SydneyWords Andrew Trimboli
Photography Chris Chen
Harbour cities can suffer from two afflictions. The first being the terminal lumping together in a ‘San Francisco is so much like Sydney is so much like Hong Kong’ sort of way. This may be the case if all you see is the harbour and subsist on a tour-group diet of hot dogs and bothersome buskers. The second is their tendency to smugly rest on their coastal laurels and serve up a pastiche of oyster bars, gambling establishments and cheap souvenirs.
Luckily for Sydneysiders, and their visitors, this is rarely the case. With the exception of the overwrought, dated and whitened Darling Harbour precinct, from North to South, Sydney’s water, public spaces and urban development, live in aesthetically pleasing harmony. Throughout the year, Sydneysiders spend as much time near or in the water as possible, whether it’s sailing, surfing, swimming or taking a ferry to work.
September to April is when the city is at its vibrant and sunny best. The city’s main harbour entry point is Circular Quay. Hugged on one side by The Rocks – winding cobblestone streets, sandstone buildings and the best examplesof the city’s colonial-convict past – a morning here could be spent browsing speciality stores and Australiana-themed galleries but best avoided late week evenings when the bankers descend. The Museum of Contemporary Art – elegantly brutal in appearance, and rich with local and international exhibitions – sits just below The Rocks. The opposite side of the quay plays host to the Opera House, and its bar, which has unsurpassable views. On a pleasant day, get here early or stand.
The best way to see central Sydney is to pick an area and explore by foot. For the iconic and scenic, start at the Opera House and meander around the Botanic Gardens, past The Domain, and you’ll find yourself at Woolloomooloo’s Finger Wharf. Essentially a boutique hotel with an outdoor dining strip, pay attention to the chic and pricey Otto Ristorante. The strozzapretti with Yamba prawns is worth every cent, as is the guaranteed celebrity spotting. At the other end of the budget spectrum is the much-loved Harry’s Café de Wheels – a street caravan selling pasties, hot dogs and signature Harry ‘Tiger’ Edwards pie topped with mash and ‘mashie peas’.
For an urban shopping jaunt, go slightly inland to the chic but accessible triumvirate of Paddington, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. The first is a must for spendthrifts and window-shoppers alike, with boutiques galore and a weekly Saturday market stuffed with everything from antique luggage to organic tea. Darlinghurst, the city’s gay and lesbian aorta, and the centre of Sydney’s annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, is
a hive of activity – and often iniquity. Saturday night on the high street here is not for the faint-hearted, but bars like The Stonewall and The Oxford cater to local queer culture. If you’re after cocktails with less camp, try one of the area’s many new small, hip bars, like Pocket Bar, or Time To Vino, where red wine comes with duck-rillettes toasties.
Across Oxford Street is the haughtier and sexier Surry Hills. Attracting a mix of advertising types and hipsters, this eating and drinking precinct is currently where’s it’s all happening in Sydney. Nestled among terraces, galleries and loft spaces are some of the city’s best bars and restaurants, many with a no-bookings policy. Try the affordable Il Baretto for home-made pappardelle, Mohr Fish for Sydney’s best steamed mussels, and Longrain for modern Thai, including the signature betel leaf topped with smoked trout, chilli, galangal and trout roe. Bourke Street Bakery is the place to pick up a sausage roll to snack on while scoping out the Surry Hills Market, a hotbed of vintage clothes and curios.
Sydney is famous for its international population, and Newtown is the inner-city’s poster suburb for the resultant culinary mélange. Every second shop on King Street seems to be an affordable Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, while the adjacent Enmore Road plays host to Greek, Turkish and Lebanese eateries. Apart from the cheap Asian food and many coffee shops, notables on this strip are the casual Australian fare at Bloodwood, Green Gourmet’s lotus seed dumplings – beloved by vegans, and the eight-course degustation at Oscillate Wildly.
Like many inner-city suburbs, Newtown is in an ongoing phase of gentrification, yet it maintains some of its grungy cachet. On the western side of Sydney’s inner harbour, once working-class Balmain has very litle grunge left – though it does have edgy flavours in Adriano Zumbo’s amazing cakes.
Over the bridge, the Northern Suburbs have some sparkling seaside experiences on offer. Take the 40-minute ferry trip from Circular Quay to Manly and check out the Asian fusion at Wockbar, cocktails from Manly Wine by Gazebo, and hip pizza bar Hugos. The Cabbage Tree Bay Eco-Sculpture Walk is one of the best the north side has on offer. Take a beach towel and a snorkel as you’ll end up at stunning Shelly Beach. For an all-day excursion, pack a picnic and venture along the inner harbour on the Manly to the Spit Walk – it’s 10 kilometres, with options to stop and swim, and see Aboriginal rock carvings. Palm Beach is Sydney’s most northerly beach, near Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, while further south, on the harbour, Balmoral Beach is great for kayaking and swimming. It’s home to one of Sydney’s most iconic restaurants: The Bathers’ Pavilion, where Serge Dansereau’s mod-Aus menu has been wowing locals and visitors for years.
The self-sufficiency of Sydney’s suburbs means the CBD can be largely avoided. However, there are some gems to be found here if you know where to look. Chinatown has a hefty choice of Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese outlets, ranging from sprawling yum cha restaurants to hole-in-the-wall dumpling houses. Try BBQ King’s three-way duck, roast pork and suckling pig, or Golden Century’s mud crab in chilli sauce.
For quality shopping, head to the Strand Arcade for the city’s best display of local clothing designers, cigar providores and chocolatiers. Housed on the third floor of this original Victorian arcade is Pendolino – a restaurant, café and olioteca serving Italian food in a thoroughly European setting.
If you’ve lasted until the evening, an imbibing must is the revolving Orbit Bar on the 47th floor of the Australia Square Building. In the 45 minutes it takes to make a revolution you’ve polished off some snazzy cocktails and seen the breadth of the city and harbour in a sparkling night-time vista.
The jewel in Sydney’s crown is Bondi Beach. Arguably the most famous beach in Australia, if not the world, this surf strip is home to some of the city’s best waves. Foodwise, if you’re not polishing off fish and chips on the grass overlooking the ocean, head to Sean’s Panaroma (yes it’s a pun) – a cosy little restaurant across from the beach, serving up modern Australian fare.
Another must-try is the Bondi Icebergs RSL. Perched on a cliff on the south end of the beach, this is about as honest a Bondi experience as you’re going to get. A casual club-style menu – burgers, fish and chips, satay skewers – is washed down with a variety of local and imported beers and wine. But it’s not really about the food. If you can snare one of the coveted balcony tables, you’ll experience one of the best views the city has to offer. Upstairs is the Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, an upmarket eatery frequented by the likes of Nicole Kidman.
South from Bondi is a stretch of equally pleasing and accessible surf and bay-style beaches. The Bondi to Coogee cliff walk is the perfect way to see them all but start out early or leave it till late to avoid the midday heave of joggers, dog-walkers and tourists.
SEE & DO
Museum of Contemporary Art 140 George St; +612 9245 2400. Local and international art and harbour views.
Sydney Opera House Bennelong Point; +612 9250 7111. Sydney’s architectural feat, music and arts destination.
Royal Botanic Gardens Macquarie Street. Ponds, plants and native Australian flowers with a harbour vista and tours by an Indigenous guide.
Surry Hills Market Corner of Crown and Collins Streets, Surry Hills. On the first Saturday of every month.
Strand Arcade 412-414 George St. Ornate Victorian shopping arcade in the heart of central Sydney.
Bondi to Coogee Walk Unsurpassed cliff-top views of some of Sydney’s most stunning beaches.
Nielsen Park Greycliffe Ave, Vaucluse. A harbour oasis – cafés, beach and park.
Sydney Fish Market Pyrmont Bridge Rd, Pyrmont: +612 9004 1000. The largest fish market in the southern hemisphere has cooking classes, too.
Otto Ristorante 8/6 Cowper Wharf Road; +612 9368 7488. Italian cuisine, celeb-spotting and lovely water views.
Harry’s Café de Wheels Cowper Wharf Rd, Woolloomooloo; +612 9357 3074. Cheap and cheerful pie outlet.
Il Baretto 496 Bourke St, Surry Hills: +612 9361 6163. Homemade pasta and a no-bookings policy.
Mohr Fish 202 Devonshire St, Surry Hills; +612 9318 1326. Sydney’s best steamed mussels. Get here early.
Longrain 85 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills; +612 9280 2888. Upmarket Thai in a trendy warehouse setting.
Bloodwood 416 King St, Newtown; +612 9557 7699. Mediterranean fare, local artwork and a cosy beer garden.
Green Gourmet 115 King St, Newtown; +612 9519 5330. Wholesome Asian vegan cuisine.
Oscillate Wildly 275 Australia St, Newtown; +612 9517 4700. Chic 28-seater with an impressive molecular menu.
Wockbar 27 Belgrave St, Manly; +612 9977 1288. Asian-inspired street food from this trendy restaurant chain.
Manly Wine by Gazebo 8–13 South Steyne, Manly; +612 8966 9000. Small plates, cocktails and a good wine list.
Hugos Manly Manly Wharf, East Esplanade; +612 8116 8555. Pizza, beer and
cocktails for the hip local set.
The Bathers’ Pavilion 4 The Esplanade, Balmoral; +612 9969 5050. Posh beach-shed conversion with wonderful degustation and à la carte menus from chef Serge Dansereau.
Pendolino Strand Arcade, 3rd Floor, 412–414 George St; +612 9231 6117. Regional Italian fare at this restaurant, café and olioteca.
Sean’s Panaroma 270 Campbell Parade, Bondi; +612 9365 4924. Snug and upmarket local eatery serving Modern Australian fare.
Adriana Zumbo 296 Darling St, Balmain; +612 9810 7318. No flavour is off-limits at the city’s hottest patisserie.
Bondi Icebergs RSL 1 Notts Ave, Bondi; +612 9130 3120. Honest Australian fare and views to die for.
Rockpool 66 Hunter St, Sydney; +612 8078 1900. Posh Sydney stalwart famed for its on-premises aged beef.
Sydneysiders are as serious about their coffee as they are about their beer. The hot climate makes for plenty of outdoor lounging and long brunches. Like any city, some cafés come and go in the blink of an eye but below are the stalwarts, which have rather special and specific offerings.
Single Origin Roasters 60 Reservoir St, Surry Hills; +612 9211 0665. Coffee aficionados flock here for the coffee blend of the week and the hearty homemade menu.
Ruby’s Diner Shop 1, 173–179 Bronte Rd, Queens Park; +612 9386 5964. This hip retro hangout does the best meatball sandwiches and shakes in town.
Bills 433 Liverpool St, Darlinghurst; +612 9360 9631. Pioneering the famed, and often imitated, ricotta hotcakes, Bill Granger is a Sydney café veteran.
The Book Kitchen 255 Devonshire St, Darlinghurst; +612 9310 1003. Slow-cooked organic fare, with a cool selection of second-hand cookbooks.
The Oxford 134 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst; +612 9331 3467. Drink beers on the veranda or head upstairs for Sydney’s best Sidecar.
The Stonewall 175 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst; +612 9360 1963. Drag shows and Sydney’s queer scene.
Time To Vino 66 Stanley St, Darlinghurst; +612 9380 4252. Cosy wine bar with delicious foie gras and chorizo starters.
Pocket Bar 13 Burton Street, Darlinghurst; +612 9380 7002. Get here early for the crèpes and cocktails.
The Darlo Bar 306 Liverpool St, Darlinghurst; +612 9331 3672. Pool table and rooftop bar.
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