SURRY Hills is one of urban Sydney’s most intriguing neighbourhood with everything from fine-dining restaurants and comfy cafes to sophisticated shops and quirky boutiques lining the historic blocks just south of the CBD.
Crown Street is the enclave’s main drag, a stretch of asphalt that appears to be inner-city drab at first glance but reveals interesting stories to those who spend time walking the blocks lined with architectural gems that hint at Sydney settlement from convict days to modern times.
Bills is as much a Sydney icon as the coat-hanger bridge reaching across the harbour and the white sails crowning Bennalong Point and while there are three branches of this casual eatery around the NSW capital it’s the Surry Hills address that’s considered to be the original.
Visit at breakfast time to feast on Bill Granger’s “classic” ricotta hot cakes that come fresh from the kitchen with banana and honeycomb butter.
Paper 2 is a paradise for lovers of paper, pens and notebooks with every corner of this Surrey Hill terrace crammed with beautiful stationery.
The emporium is owned by graphic designer Margaret Rockliff, who not only searches the globe for stationery but designs unique in-house pieces, and while those on a mission for a particular item will find what they seek there’s just as much fun to be had by those simply browsing for something sweet.
When Sydneysiders talk about making an ice-cream run there’s a better than average chance this is the place they’re planning to visit with Gelato Messina the first – and arguably the best – of the new breed of Australia’s artisan gelati producers.
Chilli Coral is best described as a homeware’s shop that also sells rustic antiques and delightful gifts with two levels of this Surry Hills store, the previously served as the workplace for a doctor practicing Chinese medicine, piled high with trinkets of all shapes and sizes.
The emporium stocks many Australian-made items – most of the ceramics and jewellery comes from craftspeople working around the country – and while the upstairs rooms are filled with furniture the downstairs space has more personal items like delicate scarves and designer satchels.
Maloneys Grocer is part supermarket, part deli with the Sydney-based owners offering locals a “convenient one-stop shop of quality produce, fresh food and groceries”.
The spot is the perfect place for travellers to buy provisions for a picnic – stock up here before an evening at Moonlight Cinema in nearby Centennial Park during the warmer months – or the gourmet goodies needed for a night in at an Air B&B abode.
Besser is a casual restaurant offering the sort of honest Italian food prepared in a family home deep in the heart of Umbria, Tuscany or Rome.
The menu is short but sweet – three varieties of pasta, Italian staples like meatballs, nonna’s birthday sponge, and the “6.30pm” risotto that’s prepared according the a different recipe every day – with the amiable waiters listing specials and even suggesting favourite dishes not listed.
The eatery is named after the besser bricks supporting the long bar, running the length of the venue, with the sturdy building material a favourite of the Italian migrants that arrived in Australian during the 1950s and 60s.
While The Book Kitchen isn’t technically on Crown Street its location just a few metres into Devonshire Street means it’s worth a mention.
The cafe, which does a roaring trade at breakfast with delicious “egggs” and “sweeties” options as well as ample hot and cold beverage choices, is set in an old Surry Hills building with a recent renovation drawing attention to the bones of the vintage structure.
Those with a sweet tooth should order the sourdough pancakes presented with an innovating combination of banana mousse, honeycomb, flakes almonds and banana-bread crumbs.
Bourke Street Bakery is another Surry Hills icon with locals forming long lines that snake along the footpath at all hours to buy a coffee, crusty loaf of bread, bag of croissants, or sweet little treat.
The address, which “began as a little corner store bakery cafe in the winter of 2004”, occupies the corner of Bourke and Devonshire streets opposite The Book Kitchen and is tiny so plan on take away.