Just a few years ago, Kensington Street in Chippendale, occupying the badlands between Broadway and Cleveland Street and running alongside the former Carlton & United Breweries complex, was a ramshackle laneway of dilapidated terrace houses and disused sheds. One hundred years ago, it was even less desirable: its tiny two-room terraces were home to the families of brewery workers who endured air redolent of the industries based there: rotting offal odours mingled with sewage and dairy run-off and, of course, hops from the vast “city within a city” brewery that occupied 5.8 hectares. The swampy area was a virulent brew of typhoid, gastric fever and, in 1900, an outbreak of the bubonic plague. And now? Kensington Street is Sydney’s hottest dining precinct, indie retail district and burgeoning tourist hotspot. Its 16 heritage-listed 1840s terrace houses have been refurbished, incorporating many of their original features such as impossibly narrow staircases and old black stoves, and they house restaurants, cafés and boutiques. Here’s our pick of the street.
Olio Kensington Street
Lino Sauro was lured to Sydney from Singapore (where he heads up the award-winning Gattopardo) by way of Sicily with the promise of fresh Australian seafood and the second floor of The Old Rum Store to turn into his own 100-seat restaurant, Olio (Italian for oil). Every drop of its namesake olive oil comes from the chef’s own family farm in Gangi in Sicily’s Palermo region, where generations of Sauros have grown and pressed olive oil. Olive oil and Sicily’s rustic, seasonal cooking style, influenced by both the Mediterranean and North Africa, are the basis for Sauro’s menu. Ingredients such as saffron, raisins, sardines, couscous, wild fennel and fresh ricotta made daily all appear.
The current menu features Busiate, a wheat pasta with toasted almond pesto; Sauro’s signature Gattopardo seafood stew served in a terracotta pot; and a perfectly balanced dessert of Torta Calda e Speziata: warm orange, olive oil and spice cake with bergamot ice cream. The restaurant itself is seasonal: in winter the loft-style indoor space is warm and welcoming with exposed brick walls and enormous windows with views out to the street; in summer the candlelit outdoor terrace beckons.
Level two, The Old Rum Store, 2-10 Kensington Street, Chippendale; (02) 9281 1500
On the second floor of The Old Rum Store is a curious cross-pollination: a New York steakhouse with a distinctly Japanese proclivity. Throw in a Michelin-pedigreed executive chef in the form of Stanley Wong and a smouldering, flameless binchotan grill and the culinary mashup is a winner. Case in point: beef carpaccio with a sesame dressing and parmesan, an umami beef burger and a 350-gram grain-fed Rangers Valley Black Angus scotch steak cooked to medium-rare perfection atop the searing binchotan charcoal. Gloopy coleslaw? Not here. Try the crunchy cabbage salad with sesame vinaigrette and some miso cauliflower & broccoli with macadamia, yuzu and mustard. A caesar salad with jalapeño dressing and salty homemade bacon says America, while a Tasmanian Salmon Sashimi with pickled pineapple and crisp shallots takes thing in an easterly direction. Your hand-cut fries come with seaweed and truffle aioli and to finish there’s a classic NY cheesecake – served with tangerine and yuzu – and an exotic deconstructed green tea tiramisu. The aesthetic fits the menu: it’s meatpacking district meets Chippo’s best backstreets (complete with graffiti mural by Caratoes).
Level one, The Old Rum Store, 2-10 Kensington Street, Chippendale; (02) 9212 0900
Koi Dessert Bar
Trickiness runs in the Poernomo family. The senior Poernomos, in naming their three sons Reynold, Ronald and Arnold, made it virtually impossible for the unfamiliar to keep their monikers straight. The sons’ tricks generally play out in the kitchen, where Reynold (of MasterChef 2015 fame) serves up his miraculous desserts, Arnold handles the savoury side of things and Ronald gets creative with cocktails. Downstairs, there’s a patisserie café for cakes, pastries and coffee. Upstairs, the brothers serve a set dinner menu of six courses or a set dessert menu of four Reynold inventions. Currently, the dinner menu consists of three savoury courses that includes an intriguing spanner crab green curry with coconut tapioca risotto and green apple; and three desserts such as Citrus and Chocolate: chocolate soil, torched mandarin, lime zest, honeycomb, caramel gel and honey-rosemary gelato. Order a Ronald Poernomo cocktail such as the Kevin Bacon, an impetuous brew of “bacon-washed” Bulleit Rye Whiskey, maple syrup, Aztec chocolate bitters and chocolate bacon. Come hungry.
46 Kensington Street, Chippendale; (02) 9212 1230
Kakawa creates fine handmade chocolates but if you’re not in the market for a box of delicate confections, there are several other options here that you mustn’t miss. Stock up on treats such as slabs of rocky road and chocolate-coated peanut toffee, fudges and chocolate spreads. In winter, it’s the lengthy list of steaming hot chocolates that appeal most for instant gratification; in summer it’s the ice cream sandwiches: blueberry cheesecake with white chocolate, milk chocolate with sea-salted caramel and honeycomb with dark chocolate.
22 Kensington Street, Chippendale; (02) 9211 1673
Taking a meandering journey down the Mekong River, the menu at this Indochine restaurant explores the cuisines of South-East Asian nations Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand. That means diners can find pad Thai, pho, curry and dumplings on a single page. Chef Tiw Rakarin, whose pedigree includes Sailors Thai, Rambutan and Mama’s Buoi, has crafted a menu of stylish riffs on favourites such as confit red duck curry with grilled pineapple, cherry tomato and sweet potato. Others are less recognisable but no less delicious, such as the must-order squid-ink dumpling, filled with spanner crab and prawn and served with a teapot of fragrant pho broth. Rakarin – who is also responsible for creating the hawker market, Spice Alley, downstairs – has devised a short but sweet list of meal-enders, too. You can usually skip dessert at Thai or Vietnamese (or Laotian, Cambodian or Myanmarese, for that matter) restaurants but here the go-to is a sweet taro custard with mung beans, rose ice cream and egg floss.
2/14 Kensington Street, Chippendale; (02) 9282 9079
The Old Clare Hotel
The Old Clare sure scrubs up well. For alumni of UTS across the street or the University of Sydney down the road, the Clare was a sticky-floored student haunt with the requisite sagging sofas and ancient arcade games. The new Old Clare is a 62-room boutique hotel with a cool ground-floor bar, The Clare, which adjoins the reception area, and two of Kensington Street’s most-hyped restaurants: Clayton Wells’ Automata and London chef Jason Atherton’s Kensington Street Social.
In 1859, the Select Committee on the Condition of the Working Classes found much of Kensington Street “totally unfit” for human habitation. The erstwhile committee, were they to inspect the Old Clare today, would find the accommodation quite commodious. There are several room styles but each features a super king-size bed, goose-down bedding, cosy bathrobes and high-sided tubs for luxurious soaks.
The Abercrombie Room
The Mary O’ Suite, named for a local character called Mary O’Shea who’d forage along the Blackwattle Creek for scraps to feed her pigs (she was also known as Pig Mary), offers a separate dining area, wet bar and enormous windows through which to watch the comings and goings of Kensington Street. The Chippendale Loft, with its bedroom and sitting area spread over two levels, is furnished with an eclectic mix of vintage and bespoke furniture. The Committee would also be wise to check out the C.U.B Suite: it occupies the former Carlton & United Breweries boardroom and retains its original wood panelling, parquetry floors and a restored executive bathroom.
1 Kensington Street, Chippendale; (02) 8277 8277
The C.U.B Suite