A blog about special neighbourhoods, local atmosphere and stellar coffee.

Caffeinated Sydney neighbourhoods Surry Hills and Redfern

Surry Hills and Redfern are two Sydney neighbourhoods with local flair that have become up-to-the-minute hangouts. Neighbouring each other, it is easy to jump from one to another and spend a day eating fresh food, sipping excellent coffees, browsing small shops and strolling around leafy residential streets.

Surry Hills

Surry Hills is a balanced mixture of urban hustle and bustle and quiet residential streets. Previously an old working-class neighbourhood notorious for crime, Surry Hills has been a centre of regeneration since the 80s. Today, it is one of the most sought-after neighbourhoods in Sydney, especially amongst young urbanites and the upper middle class. Brimming with creative energy, it is home to various advertising agencies, galleries and design shops. As you would expect from a trendy neighbourhood, Surry Hills has eclectic little shops and boutiques, trendy barbers, bookshops and tattoo parlours. Rows of narrow Victorian terraced houses with wrought iron balconies are dotted around the leafy streets, making this an appealing neighbourhood to have a little stroll.

However, the key reason why you should venture to Surry Hills is the abundance of modern eateries and an energetic coffee scene. These expand their square foot outside and pavements are covered with tables and chairs; something that I always love seeing. You certainly don’t have to walk far if you are craving strong flat whites, house fermented kombucha or wholesome Aussie breakfast. But be prepared to queue, especially at weekends as then Surry Hills seems to be Sydney’s breakfast table.


The neighbouring Redfern, that once was a centre for the indigenous community in Sydney, feels like the less polished, edgier little sister of Surry Hills. A neighbourhood that was once scorned due to its crime rates and clusters of public housing has become fairly gentrified in recent years. New creative businesses and eateries have made home here and the aboriginal history is represented in many murals of the neighbourhood. Redfern still has that gritty side, but this coexists with pretty, renovated residential alleys and verdant side streets.

Although gentrification is a multifaceted issue replete with positives and negatives, today’s Redfern has many great spots to check, especially if you are after some quieter, local vibes. Independent coffee shops serve impeccable brews and pours, and small eateries offer feast for tastebuds such as local, small batch ice cream served at Ciccone & Sons (195 Regent St) or uniquely flavoured donuts at Donut Papi (34a Redfern St). Carriageworks Farmers Market (245 Wilson St), just a few minutes walk from Redfern station, is a weekly Saturday market and a great spot to sample fresh, organic, artisanal food straight from farmers and artisan producers.

Surry Hills and Redfern had many of the components I value when visiting new places. I loved sampling classic banana bread and sipping cups of well made coffee while watching the street life, and devouring poke bowls, Middle Eastern flavours and Thai curries - you can find it all dotted around the ‘hoods. Here are a handful of the great places to get caffeinated in Redfern and Surry Hills; I hope you like them.

Single O
60 Reservoir Street

It’s almost impossible to read about Sydney’s vigorous coffee scene without coming across Single O’s name. And you can consider yourself lucky if you get a table during the busiest coffee breaks. However, despite the prominent status, this roastery/cafe feels very laidback. With only a few tables inside, the open windows seem to extend the space outside where a handful of tables are dotted on the street. The coffee is so good that people are also willing to stand on the street, sipping their cuppas and catching up on the curbside.

Although there is an abundance of good cafes in the area to try something new, I visited Single O three times. It can be a strenuous effort to get a table but really worth it. The coffee is just to die for, so pungent and creamy. Single origins dominate but they also serve a Reservoir blend. If you feel peckish, the colourful menu of seasonal breakfast and lunch plates will make you smile. I would wholeheartedly recommend trying their chunky breakfast banana bread with coffee butter. I had it two times, a bit unadventurous, but it was just finger-licking good. The coffee is the protagonist here, but Single O is also a great spot to observe the neighbourhood vibes.

Paramount Coffee Project
80 Commonwealth St

I am attracted to places that radiate openness, social atmosphere and communal eating. And so, due to big open windows, alfresco tables and people gathered on curbside with their cups I had to have a little peek at Paramount Coffee Project (PCP). This neighbourhood favourite is located in a massive foyer of an art deco building that used to host Paramount Film offices. The building itself is a stunning piece of architecture and interior design; high roofs, concrete floors, tiled open kitchen counter, lots of plants and simple tables in different sizes. In terms of interiors this must be my favourite cafe in Surry Hills, it's just so easy to love this place.

The team here is very serious about the whole coffee business; they study different roasting and brewing methods and rotate their beans from various origins. My latte was creamy and as it was on the smaller side, it was pretty strong - just how I like it. The menu has all the tried and true stables with eggs, avocados and granolas but you can also expect to find more innovative flavours, house fermented products and Asian influenced plates. Their soft baked eggs are a joy for taste buds and the banana bread served with different, rotating butters was wholesome, moist, and crumbly on the edges - divine. Both times I had to wait about 30 minutes to get a table - however, this place is definitely worth the wait, both gastronomically as well as aesthetically.

Reuben Hills
61 Albion Street

Reuben Hills is a working micro roastery, coffee provider and a beloved Surry Hills caffeine station. Patrons can always expect the freshest coffee; the dedicated team hunts the beans directly from farmers, from various origins, and these are roasted on the mezzanine level of the cafe. You probably will be tempted to order some sustenance with your coffee as Reuben Hills is often considered as the epicentre of Surry Hills’s competitive brunch scene. I savoured every spoon of my overnight oats with fruits and berries. For a bigger appetite you can find winning dishes like breakfast burritos, avo on rye and ranchero style eggs.

Nestled on a quieter side of Surry Hills, Reuben Hill spuns between two parallel streets. On Albion Street they just have a rustic bench outside, making it easy to walk past its small facade and main entrance. This side of the cafe is dark and narrow, highlighted by exposed bricks, concrete floors and timber ceilings. Yet white tiled side tables, massive fluorescent tube lighting on the wall as well as retro water jugs and glasses create an almost 80s moody sci-fi atmosphere. As the cafe fully extends to the parallel Albion Way, the atmosphere becomes more open and lighter. The fully open facade lets in natural light, and this fluidity of the space means people can mingle and munch alfresco on the little back alley or around a bigger communal table. It is easy to see why Reuben Hills is a big crowd magnet of the area.

Bourke Street Bakery
633 Bourke Street

Bourke Street Bakery is a true Sydney institution. The word of mouth is that the best bread in the city comes from here. They have opened a handful of stores after a big demand but it all started here on Bourke Street. There is something authentic and humble about this original neighbourhood location. Located in a brown wooden house on a corner of two roads, the bakery’s windows are crammed with fresh pastries and loaves of bread, making it quasi impossible to walk past without grabbing something to munch.

The bakery is a tiny hole-in-the-wall with only two window tables inside and a few more outside on the pavement. It might not be the easiest place to sit down as the tables were always full and the queue equally long. But there is a reason why people are happy to wait; the flaky croissants and artisan bread are just unbelievable. Bourke Street Bakery also creates artisanal sandwiches, savory pies and decadent tarts, making it hard to decide what to have. Everything is handmade using as much local produce as possible. Like most people, I had my croissants and baguette as a take away and so I did not sample their coffee. I think a good cup of joe and sitting down would have made the experience even better but you can’t go wrong with these artisanal goodnesses even on the go.

St Jude Cafe
728 Bourke St

St Jude Cafe is a laid-back nook on the quieter Redfern side of Bourke Street. The unrefined exteriors have most of the elements that I cannot resist; walls with chipped paint, big open windows, and a handful of timeworn tables on a leafy street. What you wouldn't expect from these casual, earthly exteriors are interiors that are adorned by old-time relics. And so the atmosphere can be a bit creepy with wide-eyed vintage dolls and religious artifacts. Yet, these eccentricities are combined with modern simple lines, rustic tables and plenty of natural light flooding in so it doesn't feel stuffy or too granny-like.

The coffee here is really good. The ethically sourced beans come from Rush Roasting Co with rich, chocolate flavours. I enjoyed my cup with banana and blackberry bread. The banana flavour was quite weak and the texture felt more like a cake than the kind of banana bread I usually love. Nevertheless, nothing wrong with it and it worked well with the strong coffee. St Jude’s menu offers typical modern Aussie cafe fare, with a big emphasis on colourful, fresh ingredients. The plates looked incredible and this place just really has the casual feel required for a successful brunch date. Although you might get distracted by the staring creepy dolls, St Jude is a great place to avoid the crowds and spend a couple of hours in chiling and munching.

Little Evie
688 Bourke St

Little Evie is located on leafy, energetic Bourke Street where Surry Hills meets Redfern. With tables dotted on the street, this neighbourhood café offers a good vantage point for observing the local atmosphere. The building itself is particularly attractive with whitewashed walls, expansive windows with aqua toned window panes and door frames. The indoors are flooded with natural light and the spare decoration is dominated by pale wood, white and pastel tones. It’s dreamy and modern at once.

If you are walking around the area, you may have to have a little unplanned break here as the tempting, health conscious, locally sourced food patrons are muching alfresco can cause a serious food envy. Little Evie is known for its brunch but sadly I was never there at the ‘right’ time. So it was only a coffee affair for me but the brew really compensated for the lack of food as it was very tasty, sharp and finished with the right amount of milk. Little Evie roasts its own beans and surprisingly it was probably the cheapest cup I had on this side of Sydney. They also have a nice selection of pastries and homemade cakes, with a great variety of vegan and gluten free treats.

Little Evie is very much a community and family hangout where you meet both babies and pensioners. Whilst I was sipping a coffee solo, and a table of urban millennials were munching their luscious sandwiches behind me, four octogenarians came to sit at the table next to me with a plateful of cakes and afternoon cups. I was particularly drawn to this communal feel; Little Evie welcomed every generational sector with the same friendly service.

288 Crown Street

Organism is a Korean influenced cafe perched above one of the busiest roads in Surry Hills. Located in a colourful, narrow terrace house typical to the neighbourhood, you need to climb a few steps to reach the smell of coffee and pastries. It may be a mission to get a table on their tiny balcony facing the street, ideal for some people spotting, but they also have a few more tables down on the street level. There is something old school about the place with its vintage lamps and decorative roses. Although it is not quite my taste, it felt pretty quirky and cosy, and the staff were just lovely.

Organism serves healthier treats, stable brunch favourites and smoothies but you can also relish Korean soups and bowls - banchan, kimchi and bibimbap are never a bad idea even with a coffee. I stopped here as they are open until 6pm which is later than many other cafes in the area, so it is a good spot to read and chill if your feet are aching after a full day of walking.

Edition Coffee Roasters
265 Liverpool St

Edition Coffee Roasters is a little retreat away from the hustle and bustle that draws inspiration from the Nordic and Japanese simplicity. These two influences coexist harmoniously in the decoration as well as on the plates. The space is calm and clean with white concrete floors and white-tiled counters, and the interiors are dominated by mid-century Scandinavian armchairs and simple pale wood tables and chairs. They have a few simple wooden benches outside, offering a space to watch the streetlife.

Edition Coffee Roasters roasts the beans on side, specialising in single origins and small batches. They alternate their brewing techniques to get the best of each bean and origins and the baristas are at the top of the game. It really was one of the best coffees I had in Sydney; nutty, full of flavour and with a smooth aftertaste. Their small menu matches the Japanese and Scandinavian influence - think rice bowls, black sesame pancakes and smorrebrod. Presented in a minimalist way on beautiful ceramic tableware, these are full of innovative ingredients, making them stand out from the usual Aussie brunches. There was a very small and limited selection of morning pastries too. I only tried their coffee and given the creaminess, I am glad I sampled it on its own, fully appreciating every sip.

*Edition Coffee Roasters has closed this store since my visit and they have moved to 60 Darling Drive. This new flagship store is inspired by a calm Japanese theme, following the same concept as their Liverpool Street store. If it’s anything like the location I visited, go and grab a coffee - it will put a smile on your face.

Surry Hills and Redfern may not have the beaches and shiny highrises, but there is something authentic and super chilled about these neighbourhoods that I was particularly drawn to. Sydneysiders flock here to get their caffeine and brunch gravings filled, and it is easy to see why. These two neighbours offer some of the best cups in the city, but with a humble cup of joe you get a nice insight into certain lively, modern vibes of the city while simultaneously firmly embracing the quiet suburban charm.