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DESTINATION: Sydney

By JOHN ROZENTALS

TRAVEL: 26 SEPTEMBER 2016

By JOHN ROZENTALS ventures back to the Sydney suburb of Chippendale ... and finds a very different world to the one in which he worked so many years ago.

The Chippendale that I worked in many years ago — mostly during the 1970s — was hardly high on the list of places tourists would be drawn to.

Then, this most clearly delineated inner-Sydney suburb — a near-rectangle bounded by Regent St, Broadway, City Rd and Cleveland St — was a blend of working-class and student accommodation, a smattering of light industry and, at its Central Railway end, absolutely dominated by the Kensington Brewery, whose initials provided the name for Tooths’ most popular beer.

The brewery is still a key ingredient of the suburb, but these days in the form of the Central Park redevelopment, which houses the completely revamped Old Clare Hotel, a myriad of accommodation options, a vast platter of restaurants and many artistic endeavours.

Many of the suburb’s old houses have emerged as trendy accommodation but many have been transformed into the edgiest of art spaces, which on their own form the basis for rewarding tourist visits.

One of the best ways in which to discover the inner workings of this fascinating new Sydney precinct is to take a walking tour with Culture Scouts, a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and passionate group of guides.

We were looked after admirably by Melinda Vassallo, who wears her artistic heart very much on her sleeve and provided an emotionally charged tour of not just Chippendale but also took us across Cleveland St into Redfern’s once-notorious ‘Block’ for a glimpse of how that was starting to change and gain artistic cred in its own right.

Eating wise, there’s plenty to choose from in the new-look Chippendale and I must admit to have only tried a few of them.

A few months ago I was blown away by the modern, cosmopolitan atmosphere, slick staff and great food at Kensington Street Social, which occupies some of the space in the Old Clare Hotel.

The kitchen takes centre stage, with many of the dining positions overlooking the workspace.

Current lunch-and-dinner menu entrées include Persian feta, served with smoked shiitake mushrooms, pickled pumpkin and nut crumble; and pasture-fed-beef tartare, served with beetroot jam, oyster emulsion, horseradish and wasabi leaf.

For main courses, select from a menu that includes dishes such as swordfish, served with parsley root cream, charred fennel and onion ash; and lamb rump, served with bacon, barlotti ragout, sprout chips and manchego (a milk cheese from Spain’s La Mancha region).

As at many good Sydney restaurants, the wine list includes a varied and eclectic offering by the glass, in this case with only a smattering of European wines holding fort against a strong Australian contingent.

I tried a few glasses, with my pick going to an elegant, smooth (no likeness to the name here), earthy Tommy Ruff 2014 Syrah Mourvedre from the Barossa Valley.

On my last visit, the Woman with Altitude and I thoroughly enjoyed breakfast, sitting on a bench outside a full-to-the-brim Brickfields, on the corner of Cleveland Street and Balfour Street, just outside the old Thurles Castle Hotel, formerly one of my favourite Chippendale watering holes and now a home for seniors at risk of homelessness. How appropriate.

It’s just so easy to see why this bakery/café is so popular with locals and visitors alike, and why they flock to it on weekends to chat, read the papers and gorge themselves on delights such as freshly brewed coffee, pastries, fresh bread and double-smoked-ham toasties with tomato chutney and cheddar.

It’s where we met our guide Melinda and it provided just the start and sustenance we needed for our adventure around Chippendale.

Lunch was at Ester, a relative newcomer to Sydney’s dining scene and one that has gained plenty of positive attention from the critics — including landing the award for best new restaurant by The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2015.

The set-up, too, is appealing, and similar, in some ways to that at Kensington Street Social, with the kitchen very prominently on display to diners.

This was obviously going to be an experience to savour and the edgy food maybe a bit challenging but I must admit to occasionally having visions of the emperor’s new clothes.

Dishes such as crispy squid dumplings sound deliciously tempting, but the menu makes no mention that the reference is to squid ink, or that the casing is heavy, black and glutinous rather than delicate and translucent — glutinous enough to stick your gums together.

Anyway, it did lead us back to the Old Clare Hotel for a cleansing ale and another look at a remarkable restoration job on this old inner-city watering hole, which was a revered drinking stop for workers at the Kensington Brewery and, after dark, a temple for Sydney’s indie-rock scene.

Here’s cheers to the whole experience of being reunited with a very different Chippendale to the one I knew as an up-and-coming sub-editor.

IF YOU GO

Chippendale Creative Precinct — visit http://chippendalecreative.com/.

Culture Scouts — phone 02 9016 5531; or visit http://www.culturescouts.com.au/home/.

Kensington Street Social — 3 Kensington St, Chippendale; phone 02 8277 8533; or visit http://kensingtonstreetsocial.com

Brickfields — 206 Cleveland St, Chippendale; phone 02 9698 7880; or visit http://brickfields.com.au.

Ester — 46-52 Meagher St, Chippendale; phone 8068 8279; or visit http://www.ester-restaurant.com.au.

Old Clare Hotel — 1 Kensington St, Chippendale; phone 02 8277 8277; or visit http://www.theoldclarehotel.com.au.

General Sydney tourism — http://www.sydney.com/

Above: Melinda Vassallo in the Old Clare Hotel ... wears her artistic heart very much on her sleeve.

Kensington Street Social ... blown away by the modern, cosmopolitan atmosphere, slick staff and great food.

Spice Alley ... part of Chippendale’s new look eating scene.

Above and below: Chippendale is home to a variety of edgy artistic endeavours.

Old Clare Hotel ... a Campari display takes drinkers back to another era.

Ester ... a highly praised restaurant chefs puts its chefs very much on display.

Kensington Street Social ... blown away by the modern, cosmopolitan atmosphere, slick staff and great food.

Spice Alley ... part of Chippendale’s new look eating scene.

Chippendale is home to a variety of edgy artistic endeavours.