Tony Quinn looks at new forms of eating and drinking in areas around central Sydney.
Last year, I queried in SCN whether the food court is dead. I opined that the old 500-seat barn was indeed dead, and the more experiential food offerings and finer dining had certainly come to the fore.
Well, since that article last year, more offerings in the genre have sprung up. Interestingly, in the last issue of SCN, the Little Guns section covered Scentre Group’s refurbishment program, and the seductive imaging was mostly showing eateries from the rooftop dining to internal streets – and a lot of these were open-air offerings.
Food is becoming a major anchor. This appears to be a strong and continuing trend. While walking in the city of Sydney, I have come across a diverse and interesting range of offerings.
Here they are: Kensington Street, Chippendale, just behind Central Park complex on Broadway, a row of heritage cottages and their backyards have become a buzzy mix of exhibition spaces for contemporary art and design, with commercial space all intermixed with small cafés and bars. Running behind and parallel is Spice Alley, adorned with Asian lanterns offering Thai, Malaysian, Chinese and Singaporean culinary delights. Opened late last year, this precinct is located on the eastern boundary of Central Park, and comprises 16 heritage-listed cottages with interconnected courtyards, the funky new Old Clare Hotel and Unilodge student accommodation. It makes you want to be a student again.
The precinct is the brainchild of Fraser Property Group’s chairman, Dr Stanley Quek, who bought Kensington Street in its entirety in order to create his vision. It’s all about cafés, boutiques, street art, markets and creating an urban gritty experience with its genuine architecture. Go and visit yourself, as the photos can’t quite do the experience justice.
I love the fact that the space is so tight and intimate, and you have to dodge around diners to get through the alley. I think it’s going to become one of Sydney’s hippest eating precincts.
Another offering bordering on Sydney’s cinema precinct is an arcade of fashion and food retail stretching from George and Bathurst Streets through to Kent Street at the rear. It’s known as Regent Place, and this boutique shopping and dining hub has all the feel of Singapore with its bustling food outlets. Customers queue up at most of the eateries for a quick lunch or dinner during work hours, or prior to a movie screening next door. It’s also anchored by an Asian supermarket: Daiso. Again, the tight space of the laneway adds to the spatial experience on offer.
In the city centre, MLC has upgraded its old food court to a finer experience complete with the new IGA store format in the basement, more in keeping with Thomas Dux and Jones the Grocer than the old staid format of yesteryear. The seating areas are broken up into smaller, more intimate spaces, and outlets include Neil Perry’s Burger Project. The mix is now more restaurants, cafés and bars, and extends through to upmarket fashion retail and the Theatre Royal. Timber has been used extensively in the ceilings and furniture, creating the warmth that was formerly missing.
Across town is the first stage of Barangaroo’s food hub, known as The Canteen. It is also part of a wider precinct dubbed the ‘Streets of Barangaroo’, offering a combined retail, dining and leisure experience. Eventually it will contain over 50 new food outlets, with a diverse range of high-end dining from Matt Moran’s new venture, to cafés and takeaway outlets. Food will be the heart of Barangaroo, alongside health and wellbeing services, quirky apparel, lifestyle and leisure stores.
All reminiscent of Melbourne laneways, these developments are adding considerably to Sydney’s food and retail culture, clearly spurred on by the proliferation of food and cooking shows on television. This love of food and its experience in all forms is here to stay.