Winter calls for a breakfast that's exciting enough to get a body out of the house and sustaining enough to keep it out. Some mornings, dare we say it, avocado on toast just doesn't cut it.
Instead, the GT office is calling on Asian breakfast congees topped with everything from crisp chicken skin to XO sauce to help stifle winter's bite. Press pause on your porridge routine and try these on for size.
Surry Hills roasters Reuben Hills have quietly expanded into the heart of the city with Hills Bros, a new café in the foyer of the old Commonwealth Building at 5 Martin Place. The vibe is much more financial-district here than at its elder brothers, Reuben Hills and Paramount Coffee Project, making this spot as apt for business breakfasts as it is lunch breaks. The congee here is a standout: silky brown rice with poached chicken, gingered carrot and a soft-boiled egg, dressed with sweet bacon jam. Slices of native lime on the side add a citrus twist, and a house-made chilli oil is always close to hand.
Hills Bros, 5 Martin Pl, Sydney, NSW, instagram.com/hillsbros; open Mon-Fri 7am-4.30pm.
Kensington Street Social
Kensington Street Social is a big machine, make no mistake. Chef Jason Atherton, the most internationally successful of Gordon Ramsay's protégés, has a penchant for gleaming fit-outs and big, inclusive menus. At breakfast, you could opt for a bold scramble with black pudding and confit tomato to warm the cockles, but you'll find the delicate breakfast rice just as satisfying. While it may look small, it's full of flavour thanks to the bacon dashi broth the waiter pours over it at the table. It comes with a slow-cooked hen's egg, sliced shiitake and three pink pieces of pork belly, each one slightly charred at the edges.
Kensington Street Social, 3 Kensington St, Chippendale, NSW, (02) 8277 8533, kensingtonstreetsocial.com; open breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Lawyers, Guns & Money
The owners of Melbourne's Lee Ho Fook are behind Asian café Lawyers, Guns & Money in the heart of Melbourne's legal district. Smashed avocado and poached eggs are swapped in favour of breakfasts that chef and co-owner Victor Liong dreamed up while travelling through Asia. It's a "choose your own adventure" affair when it comes to the congee offering; have it plain, or with chicken and ginger. Choose from sides such as a century egg (yes!), spicy pickles (heck yes!) and fried wonton skins (ok, enough!). There are Ceylon teas and Vietnamese coffee, too.
Lawyers, Guns & Money, cnr Church La and St James La, Melbourne, (03) 9614 0445,lgmmelbourne.com; open Mon-Fri 7.30am-4pm.
Magic Mountain Saloon
Some might believe eating breakfast in a three-level bar replete with red neon and a soundtrack of mellow house isn't for them. Try Magic Mountain's snapper congee, though, a comforting, zesty delight that comes with a smorgasbord of condiments (pepper, fresh chilli, shredded ginger, salted duck egg, pickled cabbage, dried shrimp, coriander leaves), and you'll get the picture. A winning list of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails designed for breakfasters (Trendy Slacks is a refreshing blend of chrysanthemum syrup and lemon juice topped with coconut water) completes one of the feistiest breakfast menus in town.
Magic Mountain Saloon, 62 Little Collins St, Melbourne, (03) 9078 0078, magicmountainsaloon.com.au; open Mon-Fri 7am-3am, Sat-Sun 8am-3am.
Stand By Me Late winter in Canberra at breakfast time means one thing and one thing only: Stand By Me's chicken congee with a fried egg and chilli. There's also decent coffee, French toast specials, mushrooms, eggs and toast soldiers spiked with spicy yuzu kosho, and epic baked beans with braised sausage ¬- but when you're faced with a congee garnished with pickled ginger and a good XO sauce, a dish so substantial it's served with a knife and fork as well as a spoon, the decision is all too easy.
Stand By Me, 7-9 Lyons Pl, Lyons, ACT, (02) 6282 2741, facebook.com/standbymecafe; open Mon-Fri 7am-3pm, Sat-Sun 8am-2pm.
Nursing a sore head from last night? The congee at TBSP in Perth's Bayswater is a permanent menu fixture and a damn fine way to comfort any head-pounding, mind-numbing aches and pains. Hainanese-style chicken is finished on the grill until it's golden and crisp (a great substitute for bacon) and then shredded over the congee with a mix of spring onions, coriander and a softly poached egg. The rice is laced with a gingery Hainan-style broth, providing another subtle layer of comfort - and coffee from local Perth roasters Blacklist and Melbourne's Small Batch is no slouch, either.
TBSP, 10 King William St, Bayswater, WA, (08) 9371 9334, facebook.com/tbspbayswater; open Tue-Fri 7am-3pm, Sat-Sun, 8am-3pm.
Billy Kart West End
The breakfast congee at Ben O'Donoghue's Billy Kart West End site sees spanner crab and scallops make friends with plenty of fresh chilli slices, pickled ginger and fried shallots. We suggest turning brunch into a long lunch with micheladas or a couple of blood orange whisky Negronis made with Yamazaki.
Billy Kart West End, 2-4 Edmondstone St, West End, Qld, (07) 3177 9477, billykart.com.au; open Tue-Sat 7am-midnight, Sun-Mon, 7am-5pm.
Tricycle Café & Bar
You could order just about anything at Tricycle and walk away feeling warm and fuzzy inside, but for a spicy alternative to the killer scramble with bacon, cross your fingers there's a congee special on. It could be anything from a half jasmine rice, half brown rice duck congee with chilli sauce, to the latest incarnation, a vegan brown rice congee with shiitake, ancho pepper and coriander. The brown rice bowl with homemade kimchi, fried eggs, Asian greens and chilli sambal also hits the right notes on the spice dial.
Tricycle Cafe & Bar Salamanca, 77 Salamanca Pl, Hobart, Tas, (03) 6223 7228, facebook.com/TricycleCafeAndBarSalamanca; open Mon-Fri 8.30am-4pm, Sat 8.30am-3pm.