I’ve spent a whole lot of time inInner West cafes. They are the heartbeat of our precinct, the glue that unites us, the sauce that makes the meat so tasty…. and so on.
But not all the cafes are obvious, popular or, (heaven-forbid) trendy.
So here’s a few lesser known establishments. They are each humble and efficient, and the coffee is good throughout, so I have tried to rate them on that other essential of a good cafe experience, the atmosphere.
I’ve spent most of my time living between Petersham and Croydon so this short review is a tribute to my most regular haunts.
If you’re heading through Petersham (it’s not like there’ any reason to stop there), I’d have previously picked the Big Brekky. It was a no-brainer… for years. But actually, the Big Brekky faces a new contender.
Little Creatures is opposite and down the road 100m from our old Petersham favourite.
1/316-320 Stanmore Road, Petersham
276 Stanmore Road, Sydney, New South Wales
Big Brekky still has the best eggs on toast this side of Newtown, but for atmosphere, comfy chairs and opening hours, Little Creatures, with its walls of windows and kid-friendly position on the corner of a beautiful park, has overtaken the stalwart.
Big Brekky is the Town Hall of Quirksville. It’s affordable but you haver to play by the rules. If the staff were angry it would be the Soup Nazi. Think of it as an exclusive cafe that somehow feels family-run…. only the family is made up of cool hipsters who do amazing coffee. Getting the picture? BB’s hours are ridiculous. We’ve turned up multiple times to find them shut. If they don’t feel like it, they won’t open. I swear, it was once shut at 10am on a Saturday morning.
They have an outdoor area but it’s often overgrown and it’s partly a car-park.
They have kids toys (great!) but they really need a wash so your kids might be better to bring their own.
The menu is sensational. Try the homemade baked beans.
Little Creatures is half book store, half cafe, half restaurant. (It’s not very clear if the books are for browsing or for sale. If someone knows, do tell.)
The owner bought the shop five months ago and has done a very cosy fit-out. cots of nooks and odd chairs, rugs and old bookcases.
The food is just as enjoyable thanks to the chef’s Chilean wife. The Empanadas are worth the visit
And at $4 a pop you can do dinner for $8!
With a window onto Old Canterbury Road that is crowded with figurines, this joint is very child friendly but designed well enough that any kiddy noise doesn’t dominate the entire space.
The coffee is… improving.
What? Homebush? ISn’t that where they had the Olympics and … well isn’t that all? Pretty much, yes. BUt the millions that poured into the precinct produced a few stadia and one stunning cafe that you may not know of. It is also one of the few in the inner west boasting water views.
Blaxland Riverside Park, Jamieson Street, Newington NSW
You’re unlikely to even realise that behind Silverwater Jail there is all kinds of fun to be had. The SHFA is responsible for this angular and inspired design for a cafe/restaurant on the edge of the Parramatta River. For years this stretch had been inaccessible excerpt to Army personnel. Thankfully, some bright spark thought of starting a business that not only took advantage of the serene vista but also the history and authenticity of the surrounds. It’s a post-industrial dreamland for someone like me who loves a good respectful restoration with exposed beams and rusty bolts alongside a $10,000 coffee machine and perfectly folded serviettes.
Plus, the kids can play on grassy bunkers that were used as ammunitions dumps just a few years ago!
One cafe in Marrickville is bringing the change that Obama promised us all those years ago. It’s the suburb’s least subtle attempt at saying”Look! We are the new Surry Hills!”. Until now, the best evidence of that was Marrickville’s growing number of brothels and boarding houses. (That’s a bit harsh. But only a bit.)
2 Mitchell Street Marrickville
You’ll never find this artisan bakery/cafe unless you are looking for it, or, like me, you enjoy driving around industrial estates taking photos of the ugliest buildings you can find.
There are delicious sourdoughs, pastries and tarts. No mud cake or glossy ‘Danish pastries’ here. Everything is worth trying. Especially one thing I make special trips for.
Try the Ginger Brûlée. It is worth double the $4.50 they charge for one.
Plus, if you turn up in the last thirty minutes before closing, you will often be overloaded with bread rolls and sourdoughs they haven’t sold. There’s no better loyalty scheme than giving away free bread.
134 Smith Street, Summer Hill
Summer Hill must have the highest ratio of cafes per head of population. But if you ask me, they could really do with some refreshment. The cafes, not the people.
Here’s one sentence on each.
MUSE – Once awesome and varied, now feels tired and needs resuscitating.
ALIMENTO DELI – Several kinds of expensive wonderful.
ENVY – If you envy crowded Saturdays and seating.
DECOLATA – Petit, Italianate and tasty.
BEAN TAMPERED – Strangely unfinished yet friendly and aromatic.
TRAIN ONE – Cheesy interior but a winning location.
PLUNGE – Best all-rounder replete with vintage couch, courtyard and heavenly French Toast.
I like Decolata for it gives you at least the feeling that you are onto something exclusive when every cafe here is usually overcrowded and tending toward impersonal. No customer feels important when there are ten people ahead of you in a queue and the guy in the front just ordered 6 coffees. Decolata’s design is thoughtful, the owner is a great guy (who’ll let you in at night with his friends to watch Soccer games if you ask nicely) and the courtyard is plain but sunny.
All Summer Hill cafes have good coffee. And prices are all similar. However, I think Decolata is the most consistent for strength and character.
So, for a snob like me, it comes down to atmosphere. It’s just the vibe.
I am happy to have any of these suggestions contested. So please, be honest and, more importantly, funny.