Sydney: Slow down and savour the 'burbs

By Carol Smith

Escape the busy city centre for Bondi and Balmain, writes Carol Smith.

Balmain offers an array of interesting eateries, such as The Little Darling Diner. Photo / Supplied
Balmain offers an array of interesting eateries, such as The Little Darling Diner. Photo / Supplied

Strolling around suburbia usually doesn't cause my heart to flutter, but I admit I now have a wee crush on Balmain.

After a few visits to Sydney it was time to get out of the city and into the 'burbs and I began at the ferry end of Darling St, Balmain's main thoroughfare.

Walking past the old houses with beautiful wrought-iron railings, heritage buildings and hip cafes is like slipping into a comfortable pair of worn shoes that have just been re-soled.

Balmain, an old working-class area, has kept its leafy, family feel while adding an edge with interesting shops and chic cafes springing up alongside old drinking establishments. A walk along Darling St, which goes through Balmain and on to Rozelle, can take two to three hours depending on how many stops you make.

I grab an organic coffee at Old City, a concept cafe which doubles as an antique store. Nothing has a visible price tag, but the clocks, cameras, frames and even the chairs and table I sit at are for sale.

Little Darling Diner, a French cafe/bistro, draws me in and wins me over with its salted caramel macaron - a little bite of chewy heaven. I use Urban Walkabout's (urbanwalkabout.com) pocket-sized foldouts when visiting different areas in Sydney as they detail places to visit as well as providing good maps.

Apart from some mouth-watering cafes - it's no wonder the Australian waistline is expanding - Balmain has many shops I like, including quintessential duckeggBLUE (found industrial and antique objects such as old suitcases and memorabilia), Inside Traders & Co (antique and recycled furniture), No Chintz (textiles and soft furnishings), Calico and Ivy (quilt fabrics and ribbons), Damask Bedlinen (collections and giftware) and Blue Illusion (a lovely dress shop that also has French books for sale).

There's even a couple of pretty old churches in this area and a Thai spa if you feel weary after hours of shopping.

But I don't have time to lie down, and I head back to the city for delicious clams and chilli crab linguine (snow crab, parsley, chilli, mint and lemon) at The Morrison, a new bar in George St that is both stylish and relaxed.

Another suburb worth visiting, and not just for its stunning beach, is Bondi.

The Tamarama coastal walk to Bondi is a must and when I was there, the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition was on, transforming the 2km walk into a sculpture park featuring more than 100 sculptures by artists from Australia and across the world. It will be back next year.

Andy Solo, who runs the website atbondi.com, hates the tacky shops and fast-food outlets along the main shopping strip and urges people to see the real Bondi, which is tucked away in the backstreets.

Parts of Bondi remind me of the relaxed old suburban streets of my childhood. There are still plenty of signs of the Jewish and Russian immigrants who came to this area, including the Russian Leisure Shop, which sells DVDs, books, clothes and other bits and bobs.

Andy, a photographer and writer who left the corporate world, says people expect Bondi to be glamorous when they visit.

"But it has a lot more heart and soul. It's laidback and gritty and has a lot of character, which if people just explore a bit more they will find."

I later ponder this eclectic community while eating tasty tapas and admiring Sydney Harbour at the Bar at the End of the Wharf, Sydney Theatre Company's recently opened bar at Pier 4 in Walsh Bay. Sydneysiders are spoiled for choice - the city can be glamorous or simple, depending on what you are looking for.

Whatever you decide, whether you are eating or sightseeing, you'll love it.


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