It’s 8pm on a Friday night in Sydney’s Central Business District and there’s a group of girls, arm in arm heading towards their nearest watering hole. Along York, Clarence and Kent streets, the small bars are heaving with revellers lining up to grab an after-work cocktail.
And the restaurants in the laneways off George Street are filled with hungry diners, sampling the best new produce and dishes from our country’s leading culinary minds.
The city has come back alive – and she’s back with full force.
Twelve months ago, Sydney’s hospitality, entertainment and tourist industries suffered a massive blow during lockdown, and you could walk through Australia’s busiest city without seeing a soul in sight.
But with dancing back on the cards, social-distancing rules relaxed and the champagne corks popping, Sydney is back to being one of the most vibrant places to visit in the world.
A throng of new bars and restaurants, Broadway shows and hot hotel openings offer visitors a fantastic long weekend in the harbour city.
The first thing you’ll notice as you enter the Fabbrica pasta shop, which opened at the end of 2020, is the wall-to-wall line-up of Italian wines. About 70 varieties are on offer in styles such as nebbiolo and sangiovese from organic producers.
In front, is a giant class cabinet which exhibits the day’s pastas which are handmade fresh each morning. And this is where you’ll see the chefs breaking down meat, rolling pastas and kneading sourdough for the takeaway sandwiches. The compact menu changes on a monthly and seasonal basis but you’ll find classics like cacio e pepe (spaghetti with pepper and cheese) or a warming, rich ragu.
You’ll hear the faint sound of jazz on Bligh Street. Head down the winding wooden stairs, past the vintage French posters, to the dimly lit dining room and bar of Restaurant Hubert. Rich-red velvet curtains, memorabilia from Parisian bistros and dripping candles in wine bottles make it feel like you’re stepping back to another time. While Hubert has been a favourite on the Sydney dining scene for some time, it’s now one of the few places in the city where you can enjoy fine fare late at night. Sip on some French beaujolais as you choose from dishes like steak frites, tuna or beef tartare or a scallop crudo.
It’s not a trip to Sydney without lunch by the water. In the Eastern Suburbs, the new Boathouse Rose Bay is perfectly positioned overlooking multimillion-dollar yachts and a coastline dotted with mansions.
Inside, the light and open restaurant’s decor has a nautical theme with octopus designs on the cushions and crab wallpaper in the bathrooms. It’s a preview of the menu, where seafood predominates. Produce is from mainly NSW and the wine list has a big focus on Australian vignerons.
The oysters, despite the state’s recent floods, are abundant and the scampi pasta comes in a specially crafted lobster porcelain bowl which you can purchase online from theboathousehome.com.au.
The team from Maybe Sammy, which was listed in the World Best Bars 2020, has revealed a new coffee bar cum cocktail joint by night in the art deco ACA Building on the corner of King and Clarence streets.
By day, the coffee orders are flying across the pistachio-green terrazzo counter and by night, the joint turns into a swinging cocktail bar. You can choose from a selection of pre-shaken cocktails like the martini Australiano with lemon myrtle and gin or opt for a coffee negroni.
Following the theme, the slick staff, decked in coloured linen suits and tattoos look like they’ve stepped off a shoot for GQ, will be able to point you to the cocktail that agrees best with your palate.
It’s worth exploring some of the other bars in the area, such as Double Deuce. With plump red leather couches and a furry shag feature, it’s a seventies revival. There are fantastic cocktails on the menu, considering it’s run by the same owners as Ramblin’ Rascal on Elizabeth Street. It’s cheesy but in a cool way and the DJs spin some funky disco tunes every night.
As it might have been a while since many travellers have visited Sydney, a particularly exhilarating way to get reacquainted with the city is from the water. By boat might be the obvious choice but the tanned, amazonian Sophie Morgan, who runs OzPaddle from Andrew Boy Charlton Pool, has another idea.
“So many Sydneysiders who have lived here their entire lives, have never seen the harbour like this. It’s one of the best ways to see the city. I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’m still in awe every time I paddle out on my kayak,” she said.
Ms Morgan runs tours of the foreshore where she’ll give you a detailed history lesson on the harbour. But it’s her fun and bubbly personality that really makes the excursion. Every so often, she runs longer paddles, crossing the harbour to Whiting Beach on the harbour’s northern shore.
“There is something so therapeutic about being on the water at that time of the day. It’s calm and it’s still, and it’s such a lovely activity to start your day with.”
If the water doesn’t beckon, you might want to see the city from a different angle. A climb of the Sydney Harbour Bridge gives a bird’s-eye view of the city. From Oprah to Katy Perry, the BridgeClimb office’s walls are lined with pictures of celebrities who have seen the city from atop.
The climb might be considered touristy, but the views are well worth it.
The guides will give you a detailed history about the bridge and point out spectacular things around the harbour. This year, BridgeClimb started a new route starting from the north side of the bridge. If you arise early, it’s a treat to do the dawn climb.
Broadway in New York City might be closed but looking at the long list of shows, you might be mistaken into thinking Sydney is the new home of theatre.
Hamilton: The Musical has drawn a cult following after its success not only in America but also on London’s West End. Hamilton is the story of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, and combines hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway. It’s worth reading about the revolutionary before watching the musical to get a better understanding of the clever and witty lyrics. Tickets start from about $185 on a weeknight show.
Sydney’s hotels have had a massive revival with not only new boutique stays popping up, but big hotel chains revamping and renovating their offerings.
The Little National Hotel, which opened last year, offers charming boutique accommodation, right next to Wynyard Station. The clean Scandinavian design of the hotel is popular among younger couples and is perfect for a romantic weekend away.
The king beds are built against the wall, giving the illusion guests are sleeping in a cosy nook. The rooms are kitted out with Nespresso coffee machines and T2 tea selections, and have unlimited wi-fi and free movies. The no fuss hotel is sleek in design and has options like the Date Night package. It includes overnight accommodation, a $60 Uber Eats voucher per couple per night, a welcome cocktail, as well as a late check-out.
Nearby in Barangaroo is the West Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton. The well-appointed rooms have an industrial aesthetic with lush botanical influences. The hotel is a short stroll from the bustling restaurants of Barangaroo. And around the foreshore, the restaurants and Crown Sydney has the place rocking every night.
It might have taken a year, but the Emerald City shines brighter than ever.
Take me there
Drive: Sydney is a three-hour drive from Canberra, two hours from Newcastle and four hours from Orange. Fly from Launceston with Jetstar from about $150 return.
Stay: A night at the Little National Hotel starts from about $200. The West Hotel starts from about $215 per night.
Do: Hamilton tickets start from $185 per person. A session with OzPaddle starts at $25 for kayak rental, or $150 for a half-day tour including lunch. BridgeClimb costs from $248 per person.
Explore more: sydney.com