Tale of Two Cities: Sydney and Melbourne

  • Stepping out on Sydney's boutique-lined Crown Street.

    Stepping out on Sydney's boutique-lined Crown Street.

  • The brunch spread at Three Williams, a cafe in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Redfern.

    The brunch spread at Three Williams, a cafe in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Redfern.

  • A quintessential Melbourne laneway.

    A quintessential Melbourne laneway.

  • The Icebergs ocean pool at Bondi Beach, one of Sydney's most popular stretches of sand.

    The Icebergs ocean pool at Bondi Beach, one of Sydney's most popular stretches of sand.

  • The kitchen at Cumulus Up, the new wine bar from chef Andrew McConnell.

    The kitchen at Cumulus Up, the new wine bar from chef Andrew McConnell.

  • A vendor at the city's historic Queen Victoria Market, a two-block fresh-food mecca that dates back to the 19th century.

    A vendor at the city's historic Queen Victoria Market, a two-block fresh-food mecca that dates back to the 19th century.

  • On the steps of the Sydney Opera House.

    On the steps of the Sydney Opera House.

  • Attractions in the Blue Mountains - 50 kilometers west of downtown Sydney - include the Cableway, said to be the steepest and largest aerial cable car in the southern hemisphere.

    Attractions in the Blue Mountains - 50 kilometers west of downtown Sydney - include the Cableway, said to be the steepest and largest aerial cable car in the southern hemisphere.

  • A view of downtown Melbourne across the Yarra River.

    A view of downtown Melbourne across the Yarra River.

  • Inside Acne Studios' Little Bourke Street boutique.

    Inside Acne Studios' Little Bourke Street boutique.

  • A Moonlight Cinema showing in Centennial Park.

    A Moonlight Cinema showing in Centennial Park.

  • Izakaya-inspired dishes at Cho Cho San.

    Izakaya-inspired dishes at Cho Cho San.

  • A perfectly poured martini at Gazebo.

    A perfectly poured martini at Gazebo.

  • Chapel Street in Melbourne's Prahran neighborhood, where vintage trams still operate.

    Chapel Street in Melbourne's Prahran neighborhood, where vintage trams still operate.

  • The wharf-side LuMi Bar & Dining restaurant in Sydney's Pyrmont Bay area.

    The wharf-side LuMi Bar & Dining restaurant in Sydney's Pyrmont Bay area.

  • Chefs Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac at Saint Crispin on Melbourne's Smith Street.

    Chefs Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac at Saint Crispin on Melbourne's Smith Street.

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With the Australian summer nigh, it’s the perfect season for experiencing down under hospitality at its brightest. For time-pressed travelers looking for a sophisticated urban break, that will likely mean a choice between the continent’s two largest cities—longtime rivals for our affections. So will it be harbor-side Sydney, or the hipster vibe of Melbourne? To help your decision making, we’ve rounded up what’s hot and happening in each…

By Natasha Dragun

SYDNEY

—The Vibe
The first thing you will notice about Sydney over its warmer months is that nobody stays inside: parks brim with picnickers; beaches buzz; and restaurants, bars, and cafés push punters street-side or to the rooftops. The city packs in more than 8.6 million visitors every year, which is not to say that you won’t find a patch of grass or sand to yourself. Jump on a seaplane, rent a kayak, catch a ferry, or hire a yacht, and you’ll soon find hidden beaches with as many or as few people to share it with as you like. And if you want to work up a sweat, most coves and bays are ringed by national parkland, which you can explore on scenic walks. It’s the complete summer cliché: sun, sand, and surf, with an enviable side of sophistication. Could Sydney be the ultimate hot-weather hangout?

—Restaurants Du Jour
Having cut his teeth at Copenhagen’s Noma, Melbourne’s Attica, and Sydney’s Ormeggio before opening LuMi Bar & Dining, chef Federico Zanellato knows a thing or two about of-the-minute cuisine. His eight-course Italian degustation begins with inspired dishes such as delicate spelt ravioli parcels filled with pumpkin, sea urchin, and chives before moving on to stinging-nettle spaghetti and a comforting pork jowl with buckwheat. • Young chef Jonathan Barthelmess can do no wrong—his mod-Greek restaurant Apollo a firm Sydney favorite, he has turned his attention to Japanese cuisine at Cho Cho San. Barthelmess takes inspiration from izakaya joints, dishing up unforgettable king crab omelets and pork-katsu steamed buns that give Momofuku’s famed sliders a run for their money. • Mitch Orr’s new Acme revolves around fresh pasta–there are seven varieties to choose from, complemented by a handful of light bites such as deep-fried artichokes with a chamomile-infused whipped tofu sauce. Back to the carbs: the squid ink strozzapreti is tossed with octopus and has chrysanthemum overtones, while the malty linguine is lifted by black garlic with a gentle crunch thanks to crumbs of pangrattato. • Having left his Opera House digs behind, Guillaume Brahimi has moved his eponymous French restaurant Guillaume to Paddington. The menu is just as wow as it was when harbor-side. Expect the chef’s pitch-perfect presentation to shine through in standout dishes such as the butter-poached marron (crayfish) served with braised pork cheek and the world’s smoothest cauliflower puree.

—Retail Therapy
Fashion fiends have long flocked to suburban strips such as Crown Street for retro boutiques, Oxford Street for homegrown labels, and King Street for vintage fashion and homewares. But Sydney’s CBD is experiencing a retail revival, with big-name brands such as Uniqlo, Sephora, and Topshop all opening here recently. If you prefer a more bijou shopping experience, head to the historic Strand Arcade, with its elaborate Victorian- era facade and boutiques nodding to local design talent—the newest tenants include eponymous shops by MeganPark and Dion Lee. • Occupying the site of the former Carlton & United Brewery, the new Central Park development features an eye-catching design by Foster + Partners as well as what’s being billed as the world’s tallest vertical garden. It’s still a work in progress, but a handful of design and fashion boutiques plus a pop-up art space are already proving popular with students from the nearby university campus.

—Café Culture
Celebrating its first birthday, Three Williams in Redfern remains a popular brunch hangout. The industrial space is family friendly with a kid’s corner, which means you can enjoy bulging “narnies” (flatbread sandwiches) filled with wagyu beef brisket, gherkins, and slaw in peace. Don’t leave without trying the peanut-caramel shake—it’s heaven in an ice-cold glass. • Yes, Pinbone is open for dinner Wednsday through Saturday, but the Woollahra restaurant’s Sunday brunch offerings—indulgent baked tarts; scones with smoked cheese, sausage gravy, and fried eggs—are worth waiting for. If you do come in the evening, order fun bites such as chocolate crackles with liver parfait. • Newtown is known for its seemingly endless culinary options, one of the newest being Cuckoo Callay. Don’t let the fact that it is part of the train station put you off; the quirky decor includes teal banquettes with pops of pink on the walls. Unexpected menu items, meanwhile, include pulled- pork baguettes and crispy hash browns with poached egg, pea puree, and bacon steak. There’s also Aeropress and Chemex-style coffee. • In the same vicinity, Brewtown Newtown occupies a converted warehouse, once the home of a much-loved bookstore. Locals can’t complain too loudly about the replacement café, especially when there are glazed cronuts on offer. There’s a long bar where you can watch baristas prepare everything from 12-hour cold-drip to espresso and filter coffee. Head upstairs to peruse pieces from retail collective O’Connell Street Merchants.

—Market Value
The Sydney Fish Market is said to be the world’s second-largest seafood market in terms of variety (after Tokyo’s Tsukiji). Most people come here for fresh-off-the-boat oysters, prawns, and crab—pick up a loaf of sourdough and a bottle of chardonnay from the deli, order your seafood to go, and pull up a perch on the waterside promenade. Upstairs, the Sydney Seafood School holds classes on how to cook the perfect chili crab or host a summer seafood barbecue. • Every Saturday, top NSW producers and farmers converge on the heritage-listed Carriageworks buildings (part of the 1880s-built Eveleigh Rail Yards) for the popular Eveleigh Market. Chef Kylie Kwong mans the dumpling and pork-bun steamers at her Billy Kwong stall, the aroma of sausages and salamis from the Eumundi Smokehouse stand fills the air, and flavored nuts are cracked and scattered at Murrungundy Pistachios. • If you’re after vintage clothes, pre-loved homewares and general bric-a-brac, it’s hard to look past Surry Hills Markets (first Saturday of every month). Don’t let the buskers distract you from the Jam Bandits stall, where you can order gooey salted caramel on a stick.

—Main Events
From classical music to circus and everything in between, Sydney Festival (Jan. 8–26) is guaranteed to entertain. More than 500,000 people regularly attend free events—including live opera, symphony, and samba music in The Domain park—while ticketed highlights will showcase Aboriginal musician Archie Roach and director Kate Champion in the stage-show Nothing to Lose. • For waterside drama, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (Mar. 27–Apr. 26) is sure to impress. In its third year, the event will see Verdi’s Aida performed on the edge of the harbor at Mrs. Macquaries Point, backdropped by the Opera House. • One of the largest events of its kind in the world, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (Feb. 20–Mar. 8) is among the city’s most popular draws. Thousands of visitors will descend on Sydney for a film festival, fairs, and, of course, the street parade on March 7—an extravaganza of lavish floats, spectacular costumes, and live music.

—After Dark
Sydney’s small bar scene continues to thrive thanks to the likes of Kubrick’s in Surry Hills, where bartenders spin vinyl when not mixing creative cocktails. Most of the wine is biodynamic, and the house drink is the Ku-brick Fizz: a tart muddle of gin, grapefruit liqueur, rosemary agave, fresh lemon, ginger beer, and apple. • The decor at Redfern’s The Bearded Tit is as whimsical as the bar’s name. Uniting an eclectic mix of taxidermy and ceramics, paintings and mirrors, the lounge is a cozy place to sip fun cocktails, with bites supplied by neighborhood restaurants. • Both owned by the Keystone Group, Champagne Room and Gazebo have new looks in time for summer. The former sits atop Surry Hills hotspot The Winery and now offers a luxe cocktail list—try the Mary Antoinette, made with Tanqueray gin, apple bitters, lemon, and rose-milk syrup. You’ll want to linger at Gazebo all evening, gazing over the park while nibbling seared venison tartare with shitake emulsion and roasted kale. The cocktail list has been given a makeover along with the decor. • In town until January 23, the Asahi Super Dry Extra Cold Bar will pop up at 37 Blight Street, giving drinkers the opportunity to beat the heat and taste Asahi Super Dry and Asahi Super Dry Black in a room chilled to sub-zero temperatures.

—Alfresco Offerings
Sydney shines in summer, so it comes as no surprise that everything that can be taken outdoors is taken outdoors, movies included. Pack a picnic and relax on the grass of Centennial Park for Moonlight Cinema (Dec. 11–Mar. 29), showing a mix of all-time favorites and blockbusters; book Gold Grass tickets to get a beanbag and premium spot. • Held beachside in Bondi, short film festival Flickerfest (Jan. 9–18) showcases 100 movies across a diverse range of categories including documentary, comedy, and celebrity shorts. • While most campers pack up trailers and head for the hills, savvy Sydneysiders know that they can pitch a tent within easy reach of the city. A short ferry ride from Circular Quay, Cockatoo Island is a summer favorite for its camping (BYO sleeping bag) and glamping (just bring clothes) options. You can rent basic and more up-market tents on the island, and either fry up sausages on the public barbecues or order pizza and beer from the bar as the sun sets over one of the world’s most spectacular harbors.

—Side Trips
A magnet for its wineries, Hunter Valley—a two-hour drive north of Sydney—is also hosting A Day on the Green (through March) outdoor concerts from the likes of Roxette and Billy Idol. If that dosn’t grab you, head east to the Blue Mountains, a stunning chain of sandstone peaks and gorges beginning 50 km west of the CBD. Set amid the national park areas is Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, recently taken over by the One&Only brand. The new managers have promised to introduce a number of unique guest experiences in 2015.

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