Discovering Sydney's Rich Culinary Heritage: A Journey Through Sydney Arcades and Specialty Coffee Cafes

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Discovering Sydney's Rich Culinary Heritage: A Journey Through Sydney Arcades and Specialty Coffee Cafes

Coffee Insurrection
Published by Penelope Barker and Andrew Chung in Specialty Coffee · 1 December 2023
Discovering Sydney's Rich Culinary Heritage: A Journey Through Sydney Arcades and Specialty Coffee Cafes


Photography by Andrew Chung

In the heart of Sydney CBD, where modernity meets history, lies a treasure trove of culinary gems nestled within the city's iconic arcades. BestCafeDesigns invites you on an enchanting exploration of "Discovering Sydney's Rich Culinary Heritage: A Journey Through Sydney Arcades and Specialty Coffee Cafes," a visual journey of Sydney arcade experience that celebrates the fusion of heritage architecture and specialty coffee culture. Sydney's arcades, with their rich historical features, serve as the picturesque backdrop for a curated selection of specialty cafes that not only pay homage to the city's past but also redefine the contemporary coffee experience.

Sydney arcades are not just passageways; they are living monuments to the city's architectural legacy. delves into cafes in storied Sydney arcades at  “The Strand Arcade”, “Queen Victoria Building”, “Sydney GPO”, and “Substation 164”, adorned with timeless features that transport visitors to a bygone era.

Strand arcade cafe, Gumption Coffee is a tranquil respite from the city rush / Sydney arcade
The elegant and upmarket Strand Arcade in Sydney has long been home to boutique and artisan businesses so it made perfect sense, then, for Coffee Alchemy, the famed Marrickville café and coffee roaster, to expand its business and open another site, Gumption by Coffee Alchemy, within The Strand’s historical walls.

Coffee is king at Gumption Coffee, with the small space a popular stop-off for those on their way to work or looking for a moment of escape from desk life. Here you’ll find coffee, and only coffee. But what coffee it is!

Co-owner Hazel de los Reyes has brought the same Gumption creative spirit from Coffee Alchemy roastery and cafe in the inner-west suburb of Marrickville to the Strand Arcade in Sydney’s CBD with Gumption, serving coffees for the morning commute through the city.

Hazel has a lifelong passion for coffee, first encouraged growing on her grandmother’s farm in the Philippines where her family picked cherries from the single coffee tree, dried and roasted them themselves. She was a seasoned coffee drinker from a young age and developed a passion to perfect the perfect brew.

“Passion doesn’t necessarily make you an artisan,” she says. “I think it’s more about mastery and skill. It’s about developing your own craft to produce something wonderful, and when you are curious about something, you can eventually achieve that outcome.”

Gumption by Coffee Alchemy Gumption by Coffee Alchemy
Gumption by Coffee Alchemy Gumption by Coffee Alchemy

Qvb Cafe / Metropole Qvb / Arcades in Sydney

Nestled within the historical ground floor of the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), Metropole Café is recognised as a hallmark Sydney arcades cafe destination.  QVB was designed by George McRae, built in 1898 as a monument to the long reigning monarch, and replacing the original Sydney markets.

Architectural Splendor:
Metropole Café seamlessly integrates into the architectural splendor of the QVB, where ornate detailing, soaring arches, and the signature stained glass windows create an enchanting ambiance. As a kiosk cafe, the design pays homage to the historical significance of the QVB while adding a touch of modern elegance. As patrons indulge in artisanal coffees and delectable pastries, they do so surrounded by the timeless charm of Sydney's architectural heritage.

Culinary Excellence:
Beyond its architectural significance, Metropole Café at QVB has become a haven for discerning food enthusiasts. The café's menu is a carefully curated symphony of flavors, offering decedent pastries, snacks and fresh handcrafted sandwiches sure to satisfy your hunger alongside expertly brewed coffee. Whether it's a leisurely brunch or a quick coffee break, patrons find themselves immersed in a culinary experience that marries tradition with innovation, echoing the spirit of the QVB itself.
Cultural Hub Amidst History:
Metropole Café doesn't just serve coffee; it is a cultural hub within the living history of the QVB. From hosting cultural events to providing a serene respite for locals and tourists alike, the café is a dynamic thread woven into the rich fabric of Sydney's heritage. As visitors sip their coffee amidst the echoes of the past, they become part of a narrative that transcends time, embracing the heritage significance of both Metropole Café and the QVB arcade.
Metropole Cafe Metropole Cafe
Metropole Cafe Metropole Cafe
One of the coolest arcades at 1 Martin Place Cafe / Sydney GPO / Two Penny Blue

Tucked away within the historic confines of the Sydney GPO Sydney arcade at Martin Place, 2 Penny Blue emerges as a delightful hole-in-the-wall café, offering a quaint escape from the bustling energy of the city. This hidden gem, nestled in the heart of one of Sydney's most iconic locations, brings a touch of charm to the vibrant Martin Place precinct, creating a haven for coffee enthusiasts and seekers of culinary respite.

The General Post Office (GPO) is a heritage-listed landmark building designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet in 1866, composed primarily of local Sydney sandstone, mined in Pyrmont.

Intimate Ambiance:

2 Penny Blue invites patrons into an intimate and inviting space, a stark contrast to the grandeur of Martin Place. With its modest size and unassuming facade, this café captures the essence of a hole-in-the-wall establishment. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee permeates the air, and the cozy interior provides a haven for those seeking a moment of tranquility amidst the urban hustle. It's a place where locals and passersby alike can find solace in the simple pleasure of a well-brewed cup of coffee.
Culinary Craftsmanship:

Beyond its unassuming façade, 2 Penny Blue surprises with its commitment to culinary craftsmanship. From artisanal coffee blends to a delectable array of pastries and light bites, the café delivers a sensory journey that transcends its compact size. The dedication to quality resonates in every sip and bite, making it a go-to spot for those who appreciate the marriage of simplicity and culinary excellence within the historic Sydney GPO arcade.
Historic Backdrop:

The Sydney GPO arcade, with its rich history dating back to the 19th century, serves as the perfect backdrop for 2 Penny Blue. The café, nestled within this significant heritage site, becomes a microcosm of the blending of old-world charm and modern urban living. As patrons enjoy their coffee against the backdrop of the historic arcade, 2 Penny Blue stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence of Sydney's past and present, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking a unique and charming café experience.
  Two Penny Blue Two Penny Blue

Substation 164 / Well Foods Kitchen Cafe

Nestled within the historic Substation 164, Well Foods Kitchen Cafe, designed by fjcstudio, emerges as a culinary haven that seamlessly integrates contemporary gastronomy with the industrial charm of its heritage setting. The café, housed within this repurposed space, is a testament to the artful balance struck by fjcstudio, preserving the heritage of the Substation while introducing a modern culinary experience.

Heritage Integration:
The Substation 164, with its rich history dating back to its days as an operational electrical substation, becomes a captivating canvas for fjcstudio's architectural ingenuity. Well Foods Kitchen Cafe harmoniously integrates into the heritage backdrop, preserving the essence of the original structure. The cafe's design pays homage to the industrial legacy of the Substation, offering patrons a unique dining experience that unfolds against the backdrop of exposed brickwork, weathered concrete, and the inherent character of the historic space.
Exposed Steelwork and Original Timber:
At Well Foods Kitchen Cafe, the industrial aesthetic is elevated through the thoughtful incorporation of exposed steelwork and original timber elements. These architectural features not only serve as nods to the Substation's industrial past but also contribute to the café's distinctive ambiance. The juxtaposition of sleek steel against the warmth of original timber creates a visual tapestry that captures the essence of both the historic site and the contemporary culinary vision of the café.
Viewing Platforms into Machine Hall:

One of the highlights of the Well Foods Kitchen Cafe's design by fjcstudio is the strategic placement of viewing platforms made of curved conical frameless glazing with layered fritting, that provide glimpses into the Substation's Machine Hall. These platforms offer patrons a unique and immersive experience, allowing them to witness the historic machinery and architectural details that define the Substation's heritage. It's a subtle yet powerful gesture that connects diners with the site's industrial history, creating an enriched dining atmosphere that goes beyond the culinary offerings to tell a visual story of the space's evolution. Well Foods Kitchen Cafe, within Substation 164, stands as a testament to the successful marriage of heritage preservation and modern culinary innovation, creating a space where the past and present coalesce seamlessly.
Sub Station No.164 Sub Station No.164Sub Station No.164 Sub Station No.164

Author Bio of Arcades in Sydney

Andrew Chung is an architect, photographer, website designer, coffee drinker and founder of based in Sydney. The site charts the growth of global cafe culture and collaborates with over 40 architects, photographers and writers.

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