The Courier-Mail Jan 27-28 edition of Qweekend - 2018
I was supposed to be having dinner at the Sydney Opera House but I was sidetracked by a nasi goreng. The clincher was that at Spice Alley in Kensington St, Chippendale, they also serve teh tarik, the famous pulled tea you get in Malaysia and Singapore.
I tried my first teh tarik in Kuala Lumpur many moons ago. Staying at the Old Clare Hotel in Sydney's inner-western Chippendale a couple of years ago, I discovered Spice Alley was just next door and before attending Handa Opera On Sydney Harbour I feasted on nasi goreng and teh tarik rather than the flash dinner I was supposed to be enjoying at the Opera House.
Spice Alley is a little food court serving hawker-style Asian cuisine and it has become a go-to for us in Sydney now. Usually we stay somewhere near harbourside Circular Quay, but on a recent trip we propped at the Mercure Sydney at the top of George St, which is a two-minute walk from Spice Alley. Perfect! This hotel is situated where George St turns into busy Broadway, which happens to be one of the first roads built in the colony of New South Wales and dates back to 1794.
It's a busy, bustling urban location that is quite different from the harbourfront tourist precinct. I like the somewhat gritty nature of this part of Sydney with its historical buildings and proximity to Central Railway Station. The station is basically next door and you can also hop onto the light rail there.
The real plus is that the hotel is actually in Chippendale, once a seedy area of breweries and old working-class terraces, now bustling with students from nearby universities. The University of Technology Sydney is just down the road and features the famous "squashed paper bag building" designed by Frank Gehry.
Chippendale is bordered by Cleveland St to the south, Broadway to the north, Central Station to the east and the University of Sydney to the west. It's a residential area on the one hand, with burgeoning towers of student accommodation, but more recently it has become known as one of Sydney's funkiest locales with great eateries and a bevy of art galleries.
The crowning glory is White Rabbit Gallery, set up by wealthy philanthropist and entrepreneur Judith Neilson, who lives locally. Neilson has amassed a vast collection of contemporary Chinese art that she shows off for free at her "art museum" in Balfour St. It has a nice cafe and gift shop on the lower level, too.
There are art and historical tours run in the area but it's fun to just wander around by yourself (you can pick up a little guide book in Kensington St), making discoveries as you go. My suggestion is to start at White Rabbit Gallery but note that it is open from Wednesday to Sunday, which caught us out on a previous trip.
Nearby One Central Park towers above a little town square, Chippendale Green, and a shopping centre. One Central Park features amazing vertical gardens inspired by the collaboration of French botanist Patrick Blanc and architect Jean Nouvel. It's one of the architectural marvels of an area now dotted with new buildings among the heritage architecture.
Any walk can be punctuated by pit stops at a local cafe, and you really can't beat Spice Alley for a cheap Asian meal for lunch or dinner. Koi Dessert Bar nearby is recommended for a treat after your meal. Do you remember dessert king Reynold Poernomo from MasterChef some years ago? Yep, he's the guy leading the team at Koi Dessert Bar, also in Kensington St.
Once you get beyond Broadway and Kensington St, Chippendale is surprisingly quiet. Yet the area is described as the new heart of Sydney, and the point is that the centre is shifting. The Mercure Sydney is a prime base for discovering the area and the hotel, which is comfortable and has 24- hour room service (that always helps) is also just a short walk from Chinatown.
From the hotel you can also walk down George St into the CBD. And I love the fact that I can get my fix of nasi goreng and teh tarik nearby.
with PHIL BROWN
Arts Editor - The Courier-Mail
818-820 George St, Chippendale
Rooms from $161 per night
More info: chippendalecreative.com
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Copyright © Phil Brown