Following on from yesterday’s post on exploring Sydney’s Inner West neighbourhoods, ex-resident David Whitley takes us on an insider’s tour, cherrypicking the best places to eat, shop and hang out…
“The Inner West may not have the attention-grabbing instant appeal of Sydney’s best-known areas, but it forms the city’s cultural and creative heart. It’s where different looks and subcultures flourish, individuality is encouraged and real life takes precedence over the be-seen fashion parade. It’s an area where young bands thrive, good food is available at great prices, and you can while away the day in arty cafés. So for those prepared to take on Newtown’s new ideas, Enmore’s edge and Glebe’s green spaces – here’s the best of the Inner West.“
Best for a leisurely breakfast
Sydney loves to do breakfast, especially at the weekend, and Scrambled on Enmore Road is a classic example. It does eggs every way you can think of – and possibly some you can’t – has a cool music policy and is plastered with posters for gigs and art exhibitions. Badde Manors on Glebe Point Road is a good spot too, with a slightly grungy, leftfield feel and an emphasis on vegetarian dishes.
Best for coffee and cake
Campos on King Street in Newtown is the spot for the coffee aficionado. Barista training is taken seriously here, and you’ll rarely see this tiny place anything less than full.
A Coffee and a Yarn, also on King Street, serves great coffee and cakes but also sells wool and knitting equipment. It’s OK to just pick up on half-finished pieces of knitwear left by previous customers.
Best for people-watching
In truth, most cafés are set up for people-watching as much as they are for coffee and breakfasts. But if you fancy being nosy without indulging in caffeine or bacon, then head for the area’s two big parks. Bicentennial Park in Glebe is more upmarket – expect ladies who lunch walking dogs that are smaller than their sunglasses, but also water views and cricket matches at the weekends.
Victoria Park between Glebe, Camperdown and Darlington attracts all sorts, from students lounging in the sunshine to lobby groups launching protests on obscure subjects. The park also has a 50m pool, which is perfect for eyeing up those in skimpy costumes on a summer’s day.
Best for ethnic eats
King Street in Newtown runs the global gamut. It’s most famous for cheap-but-excellent Thai restaurants where you can bring your own wine, but Vietnamese, Malaysian, Mexican, Lebanese and African are all present and correct.
Italian food is fairly ubiquitous too, but the heart of Sydney’s Italian community is Leichhardt. Norton Street is the main hub, and you’re rather spoilt for choice. Grappa is arguably the top option with stylish, modern décor, a good wine list and plenty of innovative menu options.
Best for independent shopping
King Street and Enmore Road don’t do top of the range designer fashion, but they most certainly do eclectic. If you’re after vintage or gothic clothing, you’re in the right spot. Proper music shops, second hand bookstores and numerous jewellery specialists are in residence too.
The alternative vibe is ramped up to another level at the Glebe Markets, which has something of an old-school hippy vibe every Saturday. Gleebooks on Glebe Point Road, incidentally, is arguably the city’s best independent bookshop.
Best for an early beer
The long balcony at the London Hotel in Balmain looks out over the harbour and a certain famous bridge. Unsurprisingly, it’s rather popular for a sundown coldie.
The Australian Youth Hotel, on the other hand, is an oft-overlooked gem between Glebe and Ultimo. It has good beers and wines, serves up pretty good pub food and has a couple of little secrets hidden away. The courtyard at the back is cute, and the Nude Bar upstairs – full of nude paintings – somehow manages to retain a classy air.
Best for a delicious dinner
The dining scene in the Inner West is largely unpretentious, with good value, traditional recipes and family-ownership generally winning out over dressing to impress. A classic example is Kafenes in Enmore: genuinely superb Greek food, friendly service, bring-your-own wine and surprisingly low prices.
A new breed is emerging, however. The guys at Bloodwood have studied under some of Australia’s best chefs, the interior design is a considered take on pseudo-rustic and the menu takes inventive jumps all over the place.
Best for live music
The Enmore Theatre is a brilliant venue for seeing the mid-range bands – think Eels, Florence and the Machine, Vampire Weekend and Mumford and Sons. You can tell it used to be an old playhouse and some of the seating is in the balconies.
For local bands you’ve never heard of, the Annandale Hotel is arguably the best live music pub in Sydney. The vibe is very much rrrock.
Best for Alternative Entertainment
Best for a big night out
The Friend In Hand Hotelin Glebe is a brilliantly bizarre pub in which to kick things off. It is covered in clutter, including train sets, bear traps and an attention-seeking cockatoo, and hosts poetry readings, live drawing sessions and crab races.
From there, head to King Street in Newtown. Zanzibar is sprawling, loud and boisterous rather than chic, while The Bank is a slightly more spruced-up option with a big – but not exclusively – gay crowd. Both are places to let the hair down and dance until late on the weekends without having to switch to the nightclubs.
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