By Bryan Goh

An Insider’s Guide To the Artsy Side Of Sydney

Coastal love
An Insider's Guide To the Artsy Side Of Sydney
Documenting the Harbour City of Australia also known as Sydney, conceptual food artist Gong Hua (@whoeatsart) shares the spaces and places that make Sydney so special in this guide.

The decision to move to Sydney last May was an easy one. I wanted somewhere not too far from Singapore, both culturally and geographically, so that I could adapt instantly and use this move as a stepping stone.

I also wanted a change of environment as well as more personal space and time. When I first got to Sydney, the challenge was to not fill that space that I had purposefully created, and just enjoy it—that means no Saturday brunches to rush to, no ladies’ nights out, no unnecessary coffee catch‑ups in that spare hour between appointments, no birthdays and weddings to attend and do last‑minute gift shopping for.

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It’s only in the downtime that we can see things: You start to realise that l’art de vivre (the art of living) is no longer an expression, but a way of being. Creating content has become more natural, art has become accidental.

I love my job as a content creator and when I get busy, I like to tell myself that I don’t work for
a living, I work to live a better life. Sydney has been ranked second in the world (according to vacation rental company Airbnb) for two consecutive years as the best travel destination and 10th for being the most photo‑worthy (according to global travel site Big 7 Travel), outranking the Maldives, Japan and Iceland.

I like to pack my days with a full itinerary, as though I’m a tourist. Being self‑sufficient means that you’re comfortable on your own, being in your own energy, and finding pockets of joy everywhere. The Aussies know how to live life, with almost 90 per cent of them living close to the coast with access to beautiful beaches, which they get to enjoy eight months out of a year.

At any point in the day, you’ll find people jogging in a national park, or plunging into turquoise beach waters before, after or even during work.

So where do I find cool places to go? How do I discover these places? My answer: with my phone, and by chance. I find that the best way to discover a gem is by foot. You vibe‑check the place immediately, and know what kind of place it is from the entrance, branding and the kind of crowd.

But everyone experiences things differently—there’s no single fixed variable here.

I was at Cocoa & Coffee writing this story the other day and a regular shared this with me: “I like the inconsistency of the banana bread here. On some days, you get lots of bananas and on others, you can barely taste any. It can be moist, it can crumble, but it doesn’t matter because that’s nature and that’s how it should be.”

That said, do a thorough check on the operating hours of the places you wish to visit—some places are closed from Monday to Thursday. If you have time, check their social media as well, in case they have special operating hours due to events.

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My top tip? Time is precious, so don’t waste it on disappointments. If you need caffeine to survive, make sure you get your coffee before 3pm or you’ll have a hard time getting your dose. Have all your shopping done before 5pm—the shops close before people even knock off from work.

Also, keep your eyes open while walking; there are lots of posters on the walls and at road junctions promoting free events that are happening.

For someone who has amaxophobia, getting around is not too difficult for me, thanks to public transport. Of course, there are places that are inaccessible without a car, but getting around is very convenient—for example, Murray Rose Pool (an ocean pool) is only 30 minutes by bus from the city.

Before you embark on your journey though, check Google Maps, as there might not be trains every day. On most days, the weather is nice for walking. Even the rain here is bearable—it mostly drizzles, so I’m usually able to go out with just a cap.

If the weather permits, I’d recommend hitting the beach, especially if you’re here during summer. If the sand’s not for you, you can lay on the grass, sit by the rocks close to the water, or go to a
tranquil beach such as Clovelly Beach, where there are concrete platforms.

To visit: Carriageworks Farmers Market

An Insider's Guide To the Artsy Side Of Sydney

This is where all the well‑loved local produce and cream of the crop are sold, and where you can enjoy a cross‑section of Sydney’s culinary scene, people‑watching and dog‑scoping.

An Insider's Guide To the Artsy Side Of Sydney

Some of my go‑to stalls: Flour and Stone for the best lamingtons (an iconic Australian cake), A.P Bakery for its pizza bianca with quality toppings from the best meat and cheese suppliers, and Sonoma Bakery for its market‑exclusive seasonal croissant pudding (think of a crazy textured pudding and you’ve got it).

I can never leave this market without a thing, or three.

To Eat: Clem’s

Clem’s is spiritual, practical and emotional. We’re talking fried chicken, a comfort food in the truest sense. As an immigrant, I find myself craving fried chicken more than Asian food, and it just so happens that Clem’s is down the street from where I live (fast food indeed).

To me, sound is the much‑forgotten flavour sense, and I’m not kidding when I say the acoustics from the crispiness and crunch of Clem’s fried chicken immediately elevate the experience of eating to a multi‑sensory one.

To Experience: Ace Hotel Sydney

An Insider's Guide To the Artsy Side Of Sydney

Spaces are incubators of the human spirit and are influential on how we live. Ace Hotel Sydney’s sunken lobby lounge marries a cosy home with a luxe‑vintage vibe and the look of a contemporary art gallery.

Quiet nooks, public Wi‑Fi and the serving of coffee beyond 3pm in a space surrounded by art deliver a sense of urban nostalgia. This is where I work and I wish I could gatekeep this dream WFH(otel) spot

By dusk, the tranquil lobby transits into a vibrant music scene with Sydney’s finest on the decks. With music, artist residencies, talks and workshop activations in the adjoining alleyway, the hotel stands as a unique intersection of culture, commerce, art and community gathering.

Oh, and did I mention that there’s also a rooftop restaurant helmed by the much‑applauded chef Mitch Orr?

To Drink: Cocoa & Coffee

Probably the best‑kept secret in Sydney, this small family‑owned cafe run by a father‑and‑son duo is truly a gem! Louis and his son Terence roast their own coffee beans and make their own chocolate on site from scratch with their direct trade sources.

You can taste the passion in the quality of their drinks and even their home‑made bakes are sublime. I can’t help but get two drinks every visit because I can’t forgo either the exquisitely blended coffee or the cocoa. Even if I get a mocha, I’ll still opt to get a chai, which is painstakingly brewed in‑house as well.

For a great start to your day, take both drinks and a hot pastry to the bakery’s quaint backyard to enjoy.

To Experience: Restaurant Hubert

An Insider's Guide To the Artsy Side Of Sydney

Restaurant Hubert is both an experiential dining experience and a love letter to the resplendent old‐world opulence of post‐war Paris. There are venues that have a theme, and then there are venues that live and breathe their existence: the ceiling is low, the light is dim, and everything is enclosed and slightly claustrophobic, but I love it.

Apart from live jazz in the dining room, the restaurant has a theatre where it hosts Magnum & Movies, a biweekly movie screening with a decadent French feast and endless wine. I’d seriously sign up for anything taking place here.

To Visit: Phoenix Central Park

An Insider's Guide To the Artsy Side Of Sydney

Acting as a nexus of art and culture—one where architecture has an important formative role to play—Phoenix Central Park is an artistic hub where both visual and performing arts are in constant dialogue with each other.

The architecture is reminiscent of the Guggenheim, while the central space is a multi‑level amphitheatre that gives a real sense of intimacy and connection. The programmes are diverse and eclectic—you can find anything from the classics to experimental music, solo piano recitals, opera, contemporary dance, poetry readings and edgy performance art.

An Insider's Guide To the Artsy Side Of Sydney

The shows are free, but you’ll need to enter a ballot and pray, so here’s my advice: Enter every ballot to win tickets before booking a trip, and then plan it from there, because it’s imperative for you to witness this place in person.

To Drink: Clocktower Bar

I call this my little piece of New York, where I go to to read, drink and dream. Set within a hollowed‑out 400‑tonne clock tower, the bar is elevated and animated by the soaring clock tower void overhead, where you can still see the machinations of the original Art Deco clock.

I usually go at 4pm—that’s when I get to choose my seat of the day, and have my nibbles and tipples before the crowd arrives. The cocktails here favour simplicity over theatrics, and perfectly complement the lavish interior, art installations and the stunning view of Sydney’s skyline.

To Eat: Fish Butchery

An Insider's Guide To the Artsy Side Of Sydney

No one does seafood like chef Josh Niland—the visionary does some serious reimagining of what can be made from the spoils of the sea! He dry ages seafood, creates desserts with fish fat, serves snapper liver on toast, and makes fish sausages, tuna lasagne, fish bacon and even cod fat soap bars.

For him, this fish shop—the Paddington branch retails fresh fish, frozen ready‑to‑cook meals and fish & chips takeaway, while the one at Waterloo also has a kitchen offering dine‑in and takeaway services—was to prove that fish can do everything meat can, from nose to tail.

I believe he transcended it and made waste mitigation delicious and sexy like no other. Case in point: Just look at the way the fish is displayed on the large marble workstations reminiscent of those in a futuristic lab.

This article originally appeared on Grazia Singapore.

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