Foyer cafes are usually utilitarian in nature, in that they provide workers with their caffeine boost first thing in the morning, or retreat from their cubicle or work desk during the day. Decent coffee, sandwiches and salads are the mainstays. Hills Bros looks to change that, with their space and offerings at 5 Martin Place in the city. The crew is not just any upstart, there’s pedigree with the wildly successful Reuben Hills, backing a foray into the middle of Sydney city and No. 5 Martin Place was the head office for the Commonwealth Bank for many decades and is affectionately known as the Money Box building. Now, you can bank on great coffee and an eclectic mix of food offerings that lends techniques and flavours from Japan and central America. Hills Bros’ approach to the design of the cafe is in keeping with the swish and swanky interior design. They worked with the existing, and striking, sculpture Foreshore Landscape by Stephen Walker, by installing textured concrete communal tables with horizontal lighting fixtures, and the dark granite-coloured panels make for a very handsome dining experience. The Sonos system streams out soul music, and the mid-morning light warms up the space nicely.
The coffee is by Reuben Hills, and is reassuringly fantastic. Each coffee is presented in delightfully bespoke ceramic coffee cups with the Hills Bros logo embossed into each cup; embrace the novelty as you try to pick up the coffee for the first time. The flavours of my cappuccino are robust, tantalising the palate with a sweet, yet nutty, flavour. It’s a compact cup of coffee, but the coffee with its beautifully textured and stretched milk was consumed in no time, and I pined for more.
As the cooling winds from the south-east hit the city in middle of the year it’s time to substitute the ice coffee. If you are in an adventurous mood (like I was), Hills Bros had a latte that’s right up my alley; a ginger turmeric & honey latte with steamed almond milk.
It is a delicious green coffee that might fool you into thinking that it’s a green tea matcha latte at first sight. Instead, when you take a sip, you are greeted by a slightly sweetened, lightly spiced, milky latte. Flavours from the east in the form of ginger and turmeric, are expertly mixed in with a dose of honey. It’s a very zen drink that is sure to have you wrapping your hands around the cup while all your stress melts away with each sip.
We were in quite early, so the efficient cooking staff had our meals ready just seconds after I had finished taking a couple photos of the coffee. While the menu is an all-day menu, it’s nicely segmented into breakfast and lunch, of which, we chose two of the lunch offerings. I chose the miso braised pork bowl. As my dish is placed in front of me, I let out a little ‘wow’ with the presentation. It’s pretty to look at, with half an egg sitting atop a nest of pickled beansprouts, the Japanese slaw on one side, and the miso braised pork on the other side. The looks are matched by an equally great tasting dish. Miso is inherently a strong flavour but is expertly used to flavour the pork. I know it’s a little thing, but the pickled beansprouts were a revelation. So often a textural afterthought, the gentle pickling of the beansprouts works really well with both the pork and the Japanese slaw. Kewpie mayo is presented in delightful little blobs on the side and allows you to either lace it in or slather it over the pork and veg. I opted for the latter, no mayo would be spared! Shichimi buttered corn is sweet and luxurious and, of course, the eggs adds a layer of richness too.
As I glance over to Mavis and notice a rosy glow on her cheeks, I know the central American heat as her fired up, and so curious, I sample her Achiote chicken taco. First off, this dish is beautifully presented. As we were one of the first ones in the cafe to be served, we notice folks turning around to check out the tacos. About 20 minutes later, the cafe is dotted with plates of the tacos – evidence that you eat with your eyes too!
There were 2 serves of corn tacos with generous pieces of chicken in each. Besides the chicken, each taco was delicately decorated with thinly sliced pieces of white radish, carrots, sprinkling of green water cress, medium sized dots of peach-coloured chipotle aioli, and salsa verde. The dish is just like a spring colour palette on the plate.
Colours aside, to say the dish is an explosion of flavour, is an understatement! There is the spiciness from the aioli and jalapeno jam, tanginess from the salsa verde and pickled vegetable, and not to mention the marinated chicken, that is cooked to perfection, with a slight charring on the outer! To give the dish that extra kick, don’t forget to add a squeeze of the lime that is served at the side of the dish. Looks are one thing, but it also delivers on taste with bags of flavour. Here’s hoping it’s a permanent item on the Hills Bros menu.
Hills Bros is a great ambassador for the Reuben Hills brand, with excellent coffee and cutting edge cafe food, that pushes the boundaries in terms of flavour combinations. Foodies who work near Martin Place have a new destination.