Tuesday, March 27, 2012

48 Hours in Sydney? Hit the streets for shopping, art, food + culture

Park8 Hotel

A fashionista's dream at Westfield, Sydney

Stairway to heaven - Westfield, Sydney

I've just come back from a short break in Sydney. I'm learning to really love this city, too. Each time I go there I aim for a different kind of fix and, having done all the tourist sites many times over, I had two things in mind this time around (two things I love): shopping, and art!

Accommodation availabilities proved scarce on the dates we were in town, so we had decided to split our time among two favourite little boutique hotels, both from the 8Hotels chain. Our first day was spent right in the CBD at Park8 Hotel, an intimate 36 room boutique hotel located on the doorstep of Sydney's iconic Hyde Park. And dangerously close to the shopping precinct! 

Our loft apartment was really cute and spacious, with 2 bedrooms and a pull out couch - too much space for our needs but I've noted this as THE place to come for the girl's weekend away I've been planning with some friends. It's an affordable, stylish, and central base for a weekend of city fun! We had our own kitchenette, which proved handy at the end of the day when we wanted to kick back with some nibbles and a few glasses of wine before heading out again. The staff here are awesome too. It's a small hotel, so service is very personalised and you can pick up some great tips on where to go and what to do as you sip on a latte at the hole-in-the-wall coffee bar attached to the lobby.

We inevitably hit the shops. And we hit them hard! It was my first time seeing the crazy big Westfield shopping centre here, and needless to say, I was in total awe. This is a fashionista's heaven!! Prada to my right and Mui Mui to my left. Oh. My. God! ... and inside it just got better, and better. Versace. Chanel. Christian Louboutin. Diane von Furstenberg. Salvatore Ferragamo. Mulberry. And Gucci, Gucci, Gucci!! Need I say more, ladies? Of course I can't afford any of this. But, suffice to say, some serious window shopping went down!

With a more realistic budget in mind, we trawled the racks of the local designer duds at Zimmerman, One Teaspoon and Tigerlily, scaled the many levels of David Jones and Myer, then went up and down Pitt Street Mall (hello Zara, you beautiful thing!!) and in and out of the historic Strand Arcade and right along the arcades of the Queen Victoria Building. The shopping in Sydney is insanely good! And when we were finally weighed down by too many shopping bags and with tired feet, we made our way back to the top level of Westfield to grab a table at Spiedo, one of the many restaurants on site, and enjoyed a great Italian meal right in the heart of the CBD ... in a shopping centre no less? Convenient AND fabulous! Well satiated and with happy bellies, it was time to head back to our apartment just a few blocks away to plan the night.

As night fell, it was decided there was only one thing for it. Dinner at a favourite of mine - The Winery at Surry Hills. I absolutely adore the decor of The Winery! It has that whole urban/vintage quirkiness that so appeals to me ... kind of a bowerbird nest of styles from across the generations, all mixed up with a twist, and it's all definitely tongue-in-cheek. It's just too cool, really. 

Cool meets quirky at The Winery - Surry Hills
 White Wine Sangria, anyone? - The Winery
"Hello, Stud" - The Winery
The Winery has an enchanting courtyard that is really something quite magical by night, when the fairy lights add a romantic ambience. There are many levels of restaurant space both al fresco and indoors, complete with outrageous furnishings like a stuffed peacock and a room devoted to Elvis. The bar is very popular and serves up awesome cocktails and the finest of wines from around the world (not to mention, it has some of the best indie and electro music playlists to get your groove on!). This place is Über popular with the hip crowd, and it was packed tonight! You can't really make reservations if you're a table under six people, so we just rocked up and added our name to the waiting list, and took a seat at the bar to watch the stylishly outfitted bartenders whip up fancy drinks (the white wine sangria looked amazing!) and took turns doing complimentary tastings of the wines from the hi-tech pouring stations, sipping our way around the world and eventually settling on a beautiful Spanish red. 

We ordered up far too many dishes once we were seated at our table outside on the deck and, keeping in flavour with our bottle of Spanish wine, we went with a tapas style: Crusty bread with roasted cherry tomatoes, olive tapenade and creamy goat's cheese; a mixed medley of Italian olives in rosemary and chilli oil; fresh grilled asparagus with truffled hen's egg and hollandaise; roasted field mushrooms stuffed with ricotta, pine nuts and pesto ... all just so delicious. We happily lost hours of the night at The Winery. This place kind of has that effect!

The Kirketon - Darlinghurst
St John's Cathedral, Darlinghurst
Day two and we woke up bright and early, as we planned to pay a visit to Paddington Markets after first dropping our bags at our next destination - the stylish Kirketon Hotel located in the heart of Sydney's restaurant, bar and nightclub district in Darlinghurst. After talking to some locals we already had the heads up on where to spend our evening, without ever having to actually leave our hotel! Just head past the lobby and through the discreet doorway that takes you to one of the best cocktail bars in Sydney - Eau-de-Vie. This small modern speakeasy offers a really unique drinking and dining experience, complete with a bar that boasts over 500 different spirits, boutique beers and craft wines. The music is jazzed up and funky, and the ambience is dark and moody and the perfect level of chic.

We kept the taxi going to Paddington and filled up on coffee and croissants in the garden courtyard of Sloanes Cafe on Oxford Street, before crossing the road and entering the famous Saturday markets to browse the art and crafts, collectables, and the really great emerging designers selling their wares here. 

Paddington Markets

Boutique shopping down William Street - Paddington
.... and more shopping on Oxford Street - Paddington
A walk down William Street (off Oxford) uncovered some more great little boutiques, including Belinda, Jack + Jac, Dearwood, Leona Edmiston, Lucette and so many more. Seriously lust worthy! Time to get ourselves away from temptation, so out with the trusty old google maps on our iphone and we hit the pavement and started walking, one of the best ways to get around town and really become immersed in the local life. We walked up Oxford Street and made our way back up to Surry Hills, about a 15 minute pleasant walk through scenic alleyways and quiet streets lined with terraces, artists studios, boutiques and sidewalk cafes. 

First stop was Brett Whiteley Studio on Raper Street. As one of my absolute favourite Australian artists, I was super excited, and blown away to finally pay a visit to what was once his working studio, now a free-to-public museum. The mad genius of his work is on display on the lower level, so you can get up close and personal. And the studio upstairs has been left much as it was when the the eccentric Whiteley was alive. Paint marks can still be seen on the staircase, quirky collectables scatter across the shelves, piles of old vinyl records and art tomes line the walls, which are covered with favourite quotes and irreverent musings scribbled in the artist's own hand. His favorite Bob Dylan played softly in the background, just as it would have back when the the cream of the Australian arts scene would congregate here for his infamous parties.

Brett Whiteley Studio - Surry Hills
It was another 5 minute walk up into the heart of Crown Street in fashionable inner-city Surry Hills. We had a mission: hunt down some treasures at the many vintage fashion shops this suburb is famous for! If you're a lover of vintage like I am, you can easily loose yourself amongst the racks of shops like Zoo Emporium on Campbell Street. And, being our arts day, a stop at the insanely awesome Outré Gallery was in order ... I love, love, love the quirkiness and rock'n'roll stylings of the art that is on show (and for sale) here. Next trip I plan to come back and get myself some new acquisitions, for sure.

Surry Hills has some really great off-beat designers shacked up in studios here, and there are also some fantastic design and homewares stores like Via Alley, davidmetnicole, and cloth to name just a few of my personal favourites.

Short on time, we bypassed the many great cafes, instead stopping for an easy and quick bite at Madam Char Char, where I took note of the guy in line next to us who ordered up big, filling bags and bags with huge tubs of salads and hot foods to take off down to the harbourside for a picnic with friends. Great idea! And definitely down on our to-do list for our next trip to Sydney.

Vintage treasures at Zoo Emporium - Surry Hills

Outre Gallery - Surry Hills

We hopped another taxi to our next destination: White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale. This has to be my favourite private gallery in all of Sydney! It was founded by Kerr and Judith Neilson and houses one of the world's largest and most significant collections of contemporary Chinese art, focusing on works produced after 2000 by both established and emerging artists. The new 'Down the Rabbit Hole' collection had been eagerly awaited, and we spent a little over an hour completely immersed in the whole experience, devouring every installation, painting, sculpture and crazy display. Always well worth a visit!

Be sure to spend some time in the Tea House on the ground level of White Rabbit - the traditional teas served up here are like works of art in themselves. Uyghur tea expert Yusuf serves a wide range of the finest Chinese-grown teas, with leaves that are curled or pressed into small balls which blossom in the pot. If you’re not sure which tea will suit your taste or mood, Yusuf and his assistants will advise you. We ordered the Princess Flower tea - White Tea wrapped in Jasmine with Amaranth - and watched the tea slowly brew and blossom into a flower right before our eyes. Almost too beautiful to drink, it was like our own personal tea ceremony. 

The Tea House at White Rabbit Gallery - Chippendale

Princess Flower tea at White Rabbit
Sydney really grabbed a hold of my heart this time. And the rest, as they say, is history. Now I'm back at home and writing this post, I'm already thinking to start planning a return trip in May to uncover even more city delights. Next time we might book in a stay at the beautifully restored Art-Deco style heritage-listed Grace Hotel, located in the heart of the CBD again. And just minutes away from those insanely wicked shops again (oh dear!!).

Stay tuned for more ... !

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