You could visit Darlinghurst several times a week for a year and still not cycle through all the restaurants, cafés and bars on offer in this inner east Sydney suburb. Bordered by the neon Kings Cross Coke sign in the north, Hyde Park in the west and Oxford Street to the south, this densely populated Eastside Sydney suburb has an infamous and rather gritty history. But Darlinghurst, or “Darlo”, has spruced itself up over the last two decades and is loaded with restaurants, galleries and bars – not to mention the spiritual home of the Sydney Mardi Gras. These are just a few of the ways to entertain yourself on an evening out in Darlinghurst.
Eau De Vie
The drinks are great and the theatrical delivery is even better at Eau de Vie. Tucked at the back of The Kirketon hotel (go through the dark glass door with the restroom sign next to it), this impressive cocktail bar is so dedicated to the speakeasy aesthetic you half expect a plume of cigarette smoke to be hovering above your head. This isn’t the place to drink a margarita (though traditional cocktails are on the menu); rather, experiment with a new order at the recommendation of the dapper bartenders. If you like rum, prefer sweet over sour and enjoy coconut, then a Money to Burn – complete with a flaming (fake!) dollar bill – is the drink for you. Enjoy an Old Fashioned but want something with a little more kick? Then have the bartenders light a Zacapa Blazer on fire in front of you for a fancy beverage that will truly warm your cockles.
229 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst; 0422 263 226
East Village Hotel
Sometimes, you need a night out in the middle of the week to break up the monotony of full-time work. East Village, the three-level pub on the corner of Palmer and Liverpool streets, has food and drink offers every night of the week to entice you to its open-air rooftop – if its singular view of Sydney Tower wasn’t already enough. Fancy a burrito bowl? Then Tuesday is the night to visit, with $15 poke, burrito and Buddha bowls on offer (the raw salmon poke bowl with vinegary pickled cucumber and a kick of heart from sriracha is especially fresh), as well as a $10 spritz of the day. If you prefer to get out on hump day, there’s a $20 beer and burger option, as well as $10 Negronis.
234 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst; 0431 622 944
It’s all about family at Almond Bar. Sisters Carol and Sharon Salloum opened the skinny space a decade ago and everything from the share-plate menu to the long, welcoming tables channel a rambunctious family dinner. Simply presented, the dishes are a mix of Middle Eastern fare most patrons will be familiar with (the falafels – chickpeas only, no breadcrumbs – are made by the sisters’ mother) and more traditional Syrian dishes. Start with at least three dips, served with more pita bread than you can get through in one sitting and choose several plates for the table to pass around. The fattoush is a jumble of crisp and well-dressed vegetables; the signature grilled calamari with oregano and lemon is a must; and the ba’ar and fasouliyah (slow-cooked beef brisket basted with date molasses and served with firm beans and lentils) flakes on your fork. It’s tempting to overeat when you’re nibbling off different plates but try to save room for dessert – the housemade rosewater ice-cream is delicate and always popular.
379 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9380 5318
Johnny Wong’s Dumpling Bar
Sure, you can order barbecue pork buns or a Mongolian beef salad with beansprouts from Johnny Wong’s but really, you’re here for those steaming parcels of meat and veg. It’s a cosy little spot, up a flight of stairs with newspaper-lined walls and the dumpling menu has all the key flavours – pork, cabbage and chives; chicken and water chestnut; prawn; and mushroom and coriander – in steamed, boiled and pan-fried options served in steamer baskets or paper-lined cardboard trays.
Level 1, 383-387 Bourke Street, Taylor Square, Darlinghurst; (02) 8080 7060
A case can be made that the ricotta hotcakes at Bills are what started the Australian obsession with brunch. Though there are now two other Bills throughout Sydney, as well as outposts in London, Hawaii and Tokyo, the light and bright Darlinghurst cafe is the original (and perhaps the best?). Don’t limit yourself to the pancakes, though. There are scores of other breakfast and lunch dishes worthy of accolades, including the sweet corner fritters or, for the full brunch experience, a Full Aussie breakfast with cumin-cooked roast tomatoes seasoned, a chilli and fennel sausage, bacon, eggs and miso mushies.
433 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9360 9631
Gelato Messina Creative Department
You probably don’t expect to nibble on pickled asparagus and caviar on a visit to Messina. But a visit to the gelateria’s Creative Department doesn’t feature the bombastic flavours you’ll find at its other outlets. Instead, the intimate seven-course dessert degustation is about experimentation, meticulous presentation (we’re talking eyedroppers and tweezers used to place ingredients just so) and eating sweet and savoury gelato flavours that absolutely shouldn’t work but are really, truly delicious. Case in point: goat yoghurt and koji gelato with blueberry chutney and puffed rice or the miso gelato served on top of soy-soaked eggplant and topped with a generous serve of foie gras. The menu changes constantly so one visit is definitely not enough. Every course comes with a non-alcoholic drink concocted to complement the flavours in the ice-cream dish.
243 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9669 4527
Nestled inside a corner-bound, whitewashed building less than 20 metres from bustling Oxford Street is this Italian-style trattoria specialising in fresh pastas. Each week there’s a new special making use of seasonal ingredients and the chef’s predilections. Past bowls have included crescents of ravioli stuffed with prawn meat, cream and chives accompanied by thin pencil leeks and bunches of saltbush; squid-ink tagliatelle with a trio of octopus, olive and oregano; and huge, flat ribbons of al dente parpardelle with pulled lamb shank ragu and a pile of Parmesan. Should you be avoiding carbs, there are lighter plates to share, such as silky beef tartare with twigs of kohlrabi and a roast cauliflower that most tables seem to order. Oh, and Aperol spritz cocktails are on tap for $9 during happy hour.
371-373 Bourke Street, Darlinghurst; 0449 516 798
Edition Coffee Roasters
Scandinavian and Japanese cuisines seem far removed from one another – after all, there’s a huge stretch of land between the two regions. But when you drill down, the similarities became more apparent – an appreciation of fresh, delicate seafood; simple presentation – and a fusion makes perfect sense. The menu changes regularly at Edition Coffee Roasters but when we visit there are Japanese hotcakes topped with cherries drunk on sake and an ice-cream-sized scoop of gold-coated white chocolate (a variation of these is always on the menu), Grønnebrød – Danish rye bread with edamame and miso-roasted zucchini – and Gaifu Kaisei, a bits-and-pieces, Asian-style breakfast with a steaming cup of miso, rice and delicately cured bonito. Even the cutlery embraces the union at this sleekly styled corner coffee shop, with the designs done by a Dane and the production completed in Japan. And don’t forget the coffee, of course, which is roasted on site and offered in terms of “black”, “white” and “filter”.
265 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst
Image: Alana Dimou
The Surry Hills flagship closed in 2015 but the menu still stands at the moody Riley Street Red Lantern. Luke Nguyen’s Vietnamese stalwart may have been around for more than a decade but it consistently serves up plates of the cuisine proper – a diner at another table took a bite of the muc rang muoi (salt and pepper squid) and declared it to be “totally scrumptious”. What makes it so? Seasoned with chilli salt, the crunchy batter yields to the chewy squid and the sharp, white pepper comes in a lemony dipping sauce. Also delicious are the banh bot chien – dense rice cake squares topped with tiger prawns and curls of pork floss – and the ca chien xot nuoc dua, pan-fried fish fillets in a milky curry generously garnished with lemongrass and shallots.
60 Riley Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9698 4355
Forget about ordering butter chicken. Brick Lane knows it’s cool (see the exposed brick walls and colourful murals) and takes its cues from its London namesake for a modern, Indian-inspired menu. That means a riff on banh mi – naan-mi – with a roti wrap, crisp pork belly and a huge kick of chilli and slow-cooked beef short rib with coriander and garlic crisps. The dessert options continue the spin, including a rich chai-chocolate mousse with the lick-the-bowl quality of cake batter served with golden chunks of teeth-sticking honeycomb, as does the unique cocktail menu and solid, two-page wine list.
75 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 8964 9318
The handmade pastas change regularly at A Tavola so don’t get too attached to a favourite. Not to worry, though, as they’re consistently delicious. One week might be conchiglie and chunks of octopus covered in a tomatoey sauce, another week pillowy gnocchi with umami mushrooms might make it onto the blackboard. There is also a menu card with staple salads and pastas, though, including a hearty ragu and a simple tomato-cucumber-cos salad dressed in olive oil and basil. Downstairs diners gather at the communal table and there are more intimate tables for two upstairs (go in the door to the right of the main entrance).
348 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9331 7871
On an arrow of land between busy Flinders and South Dowling streets, The Taphouse is indeed a local favourite turning out craft beers and pub grub. The on-tap beer selection is on constant rotation over three bars across three levels, including a rooftop space with fairy lights and potted palms as well as snug side rooms with skinny lamps and plush armchairs. Visit from midday on Sunday for the roast, featuring slow-roasted beef or pork belly, an assortment of bright veg and a traditional Yorkshire pudding.
122 Flinders Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9360 0088
This corner pub certainly attracts an eclectic crowd. On the night we stop by, graduates from the nearby National Art School are flocking up the stairs to their end-of-year party in the colourful rooftop bar, hospital staff are getting comfy with an after-work wine on the retro leather lounges downstairs and locals are congregating on the footpath seats for a schooner. Though no food is a made in-house, patrons can order in food from Grill’d and the local Thai joint or tuck into a pie from Patcher Bakery in Alexandria.
306 Liverpool Street, Sydney; (02) 9331 3672
Wings and Tins
The premise is simple: Wings and Tins sells, well, wings and tins. It serves up 11 different varieties of chicken wings in paper-lined plastic baskets: brave the super-intense spice of the T-bone’s Doom Juice sauce, made from the world’s hottest chillis, or embrace Americana with a sticky whisky-and-maple topping. There’s also vegie “wings” – battered cauliflower and broccoli pieces– and a selection of fry styles. And when it comes to the beer, there’s plenty to drink your way through, with over 50 tinnies on offer.
2 Chapel Street, Darlinghurst
Walk too quickly up Oxford Street on your quest to find a just-released beer and you might miss this unassuming den. A slew of Australian and international boutique brews are on constant rotation through the bar’s 12 taps and there’s also a carefully chosen wine, whiskey and cocktail menu should your imbibing companion not appreciate the amber ale – though when intriguing names such as Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb Sour Ale or Vanilla Milk Stout are scrawled on the backlit whiteboard behind the bar, they may be easily convinced to give one a try. Need some nosh? BL Burgers and Mr Crackles will deliver food to your table.
1/137 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
Is it a trendy terrace? A tapas bar? A spot for an evening wine? All three, actually. Black Bottle opened in the latter half of 2017 and quickly differentiated itself from the other small bars popping up on laneways across the city. There’s no set menu so your order is at the mercy of the chef’s daily whims; luckily, it’s very unlikely that they’ll steer you wrong. Walk to the display fridge, select your dishes – from oysters to anchovies and fritters – and the staff will barbecue them right then and there. As for the drinks, the wine list has been carefully chosen by sommelier Samantha Payne and features affordable drops from smaller producers.
Shop 2, 116-118 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst; 0426 158 133 (text only)
Shady Pines Saloon
If Westerns are your genre and whiskey is your drink, then seek out the nondescript door that marks the entrance to this saloon. This dim dive bar, decorated with a nod to the Wild West, serves up creative cocktails, a serious assortment of beers and, every Sunday, a rotating line-up of entertainment from bluegrass to jazz. It’s been a stalwart of the city’s “secret” bar scene for several years and just because more people know it’s the place to go for a good time these days doesn’t make it any less fun.
Shop 4, 256 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
This pizza-and-pasta joint is local favourite for a reason. The menu may be listed without fanfare and the food just as simple but what it lacks in of-the-moment ingredients it makes up for in deliciousness. Even better, it’s BYO so you can bring your preferred red to accompany a cheesy slice of pepperoni pizza or, for a study in salt, a slice or two of the anchovy and olive topped Napoli. And a starter of garlic bread, of course.
135 Crown Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9332 1129
Love, Tilly Devine
Find yourself ordering the same tried-and-tested sav blanc every time you eat out? There’s no chance of that happening at Love, Tilly Devine. Named for the infamous madam that once ruled the surrounding streets, this 40-seat wine bar has a 300-strong list of wisely chosen, mostly Australian wines. The staff will happily help you select a drop and there are helpful pointers about different grapes within the list itself. Pair with oysters and a creamy wedge of Brie and you’ve got yourself a perfect evening.
91 Crown Lane, Darlinghurst; (02) 9326 9297
Top image: Red Lantern