Neighbourhood by Seán McManus: the best new coffee in Sydney in 2016

Photography: Yianni Aspradakis

A former Single Origin barista steps out on his own with a café that redefines the idea of small but beautiful.

It's week one at Neighbourhood and Seán McManus already knows the names of everyone on the block, if not all their coffee orders. Designers, social-media marketeers, Krav Maga instructors and other sundry heavily inked denizens of lower Surry Hills are already flocking to the tiny storefront, just up from Sydney's Central station, for the chat as much for the friendly barista's distinctive milk-work and expertly pulled espresso.

Apart from the occasional croissant from Penny Fours and doughnut from Woah Nelly, the bean is squarely the focus here. To call Neighbourhood a café is almost overselling it. It's two dudes, McManus and fellow barista Marc Wiebe, and a coffee machine in an eight-square metre shopfront fitted out with superb Australian walnut and Tasmanian oak joinery from Porter & Maple (Sydney's café fitters of the moment), with a couple of stools and a small bench out on the street. Hell, they don't even open on weekends.

Chat and coffee is pretty much all these guys do, so it's a good thing they do both so well. Coffee nerds rock up to discreetly fondle the shiny MVP Synesso Hydra machine, while hot-chocolate and mocha fans roll by to check out the shop's proprietary blend of oat milk.

McManus's coffee credentials are solid. He worked at Single Origin for many a year, and his last port of call was with Artificer - he and the Artificer gang still roast their single-origin beans together.

Neighbourhood's look, meanwhile, is all about warmth, welcome and humble comfort. "I told Porter & Maple I wanted something like a Roger Moore-era James Bond sauna," says McManus. "What could be warmer than a sauna in the '70s?" 

Neighbourhood by Seán McManus, 16b Buckingham St, Surry Hills, NSW. Open 6.30am-3pm Mon-Fri.

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