Sydney is one of those cities that constantly evolves. Last month’s trendy neighbourhoods and eateries are soon surpassed by a new scene, new hot drinking spots and eateries.
I recommend going beyond the harbour cruise and the Opera House next time you are in Sydney and explore the inner city neighbourhood of Surry Hills, one of the latest neighbourhoods to hit the cutting edge of this vibrant city’s consciousness.
Surry Hills has a riches-to-rags-to-riches history, starting out life in the 19th century as a popular spot for the mansions of wealthy merchants on the city outskirts, before being overtaken by an overcrowded slum notorious for its brothels and gangs.
Nowadays this is the beating heart of Sydney’s artistic world. Opera Australia have their rehearsal rooms here and the Australian Academy of Music Sydney facilities are on Foveaux Street.
Crown Street is the heart of the community and clearly shows the effects of the past 20 years’ gentrification with restored Victorian houses hung with iron lace – really my favourite feature of Australian architecture.
But off Crown at the corner of Albion and Riley Streets is Hills Reserve and a fragment of Frog Hollow, a gully that was once filled with desperately poor and overcrowded terraces where the worst criminals in the 1920s were to be found.
But back to Crown Street and if you love pubs and bars, funky cafes, and vintage clothing shops you’ll be in heaven. There seems to be a pub or a bar on every corner and a multitude of options for eating out.
At the conjunction of Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Paddington around Oxford Street is the city’s high-end and hip shopping collective, particularly known for its vintage clothing shops. If you want to score an original 1950s dress, a 1920s cloche hat, some authentic vintage denim, this is the place to come.
These boutiques are not about second hand clothes, they’re about avant garde style! Even if you’re just browsing the window displays are inspirational. Take a look at Grandma Takes a Trip, again on Crown Street.
Surry Hills has a strong restaurant, cafe and pub scene, perfect for people-watching as well as drinking and dining.
Organic cafe Kawa is a perfect venue for brunch, indoors or outdoors, with great coffee, homemade cakes and the soothing babble of creative types “at work”.
I tasted the best Thai food I’ve had in years at In the Mood for Thai (try the yellow curry with fish) and loved the over-the-top chandeliers and wicker pouffes. Freshly grilled tender octopus is a signature dish.
If you’re in the mood for carbs follow the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide to Pizza e Birra (guess where. Crown Street) for delicious Italian food washed down with a cold Perroni.
Sydney’s bar scene has recently seen the emergence of a ‘small bar’ culture – tiny, atmospheric bars favoured by locals. Unsurprisingly you’ll find a number of these in Surry Hills.
Behind a barely noticeable cafe frontage at 544 Bourke Street you’ll find the alluring and exclusive Fico. This attractive Italian-owned wine bar also has a delicious bar menu with good suggestions for teaming food and wine.
To really get in touch with this vibrant Sydney neighbourhood, catch the annual Surry Hills Festival (in April), which showcases this thriving creative community. There is also a regular Surry Hills Market on the first Saturday of every month.
So discover a new part of Sydney and become immersed in the city’s dynamic lifestyle. Take an urban walkabout and enjoy a day in Surry Hills – you’ll soon be hooked.
By Natasha von Geldern
I stayed at the Medina on Crown hotel apartments on Crown Street in Surry Hills, which was perfect for a travelling family. They even have a lovely pool and BBQ area.
What is your favourite area for eating out in Sydney?