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Been to Rome and Paris. Worked in London and Madrid. Eaten myself silly in Vienna and Hong Kong. Done other silly things in San Francisco and Vancouver.
Loved them all. But for me, none of those cities compares to Sydney.
For a lot of people, it must be the multi-ethnic, vibrant cultural life.
In March there was a Picasso exhibition, John Cleese with his one-man show, the world-famous gay Mardi Gras, a French film festival, Duran Duran on tour, and Turandot and Macbeth at the Opera House. Around the bay, at Mrs Macquarie’s Point, they were hauling a 9m-wide crystal chandelier over a floating stage for an open-air season of La Traviata.
But I’m something of a pleb. My reasons for loving Sydney are a lot simpler.
1. The weather
No matter how picturesque the scenery and impressive the monuments, not much is fun when you’re sloshing around in mud and wrapping yourself in an unbecoming plastic mac. Not to mention slipping on icy pavements and wading through smelly water in Venice.
If the weather’s grey, I’m blue. And Sydney is not often grey.
2. The water
Which is everywhere. Blue bay after blue bay, dotted with yachts, around every corner. Old warehouses on the water have been converted into luxury flats and cafés.
Sydney’s harbour shoreline extends for 240km, but there’s also a stretch of coastline, alternating between rocky outcrops and sandy beaches. You can’t get away from the water, and you don’t want to.
And unlike many cities, Sydney makes the most of its location, with dozens of bars and restaurants overlooking the water. Which brings me to…
3. The food
The best meal of my life was not at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, but at Tetsuya’s in Sydney. One delicate fusion dish followed another.
Then there are Neil Perry’s Rockpool and Spice Temple; Bill Granger’s Bill’s in Darlinghurst (now 20 years old); and plain old fish and chips at Doyle’s at Watsons Bay.
And, of course, iconic Icebergs at Bondi Beach, the ultimate sea and sky venue. Perched above the rocks and club pool, it is equally appealing on sunny and stormy days. The waves crashing beneath you add to the joy of a simple, modern Italian meal.
Nigella Lawson raves about their wagyu-Black Angus cross steak and it is also celebrity chef Rick Stein’s ultimate dining destination. “This is always a memorable lunch. The beach, the surf, the sunshine and the Italian seafood, which is simple, perfectly fresh and light,” he told Delicious magazine.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Bourke Street Bakery in Surry Hills has them queuing at the door for freshly baked organic spelt sourdough and strawberry and vanilla brûlée tart – it’s worth the wait, but mind the cycleway outside.
Surry Hills is the original home of the city’s rag trade, with an eclectic, young, arty community (which includes chef Kylie Kwong).
In the same area, if that sort of thing moves you, you can eat alpaca at Peruvian restaurant Morena. It’s only one of the weird dishes you can sample in Sydney. How about crisp pork intestines at Battambang or sweetbreads with kimchi at Ms G’s?
But the big buzz in Sydney right now is the food trucks – 10 vehicles which advertise their locations on Facebook and Twitter. They range from a Cantina Mobil, to an organic truck and an Asian dining cart. Former Tetsuya’s sous chef Stuart McGill has one with “dudish” street food.
They’re a far cry from the old Harry’s Café de Wheels at Wooloomooloo, which for nearly 70 years has served hot dogs and pies to the rich and famous as well as local workers.
4. The walks
You could probably spend two weeks taking designated walks – not hikes – around Sydney, and not head the same way twice. The local tourism authority has maps of the different routes, with handy info and advice. The walks range from two hours to four days and are usually suitable for all levels of fitness.
One of my favourite strolls is past the Opera House, along the water’s edge at Farm Cove, through the Botanical Gardens (with its trees of flying foxes and squads of cockatoos) and The Domain to the New South Wales art gallery.
For something more bracing, take the bus to Clovelly down the coast, then do the 4km beach/cliff walk back to Bondi (and maybe Icebergs, which isn’t stuffy about dress codes). You pass Bronte (which is also knee-deep in restaurants), Nelson and Tamarama bays en route, some of the path on wooden boardwalks, some paved clifftop, some beach promenade.
Or take the ferry to Watsons Bay and walk through the national park to the heads at the entrance to Sydney harbour. The views of cliffs, sea and bay are spectacular.
Which means more food, of course, in dumpling houses or neon food courts.
Yum cha, served in countless restaurants, big and small, from 10.30am to 2.30pm, literally means “drink tea” and is associated with dim sum, a wide range of small dishes. Its roots were on the Silk Road where tea houses were established to rest travellers. After tea was found to be a digestion aid, snacks were added to the menu.
Trolley after trolley of bamboo baskets is wheeled around, each offering different morsels. The only problem is to exercise restraint. Another trolley will come along and will feature something you just don’t have room for.
But don’t miss steamed roast pork dumplings, minced scallop pastries, prawns in rice paper, beef siu mai and chicken feet in black bean sauce.
Every now and again stand up and look for the greens trolley and call a waiter for a beer. Whatever you do, don’t panic. Someone will come.
For afters, try the miniature custard puffs baked from noon to 9pm in Dixon Street at a hole-in-the-wall outlet. At night, return for Peking duck and pancakes.
6. The ferries
The busy little boats criss-cross the harbour from end to end, and after the Star ferry in Hong Kong, this is some of the best, cheapest entertainment in town.
Staying in Darling Harbour there’s nothing more exciting than stepping on to a ferry to get to Circular Quay, going under Sydney Harbour Bridge en route. Then you can hop on ferries to places like Manly, Watsons Bay, Neutral Bay, Taronga Zoo and the Olympic village.
7. Darling Harbour
This is a mecca for people watchers. From hen parties to old tourists (like us), to school tours, to young folk out for a night on the town, it provides endless amusement.
There are fashion disasters and fashion triumphs; mini dramas and comedies acted out each hour.
From our balcony we watch the girls in their high heels and party frocks arrive for sundowner cruises and, a couple of hours later, stagger off, shoes in hand, looking for a taxi.
If you are of a more serious bent, or just a child at heart, there’s the Australian National Maritime Museum, half of which floats. And the aquarium.
8. The shopping
Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, Versace, Ferragamo, Cartier, Jimmy Choo all sit side by side in Sydney’s CBD.
Not that that’s of much interest with the rand at eight to one dollar. But the top-end venues provide a visual prompt to me of the closeness of David Jones department store.
And its food hall, which is a mini version of Harrods’ food halls. It’s impossible not to leave laden with pâté, sushi, fresh pasta, breads, exotic cheeses and wine.
Over the road in the sparkling Westfield centre are not only 170 stores, but two floors of eateries, including Spiedo, which offers memorable pastas like orechiette with gorgonzola, and linguine with prawns and zucchini. A starter salad of garfish with tomato, avocado, prawns and olives is also worth mentioning.
Then there are the arcades. Gorgeous relics of another era, they extend from main street to main street through the centre of Sydney. Grand dame among them is the Queen Victoria Building, built in 1898. It fills a whole city block and has four floors of shops.
The more modest but beautiful Strand Arcade is the home of Australian fashion houses.
Once again, you can’t afford to buy much, but you can window shop, have coffee and just soak up the vibe.
9. The Opera House and Harbour Bridge
Okay, they are a cliché, but in real life they take your breath away. We had a high-end dinner at celebrity chef Matt Moran’s Aria overlooking the Opera House and bridge and, for once, our attention was more on the view than the plate, striking though that was.
10. The rocks
Now, this is what intelligent planning can do for a derelict harbour area. Listen, Durban.
This maze of cobbled lanes is full of history and modern pizzazz. Nineteenth century warehouses have been converted into shops and restaurants, there are atmospheric pubs, museums, galleries and markets. In all, there are more than 50 places to eat and drink.
So, if the weather should fail you, there’s no need to be blue. There’s more than enough to do. - Sunday Tribune