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Sydney may be the second most expensive city in the world after Tokyo, according to a recent global survey, but it is also on the world stage for its high quality cuisine.
Famous Sydney eateries, such Quay and Tetsuya's, are featured on San Pellegrino’s 2012 list of the world's best restaurants, and the terms "locavore", "paddock-to-plate" and "organic" are spouted regularly about town. And in Australia’s biggest city, these concepts extend beyond top-class restaurants to also encompass high quality “in-between meals” -- brunch and high tea -- enjoyed in the city's trendy cafes and hotels.
Brunch is the new dinner
Over the past decade, cafe numbers have exploded in response to Sydney’s obsession with good coffee, preference for casual, al fresco dining options and dislike for being pinned down (Sydneysiders have a poor reputation when it comes to committing to reservations).
Thanks almost singlehandedly to Australian restaurateur Bill Granger, Sydney's brunch phenomena began when he opened bills in the Darlinghurst neighbourhood in 1993. Granger loved the French and Asian way of eating out – cheaply and casually –and wanted to bring it to Australia.
"Sydney has an early morning culture, it's a morning city,” Granger explained. “There's a lot of energy as the climate is good."
Back then the formal food scene centred on white-table-clothed restaurants – preferably with water or harbour views – that served multi-course meals to the wealthy, and the city’s cheap and cheerful eateries were found mostly in Chinatown. His cafe’s light, open space, designed to feel more like a lounge with a central communal table, turned the scene on its head, and in 1997 the New York Times declared its scrambled eggs the "best in the world".
Today, bills is as popular as ever, with outposts in both Japan and England and three in Sydney, including the original in Darlinghurst. Meanwhile, a string of similar cafe openings followed, and local dining habits changed forever.
On weekends, Sydneysiders are increasingly likely to be found polishing off chilli fried egg, rocket and spiced mango chutney on a brioche roll at bills, or fig and walnut bread at Crabbe Hole (1 Notts Ave, Bondi Beach; 04-03-074-447), a hole-in-the-wall cafe at Sydney's Iceberg's swimming pool, the famous ocean baths set into the cliffs overlooking Bondi Beach. Or you may find them chowing down on carrot and cardamom cake at Kitchen by Mike in the suburb of Rosebery, one of the many Sydney brunch spots that is located in a cool, cleverly-converted warehouse where roasters, cupping (tasting) areas and open kitchens are integral to a cafe's success.
"The coffee has to be great, but it is about the whole package," said Russell Beard, owner of Reuben Hills, one of Surry Hills' growing band of ultra-cool cafes.
Reuben Hills' long, industrial-style space with exposed brick and funky strip lighting attracts lines of local and international java hounds with its South American blends and associated Latin American-inspired all-day brunch dishes, such as corn tortillas and baleada (eggs, South American cheese and black beans), or the Doggs Breakfast, an ice cream sandwich with salted caramel. There is even a cheekily named "The NOT reuben", comprising of wagyu salt brisket, pickled slaw, manchego and horseradish cream on rye.
But not everything in Sydney’s dining scene has such a post-modern take.
The morning or afternoon "cuppa", Australian slang for a cup of tea, is a British custom that remains, albeit to a lesser extent these days. While tea is often enjoyed at home, you can also head to a number of Sydney establishments for a contemporary take on the city's historic practice of old fashioned high tea .