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Ten Trusty Cafes to Visit on Sydney's Northern Beaches

Go for coffee in Mona Vale, wholefoods in Avalon and crepes in Dee Why.
By Alexandra Middleton
November 24, 2016
By Alexandra Middleton
November 24, 2016


Go for coffee in Mona Vale, wholefoods in Avalon and crepes in Dee Why.

It's a common perception that the northern beaches is always on a health kick. And while it's largely true, that doesn't mean you should write off the peninsula completely — it's not all doom and gloom (or kale and quinoa, for that matter). What the beautiful people on the beaches have discovered is that health food doesn't have to be boring. While you might be worried at the mere suggestion of trading in your beloved bacon and egg hangover cure, you'll be missing out if you don't read on. Come the weekend, the folk on the beaches will be set up at cafes overlooking the beach, a specialty brew in one hand and a healthy breakfast burrito in the other — and you should be too.

So regardless of whether you live in the area or just visit on weekends, here's ten cafes you should tick off your list — from Manly to Palm Beach, and all the beaches in between. 

  • 10

    Channeling the style of a Hamptons beach house, Girdlers is kitted out for casual brunches and lazy lunches. Perched at the south end of Dee Why Beach, a table out on the deck is a prime spot to kick back and watch the sets roll in — there’s even a couple of couches you’re quite welcome to curl up on with a book. Another Northern Beaches cafe that’s on a health kick, these guys have two kinds of kombucha on tap and almost everything on the menu is gluten free.

    But, as many other cafes in the area have already proven, taking the healthy option doesn’t mean you’ll be missing out. Savoury and sweet buckwheat crepes are their specialty. And while we’re not convinced that anything compares to the real thing, we suggest you order a cacao split — a crepe with banana and ‘goodtella’ (healthy Nutella) — and decide for yourself ($14). If you’re more of a savoury person, the smoked salmon crepe with toasted almonds, avo and cauliflower sauce is a strong option ($18). And if you don’t have the luxury of spending the day lazing by the beach, they also have a sizeable takeaway menu.

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  • 9
    Ruby Lane Manly

    A health food cafe that serves a coconut water-braised pulled pork and egg roll — that’s one way to get your attention. If you’re a bonafide health nut or you simply want to pretend for the day, head to Ruby Lane in Manly. A cafe up front and an organic grocer in the rear, if a superfood exists that isn’t available at Ruby Lane, we’d be surprised to hear it. In fact, they’ve got a communal shopping list in the grocer where you can request items you would like them to stock.

    And if you’re used to being confined to the single gluten free, dairy free or vegan option on most menus, prepare to be spoilt for choice. In both the cafe and the grocer, Ruby Lane stock paleo bread, and gluten free crumpets and fruit toast. And in the milk department they offer almond, coconut, soy and cashew. You can even have your coffee with butter if you’re so inclined. Ruby’s ‘Benedict’ ($20) comes with your choice of ham or smoked trout and the sauce is made from an emulsion of good oils, MCT brain octane, coconut and macadamia. No idea what that means. But it’s delicious.

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  • 8
    Nourished Wholefood Cafe

    Because nobody should have to deny themselves their favourite foods, Nourished have created healthy versions of comfort staples like nachos, burgers and breakfast burritos. Proving that they’re looking out for our best interests, they’ve even helped out with the justification by giving an explanation of why their meals are good for you. Their spicy bean and corn nachos are packed with fibre, protein and iron, which helps cut cholesterol and provides sustainable energy. Take that, diet. The menu is sizeable, and given that it’s within walking distance to the beach, it’s great that such a big chunk is also offered as takeaway. They’ve got an ever-changing selection of juices and smoothies and the Campos coffee they serve is one of their biggest drawcards.

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  • 7
    Rough & Bare

    At Rough and Bare they subscribe to a wholefood lifestyle, which means everything that comes out of the kitchen is organic, pasture-fed and caught wild. Founded by a health conscious chef and a naturopath, this isn’t the place you go in search of that B&E hangover cure — but you shouldn’t expect a menu limited to raw veggies and superfoods either.

    They do serve a breakfast salad ($18.90), but at the other end of the spectrum is the slow-cooked pork belly, poached eggs, baby kale, spiced sweet potato puree, kimchi and crackle crumb ($22.90). The same goes for lunch. If you’re a purist you can opt for the raw vegetable platter with beetroot tahini, spiced sweet potato hummus, mackerel pâté and seed crackers ($19.90) or the bone broth with greens, kraut and quinoa toast ($14.90). For those less inclined to go raw, there’s a naked beef burger with wild greens, tomato, avocado, fried egg, caramelised onion and pickles on roasted sweet potato and fermented relish ($19.90), or the slow-cooked lamb shoulder with roast vegetables and a red wine jus and salsa verde ($25.90). It may not be a glass of wine, but at least it’s something.

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  • 6
    Smalltown - CLOSED

    Along with their solid selection of hot sauces (but more on that later), Smalltown’s creativity is their strong suit. Standout originals include the Marrakesh bowl with spiced chickpeas, roasted zucchini, sweet potato, avocado, sumac yoghurt, dukkah and pomegranate ($17) and, while not necessarily new, they’ve made avocado on toast their own by adding mesquite smoked ricotta, lime, mung bean sprouts, cumin salt and a soft poached egg ($18.50). Their fare is so closely followed that every afternoon they reveal their special for the following day to their loyal Facebook fans — because there’s nothing like the anticipation of house-made wild mushroom pappardelle to get you through the day. In the sauce department, they’ve broken from the usual Tabasco ranks and offer a selection of Lillie’s Q traditional Southern BBQ sauces.

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  • 5
    Little Box Coffee Co.

    Little Box proves correct the old adage that it’s not about size, but what you do with it that matters. Quite literally a little box that appears to have been plonked in the middle of an outdoor shopping arcade, it’s tiny — but you can’t walk past without being intrigued.

    Judging from the setup, you’d expect their menu to be short and sweet, but Little Box is essentially the clown car of cafes — so there’s plenty to choose from for both breakfast and lunch. They’ve earned our respect with their sweet potato and zucchini fritters with avo smash and a balsamic glaze ($13.50) and their portobello mushroom burger with haloumi ($13). If you prefer a bit of meat, the lamb salad with feta and roast pumpkin ($15) or the slow-cooked pulled lamb burger with chipotle salsa ($14) are equally impressive options. And if you’re a coffee aficionado who’s keen to try a new bean, theirs comes from Barrel One Roasters, a boutique roaster that’s local to the northern beaches.

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  • 4

    With classic brunch and lunch fare enjoyed in a rustic setting with water views, The Boathouse has a foolproof formula that they’ve now replicated in four venues across the beaches — at Palm Beach, Balmoral, Shelly Beach and Moby Dicks in Whale Beach. Boasting a large deck that looks out over Pittwater and West Head, this is the furthermost point of Sydney and a prime spot if it’s a sunny day — well, provided you can beat the locals to a table.

    Playing to their strengths, their menu matches their beach setting and nautical theme perfectly. For breakfast they’ve kept it simple and gone with options like green eggs and ham with grilled heirloom tomatoes and basil pesto ($22), and fried or poached eggs with bacon, roast tomato and your choice of sides ($19), all complemented by single origin coffee. And for lunch, what could be more fitting than a bucket of prawns ($39) or beer-battered flathead ($29) washed down with a glass of Pinot Grigio or a Murray’s Whale Ale?

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  • 3
    Zubi Bar

    There’s more to the appeal of Zubi than their La Marzocco hardware and reputation for consistently quality coffee. It only takes a single visit to their Newport outpost to pick up on the community vibe. The walls are a rotating display of locals’ artworks and there’s a rear garden courtyard where you can enjoy countless Campos coffees in the company of your four-legged friend. On Sundays this courtyard plays host to musical talents from the northern beaches — a weekend ritual that certainly draws a crowd. If you can’t find yourself a seat, Zubi’s sister store is a couple of beaches along in Narrabeen. While coffee is Zubi’s craft they also do a mean egg and prosciutto panini ($8.50) and a ‘classic’ chicken sambo that (thankfully) doesn’t skimp on the mayo.

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  • 2
    Barefoot Coffee Traders

    For years Barefoot Coffee Traders were renowned for two things: their specialty coffee and amazing waffles. And while they’re not ones to budge in the coffee department — they serve Mecca and have a firm no decaf and no large coffees rule — we’re happy to report they’ve since branched out in other ways. In addition to their signature waffles, which they drizzle with melted Belgian chocolate and an optional scoop of ice cream, Barefoot now serves a Thai lunch special as well (I guess it probably isn’t healthy to have waffles for lunch every day). Inspired by the heritage of the cafe’s owner, these new additions are homemade and based on traditional recipes. With space for little more than a coffee machine in one corner and timber stools dotted around the perimeter, it’s quite astounding what this small cafe is able to produce.

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  • 1
    2KF Espresso

    2KF is a tradie’s dream. Open from 5am till 2.30pm during the week, they’re there when you need them (and caffeine) most. A hole-in-the-wall with a handful of tables inside and out, 2KF isn’t designed for you to hang around. You come here, grab what is clearly a top contender for the beaches’ preferred bean (Campos) and get on with your day. If you do need some sustenance to go with your coffee, this Mona Vale cafe makes a mighty fine toastie. Not your average ham, cheese and bread combo, theirs comes with spinach, seeded mustard and a delicious white sauce — perfectly designed to grab and go.

    An insider’s tip that will prevent you from holding up the production line: 2KF is cash only. And if, God forbid, you’ve slept in, there’s no need to panic — or worse, start the day without a coffee. You can call ahead and place your order for a speedy pick-up.

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