The best way to discover a neighbourhood is to go straight to the source so we headed to Bondi to get the lowdown from locals. They told us the best places to eat, drink and shop – and shared secrets to exploring the buzzing culture beyond Sydney’s most iconic stretch of sand.
Start here: Bennett St Dairy
Bright, breezy Bennett St Dairy was doing an excellent trade in quality coffee, Australian-style breakfasts, satisfying lunches and delicious cookies – until COVID-19 hit. As Sydney went into lockdown last March, co-owners James Meek and Cliff Baskin made a discovery while they were packing up their Bennett Street and Blair Street cafés.
“Cliff and I found more than 100 kilograms of leftover cookie dough in our coolroom,” says Meek. “We didn’t know what to do with it.”
What he did next kept the business going throughout lockdown. “I casually posted to Instagram to see if anyone wanted to buy the dough,” he says. “We sold out within the first hour.”
Meek and Baskin pivoted into a cookie-dough home-delivery service, selling more than a tonne of the stuff a week. The dough has taken on a life of its own, with collaborations (notably with ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s) and stockists around Sydney.
Their two cafés in Bondi have now reopened but the appetite for chewy, gooey cookies remains insatiable and the sideline in dough is now a permanent fixture. Sample a freshly baked cookie in-house to see what all the fuss is about.
Bennett St Dairy >>> Lox Stock & Barrel
Despite spending much of his time front-of-house at Bennett St Dairy, Meek takes time out to frequent another Bondi café-diner – one with a distinctive New York deli slant and the steaming hot bagels to prove it.
“I can’t go past Lox Stock & Barrel,” he says. “I order the Bowlarama. It’s a delicious mix of sprouted quinoa toast, poached eggs, kale, avocado, hummus, seaweed, housemade fermented veggies, chilli, nuts and miso dressing. Trust me – it’s very tasty.”
Lianne Gottheiner, who runs Lox Stock & Barrel with her chef brother, Neil Gottheiner, agrees. “If I had to name our most popular dish, I’d say Bowlarama. The housemade bagels are up there, too,” she says.
The Gottheiner siblings already had one café (the Bondi institution Brown Sugar, located on Curlewis Street) when a long-held plan to open a Jewish-style deli-diner came together.
“We had the idea early in 2009 but it took a few years to move on it. In 2012, we did a series of dinners called ‘the migrant cuisines of Bondi’. The highlights were the Polish and Hungarian dinners supervised by Josh’s [Wermut, another co-owner] grandma, Sosa,” she says. “We were confident that people were ready to try dishes that had skipped the previous generation.”
Inspired equally by Bondi’s Eastern European-Jewish migrant heritage and health-conscious yoga fans, the menu features house-baked breads, homemade pastrami and corned beef, smoked and cured fish, farm-fresh eggs and killer salads.
The Bondi community has supported the diner from the beginning, says Gottheiner. “Our customers feel they are part of the success of local businesses – which they are! This past year really showed us how important we are to each other.”
Lox, Stock and Barrel >>> Museum Clothing
In that spirit of community, Gottheiner likes to keep things local when it comes to fashion, too.
“Gould Street has been the fashion street of Bondi for as long as I’ve lived here – almost 20 years. Museum is one of the stand-outs,” she says.
“I recently bought a Museum navy linen playsuit and I’m living in it. It’s the perfect piece to juggle the hospitality, beachy, run-around-mum vibe and can easily be dressed up for a last-minute local catch-up with girlfriends.”
Museum owner Michael Sheika grew up in the rag trade. His parents ran Apex Bootmakers and Museum, which began life in nearby Paddington when Oxford Street was Sydney’s fashion mecca. Sheika took over in 2000 and moved the store to Bondi almost a decade ago.
“We rely on Bondi locals supporting our store. We’re not big on promotion, we’re big on returning customers. We don’t bang on about our Belgian linen or our clothes being made in Australia. We just let the product speak for itself. We’re a small, tight ship,” he says.
Museum >>> Bondi Hardware
It’s likely Sheika sees a few designs he recognises at Bondi Hardware, his go-to spot for a laid-back meal after work. The former hardware store is now a bar, café and restaurant with exposed brick walls and a courtyard festooned with fairy lights.
“It has a cosy atmosphere,” says Sheika. “It’s not too light and bright and beachy. It’s got more of a secluded bar atmosphere, which Bondi doesn’t have a lot of.”
At night, the menu is designed to share, with a definite nod to Mexico and the Mediterranean. “I like to do a bit of the Mexican thing, with fish tacos and spicy margaritas made with habaneros,” he says.
Potted plants, exposed brickwork, rustic timber, wall-mounted tools and flickering candlelight help create that Bondi Hardware ambience Sheika is so fond of. The world-travelling menu goes from brunch to dinner, with excellent cocktails for good measure.
In the morning, start with the Zucchini Brekky Bowl loaded with zucchini noodles, cherry tomatoes, kale, chimichurri, haloumi and poached eggs. At dinnertime, a group can order Riverina lamb rump and New York striploin to share – or take Sheika’s advice and try the tacos, guacamole and chicken bites with chipotle. But first, drinks: Bondi in Bloom is a fragrant citrusy treat of gin, elderflower, apricot, cucumber, orange bitters and egg whites.
Bondi Hardware owner Brian McGettigan says the spicy margaritas and Baja fish tacos bring customers back again and again.
But it’s not all about the food. “Bondi Hardware is intimate,” he says. “And it’s a wonderful spot to people-watch – a place to see and be seen! Bondi is a very attractive suburb.