How to spend 12 hours in Newtown, Sydney

Belly Bao's Sylvia Tran helps us plot a trail for first-timers

It’s easy to get carried away in Newtown, a relaxed, eclectic, multicultural inner-city suburb of Sydney. This is a neighborhood where you can pick up native Australian flowers from a boutique florist and chug a lager in a brewery situated near graffiti-lined streets by day, before heading out to find live music and vibrant drag shows at the bars by night. King Street, the district’s main artery, is pure sensory overload, offering a smorgasbord of food, drink and shopping options. Chef and owner of Newtown favorite Belly Bao restaurant, Sylvia Tran, who feels the district personifies what she does and what she stands for, plots a trail for first-timers.

9.00am: Kick-start the day at Rising Sun Workshop

Roll into Rising Sun Workshop, an industrial space converted from a hardware store, and you may find motor-revving riders tinkering away in the garage. Adjacent to the workspace is a spacious café that serves Japanese-inspired fare and coffee. “I think it’s a cool place to go and relax,” says Sylvia. The avocado toast — with charcoal bread, pickled radish and furikake dry Japanese seasoning — and latte together make a great snack, butfor something more substantial, opt for the breakfast ramen. Slurp up the special take on your regular noodle bowl that comes with bacon and an egg in a buttered toast and bone broth. 1C Whateley St;

10.30am: Get morning inspiration at Better Read Than Dead

Take a short walk to the Better Read Than Dead bookstore on King Street for some mental stimulation. The inconspicuously spacious store — you’ll know once you’re inside — has been serving the neighborhood and local literary community since 1996. “I like to read cookbooks, and this is where I go to check things out. I’m currently reading Heston Blumenthal,” says Sylvia. For readers like Sylvia, there’s also a Better Read Cooks section that offers an extensive selection of cookbooks. The store hosts events too — like book club sessions with featured writers held over high tea — so check out before you visit. 265 King St;

11.30am: Go thrift shopping at The Real Deal

There’s a smattering of vintage thrift shops in the area, but it’s The Real Deal, with its carefully curated selection, that stands out. “They’ve just got more premium vintage stuff,” says Sylvia. The boutique stocks everything from pre-loved preppy wear to rare graphic tees from the ’90s. Browsing the racks is sure to bring up a gem or two. 308 King St;

12.30pm: Lunch at Clem’s Chicken Shop

“It’s kind of an institution in Newtown,” says Sylvia of Clem’s Chicken, which has been operated by the same family for over 30 years. “It’s been here for ages. They have quick, affordable and hearty meals; I stop in for lunch when I need something fast and yummy,” she adds. That said, it’s not a place for an ambient get-together. The main items are chicken — fried or spice-basted and roasted — hot chips and steamed veggies in white béchamel sauce. For a taste of the flavors beloved by locals, simply follow the rotisserie aroma wafting from the shop. 210 King St;

2pm: Pick out a bouquet from the Flower Room

For a change of scenery, head to the Flower Room, a boutique Newtown florist known for its artfully bundled bouquets. “They have an excellent variety of flowers and potted plants that you don’t often see,” says Sylvia. “I like them for the restaurant.” If you’re looking to purchase something unique, ask for their selection of native Australian flowers. 282 King St;

3.30pm: Have a drink at Young Henrys

A midday interlude is best enjoyed with a pint in hand, and what better place for that than Newtown’s own craft brewery, Young Henrys? Walk along graffiti-splashed side streets to access the massive, stripped-back warehouse and bar. The beer offerings change according to what they have brewing in the back — feel free to ask the bar staff for recommendations. Brewery tours are also held on weekends — book online to secure slots. 76 Wilford St;

5pm: High tea at Belly Bao

Head back to King Street for some grub at Belly Bao, the first restaurant to popularize the Taiwanese-style sandwich in Sydney. “Belly Bao started out as a hobby — I began with making gua bao, or pork belly buns, for Paddington Market stints,” says Sylvia. You must try the spiced chicken wings and bao noodles (made from bao dough and served with homemade satay chili and a 63-degree egg); and of course the slow-braised pork belly bao. 184 King St;

6.30pm: Hype up the night at 1989 Arcade Bar

The name of this bar says it all — Stranger Things vibes, anyone? It’s fitted out with game machines and other table game equipment and this comes after an end-2018 refurbishment — the back alley was converted to house more arcade units, and three pinball machines were added. When the sun sets, 1989 Arcade Bar gets illuminated by the neon glow of TV screens and the decibels can rise to high and infectious levels — perfect for casual gatherings but probably not that great for intimate outings. “It’s a nice spot for after-dinner drinks; it’s got something extra in comparison to your regular bar,” says Sylvia. 22–24 King St;

8pm: Catch a gig at Enmore Theatre

The Enmore Theatre, first opened in 1910 and now one of Sydney’s oldest live music venues, is an Art Deco landmark that warrants at least a look-see. Artists who have played there include the Rolling Stones, Kiss, Oasis, Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys along with children’s entertainment icons The Wiggles. Check and book shows online before you go. 118–132 Enmore Rd;

This article first appeared in the July 2019 issue of Smile magazine.

Written by

Kara Ortiga

Photographed by

James Horan

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