One of the greatest things about Sydney as a city is that it feels simultaneously like a big mix of cultures and a bunch of intimate, intentional communities. Surry Hills is a suburb in Sydney that represents this perfectly: an eclectic area filled with great food, people, and culture.
There are pockets of culture down every alleyway, hidden art houses and hole-in-the-wall cafes next to big-name spots, both pumping out some of the best food in the city. Narrowing done favourites is very hard to do, but here's a good start:
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A relative newcomer, Mamasan Surry Hills is the epitome of funky fresh and lots of fun. The menu is as eclectic as the space itself (think fried popcorn sashimi and a “Gooey” – decadent, volcanic, rich chocolate desserts). The space is entirely recycled and channels all the best bits of Taiwan, China, Japan and beyond.
There’s no shortage of great Asian food in Sydney. Madame Nhu is a great Vietnamese spot with terrific spicy pho and iced coffees. The fresh rolls come out fast, and the broth is always hot and punchy.
By Australian standards this place is ancient (and that’s, of course, relative; Australia is a very young country) and it's equal parts homey and fabulous; you’ll be fed like you’re part of the family. The banquet offers all the best in Lebanese cuisine, and – if you’re lucky – you might be able to catch a belly dance before the night is out.
Devon make food that looks just as great as it tastes. The menu is tight, influenced by Asian flavours and creative combos. The coffee is sharp and flowing, and the specials list changes often. Fancy a matcha latte that’s bitter and grassy, as it should be? Done. Devon makes food that looks just as great as it tastes....How about an iced Jaffa latte (a drink reminiscent of the classic Australian orange-chocolate lolly combo)? It's yours.
It may be a tiny hole-in-the-wall – literally – but this coffee shop and espresso bar has it going on. The team at Sample roast and supply their own coffee (introducing new varieties fortnightly) which, paired with a light muffin or pastry, makes a Monday morning.
Home to cyclists and coffee fans alike, Rapha is a modern spot on Crown Street, one of Surry Hills’ busiest thoroughfares. The menu is brief and the coffee is great. The iced latte, which collects around a huge single chunk of ice, is strong and entirely dependable.
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Rosie’s is also new to Sydney, and it fits right in: full of all kind of tings, the Jamaican spot has great jerk chicken burgers and a fun cocktail list. Go the Floyd’s Old Fashioned or the Rosie’s Coco Colada.
One of my all-time favourite restaurants in Sydney (for its kicking papaya salad and whole fried market fish), Longrain has an extensive alcohol selection to accompany the incredible food the team produces. The wine list changes frequently and the cocktails are lots of fun. Try the Red Dragon or the Ping Pong for the ultimate experience.
Work Shop is a celebration of makers, showcasing the best local artists and creators. Their work is for sale and the space changes regularly; it’s the sort of place where inspiration strikes constantly.
For those who love paper and stationery, this little shop is a must do. There’s always soft music playing and quality paper being folded. The store stocks great local and international designers and artists, as well as products made in-house.
Located on Bourke Street, this cheese shop slash cafe establishment hits the right chords for those in pursuit of quality dairy products. Australian produce sits beside Italian and French goodness, and the trusted scent of cheese wafts out the door – as it should.
Take a small detour (while still in Surry Hills) to the Belvoir Theatre Company, where Australian performers take to the stage in a selection of intimate theatres. Each production season brings with it a variety of classic and new plays, and none are to be missed.
Down at Circular Quay, with a view of Sydney Harbour, the Museum of Contemporary Art holds the key to Sydney’s newer art scene. The exhibits rotate frequently, and there’s a rooftop bar with sweeping views of the city for when you’re done looking at the art inside.
Map illustration by Charmagne Kringstein