Bill Granger flung open the doors to his eponymous Darlinghurst restaurant as a bright-eyed (and bright-toothed) 24-year-old in 1993. Two years later, he opened Bills Surry Hills; now, 25 years on, his name is synonymous with Sydney's breakfast scene.
The cafes are institutions. Not in the same way that fellow Darlinghurst local Bill & Toni's is an institution — but go-tos for Sydneysiders wanting creamy scrambled eggs and ricotta pancakes.
But the Surry Hills location was an institution that was losing its sparkle and — as the area's brunch scene boomed — the interest of locals. Cooked breakfasts and average coffee were no longer drawcards for brunchers, who were looking for a single origin Ethiopian pour over, perhaps, and food with a bit of character. The space, also, no longer shined.
So Bills relocated — just three feet away. In a stroke of luck, the team scored the former Marque space next door, which meant the restaurant missed out on only four days of service.
And the new design is impressive. Despite being designed by Meacham Nockles, the same architect firm that has done all of Granger's other establishments, it has a completely different look — and even a bit of character. The space is part art deco and part Tuscan, with brown leather banquettes, marble-topped tables, terrazzo tiles and Italian glass wall lights. There are vibrant green details, too — turquoise wicker-backed chairs and lots of foliage — and Australian artworks gracing the walls.
Being Australian is the restaurant chain's tagline, after all — it's now serving up 'Aussie breakfasts' in Tokyo, Honolulu, Seoul and London. While what exactly Australian cuisine is has been a somewhat contentious topic for years now, Bills definitely captures what it's like to dine in this country: it has those "sunny, easy-going and generous" vibes (their words, not ours) and dishes up pavlova and British-style cooked breakfasts, or, as Granger calls it, the Full Aussie ($26). It's not to be mistaken for a complete representation, though — somehow, it neglects native Australian ingredients completely.
While it doesn't feature so much as a token finger lime, the new menu is more interesting than its predecessor. It embraces some of the diverse cultures that make up Australia with house-made kimchi mixed into fried rice ($22.50) and inside toasted sandwiches ($14.50), chicken noodle soup ($24.50) served up alongside prawn linguine ($24.50), and wagyu burgers. But, despite the diversity, some of the more interesting dishes fall flat — I wouldn't recommend going to Bills for fried rice.
But, that's not really why you go to Bills — you go for the ricotta hotcakes ($22.50). The impressively creamy scrambled eggs ($15). The corn fritters ($23.50). And if that's what you're after, you won't be disappointed — they're still the best dishes on the menu.
Images: Kimberley Low.