Look past the pristine beaches and dazzling sunshine and you'll find a revolution in swing in Sydney's new foodie Mecca. Stylist contributor Lizzie Pook eats her way through Chippendale
We have history, Australia and I. As a pasty Londoner with chronic vitamin D deficiency, I cannot get enough of the place. I've made the 20-something-hour trip from the UK several times, not only for the impeccable beaches and alluringly laid-back way of life, but because I always see something here that leaves me agog: the humpback whale migration off the west coast, for example; swamps heaving with seven-foot crocs in the Northern Territories; I was even once a witness in an attempted murder investigation in middle of the outback (yes, it was like a particularly dramatic episode of The Flying Doctors). However, it's Sydney that really has me in its grip; it is here that I return, time and time again, giddy with anticipation at what treasures I might unearth.
Fortunately the city is also home to some of the best boutique hotels in the world. I'm here to check out a new contender on the scene: The Old Clare, by The Unlisted Collection:, nestled on the up-and-coming Kensington Street precinct in Chippendale. The Group has a knack of setting up home in the coolest emerging neighbourhoods, and Chippendale - starting in Sydney's CBD and bluring into Broadway - is no exception. It is at the heart of a burgeoning foodie scene (you can't swing a hipster beard in this postcode without knocking into a pop-up street market or quirky fusion cafe). In fact, there are three big-name restaurants opening here before the end of the year. As well as Automata (automata.com.au), with former Momofuko Seiobo sous-chef Clayton Wells on the pans; and Silvereye, run by ex-Noma number two Sam Miller; next door to the hotel is Jason Atherton's soon-to-be open Kensington Street Social (his first opening in Australia due early 2016). Atherton will also run the pool bar on the rooftop of the Old Clare - where you'll soon be able to sip on alcoholic slushies and Bloody Mary sundaes while taking in the view of some of Sydney's tallest skyscrapers.
My stomach is rumbling as I arrive, but I'm keen to explore the hotel, so eating must wait. The reception - a harbinger of the hotel's elegant, industrial feel - is surrounded by exposed bricks and steel beams, all contrasted by painterly furnishings. There are vintage barber's chairs, nautical searchlights and huge industrial safes dotted around (a nod to one of building's past incarnations as an administrative building and brewery). I look up to see Marilyn Manson's beady eye staring down at me: behind the front desk is a wall plastered with old, flaking music posters; a hint at its other past life as a grungy gig venue.
I'm in a studio room, which has an airy New York loft feel with industrial touches, with fittings made by British upcyclers Rag and Bone Man (I'm delighted to discover my light used to be part of an aircraft engine). And a bed so comfy that I contemplate wantonly disregarding my baggage allowance and shoehorning the mattress into the overhead locker on the flight home. There are quirky touches, too. On my door handle I find an 'I'm lonely' sign, which I don't quite have the guts to hang outside (the staff won't reveal what would happen if I did, either). It's an irreverence that's echoed throughout the hotel; downstairs in the bar, an old ATM has been converted into vintage phone box - pick up the receiver and you can listen to poems about the hotel while sipping on your whiskey and ginger, which is exactly how I while away the rest of my evening.
I make it my mission to spend the next day launching my own Woman vs Food challenge against Chippendale's eateries, starting with brunch at Glide, a tiny hidden cafe down the road, where I wolf down succulent mini duck burgers and delicious pressed pineapple, lemongrass and apple juice. For lunch I head to Spice Alley (a sort of posh open-air street food market) where I want absolutely everything but settle on the best salt and pepper squid I've ever tasted. Serious foodies should also check out nearby Surry Hills, where locals queue out the door for the pork and fennel sausage rolls at Bourke Street Bakery, followed by salted caramel and white chocolate chip at Messina Gelateria.
Highlights of my dinner at Automata include fried fish skin and storm clams with rosemary dashi and cream, and the most tender cut of inside skirt steak with aubergine, shiitake, tamari and brown butter. I round things off with a nightcap at Shady Pines Saloon, a tiny bar in the neighbouring suburb of Darlinghurst where you can enter by a secret door to knock back a Hangman's Fizz (date-infused whiskey, maple and sarsaparilla), surrounded by walls of taxidermy moose and bison ogling you disconcertingly.
The next morning, to counteract the effects off all this food, I hop on a bus to Coogee beach, about five miles away, and spend a couple of blissful hours strolling the coastal path to Bondi beach. It's a bracing and beautiful walk and as I stand on a clifftop, the sun beating down on me, watching the spouts of a pod of humpback whales shooting into the sky in the distance, I know this won't be the last time I visit Sydney. It won't even be the second to last time. We've got something going on, you see.
Doubles at the Old Clare (theoldclarehotel.com.au) start at £160 per night.
Location, location location
If you're looking for somewhere more central to rest your head, pay a visit to the QT, a quirky-yet-homely bolthole, slap bang in the centre of town
"Good afternoon and welcome to the QT!" I am greeted by an ebullient concierge in a bright red bob wig and black leather beret. I nod, try not to look shocked, and haul open the brass and mahogany door, escaping from busy Market Street to the dark depths of the hotel. The QT is seductive, subversive and irresistibly retro. Renovated from its previous life as a department store (you'll still see signs for the hairdresser's and the lifts remain intact, although they now blast out Motown and punk as you travel to your requested floor) it is decorated in outlandish fashion, with grotesque pony sculptures garbed in couture and bondage gear, leather stools sprouting human legs, and walls of vintage bulb lighting giving the place a speakeasy glow.
On arrival I am treated to a thermal massage in the spaQ. I feel terribly sorry for my masseuse, Jill, who has to tackle the horrendous knots in my shoulders, but she does a fine job and I leave feeling light as air. Dinner that evening at the Gowings Bar and Grill is exceptional, too. In suitably sleek surroundings we tuck into crab cakes (complete with edible flowers), beer steamed prawns, melt-in-the-mouth minute steak and hearty mac and cheese. With a location that means you can get to all of the city's main tourist attractions - including the harbour bridge, the rocks and ferries to Taronga zoo and Manly beach - within half an hour, and decor that can distract you for whole afternoons, the QT is the perfect place to escape the sweltering streets of Sydney.
Doubles at QT Sydney (qtsydney.com.au) start at £216