A name like Sydney for a coffee shop should come as no surprise. It wasn’t Portlandia that took modern coffee most to heart – that title belongs to Australia. The Aussies put the café back in café, finding an attractive balance between friendly, welcoming service with no compromise on the food and drink. It’s no wonder then that there’s been an explosion of competition and success in Melbourne and Sydney, and that the concept of the Austrailian cafe has been exported to America. Aussie coffee shops are popping up all over the United States, including two here in Rhode Island.
Sydney in Portsmouth doesn’t feel foreign by any means – nor do any Aussie cafes. Compared to the average coffee shop, it’s brighter, more inviting, and even summery with its lofted roof, skylights, white walls, succulents, and palm tree. The menu is light and bright, with breakfast bowls, sandwiches, smoothies, and the ubiquitous avocado toast. Bar the odd nod to English/Aussie-isms like “brekkie,” you could be anywhere on-trend, until the food arrives. The made-to-order items were really elevated from the ordinary.
Oh, avocado toast. You’d be a monster to hate it, but it’s easy to be apathetic about it. Avocado toast is something old men chide younger generations about along with latte sipping. To be fair, the humble toast does seem like you are paying someone to do something easy. However, at Sydney, it’s perfect, a work of art. I might be able to make an avocado toast at home just as good as Sydney’s, but I just never will. For $10.95 with a poached egg though, I was easily worth it.
Sydney’s savory ricotta toast ($10) is a far rarer breed, and with its heaping prosciutto, whipped ricotta, and balsamic drizzle, it was fantastic. Similarly, the Byron Bay smoothie bowl ($11) was a full meal for the stomach and eyes, a yoga instructor’s Instagram dream rainbow of fruits, seeds, and superfoods. I watched a cook make one of these with immense care. The bright colors and textures, like a line of bright orange bee pollen spanning the whole bowl, invite you in. My toddler joined us in slurping up the Barangaroo smoothie ($6), and it was excellent – really fresh, with a powder-free fruit taste.
Sydney is the antidote to cave-like coffee shops filled with Macbooks and tablets. It’s a prime meeting spot for a car town that needs them. My toddler, wife, and I met our friends and their seven-month-old. I did about 20 laps around the long main table holding their little baby and a few hundred chasing my big boy. With our indecisive ordering and dizzying runs, we were never given anything but a warm smile.
I can’t exactly see Bondi Beach from here, but I could easily imagine how packed the outside seating will be on a busy day on the wide, wrap-around porch. On this blustery day, plenty of people were already here to chat, and between this, their cups, and plates, they were getting everything they wanted. I often go to lunch spots then to coffee shops afterward to get the best of both worlds. my wife and I left with a smile and our first iced beverages of the year – their Vietnamese iced coffee ($4) – strong and sweet. A good Aussie cafe saves the trip.
8 Russo Road, Portsmouth • 401-648-4994