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  • Writer's pictureTina Brand

Cruising Crown Street: Adventures In Surry Hills

Even dividing the street into two days of research didn't get Lorrie and me through all the dining spots on Crown Street, in the heart of Surry Hills. The two-and-a half km street is filled with cafes, bars, hotels, bistros, grocers and restaurants. If you were spending a day on Crown, you could very well start with breakfast and work your way through morning tea, lunch, afternoon refreshments, some pre-dinner drinks and then a fabulous dinner with choices galore for each. Here were some favourites over two days of traipsing:

Cafe Organism:

Owned by the lovely and efficient Jee Young, this cosy 'nest' above the fray of traffic and pedestrians is a little haven of K-inspired, organic, homemade snacks and meals, alongside a mean Hernandez bean coffee made anyway you like, as well as many other beverages like honeycomb iced coffee, French earl grey and pearl jasmine teas, and iced Belgian chocolate mochas. Sit at the balcony bar and watch the world go by below, or tuck yourself into the charming little space indoors.

Apart from lovely breakfasts and light lunches, meals include bibimbap, bulgogi rice bowls, and a rotating Organism meal special. This place is a long standing favourite of mine, introduced as many wholesome good things are, by daughter Claudia some years ago.

Kawa Cafe:

Lorrie and I stopped at Kawa but left curiously disappointed- nothing was right about the food or drink despite a great location and cheerful interiors; the coffee was weak, the biscuit was dry and fell apart, the home made lemonade was overly sweet and strident, the carrot cake was entirely forgettable and barely carrot-y, and the turmeric latte was insipid and tasted of nothing. Gone are the good times at Kawa. Skip it.

This place is going full tilt with a hipster clientele chasing a cool vibe. The pale, bagged wall interiors and touches of natural elements of dried flowers and draped branches are signatures of noted interior designer George Livissianis and sculptor and floral artist Tracey Deep. Artist/DJ Beni has added a playful splash with his monochromatic designs in bold strokes over walls and furniture and on menus and banners. The iconic Dolphin Hotel now transformed, offers excellent all day dining options from noon and it is where you hang out to people watch- or be one of them.

Claiming to be "free range chicken that's world famous in Surry Hills", Henrietta has a fun, bright, diner-cum-local bar feel about it, marrying charcoal chicken with swingy cocktails and blasting some cool grooves. It is as casual as leave the cutlery behind, and get stuck into some finger lickin' fun. Lovely service and the good people watching continues...

Also in the Ibby Moubadder restaurant group with the quirky Cuckoo Callay and Henrietta, Nour is a sweet and elegant re-think of the flavours of Lebanon. Also known for its lovely long weekend brunches.

Here's a good option for a date night in chic surrounds and low key but attentive service.

The Japanese ramen house has such a cult following that during the most severe lockdown phases, they got cracking and delivered their noodle and gravy packs all across Sydney so that die hard fans wouldn't go without.

Despite all the hype, stepping beneath the welcome calico flags over the front door into Chaco Ramen is pure delight. More colourful cloth flags hang gaily from overhead beams and the warm light reflecting off the rustic wood furniture transports you immediately to Japan. Bowls of hot delicious broth arrive just how you imagine it should be: filled with elastic-y tender ramen noodles, char su, pork belly slices, scallops or poached chicken. Dip your soup spoon

deep and discover a half slow cooked egg, gooey and full of brothy flavour. This place deserves all its hype.

Japanese izakaya (casual) dining in elegant surrounds. This is a long time favourite on Crown.

This little precinct amongst lovely shade trees takes you away to the mediterranean. Chose a variety of options here from tapas and wine at The Winery to Zushi where you can enjoy the clean

flavours of Japanese sashimi and enjoy cold and hot sake varieties. Good for a covid distancing brisk business lunch, just as good in the courtyard for families.

Located behind the playground opposite the Surry Hills library, is a garage at the bottom of some row houses in which is a little coffee operator called Wilson. Named after the architectural practice upstairs that own the space, your coffee here is aiding a charity. in fact, 30% of profits go to a charity of Wilson's choosing. Its a lovely little spot in the deep shade of a garage, but right on the lip of bustling activity and sunshine overlooking the playground and Crown Street traffic. I like that my excellent coffee made by barista Joaquin is a small contribution towards a good cause.

This bright and airy corner cafe on Crown is a rare find. Here, the Allpress coffee is organic, and so is all the food..... which is stand out. Lorrie and I thought we would stop here to try the coffee but were ultimately drawn to the enticing menu. Succumbing ( not hard for us, sadly...), we ordered the green pea fritters which were described as baby peas, feta and ricotta fritters, herbed coconut yoghurt pistachio nuts, pickled beetroots, kale salad and red wine dressing.

Having gone this far, we also ordered the coconut pancakes with almond crumble, saffron syrup, blueberries, salted caramel ice cream, yoghurt and freeze dried mandarin.

Both were incredibly delicious, rare tastes that felt exciting together, but also fresh and served with a light hand.

I got up from my seat and leaned over the counter at this point: who is the chef????? I had to meet this creative person.

A smiling young guy unmasked and introduced himself as Jun, the owner of Wilde and Co, as well as the cosy little coffee place on the opposite corner. From all accounts, Jun uses a consultant chef who supplies him with these top organic recipes which his cook makes fresh here. The menu changes frequently, and the coffee is great.

In the very heart of Crown Street serving great breakfasts, snacks and meals, along with Single O coffee is Four Ate Five. There is some seating on the pavement offering further people watching sport. The consistently great food comes with an Israeli flavour, and some delicious baked goods are courtesy of the owner's mum.

This lovely spot is a little jewel in Crown Street. There is an air of generosity and warmth as you step inside. A family run business infused with much joie vivre, you'll find the interior is warmly lit, but it is the food which brings you back repeatedly. Think crab meat rice paper rolls, spicy lemongrass clams and crispy house roast pork with crackling and kai lan. There are few places in the city with a selection of vegan options quite as varied and tasty as what you'd find here.

Not forgetting provisions, here are some absolute stars on Crown street:

A family run business on a strategic corner block position, enter at your own peril: it is a losing battle to escape the CSG without a basket laden with goodies. Efficiently laid out, labelled and priced, find mediterranean cooking ingredients from arborio rices, to bottled

anchovies, pickled peppers, cheeses, charcuterie, fruit, veggies, flours, cereals and pastes. A sandwich section in the refrigerated shelves is piled with thick and homey sandwiches and wraps catering to the lunchtime workforce and students in the area.

Don't expect to find a website with listed ingredients apart from the address and operating times, just take your shopping bags and head for 640 Crown Street.

Open daily from 10 am to 10 pm, this is a shopper's paradise of every subcontinental essential ingredient. Fresh, frozen, canned, jarred and shrink wrapped, you'll find everything from Indian sweetmeats and roti, hard to get drumsticks and grated coconut, rices of every variety, oils, ghee, flours from chickpea to gram, rice to taro. Indian beauty products and pharmaceuticals like neem toothpaste and rose scented hair 'oil compete for space with papadams of all shapes and dried lentils and beans. Don't get me wrong- everything is immaculately stacked, priced and coded. Shopping is an efficient dream in here, compared to my many experiences (anywhere in the world) in Indian grocery stores which tend to be untidy at best, and diabolically unfathomable in some extreme cases...!

Go here, even if you don't cook Indian- it's so much fun, and you might score some great snacks for arvo tea like 'muruku' or fried banana chips. Both dearly missed childhood staples for me.

Priding themselves on waste free bulk food, find your essential grains, cereals, flours, honey, oils, syrups, nut pastes, seeds and berries in large bins and bottles where you can help yourselves using paper bags and recycled glass containers. All locally owned and operated, there are over fifty stores around Australia. I picked up some bone broth in powder form, and a superior quality liquorice tea to take home.

Ice Cream on Crown Street:

Gelato Messina claims to set the benchmark for gelato in Australia. With forty flavours, ice cream cakes and a lovely selection of specials, the little space is always full of customers looking for a happiness fix. There are varieties which include nut free, vegan, gluten free and egg free options. So in fact, there really is something for everyone. My favourite of all time is the pandan coconut flavour.

I also love that the guys at Messina participate in the FairShare program in Melbourne, feeding those desperately in need.

Rivareno Gelato also claims to be the best gelato ....... in Sydney. Made fresh daily, Rivareno certainly has its faithful followers. Why don't you see for yourself which might come out on top? Both this and Messina are pretty fine experiences.

Other food to try along Crown Street:

A very special tiny space with a great menu. Open from early morning to 5 pm daily, discover delicious meals and snacks with vegan and vegetarian options that vie for attention. You won't regret a stop here.

Bartolo: a dinner only, cosy Italian restaurant with excellent menu offerings and a wine list that's equally fine. Smart, casual and relaxed, the atmosphere is stylish like the food itself.

Probably the newest kid on the block. The name is an 'in' joke amongst Indians who use the term in a rather derogatory manner to describe Indian nationals (usually too big for their boots by this stage!) back from an overseas stint. The humorous name makes me hope the new Indian inspired bar and kitchen is not taking itself too seriously which I believe is the failure of most Indian eating places. Often lacking playfulness, curiosity or sense of adventure, subcontinental restaurants tend to quickly sink into a dull seriousness, instantly reflected in the food........ much to my continual disappointment. So lets' hear it for some loud and proud, fun slinging Indo chow!


Apart from all the imbibing, snacking and dining on offer almost at any time of day or night, there is retail therapy of every sort to be enjoyed in every block on the street. With staycations being the new normal, plan a day on Crown Street: you could have yourself a lot of fun.


All images mine except those of Gelato Messina, which are from their IG.


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