Not long ago, Enmore Road was the poor man’s South King Street, leading off down towards Enmore with little to tempt a visitor into venturing further. Locals in the know would head, along with the city’s taxi drivers, to Faheem Fast Food and Manoosh Lebanese pizzeria and late-night revellers would pack out Saray for that essential kebab. Now, though, the strip is home to some of the best restaurants in town, and King is no longer king of Newtown. Of course, King Street is no slouch – it’s managed to steer a pleasing course between pubs and Thai food of old and the bars and bistro of now. It’s a new Newtown.
Osteria di Russo & Russo
Father-and-son Pino and Marc Russo preside over this diminutive dining room, the decor a cross between Nonna’s lounge room (think framed family photos, indoor plants) and classic 1970s Italian joint (chianti bottles with years of caked-on candle wax). Just when you’re thinking you may as well order the lasagne with a side of garlic bread, the menu appears: an opening salvo of Bignola: a choux pastry bun stuffed with parmigiano reggiano, pistachio and mortadella from LP’s Quality Meats defies expectations; other assaggini (“tastes”) include oysters shucked to order and zucchini flowers filled with goat’s milk ricotta, lemon aspen and chilli salt. The menu moves on to local burrata with quandong and cured sardines tangy with blood orange and horseradish. The larger plates include Manzo: Rangers Valley tri-tip with anchovy and bread sauce, confit tomato, agrodolce eschallots and capers. These wonders emerging from the kitchen are down to chef Chris Mosley, a Kiwi who revels in Australian native flavours. It’s a cool and worldly menu, and the Russos promise that despite the retro vibe, there’s no Andrea Bocelli– but you can BYO. That’s the kind of retro we can get down with.
158 Enmore Road, Enmore; (02) 8068 5202
If you’re unsure where exactly Mary’s is (the entrance is unobtrusive and unmarked), just wander down Mary Street off King and add yourself to the end of the first queue you see: that’ll be it. There’s been a perpetual line outside the Newtown institution since it opened in 2013 thanks to its singular offering of loud music, beer and burgers. The go-to is the Mary’s Burger: beef patty, Trashcan (smoked onsite in a metal bin) bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese and Mary’s special sauce, but there’s also excellent fried chicken, a great mix of craft and old-school beers and natural wines. Rock on.
6 Mary Street, Newtown; (02) 4995 9550
Redolent of whisky and peanuts, the Midnight Special is the perfect place to sit at the bar contemplating the depths of your glass while Tom Waits growls in your ear and the lighting makes you look dark and brooding. Not flying solo? Occupy a well-worn booth and order a round of whisky sours and take in one of the local live acts that take to the tiny stage regularly.
44 Enmore Road, Newtown; (02) 9516 2345
Queens Hotel is proof the area is buzzing: it’s Merivale’s first appearance in the Inner West and you know Justin Hemmes doesn’t mess around. Upstairs at Queen Chow restaurant, Cantonese food inspired by the street eats of Hong Kong is the focus. On the second floor is The Smelly Goat cocktail bar, with a compact menu of Cantonese snacks and a long list of inventive cocktails, while downstairs the pub fulfils its original purpose admirably, with an excellent refurb rendering it unrecognisable from its previous incarnation as the scruffy Queen Victoria Hotel.
167 Enmore Road, Enmore; (02) 9240 3000
Chef/owner Gregory Llewellyn is rightfully famous for his fried chicken (we’ve noted his prowess here) but Hartsyard, established in 2012, is more than a one-trick pony. The menu is designed to share, like a good old-fashioned Southern potluck – but ever so much more intriguing. Order a Pickleback Martini to start – London Dry Gin, HY pickle juice (trust us, it works), vermouth and dill – and make some selections from the Seed section of the menu, such as smoked trout with onion dip and potato crisps; chicken skin with buttermilk ranch dressing and dilly beans; or fried oysters with Old Bay spiced mayo and bread and butter pickle. Move onto the more substantial dishes listed under Feed: poutine is hot chips topped with beef shin, spring onion and “beer cheese”; pillowy pumpkin dumplings; and falling-off-the-bone smoked lamb ribs with white barbecue sauce and sweet pickled peppers.
33 Enmore Road, Newtown; (02) 8068 1473
Earl’s Juke Joint
Little has changed about the shopfront now housing Earl’s Juke Joint on south King Street in Newtown since its days as a neighbourhood butcher, apart from perhaps the lack of sausages, lamb and pork chops adorning its window display. Beyond that striped awning and timeworn sign, though, it’s a totally different story. The long, shiny bar is the kind of place where a solo drinker can pull up a pew and become engaged in a fascinating anecdote as told by a charismatic bartender or simply lose themselves in the music – Earl’s is named for New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer and the tunes are a serious consideration here. There’s a good selection of beers on tap and wines by the glass but the cocktail list is where this saloon truly rocks. The list changes frequently but the able bartenders will whip up a killer classic Negroni or Martini.
407 King Street, Newtown
Black Star Pastry
Black Star reached the giddy heights of Instagram stardom with its famous rose-scented Strawberry Watermelon Cake, a kind of millefeuille of almond dacquoise, rose cream and strawberries sandwiched around sliced watermelon that tastes like flowers and summer. It’s a stunning creation, to be sure. Newtowners, though, have been heading to its diminutive Australia Street flagship (there are now Black Stars in Rosebery and the CBD) for slices of orange cake with Persian figs, lamb shank and red wine pies, classic Portuguese-style custard tarts and really great coffee (as well as a sunny street benches on which to enjoy them) since 2008, years before the Insta-generation recognised the photogenic rose-petal-covered cake. So there.
277 Australia Street, Newtown; (02) 9557 8656
This eccentrically named restaurant has withstood the vagaries of the neighbourhood – and a change of ownership – since its opening in 2003. You’ll be given a menu but you won’t have any choice in the matter: chef Karl Firla decides what your eight-course degustation will consist of (dietary requirements are taken into account, of course). That means that every visit to Oscillate Wildly is a new adventure in experiential, seasonal tastes.
Each item is listed by just three ingredients – Persimmon, Pumpkin, Lobster, for example, yields soft, raw persimmon with a ribbon of charred butternut pumpkin over which a lobster bisque is poured at the table. A dessert simply titled Chestnuts, Vanilla is a pear curd covered with a powder made of toffee, dried chestnut mushroom and brown bread and served with vanilla ice-cream and raw shaved chestnut. The bistro, all crisp white linen, monochrome tiled floors and eclectic tunes, seats just 28 so book ahead to guarantee a table.
275 Australia Street, Newtown; (02) 9517 4700
The Stinking Bishops
This cheese bar/restaurant makes no bones about the fact that the first thing you’re likely to notice is the pungent odour of a ripe Roquefort. After all, it is named for the UK’s most fetid-smelling cheese, which is redolent of “a rugby club changing room” according to judges at Britain’s Smelliest Cheese Championships in 2009. This Stinking Bishops has an altogether more pleasant fragrance, though: sharp, edible and oh so cheesy. Come for a wedge of Marcel Petit Comté from France and the washed rind Stinking Bishop from the UK and stay for the whole baked camembert served with bread-and-butter pickles, vegetables and sourdough or the French Onion Mac ‘n’ Cheese that’s so cheese-heavy we challenge you to locate a noodle. A short local wine list rounds out the experience like a well-ripened brie.
5/63-71 Enmore Road, Newtown; (02) 9007 7754
When South King Street institution Gigi went vegan, cheese and meat-lovers went to Rosso Antico. The Enmore Road pizzeria does a mean line in traditional Neapolitan pizzas – we’re talking fior di latte, burrata, scarmoza, gorgonzola, pancetta and prosciutto, just to set the omnivore’s mind at ease – and cements itself in the local good graces with an equally impressive Negroni.
2/52-60 Enmore Road, Newtown; (02) 8065 4224
The Courthouse Hotel
Don’t worry, the essence of Newtown remains intact with plenty of unpretentious pubs at which to down a schooey and shoot the breeze. The Courtie is the pick of the bunch: a character-filled local full of local characters. The expansive beer gardens (front and back), dedication to the Sydney Swans and solid pub-food menu means you’ll find people of every persuasion here: from heavy-metal T-shirts to sports fans propping up the bar to young families with kids.
202 Australia Street, Newtown; (02) 9519 8273
One of the first small bars in Newtown after cheaper liquor licences became available, Corridor was a breath of fresh air when its doors swung open in 2010. Little has changed since then: it’s still small and busy with steps that require a little negotiation when you have a round of drinks in hand (or in stomach). There’s nothing pretentious here – rough-around-the-edges Newtown wouldn’t have let it last this long if there were. There’s a narrow bar downstairs front and centre and an excellent little al fresco deck reached by aforementioned steep staircase, which also leads to other candlelit nooks, one complete with chesterfields and fireplace. There’s an all-star cocktail list (Margarita, Daiquiri and Whisky Sour all make an appearance), a good range of local wines by the glass, bottled beer and a short bar snacks menu designed for sharing (think salt-and-pepper calamari, marinated olives and arancini).
153a King Street, Newtown; 0405 671 002
In 2013, a survey of Newtown found that of more than 100 restaurants and cafés in Newtown, 38 were Thai – and for a time, anyone wandering King Street looking for something other than Thai or pub food was often stymied. That all changed when Bloodwood took up residence on the South King Street in 2010, a bar and restaurant with neighbourhood credentials and high aspirations. It’s thanks to the neighbourhood vibe, prime King Street position, ever-changing, produce-driven menu and biodynamic wine list that it maintains its position as the local’s drop-in of choice, even as Enmore Road nearby proliferates with eateries and small bars. The former Newtown Conservatory houses Bloodwood; Matt Woods Design made it over befitting Newtown’s alternative aesthetic, incorporating reclaimed and repurposed wares. Situate yourself on the outside deck, the mezzanine or the bar and soak up the atmosphere.
416 King Street, Newtown; (02) 9557 7699
It’s still hard to wander more than a few metres without hitting a Thai restaurant on King Street – and that’s no bad thing. Which one to try, though? Atom Thai sets itself apart from the competition with a menu that’s got a little more excitement – but won’t alienate your standard pad Thai-loving patron. Think crab spring rolls with taro in netted rice paper; miang goong: fat prawns atop betel leaves topped with sweet chilli jam, cashews and roasted coconut; and whole steamed snapper with lemongrass, chilli, lime, garlic and kaffir lime leaves. The staff, too, are the kind of hospitality miracles who remember your name, your favourite dish and to enquire whether your grandma had a nice birthday last week.
130 King Street, Newtown; (02) 9550 5965
Continental Deli Bar & Bistro
Your Martini comes in a tin (and it’s a Mar-tinny, by the way – you could also opt for a Can-hattan), which should be a fair indication that this place is sticking to its theme. And that is of a family-run neighbourhood deli, shelves stacked high with tinned goods from various motherlands and meats by the slice. We’re talking delicacies canned in locales around the world such as sardines from France, clams from Galicia and salty anchovies from the Bay of Biscay, as well as house-canned morsels and charcuterie and cheese that have been equally lovingly sourced. Rounding out the Australia Street quadrumvirate, Continental is the work of Porteño’s Elvis Abrahanowicz and Joe Valore, Jesse Warkentin of Bodega and Michael Nicolian of Gardel’s Bar. Lunchtime sees the bell over the front door tinkling regularly as patrons file in to take up residence along the marble counter as staff carve, slice and serve choice deli goods and sandwiches. As the sun begins to set, cocktails by the tin and glass begin to appear at tables by the windows. Upstairs, the restaurant proper serves Euro-inspired dishes such as steak tartare with gaufrette potatoes; roasted chicken with pot-au-feu vegetables; and stracciatella with baked beetroot, sourdough crumbs and rocket. Don’t forget your tinned desserts, either: there’s Neapoli-tin Gelato or Cake in a Can: chocolate pudding with caramel, kumquats and yoghurt gelato.
210 Australia Street, Newtown; (02) 8624 3131
The exterior of Stanbuli, that of the original 1950s Marie-Louise hair salon complete with fuchsia paint and purple, gives no indication of the cool, stylish Turkish restaurant/bar housed within. When the guys behind Porteño (and Bodega, and Continental Deli Bar & Bistro) back something, you know it’s going to be good. Elvis Abrahanowicz and Joe Valore joined former Porteño chef Ibrahim Kasif to create this homage to the flavours of Istanbul. Upstairs is the dining room proper, downstairs is the bar and casual dining area, where some of the best people watching can be done. Start with the midye dolma, revelatory stuffed mussels, and a glass of raki before meandering onto more shared meze and morsels from the grill. Formulaic Turkish is out and genuine Istanbul is in: anyone who’s devoured a fish sandwich down at the harbour at the Galata Bridge in that city will appreciate the Kalamar, local calamari cooked over wood-fire; and Gavurdagi Salata with finely chopped olives, walnuts, pistachios, Queensland spanner crab and pomegranates is a great indicator of what modern Turkish food is all about.
135 Enmore Road, Enmore; (02) 8624 3132