Sydney CBD Cafe / The Portal Cafe

A Sydney CBD cafe with great design, nourishing food and a big heart

written by Penelope Barker

Stroll along the prestigious pedestrian plaza of Martin Place in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, in the shadows of the classical arches of the grand GPO, and you’ll discover a treasure –The Portico. This formally under-utilised mezzanine level has been transformed into a tenant’s hub, The Portal Cafe, gallery, event and co-working space. is a global directory of cafes and cafe professionals. Recently ranked top 100 Architectural blogs and websites to follow at feedspot.

Today a graceful blend of past and present, No.1 Martin Place is one of Sydney’s most famous buildings. Headquarters to the Sydney General Post Office until 1996, the original building was designed in the Italian Renaissance style and built between 1866 and 1891.

Transformed in 1999, the site now features a contemporary A-grade office tower juxtaposed against the historic GPO. The award-winning design preserved the elegant street-level colonnade, impressive sandstone façade and the famous clock tower while adding light-filled interiors and a five-star hotel to create Sydney’s most unique workplace.

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sydney cbd cafe portal cafe

Transforming the mezzanine level 

No. 1’s mezzanine level, with architect Adriano Pupilli‘s new design in association with Siren Design Group, features an undulating timber ceiling which elevates the simple dowel rod to a whole new dimension, modern art and sleek splashes of brass and black. 

“In our initial design pitch to client Charter Hall we envisaged the mezzanine as a portico, a semi-public front of house, and a place to get to know your neighbours – all under an undulating canopy of dowel. We imagined a welcoming place to linger and slow down, a refreshing retreat from bustling Pitt Street while visually connecting and extending a sense of public life inwards into the mezzanine and foyer,” says Pupilli. 

“We let the qualities of the existing space guide our approach to architectural planning. Meeting, co-working, eating, drinking and social spaces activate the glazing perimeter and link to life on the street. Dead spaces become nooks for larger gatherings and events, while thoroughfares become spaces for people to order coffee, perch for a quick bite, tap out an email and watch the flow of people coming and going.”

A staircase from foyer level was proposed to scoop people up from street level and deliver them into a warm and welcoming place for people to meet. To slow people’s movement through the space and create intimacy and calm, a vaulted ceiling made up of dowels creates a rhythm of undulating forms that reference the classical elegance of the GPO. A flexible gallery space with sliding screens displays artworks from local collectives, the screens can be re-arranged to enclose workshop space.


After intensive workshopping of the design with tenants and other end users, different modes of use were established. “Together with an amazing team of consultants, industry experts and suppliers, we created a blueprint for a flexible and modular fit-out that transforms the space as needs dictate – a truly adaptable space that is constantly changing in response to people’s needs, time of day and the seasons,” adds  Pupilli. 

sydney cbd cafe portal cafe

A Sydney CBD cafe with an ethos of profit-for-good

The Portal Cafe is part of the Pure Collective of organisations and social enterprise-style cafes and eateries dedicated to raising money for charity and providing training and employment to refugees.

Chef Michal Siudeja (Mecca, The Farmed Table) is behind the menu, which is made up of seasonal ingredients sourced from local suppliers: raw honey from beehives on a Surry Hills rooftop, herbs from Berry in NSW and hand-made masala chai tea delivered by bicycle.

100 percent of profits are donated to not-for-profits, with diners able to choose from three charities. Currently, Portal is directing profits into Blue Dragon, which rescues children from slavery; Eat Up, which provides Australian children in need with school lunches; and Rural Aid, which supports Australian rural communities. The cafe is also plastic free.

On top of donating all profits to charity — with diners able to pick between three different non-profits — Portal provides hospitality training to people of refugee backgrounds, who’ve settled in Australia but are waiting for work visas.

“These are people in need who have arrived legally and yet have to survive on goodwill until they’re able to work. It’s a distressing time to say the least,” says Nicolas Degryse, co-founder, The Pure Collective.”We offer hospitality training as an option, so they can learn skills and hopefully find jobs as soon as they’re able to do so.”

Nicholas Degryse
sydney cbd cafe portal cafe

Settle into a cool vine-covered booth, and kick-start your day with a breakfast roll: maple bacon, fried egg, manchego and smoked tomato chutney on a house-made milk bun, or coconut sago pudding with caramelised pineapple and kaffir lime.

Come lunch, Siudeja puts together hearty sandwiches with wizard fillings, including free-range chicken with miso mayo and fried eggplant, bocconcini and romesco. There are bowls, too, based on hero ingredients such as braised lamb, confit salmon and soy-sesame tofu.

And on a drizzly winter day, pop into this Sydney CBD cafe for a superb lavender hot chocolate. 

The Portal Cafe, Mezzanine Level, 1 Martin Place, Sydney, open 8am–4pm Monday–Friday.

sydney cbd cafe portal cafe
sydney cbd cafe portal cafe
sydney cbd cafe portal cafe
sydney cbd cafe portal cafe
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