Round-the-world: Four days in Sydney

The first four days of our round-the-world trip race by in a whirl of receipts, flat whites, great meals, urban hikes, and friendly Sydneysiders.

You’ll see that receipts head my list. Australia has become one expensive lucky country, make no bones about it. A late night dash to a convenience store for bottled water, a muesli bar, and biscuits sets us back AUD17 ($16). A copy of Monocle ($10 in the US). is priced at AUD20 ($19) at a bookstore in Sydney’s Newtown. My breakfast at Forbes & Burton (252 Forbes Street, Darlinghurst) a perfect cafe-restaurant, costs AUD18, not including coffee.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Fresh off Qantas 12, we check into our hotel, the Diamant Boutique Hotel Sydney at Kings Cross, with smart rooms and hallway lighting that stage-whispers discretion. Diamant Boutique is part of Eight Hotels, a small hotel chain with hotels in several Australian cities. The location, the attractive room design, the reasonable nightly rates for a boutique hotel ($161), and the Toby’s Estate coffee and pastries cart in the lobby are all strong pluses. The only minus of note is the annoying charge for Internet access in rooms, at AUD30 for two days of access. (Wireless Internet access in the lobby is free of charge.)

We spend our four days walking: through the Royal Botanic Gardens to the Sydney Opera House, across Surry Hills, Redfern, Paddington, Newtown, and Darlinghurst. One day we start out from Potts Point to Paddington and then continue all the way to Bondi Beach and then along the coastal walkway to Tamarama Beach, a pleasant five-mile stroll.

Bondi Beach on a late winter afternoon.

Newtown is probably the most interesting area in Sydney for new neighborhood watchers, a mish-mash of vintage shops both high-end and junky, a fantastic knitting café (about which more later), various hippie paraphernalia shops, one very fine bakery (Luxe Bakery at 195 Missenden Road, recommended by Australian travel journalist Tim Richards via Twitter after he noticed from my tweets that I was in Newtown), and a share of chain stores to keep things real. Luxe Bakery doesn’t appear to have a website, so I direct you to a beautiful post on the place at the fantastic food blog he needs food.We eat well in Sydney. There’s Fish Face (132 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst) where we start our meal with incredible sugar-cured ocean trout, and The Battery, (425 Bourke Street, Surry Hills) another seafood restaurant, also good and quite a bit easier on the wallet than the former. There are decadent breakfasts at the aforementioned Forbes and Burton. There is Single Origin Roasters (60-64 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills) which pairs a great, very seasonal lunch with extremely detailed coffee bean nerdism. And then there’s Bodega.

There’s been a huge buzz around Sydney’s Bodega (216 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills) for years. The tapas restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and we arrive at 5:45 pm in anticipation of the 6 pm opening. We may have been the first to congregate by the door, but by opening time there are 30 people waiting to be seated. Everyone is projecting a squirming politeness, which I take to signify a failure to embody actual patience. This is a good sign.

The meal is grand: thick local oysters; pumpkin and feta empanadas; beef empanadas; Spanish salami; fried cauliflower; a rich corn tamale; an octopus, chorizo, and potato salad. We end by sharing a banana split, a dessert with just the right amount of salt and tang to count as a fully transformed version of the original. Our waiter tells us the staff are excited about Porteño, the brand new Argentinian steak house opened last week by Bodega owners Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate.

In terms of art and design as well as cuisine, Sydney teems with homegrown energy. There are tons of great shops across Sydney showcasing strong aesthetic direction and great curatorial instincts. I was especially excited by Object at the Australian Centre for Craft and Design (417 Bourke Street, Surry Hills) which features the work of designers and craft artists from across Australia. I was especially taken by the translucent resin bowls by Dinosaur Designs. Another great shop is the Artery (221 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst) a gallery focused on contemporary Aboriginal art. We pop in and ask a few questions and proprietor Alesha Glennon provides a fascinating impromptu overview of Aboriginal art across the country. The Artery, which opened in 2005, specializes in part in work from the Utopia region, an area northeast of Alice Springs known for its female artists.

Next up: a trio of especially exciting, well-curated Sydney shops focused on sustainability in one or another form.

Check out other Capricorn Route series posts here.