Most visitors to Sydney will make a beeline for the Opera House or the Harbour Bridge, and the Fish Market is a must if you’re a tourist from Asia. But dig deeper and you’ll find an urban renaissance in the inner city suburbs, with offerings that are no less attractive. The former working class enclaves of Chippendale and Newtown have been transformed by gentrification, and now boast art galleries, outdoor café spaces, restaurants offering degustation menus, cheese and artisan bread shops, and festivals celebrating film, food and the community.
In Chippendale, where I met Nicky Ginsberg, Founder and President of the Chippendale Creative Precinct (CCP), the heritage Kensington Street was bustling with activity. “We soft-launched Kensington Street in September last year and there were few businesses. Now the street is doing really well. We’ve got some really fantastic restaurants, and the best of our culinary top chefs have come here,” says Nicky, the driving force behind the development of Chippendale into an international arts and culture destination.
Kensington Street is the heart of Chippendale, an urban village with streets lined with an eclectic mix of small restaurants and bars, cafés, specialty retailers and art galleries. Touted as Sydney’s newest lifestyle destination, Kensington Street is the brainchild of Singaporean property developer Dr Stanley Quek, who bought the street in its entirety in 2007.
“When I arrived in Chippendale in 2006 I bought an old building, which was a church, which I developed into NG Art Gallery and a restaurant below called Mission Restaurant & Bar. I was the first contemporary restaurant and bar and art gallery in Chippendale,” says Nicky. Now, there are 22 galleries operating in the neighbourhood, including the famous White Rabbit Gallery, home to the world’s largest private collection of 21st-century Chinese art.
Leading the revival of Chippendale has been the boutique The Old Clare Hotel, which opened in September last year after a renovation. While most of the structure of the building was retained, the refresh incorporated modern furnishings and a rooftop pool and cocktail bar that are open to the public. The Old Clare is also where former Momofuku Seiobo chef Clayton Wells has set up Automata. The restaurant is a fun and energetic take on fine dining featuring a five-course set menu.
Just a stone’s throw away is British celebrity chef Jason Atherton’s first Australian restaurant, Kensington Street Social, which specialises in locally sourced produce. For Asian fare, the hawker-style Spice Alley serves up Southeast Asian dishes such as char kuey teow, roti canai, and chicken rice, while Japanese dining hall KY-OTO and Mekong, serving Vietnamese fare, bookend the laneway.
Chippendale also hosts multiple events throughout the year, and one that art lovers should not miss is the BEAMS Arts Festival, a multi-disciplinary one-night-only event that brings together Sydney’s best creative thinkers. The event will take place on 17 September this year. Visitors can also take part in free gallery walking tours on the first Saturday of every month, which comes with a complimentary glass of wine. Needless to say, booking is necessary!
Over at Newtown in Sydney’s inner west, a different art scene has been developing since the 1980s. Here, artists take to the walls of laneways and railway tunnels to express themselves, creating street art that sometimes carries socio-political messages. Most of the street art is unsanctioned and gets replaced quickly but the movement has helped to shape the culture of the community.
A largely bohemian town, Newtown attracts a mix of professionals, students, artists, economic migrants and the grunge types. “This area used to be scruffy but it has really come up in the last couple of years,” says Emilya Colliver, founder of tour outfit Culture Scouts. Nowadays, it is common to find organic grocers and candle and fusion food shops on the streets of Newtown.
Walk down the main thoroughfare of King Street, and Enmore Road and the laneways parallel to it, for interesting murals and stencils drawn by talented artists such as Fintan Magee and Beastman. Keep an eye out too for tiny sculptures stuck in corners of the ground or on walls by England-born Will Coles, who took his sculptures to the streets because galleries wouldn’t show them. Coles’ works, including a shoe stuck in the ground and a machine gun on the wall, are thought-provoking.
King Street is also where bookshops, record stores, independent retailers selling everything from vintage clothing to posters, and restaurants serving a variety of cuisines can be found. There are restaurants serving traditional Pakistani barbeque, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and even Malaysian food. The Stinking Bishops, a boutique cheese bar and restaurant, has seen a steady queue forming since opening two years ago. Named after the first-ever cheese to be judged as Britain’s smelliest, the deli has a cosy atmosphere and an extensive selection of cheese and wine.
Newtown is also home to the legendary Sydney Brewnut, Australia’s answer to the Cronut invented by New York City chef Dominique Ansel, and Cruffin. Yes, you guessed it. It’s a croissant crossed with a muffin. Both the Brewnut and the Cruffin are the creations of Brewtown Newtown, an industrial café just off King Street, which serves the creative pastries along with an extensive breakfast and lunch menu. Try the Hot Cross Brewnut or the Nutty Nutella Cruffin. The coffee is good too, but you would have expected nothing less in Newtown, or Sydney, for that matter.
Photo credit: Main photo © James Horan, Destination NSW