Monday: Found on the sight of a former Gloria Jeans, Mecca Coffee (Ultimo) is a true flower growing in the rubble of former coffee disaster. The Ultimo Mecca to me, really represents everything that is going, has gone right within the Sydney coffee scene.
Mecca, since being voted as Best Cafe by the Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide 2011 has gotten a lot of blogging love and now the hype has died down, I felt that on the same day I experienced Le Monde, I would also go Mecca (yes by blog posts are all out of order).
Found down Harris Street, just north of the ABC, in a location that has never really experienced much love, Mecca occupies that sexy Ultimo Road corner location which is more associated with drug deals or midnight muggings.
Walking in I can’t help but feel that whilst looking unrelated to look and feel of the classy King Street, the two cafes instantly connected. The jazzy music, passionate barista team, that Mecca roast smell, the struggling coffee tree pot plant, it’s what the brand does well (well they are shit at growing tropical plants). Where King Street feels old worldly Europe, Ultimo feel more a modern school/warehouse with chairs (I think they are the ones I sit on back in primary school) scattered about a range of tables, concrete floors and the compulsory exposed brick (gotta have it). Something to compare it against would be Coffee Alchemy, less cool, but far more friendly for non-coffee drinkers / those who like having a table.
I came in after lunch and the café still felt busy for a 2:30pm. The line moved reasonably quickly and I soon found myself quickly at the front of the line. I ordered a long black. I eagerly took a seat and watched the magic unfold.
The crowd here is a real mix, far less serious then King Street (city) but more serious then a King Street (Newtown), it’s a place to sit and overhear conversations between ABC staff members (“who is getting fired?”), students (“I’m going to be a journalist, who works at the ABC”) and coffee randoms such as myself (“my job is so sporadic I can come to coffee shops at 2:30 on a Monday arvo”).
The long black came to be quickly (the whole number system), it was presented in white china, nothing special here (unlike King), however, it had one of those amazing cremas you dream of. Like a mix between a cat’s eye and ying-yang symbol I find it hard to think what else you can do to make a coffee look more appealing.
The aroma is everything you would expect in a well-crafted blend. Deep fruity smells are what will first hit your nose, then, you’ll find some nice smokiness of the roast.
Taste wise this drink is ridiculously fruity and fun. Easy to drink from the get go, you’ll find the house blend very drinkable and both quite neutral and natural in the mouth. I am hard pushed to think of a more balanced drink, with each bean seemingly complimenting the next. The flavours are simple with peach tending to be the strongest flavour. Letting it sit brings out the peach further and makes for something delicious to linger over whist reading, talking or being a loser like me and typing.
I also ordered a panini (late lunch) and it came out just as fast. It was nothing really fantastic (pre-made), but hey we’re here for the coffee right? And it was totally eatable and more then edible (They also have beer!).
Overall, Mecca is kinda brilliant. Its balanced coffee is a winner with a very fruity, well-developed flavour – just drinkable. Whilst the coffee shop feel may not suit everyone (food is a little lacking, I reckon, to score best café ever). There is simply nothing in the area that to compare it with and coffee-wise little in Sydney to compare it with. It would be an insult to call this the ultimate Gloria Jeans, but shit it should be, wish all chains would pull this weight. Mecca will leave you highly satisfied and will surely draw you back, if not for the coffee, but even just for the free coffee cupping sessions on Fridays.
Scores: 1. Coffee score
Style (look and feel): 7/10
Experience (taste and smell): 9/10
----------- Coffee total: 16/20
2. Cafe score
Style (what’s it feel like): super clean, warehouse, feels a little on the safe side.
----------- Whole experience (coffee + cafe): 30/40
Whole experience (cafe + coffee): 33/40
Bean: Peace (Pace) Maker - Mecca Tuesday: After the pace of Reuben, I thought a walk home was on the cards. Walking in a strange zigzag route I came across one of the coolest hole-in-the walls cafes I’ve seen in Sydney and thought I should give it a go.
On the same street as some of the more impressive roasters in Sydney, Sample (I assume reasonably new to the scene) is looking great for that inner coffee nerd.
You can instantly tell that this place has been inspired by Mecca – Sample’s roaster aside, the exposed brick wall, the worn wood counter, the total passion from the staff, the rejected school furniture and the struggling coffee tree outside, it all just links the two.
I walked in and almost pushed over the counter (note don’t lean on the counter) and ordered a flat white, expecting to pay a fortune; I was pleasantly surprised when the total came 3 bucks. Win. When is coffee 3 bucks these days? I found finding a seat bit of a challenge (as there are only about 8). But if you score one, hold onto it with your life and enjoy.
Luckily, one opened up soon after my arrival and I grabbed it (water came instantly to me). I then went about staring about the café for 2 mins looking like a bit of a weirdo.
The feel of the place is a clean industrial workshop, meets living room. When you’re here do take a second to have a look gawk, there are just so many small cool things thrown about, I spotted a small owl near the till and three monkeys in a broken brick cavity.
The coffee came out at a fast pace and its style was up there - black cup, solid coffee art leaf and great proportion. I reckon they did a better job here then at Reuben down the road.
You can tell that coffee is the lifeblood of this place. They have Mecca as the roaster and put their Peacemaker to the grind, however they also have some great showcase beans on display (local, interstate and overseas) that you can give a go on the slayer or cold drip.
The patrons were an interesting mix young and old, the connecting fact was that they seemed to know their shit - almost as much as the barista. They all talked shop – beans and machine. You know you’re on a good thing when you find a place like this in Surry given the choice within one block. Moreover, the barista (who I picked as the owner) knew every regular’s coffee as they walked in and was as much a patron as the barista (if that makes sense? [note - many people do not think this makes sense]) chatting away and coming to tables to see how people were.
Aroma wise, I found my coffee to be super fruity and had a bit of a floral undertone on the day, a winning combo. Tasting wise, it hit the mark and more. My coffee was very fruity (as you would pick from the aroma), and had a floral undertone to it. The coffee, I reckon, was from El Salvador and this South American element to this blend just took over – in a good way. Interesting to note on this blend, throughout my experience is that it had a very interesting tone to it that at times, to my taste, lent the drink to taste a little olive like. Perhaps I am reading (tasting) this all wrong, but that has gotta be one of the most interesting (and I guess mysterious / cool) milk based coffees I have ever had.
Overall, I am really impressed. The flat white was perhaps one of the most interesting milk based drinks I’ve had (I would be interested to go back and see if I really could taste an olive thing to the flavours). The space whist not as friendly to sit as Reuben or others in the area (you can feel that people are standing right over you) is just cool, its hole in the wall price, quality taste, connection to the community (coffee and local) and amazing style makes this another must stop place in a nerd’s roaming of Surry’s coffee houses.
Scores: 1. Coffee score
Style (look and feel): 9/10
Experience (taste and smell): 9/10
----------- Coffee total: 18/20
Tuesday: Day two off my week of led me to the well known and talked about Ruben Hills a 2012 newbie. Seemingly, more like a Berlin (or Melbourne) nightspot then your traditional Sydney coffee house, Ruben has smashed its way onto the Sydney scene, pushing the do and don’ts of how a coffee shop / roaster should look and work.
The first thing that will strike you about the coffee shop is the use of juxtapositions in the design - for instance the warehouse roller door at the back, cute house look from the front, the use of natural light throughout, with decorative neon lights for display. Ok, well, these are really not juxtapositions, but you get the idea; it’s a cool space. I’m a huge fan of modern industrial look and feel and Ruben nails this from the get go.
Just note: This space may be a little confusing to those who are use to the concept of a counter, so just forget that - look for the iPads. So anyway, I walked in took a counter space in the middle to the building to get a feel for the whole place and waited for the magic.
A waiter came over with a bottle of water (in an old milk bottle) and a menu and asked what I was after. As it’s only mid morning, as tempting as many of the menu items are, like an ice-cream sandwich named dog’s breakfast (no seriously), I had to decline. I went the flat white.
Sitting in the middle of the space made me feel really involved with the energy of the building, the house music, decorative neon lights, staff members flying past trying to accommodate all manner of persons. My first thought was, if this is Tuesday, I wonder what a Saturday is like.
It was not much of a surprise that the coffee came across as quite professional in the looks. Presented in a dark brown cup, it had a stylish leaf and had the right ratio constancy of milk to foam.
The aroma of the coffee came off as having some really nice earthy and occasionally nutty tones to it. The taste of the drink followed on from its smells. The drink was as complex, but yet had a very smooth nutty / earthiness which was quite satisfying.
Letting the coffee sit allowed, me to scope out the patrons. It’s a mixed lot here, between art types (employed) looking for an amazing lunch time feed, to hipsters looking to slide there way out of their Tuesday morning hangover (unemployed). Tasting it, having let it sit, I found that the nuttiness took over from the initial nutty/ earth balance of the drink.
I had a chat to the guy beside me, who found his drink rather strong and far earthier then I, however he found he loved it with a little bit of brown sugar. So keep that in mind.
I came back later in the week with nerd 2 in tow. We grabbed at late lunch - I went for the Not Rueben, reuben, which was a great, if fatty, amazing sandwich. Coffee was as consistent as my first visit.
Overall, wow. Amazing space, even if you just like warehouse conversions it’s worth the visit on that alone. The coffee is consistent and whilst not the best in the city, one would be hard pushed to do better what it does with the beans (you can see why Reuben Hills origins and blends make guest appearances at so many of Sydney’s other coffee shops). The food looks and is bloody tempting and worth a try. It’s a great weekday space to chill and whist I can’t imagine pulling out a laptop or book on a weekend – as this would earn you some evil stares from other’s eyeing off your table, weekday read/blog without guilt! The only let down was the staff on my first visit who I found to be indifferent to me, however, on my second visit were fantastic and kept the kitchen open for 5 more mins so I could get some food.
Scores: 1. Coffee score Style (look and feel): 8/10 Experience (taste and smell): 8/10 ----------- Coffee total: 16/20 -----------
2. Cafe score Style (what’s it feel like): Berlin cocktail spot meets coffee roaster warehouse, just the best. Cool?: 10/10 Service: 7/10 ----------- Cafe: 17/20 ----------- Whole experience (coffee + cafe): 33/40
Monday: Any café nerd, in Sydney, typically has four
destinations in mind when it comes to the foundation of the present coffee
scene: Mecca, Campos, Toby’s and Le Monde. Each of these cafes have had a
significant effect on many of Sydney’s best baristas today and each can claim
to have started waves of cool new cafes and bars.
Having scored a week off work and in need catch up with my
mother-unit I thought it was time to come review Le Monde (best food coffee
shop as reviewed by SMH). Found nearer to Central then Surry on Foveaux
(although still a Surry café) Le Monde was a revelation to the Sydney scene a
couple of years ago, and continues to shine today as one of the finest coffee
Even on a Monday at 10am Le Monde is pumping although not
unpleasantly so (it can get squishy on a weekend). I’m a fan of watching action
in cafes, so I grabbed a seat close to the baristas/ till and let the morning
flow over me. I ordered a flat white and omelette, my mother, another
non-coffee type, went tea and potato pancakes.
The coffee came out reasonably quickly and unsurprisingly,
given it is Le Monde, looked fantastic - well proportioned with a nice bit of
art, easily the rival of any of the other greats.
The smell of the coffee was a fantastic sweet smell, which
hinted at a fruity taste. It’s clear that this was a single origin at play as
it was not an overly complex drink. However, nor was it simple but rather more
of a delicate thing.
It was at this point I put down my coffee, so not to look
crazy / obsessed and scope out the place. The crowd at Le Monde is what you
would expect from a popular inner city coffee house. A real mix of those
employed, those going to college, coffee tourists to Surry – such as myself and
surprisingly tourists (must be in a guide book?).
Going back to the coffee I found the drink, to be far sweeter then I would have expected, it’s really coming from a
sugarcane base. Also when embarrassingly slurping the flat white there was a
distinct honey and raspberry and/or blackberry flavour (I can never pick a
Leaving it sit allowed the drink to centre around these deep
sugarcane / honey flavours, which were hard not to love (side note, don’t add sugar
to this drink, it’ll kill half the fun!).
I can’t leave a blog post about Le Monde without mentioning
the clover and food. If you are sadistic and read most of my posts you may have
picked up I’m a fan of filter coffee. Having lived overseas for a while and
been starved of espresso machine, filtered coffee has grown on me. Le Monde
offers an amazing thing - a clover coffee machine. Clover coffee means in
essence you’re getting a filter coffee made one cup at a time. The barista can
play with the flavours through controlling the temperature and brewing time
(amazing). While I tend to not review filter coffee, I must mention it’s
f**king spectacular! Do give it a go. Food wise, this is a great café, food is
experimental, cheap and comes out fast in huge proportions.
Overall, it’s a great café. It’s hard not to love most
things about it. The atmosphere is chilled, but has a great energy. Staff are
friendly and more then willing to chat shop. Coffee comes in both clover and
espresso form. Food is both cheap and experimental. What can I fault? Little.
Is it the best, you may ask? Well that’s depending on the day and the
positioning of the moon, etc. However, I will call Le Monde an ultimate
Scores: 1. Coffee score
Style (look and feel): 9/10
Experience (taste and smell): 8/10
----------- Coffee total: 17/20
2. Cafe score
Style (what’s it feel like): More like a
cocktail bar for the coffee lover
----------- Whole experience (coffee + cafe): 32/40
Tuesday: I’m sure most of you get this. Do you ever walk
past a really uninspired café, however, no matter how much you slag on it you
are simply drawn to it? This draw seems to come from walking past it every
day, or by its bemusing popularity. Arcadia on Pacific Highway at St Leonards
covers all of these boxes for me.
The aptly named Arcadia is found within the highway adjacent
shopping arcade on the opposite St Leonards station, in a set of strange shops whose
existence I still cannot truly comprehend. Closed on weekends, I can only
assume they exist to capture people such as myself who work close by.
Arcadia, inside paints a far brighter picture . Rows of strategically placed chairs and tables litter the shop,
the coffee machine sits pride of place right in the centre, some chilled house
music plays over the stereo system and purple walls have been used as massive
chalk boards, strange as it may sound, this café’s charm works well for the
area, whether intentional or not it seems to mock its very dirty busy location.
Walking in I go straight to the counter and order a flat
white. The girl there seems remarkably chirpy for a person coming off a 4 day
long weekend, but that is part of her job so points there.
I grab a seat in-between two gym instructors (there are
quite a lot of them here) and watch the buzz. Most of the people entering seem
to be locally employed, rather then locals, bit of an oddity in a café, even at
7:50am in the middle of no where there are plenty of ‘have ins’ (all with their
names known to the barista and counter girl) chilling on their laptops (free
wifi) or buzzing about.
The coffee comes out in a white cup, the foam is a
reasonable height for a flat white, although leaning a little on the heavy
side. There is some stylish coffee art happening here with my coffee looking
rather sharp with a bit of a fan leaf thing, which is better then many places
I’ve been to.
The aroma of the coffee was quite nutty, but rather mild;
it’s an organic roast and fits with many of the traditional organic roast
flavours you come to expect if you smell enough of them.
Drinking it you’ll notice that the coffee here is both dark and sweet and comes across as quite syrupy in texture. The flavours seem to run from an earthiness which is consistent throughout the experience, to a nuttiness which hits you quite unexpectedly. In saying that it does seem a rather sweet drink with a bit of a fruity / cocoa thing happening. I think the whole experience is limited by the milk of the flat white, which adds an extra set of cream flavours, which to be honest are not as complimentary as they should be. Go the long black.
Overall, it’s a bit of a surprise package here, while the
outside of the café (not really the café but the strip of shops) could not be
less appealing, it’s a nice enough space inside and one worth stopping at if you
happen to be walking down the pacific highway at St Leonards for some reason.
Scores: 1. Coffee score
Style (look and feel): 7/10
Experience (taste and smell): 6/10
----------- Coffee total: 14/20
2. Cafe score
Style (what’s it feel like): a rectangle with purple walls
----------- Whole experience (coffee + cafe): 25/40