It's summer now and there's no excuses for staying curled up inside, rain or no rain.
That's it. December. It's summer now and there's no excuses for staying curled up inside, rain or no rain. Aside from that, Sydney's foodies and mixologists have been working hard: experimenting with ingredients, concocting new combinations and opening up a whole swathe of new places for you to visit. So get scampering around this town!
Concrete Playground has your checklist ready to go. Here it is, Sydney's top new bars and restaurants for the summer season.
Ahhh, Sydney, you can officially exhale. For all those who are desperately seeking an unpretentious dining/drinking experience that doesn’t involve having to choose between a wine bar the size of a studio apartment (in New York) with a shave of glorified ham and a lick of pâté masquerading as a meal, or a pub with sticky carpet and $10 steak: your search has ended. The duo that could turn battery acid into Beaujolais, Maurice Terzini and chef Robert Marchetti, recently unveiled their brand new slice of the Mediterranean-meets-Brooklyn, Neild Avenue.
Finding Freda’s is like stepping through the back of a magic wardrobe. Walk down an unassuming, dingy alley behind Central, past the sashaying salsa dancers and through a black door with a small, hand-drawn placard and suddenly you’re in a softly lit room, easy music playing and a kindly man at your side ready to whisk you to a table.
Once settled in, peruse the cocktail list, which is a pleasing mix of classics and reinventions. Of the former they do a perfectly balanced Midnight Negroni ($16) and I can imagine the Fresh Fruit Cocktail will be a sell-out this summer. The wine list has a good selection of up-and-comers, with a super smooth Pinot called Giant Steps from the Yarra and a full-bodied tempranillo/grenache called La Vendima ($10). I’m a big fan of the beer choices, which includes one of my favourites, Murrays, as well as two amber ales that are caramel flavoured and quite hoppy – choose the Sierra Nevada ($9.5) to have with food or Atomic ($9.5) for sipping solo.
Jester Seeds has only recently opened, and marks the last drinking establishment on King Street before you hit the no-man’s land of City Road and the University of Sydney campus. So a lot of people haven’t stumbled across Jester Seeds yet. It’s not especially noticeable from the street – just a collection of curious couches framing a doorway and the shadow of a bar behind. In fact, a man had to yell at me from the pavement to get my attention, but I’m very grateful that he did.
The bar is a haven of recycled furniture, dark wood and shabby student chic. A room at the back is filled with sofas and intimate tables, and the couches at the front could easily keep you sitting there for hours. Essentially, it looks like they’ve transported the contents of a ramshackle vintage shop from the lower end of King Street then artfully rearranged it, and prettied it up with some lampshades and mood lighting. The staff are lovely, with many recommendations and plenty of chat, and were infinitely tolerant of my inability to make a decision.
Perched on a corner in Darlinghurst, Honeycomb has wide windows running down the length of one side so that from almost any seat you can see the street. It makes it feel as if you could lift the roof off and you’d have a little Italian piazza. However, it isn’t the best place for a date (eating at the 6.30pm, family-time sitting probably doesn’t help either) as the small tables are very close - it’s a little hard to be romantic while speaking to your dining partner as if they were hard of hearing. Saying that, when the sun sets and the lights dim, it definitely becomes more atmospheric.
If you follow food news, you’ll know this is Andy Bunn’s (former chef at Café Sopra) project, and if you’re a regular at one of the Fratelli restaurants, don’t expect any surprises. This is far from being a criticism though: the Fratelli restaurants do some of the best relaxed, Italian food this side of Leichhardt.
The atmosphere of a writer's den, insanely long opening hours, fun and flavorsome food, a drinks menu that will keep even the most inspired drinker guessing, and not even the slightest degree of pretension. In short, Hemingway's must be one of the best spots in town right now.
And it's perhaps not where you would expect it to be. A far cry from the back lanes of Darlinghurst or even the fame of King Street, this bar is firmly situated on Manly's main strip, right across from the beach. Despite this, it's about as dissimilar from a tourist trap as you can imagine.
The thing about Redfern is, although it has a reputation as being the ‘next big suburb’, there’s also not a lot there yet. Enter Dry Land Bar, the first small bar to open in Redfern. It possesses the kind of local, relaxed atmosphere that would make you seriously consider moving (unless of course you already live close by, in which case accept my jealous commendations).
The lovely thing about Dry Land Bar is that they really know what they’re doing, bringing together folk who’ve done stints in Love, Tilly Devine and Grasshopper. On top of this, they serve the kind of drinks that cause me to do a kind of happy-wiggle dance in my chair and the best food I’ve had at any small bar in Sydney. It’s technically bar food, but I’d be quite happy to come here for dinner once a week: try the Mushroom, Jerusalem Artichoke and Fennel Tart or the Gruyere Cheeseburger. And if you’re in any way fond of after-dinner treats, the Chocolate Mousse with Poached Pear is enough to cause a very indelicate scramble for spoons.
Something about Cantinero feels a little bit... illegal. It could be the fact that this is a coffee house by day, occupied by this underground crowd only in the late hours. Or it might be the makeshift film projector, which shows Mexican gangsters flickering across the back wall. Either way, we like it. The bunker atmosphere and a relaxed courtyard combine into something that feels like an Alice in Wonderland-style rabbit hole in the Manly landscape.
That said, there's no chance of wandering in by accident. While Cantinero lies on the main strip, you need to know what you're looking for to find this dimly lit restaurant slash bar. And once you do, there's no going back.
It all started with a group of friends, a handful of nutrition books and a collective desire to heal through food. Now Nourishing Quarter - barely in its second year - has attracted a serious cult following.
NQ is a vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant dedicated to the wheat, gluten and dairy intolerant among us. But it’s also much more than that. The affable owner Lam Dinh (banker turned restaurateur, following his own health scare) describes his team’s work as contributing to the growing awareness about the importance of diet for general health and well-being. ‘We’re not about preaching’ he explains, ‘we’re about producing consistently high-quality, healthy and tasty food that’s accessible to all.’
Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go… When the Beach Boys penned those lyrics, they probably weren’t thinking of an industrial island smack-bang in the middle of an antipodean metropolis. Cockatoo Island may not have sandy beaches and swaying palm trees, but its newest resident, The Island Bar, is adding a touch of beach to Sydney Harbour.
This brand new bar by renowned Sydney mixologist Marco Faraone surprises with its striped deckchairs and sunbrellas alongside the site’s antique shipbuilding machinery, a reminder of the island’s heritage past – over the years, it was an imperial prison, a shipbuilding yard, reformatory, Commonwealth naval base and industrial school. The design of the bar – it’s constructed from recycled shipping containers – picks up on this theme.
Prostitutes and razor gangs seem to be all the rage in Darlinghurst right now. References to Tilly Devine abound. But Former Glory has a little something the other bars don't: a real dark and dirty history. Situated right across the road from what was once Devine's main brothel, this pub, formerly known as the Tradesman's Arms Hotel, was dubbed the Bloodhouse in honour of its violent scenes. Sounds like the kind of place I'd like to visit.
You're likely to find that you're already familiar with the location of this pop-up bar. The East Village Hotel is, after all, a familiar marker on the Darlo drinking landscape. Duck inside and take the stairs, winding up two levels past the fading conviction notices on the walls. You'll emerge into a resuscitated space, filled with round wooden tables and white tablecloths, leather chesterfield armchairs and a tastefully subtle assortment of vintage paraphernalia.
While Crown Street certainly has its attractions, it's a pleasure to duck into this slice of 1940s Sicily, take a deep breath and sip a coffee as you watch the crowds pass you by. The theme is clearly stated in the marble, tiles, polished wood and mirrors of the interior, as well as in the numerous references to Italian film icons. Relaxed Italian glamour is the order of the day.
The menus are expansive, with breakfast, lunch and dinner - as well as drinks, desserts and takeaway - on offer. Opening hours are surprisingly long, stretching from 7 in the morning until midnight most days. We popped in for a lazy Sunday lunch, which is a great time to make the most of the outdoors seating.