I moved back to Sydney in December of 2013 after a three-year hiatus in Boston, far away from the hustle and bustle of Australia’s biggest and most vivacious city. A native Sydney-sider, I’ve grown up on both sides of the equator and still find myself drawn to this multicultural island of beaches, breathtaking experiences, and unparalleled food. I returned to a city that does its absolute best to welcome the friend and the stranger alike, and I did it in summer.
Summer is my favourite season in the city, despite the fact that year-round fair weather means outdoor tables are always at the ready and a sweater is the heaviest layer of clothing needed. It’s the cicadas that hum and bellow in the afternoon, the widening of menus to include the very best that the season has to offer, and the start of month-long free festivals that make living in this city truly surreal.
There’s no shortage of magic in Sydney, and I’ve had the pleasure of rediscovering (and finding anew) my favourite spots to explore and, as is nationally appreciated, eat. As I returned to the place I left, I found myself bonding with the food scene. I would eat alone, but with such wonderful company: the intricate and well-devised dishes in front of me.
It started with breakfast. Making time for a morning meal is an integral part of the Australian way of life, and we do it well. Our coffee is world-renowned (flat white, anyone?) and our classic avocado on toast has found its way to menus across the globe. When I started exploring the city, I landed on Devon Cafe in Surry Hills. I frequent the sister cafe in Waterloo (an up-and-coming industrial suburb in the Eastern neck of the city), Devon on Danks. The eatery is known for its creative flair and Asian-inspired culinary dynamics; highlights include the Manny P burger, a generous hunk of annatto-spiced fried chicken, decorated with chilli mayo and pickles and the bruschetta with confit tomatoes, peppers and burrata, lovingly strained, separated and stretched by hand by head chef Zacharay Tan. Tan’s cronuts (matcha and azuki; kaya; strawberry cheesecake) are decadent, and his soft serve sundaes (blue pea flower and jasmine; Thai milk tea; sweet corn) are out of this world.
When the oceans started to warm up towards the end of summer, the Bogeyhole Cafe on Bronte Beach became my favourite spot. It’s quintessential Australiana; sit at a table overlooking the beach, order a long black or mango smoothie, and enjoy poached eggs with chilli jam or avocado smash – all Australian staples.
I always made sure, in my summer explorations, to return to a few of my favourite places, and the Sydney Fish Market is no exception. The fish markets start early, and the best oysters are piled high in glass cases. I am fond of De Costi’s, because the seafood is stunning and the energy is electric.
Afternoons, or “arvos” as we refer to them, also hold much reverence in this city. I would drink tea by the pot and read paperbacks in bright cafe frontage, and it was splendidly solitary. As someone who takes their tea very seriously, I’m very fond of The Rabbit Hole Tea Bar in Redfern. Their Earl Grey lattes are magical, and sparkling tea on tap is a thing.
The sun doesn’t set until well past 8pm in summer, but late meals aren’t a problem. In my adventures in the city, I’ve found the quiet and unassuming suburbs of Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay to be home to some of the city’s best food. For modern European food, it’s Yellow. The former art gallery-turned-restaurant gets it right with Spanish mackerel cured in-house, and a licorice ice cream dessert unlike anything else. When I’m more inclined towards pan-Asian goodness (of which Sydney has so much), Ms. G always represents. Dan Hong and Paul Donnelly have developed a complex and creative menu that accentuates the city’s vibrant culture. The cheeseburger spring rolls are so much better than they sound, and the lamb ribs – crisped to perfection and soured in all the right ways – are second to none. I still recall eating those lamb ribs for the first time. There is such beauty in discovering something unparalleled.
Returning home in 2013 was difficult; it was jarring, exciting and challenging all at once. It has been two years since then, and it’s hard to believe that my experiences in this city were so different then to what they are now. But, still, there is food.
Sydney is something else. It’s this living, breathing, dancing city that makes such an impact in people’s lives. It’s effervescent, loud, peaceful and entirely unlike anywhere else in the world. The food is a literal melting pot of everywhere else, and that’s the kind of scene that makes everyone feel welcome. It’s those meals that make me feel like a local again, and now I get to share that with those who visit. I always caution friends of the same thing upon arrival, the same thing as we saunter from cafe to restaurant to midnight snack spot: “Be careful. Once you’ve met this city, you’ll never truly leave again.”
This is, this will be, home.
Photos and article by Riley Wilson
Riley Wilson is a native Sydney-sider who grew up between Australia and the USA, with extensive travels throughout Europe along the way. She edits Manhattan-based Melting Butter and writes for Broadsheet Sydney, among various other publications in Australia and abroad. She’s deeply passionate about olives and oysters. @thelifeofrileyw