Mug Life, Sydney, New South Wales
The elegant streets of Sydney’s Potts Point are now home to a burgeoning collection of eateries, boutiques and places to brunch.
By Georgia Rickard
Sydney’s dining scene is exploding at the moment – and the epicentre of its revolution is Potts Point. In the past five years, this once gritty inner-city suburb has emerged as a sophisticated dining playground for the city’s most fashionable, offering some of Australia’s best food experiences in a character-drenched neighbourhood. With its wide, tree-lined boulevards and glamorously curved architecture similar to New York City’s most famous neighbourhood, it’s perhaps not surprising that Potts Point draws comparison with art deco Soho, but there’s no denying that the dining culture here is thoroughly Australian.
An unusual opportunity
Potts Point is home to an urbane, affluent community (it’s said there are more dogs than children living here) in one of the most densely populated square kilometres in Australia. Thanks to a sought-after location between the harbour, the city and other coveted neighbourhoods such as Darlinghurst and Paddington, it’s also home to some of the highest property prices per square metre in the world. It wasn’t always this way. For decades, this was a red-light district with a strong bohemian vibe, where boarding houses, seedy pubs and tawdry entertainment venues were patronised by the American servicemen based here during World War II and later on R&R during the Vietnam War. By the early 2000s however, the area had evolved into a stylish party destination for Sydney’s celebrity scene, with bars, clubs and late-night restaurants crowding the area. Then, in 2014, a change in licensing laws saw most of the area’s late-night venues close permanently, leaving reams of empty real estate in its wake. This was the kind of opportunity almost unheard-of in modern times: one of Australia’s most desirable neighbourhoods was up for reinvention.
The booming business of brunch
Today, intimate wine bars, organic cafes, light-filled brunch spots and sophisticated restaurants have sprung up amid the area’s old pubs, grand Victorian manors and heritage terraces. You’ll still find a handful of clubs and bars sprinkled along the streets, but this is no longer a late-night destination. “This is very much the ‘in’ spot to be at the moment for restaurateurs,” confirms Louise Hunt, who co-owns Joseph Hyde, one of the area’s newer cafes. “Potts Point’s dining scene is exploding at the moment.” Like the other pocket-sized eateries that have sprung up here such as Room 10, Marcelle and Gypsy Espresso, Joseph Hyde represents a serious shift in resident priorities – the weekend brunch business is now booming, Hunt says. “Ten years ago, this place was primarily about bars and nightlife, but now it’s alive day and night,” adds Geoff Bannister, who co-owns another new eatery, Mug Life. “We love it.”
Hot yoga and homewares
To that end, a visit here is not all about food. You’ll now find some of Sydney’s loveliest yoga studios here, such as One Hot Yoga and BodyMindLife, as well as creative agencies, interior design firms and a handful of landmark designer stores such as Macleay on Manning, which stocks elaborate occasional furniture and unusual objets d’art alongside more familiar brands (such as Missoni and Paul Smith) on its shelves. Peruse the delicate garments on offer at Blood Orange, a destination boutique on Elizabeth Bay Road, or head straight to Becker Minty, a high-ceilinged, black-walled concept space selling an artfully minimalist collection of Australian art, fashion, fine jewellery, furniture and homewares.
A new Sydney eat street
But the major attraction of the area is its sophisticated range of evening dining options. Along Macleay Street you’ll find some of the best mid-level restaurants to have opened in Australia in recent years, including The Apollo, Cho Cho San, Bistro Rex, Monopole and Billy Kwong. Meanwhile, side streets have welcomed acclaimed modern Australian dining experience The Antipodean (Roslyn Street), helmed by the Gault & Millau Chef of the Year 2017 Grant King, the curtained rooms of Impromptu Dining (Springfield Avenue) and the immediately popular wine bar and kitchen Dear Sainte Éloise (Orwell Street). Yet more new Potts Point projects are on the agenda, including Paper Bird from the team behind beloved Redfern institution Moon Park, taking over the old Bourke Street Bakery site, and an upmarket Vietnamese restaurant, Cocochine – by Sydney’s reigning queen of dumplings Nahji Chu – in Ward Avenue. Last month, it was also announced that long-time stalwart Hugo’s Lounge – which controversially closed in 2015, after 15 years reigning supreme over Sydney’s late-night bar scene – will be reincarnated as a wine lounge.
Sydney’s most tasteful stays
Perhaps the greatest indication of the neighbourhood’s flourishing new identity is the number of large investments recently made in the hotel space. Several boutique hotels have opened here of late, including Larmont Sydney in Kings Cross Road, an “urban wellness retreat” featuring individually commissioned original pieces of art in each room and in-room wines from company-owned vineyards. And last week came the long-awaited unveiling of Spicers Potts Point in Victoria Street. With its original marble fireplaces, restored floorboards and heritage facade, this 20-room, five-star stay offers a unique selling point: room service from several of the aforementioned restaurants.
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