Some argue Surry Hills, on the south-eastern edge of Sydney, is the buzziest and most happening of the city’s central villages. Long a home of the rag trade, it is now a hub for design studios, artists, galleries, theatre and hospitality.
But the great charm of the place is that despite it being a magnet for the cool creative kids, there are long-time residents who’ve called the old workers’ terraces and cottages home for more than 40 years.
Being a local really means something here and there’s so much amenity from provedores, bakers, sandwich makers like Lucky Pickle, cafés like Gnome and Bills, high-end restaurants like Mark Best’s Marque, wine bars like 121BC, even Sydney’s first “profit for purpose” restaurant Folonomo (it means for love not money), that you don’t have to leave the postcode.
Artificer coffee bar and roaster founders Dan Yee and Shoji Sasa came to the area because they wanted to be in a place where people appreciated “specialty and progression”, says Yee.
They wanted Artificer to be more of a destination so they chose a sunny corner in Bourke Street, rather than the main artery, Crown Street, dotted along which are many bars, cafés, restaurants and Asian takeaways.
In keeping with its name, which harks back to Mother England, Surry Hills is rather hilly and best navigated on foot to appreciate the back streets and laneways where creativity is blossoming. On the first Saturday of the month, bargain hunters flock to Shannon Reserve’s markets seeking used treasures.
Sydneysiders are late to the purists’ café so Artificer’s owners Shoji Sasa and Dan Yee are accustomed to the refrain: ‘what no food?’ Nor, for that matter is there tea, pastries or milkshakes.
Recognised as masters of coffee for their efforts elsewhere, the pair brought a refined aesthetic to their first café. Everything feels curated, from the pale American oak that lines the walls to the brushed brass edges on the bar and the Henry Wilson-designed gunmetal bronze receptacle for tips.
Even the coffee menu is an exercise in simplicity. Yee says they want to control the main variables for delivering quality coffee: selecting, roasting and brewing fresh beans sourced from Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil, Colombia and Brazil in smaller lots so they can turn them over and also eliminate white noise.
“The vibe of the coffee bar is to provide a space where people feel welcomed and we have the ability to communicate our philosophy without the smoke and mirrors and distractions - hence having only coffee.”
People feel so comfortable there’s a lot more than coffee chat crossing the counter. It’s not uncommon for the barista to send a customer on their way with a fist bump and a “love you bro”.
Don’t mind the “trade only” sign above the door of Chefs’ Warehouse, its owner Christopher Hazell always quips he’ll take anyone’s money as long as they’re serious about food.
This is why he hung a giant whisk outside and is particular about the apostrophe, because his is a place for chefs plural. Hazell has been supplying restaurants and home cooks with the best gear for 30 years.
Besides cramming the shelves with everything but the kitchen sink, Hazell has an encyclopaedic knowledge of tools, books, even restaurants. He’s also a good cook.
What he won’t do is nominate favoured items amongst copper pots and pans, French earthenware, pasta makers, paella pans, and yes, dozens of whisks. “They’re all exceptional,” he says.
Beyond exception is the woodblock by artist Cressida Campbell, tucked away on an end wall. Campbell sat on a stool in the warehouse and sketched the scene onto a piece of plywood, which she then carved and painted. At the end of this meticulous process she made one print, which was bought with the coloured block. Hazell missed out when it was first sold 24 years ago but acquired it later. He sells a postcard, which would be perfect but for a misplaced apostrophe.
Australians eat some 260 million meat pies a year – that’s 12 for every man, woman and child. While most of them are mass-produced and humble, at best, Bourke Street Bakery does a mighty fine house-made pie with chunky beef and crispy golden pastry.
The tiny shop, one of ten Bourke Streets around the city, is where it all began for baker Paul Allam and pastry expert David McGuinness.
They hung up a now-rusty Boulangerie sign and set up their dream café making everything by hand with love and dedication.
Now they run an institution but still strive for the same spirit. There are a few seats inside in the window and tables outside on the street, but most of the business is takeaways so there’s always a queue.
Still, it moves quickly and feels more like a party because everyone seems to know everyone else.
The pies are rivalled only by Bourke Street’s version of another Aussie standard, the sausage roll, theirs being of the pork and fennel variety. Also on offer is superior sourdough bread, pastries and sweet treats like lemon curd tart.
Named after a ‘cru’ from ancient Rome considered to be the vintage of a lifetime, this moody enoteca specialises in artisan Italian wines from small producers who use grapes grown sustainably to make wine with minimal intervention.
There’s a frequently changing selection of wines by the glass accompanied by a small list of shared plates based around seasonal produce and Italian cuisine.
Everything is served around a bar made from polished terracotta tiles whose patina gets better with age. Although part of a family of restaurants run by Andrew Cibej (the mothership Vini is just around the corner), 121BC feels like a personal passion project.
The adjacent cantina has two hand-drawn maps showing every wine region in Italy and staff can help you quaff your way around the country.
In the interests of natural wine discovery the map even encourages imbibers to jump the fence to Slovenia where Branko Čotar has been at the forefront of the movement. His golden coloured Malvazija orange wine is often available by the glass in the bar.