the fine dining trade and time spent in the kitchen at Tetsuya’s to raise the brunch bar (on the menu right now is house-made Vegemite and a poke bowl with macadamia miso).
The Ducks team also heralded in a more thoughtful approach to brunch with a sustainable bottom line and a backyard kitchen garden lined with chooks and bees and banana trees. Others have followed suit and kept it local (Cornersmith is another clear stand out).
These days too, we loathe to restrict the time we choose to brunch — all-day menus and all-day venues are a part of our brunch beliefs. You know the trend is strong when even McDonald’s updates its breakfast schedule. Newcomer in Bondi, Rocker stays open from 7am to 9pm, and The Buckler—a spin on the classic ‘big breakfast’ with pig’s head hash brown, bacon, blood sausage, fried egg and sourdough, is on the menu until mid-afternoon.
While recent lock-out laws mean big nights and boozing in Sydney might be trickier after 2am, our brunch offerings have stepped in to pick up where late night venues left off. And we’ve necessarily leaped beyond Bellinis and Bloody Marys too. Case in point: Mecca in Alexandria added a ‘Drank’ subheading to its breakfast menu — and then coffee Negronis were born.
Maybe the most exciting evolution has been experimentation with new flavours, and a fresh bleeding and blending of cultures at breakfast. We’re now well acquainted with Japanese slash Scandinavian at Edition Coffee Roasters, Nick Smith’s breakfast ramen at Rising Sun Workshop, and Thai in the AM at Boon Café. Today, there are so many unconventional troupes serving Sydney something sensational and different for brunch.
Overall, we’ve worked hard to expand the horizons of the mid-morning feast, without forgetting what made it good in the first place: rich and creamy scrambled eggs. There’s a sense of community too, tucked into our brunch-time get-togethers. A community of venues peering beyond the competition, and striving to push past fads to support good, credible cooking and great ideas.
Photography by Nikki To; dish by Paper Bird.