Sydney: Beyond the shopping

By Graham Reid

Graham Reid suggests some off-centre ideas for your next visit over the Ditch.

Aboriginal performer in Circular Quay, Sydney.  Photo / Supplied
Aboriginal performer in Circular Quay, Sydney. Photo / Supplied

With Sydney little more than an in-flight blockbuster and beverage away, and some competitive airfares if you look around, it's little wonder we now seriously consider popping across for a few days of rest and recreation, and retail therapy.

And with so many Kiwis living in the city - anybody not got family there? - the great art of couch-surfing makes a visit even more affordable. If you don't have a cousin in Bondi or Surrey Hills, Sydney has accommodation to suit every budget - although my tip is the Sydney Harbour YHA in the Rocks.

It's a two-minute walk from Circular Quay, some rooms have views of the Opera House, an airport shuttle bus takes you to the door, it's built over a fascinating architectural dig and has budget-priced rooms which cater for families or the solo traveller happy to bunk down in a dorm.

Once settled in the city, what to do? Shop, of course. But let's look wider, deeper and more unusual. If you consider "Argentine rockabilly cuisine" unusual, at 358 Cleveland St in Surrey Hills is Porteno, named Sydney's best new restaurant in 2011 by Gourmet Traveller, Sydney Morning Herald and Time Out.

It's been getting consistently good reviews ever since (topped the People's Choice in this year's Time Out) for its Argentinian-style menu with meat cooked on the highly visible parilla (barbecue) and asado (open pit of fire). Porteno is a meat-lover's delight - naturally there is a wide range of Malbec in the massive wine cellar - but the menu also offers vegetarian options and seafood.

So the rockabilly thing? One of the heavily tattooed chefs is Elvis Abrahanowicz, who is such a fan that the excellent and comfortably indulgent Gardel's bar upstairs - named for the legendary Argentinian singer - plays classic '50s rockabilly.

Porteno closes on 22 December but reopens on 8 January. Doors open at 6pm and people queue.

Yes, we could mention Jamie's Italian in Pitt St (Mr Oliver's place), Lucio's in Paddington (my favourite) and many other famous Italian restaurants, but Machiavelli's at 123 Clarence St in the central city is worth checking out. It's where politicians, business people and other such players like to go.

In years to come some may end up as photos on the walls of the Sydney Justice and Police Museum at the corner of Phillip and Albert near Circular Quay and the Museum of Sydney. Right now they've got an exhibition of Wicked Women.

Looking for something different in your book-buying experience? Try Berkelouw Books at 70 Norton St in Leichhardt, an interesting suburb which has undergone gentrification but still has a nice edge to it.

The bookshop is excellent, but walk up the stairs into the wine bar where you can browse books, sink into a welcoming couch with a glass in hand and dream away to the sound of quiet jazz. A wine bar for readers.

For the more energetic there are architecture walks which also give you an insight into history, and many art walks taking in contemporary and established galleries.

Yes, the city is awash with Aboriginal art and some is cheap knock-off stuff. However, you will still be stunned by the magnificent works in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Few have captured the grandeur of this land like these artists and these paintings speak with eloquent silence... and remind you it's not always about shopping, swanky wine bars and fine food.


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