Food journalist Michael Shafran is a transplanted New Yorker in Sydney, and the founder of artisan bagel bakery Brooklyn Boy Bagels. Here he reports on the unlikely transformation of two of the city's most down-at-heel areas into gastronomic hotspots

When I first moved to Sydney 13 years ago, Chippendale and Redfern were no-go zones. The former was a dark and decaying neighbourhood, kept alive by a local pub, and soon to inherit the post-apocalyptic dark landmass of the shuttered Carlton & United Brewery. Redfern was reputed (fairly or not) as the most dangerous spot in the inner city.

But like much of Sydney, these sibling neighbourhoods – adjoined by Regent Street, and the Redfern and Central train hubs – have changed dramatically and irreversibly. Redfern is drawing young creatives with its buzzing small bars, vintage shops and innovative cafes and restaurants making a steady advance on renovated shopfronts. Chippendale’s star has soared even quicker, transformed by the high-rise apartment buildings and shopping mall of the mixed-use, 6500-square-metre Central Park development, rising out of the historic CUB brewery’s ashes in late 2013.

Even before Central Park arrived, Chippendale’s resurgence began with White Rabbit, the city’s best gallery. This impressive private collection has a steadfast focus on contemporary, post-2000 Chinese art: from space-filling installations to video, interactive mechanical displays and neon signs. There’s also a relaxing teahouse by the entrance that specialises in, naturally, fine Chinese tea.

Follow Balfour Street to its opposite end to discover Brickfields, an artisan sourdough bakery that extracts the suburb’s best coffee, and features a small menu that pleases with Middle Eastern-tinged dishes like roasted peppers with labna, olives, boiled egg on sourdough; and sandwiches like beef brisket with cabbage, chilli and anchovy mayo. Not to be outdone, Redfern has a bustling new cafe in the shape of Three Williams, an expansive space offering naan-wrapped ‘narnie’ sandwiches, a coffee island rocking Single Origin brews, and The Merchant, a chef’s upgrade of a bacon and egg roll paired with pickles, chilli, slaw and a sesame brioche bun.

Two of the city’s best new restaurants now call the area home. Moon Park is a modern Korean restaurant reached via an unmarked ‘secret’ staircase leading to a terrace space dangled with filament bulbs. Couple and co-chefs Bean Sears and Eun Hee An met at fine-dining institution Claude’s, and here recreate Korean food with artistic platings and culinary flair, but at grounded prices. A signature is the bibim: a mix-your-own bowl of separated helpings of green and brown rice, candied nuts, slivered broccolini and baby soft spanner crab, and enriched with French-style brown butter ‘crumbs’. It’s all served by staff in designer aprons and paired with a wine list that favours natural fermentations. Try the black rice yakju (‘medicinal alcohol’) for a digestive.

There’s equal buzz at Ester, a minimalist wood-fired eatery that isn’t afraid to hold East and West influences to the coals. Chef Mat Lindsay (ex-Vini) does wonders with half a charred cauliflower, dolled up with toasted almonds, almond cream and mint leaves. Carnivores can splash out on the T-bone and a halved bone with marrow spread with XO sauce. For dessert, there’s a take on a Latin American tres leches cake.

All that eating can inspire a thirst, and there’s a solid array of small bars to kick back at for a beverage. There’s a welcome lack of pretension in these parts, whether while delving into the whisky selection and cocktails at hipster-loving Arcadia Liquors; sampling the housemade spiced rum from the cask at swashbuckling-inspired The Angry Pirate; seeking twists on classic cocktails at Freda’s; or pairing wines with cheese and Israeli-meet-Aussie ‘Ausraeli’ bar food at Zigi’s Art Wine Cheese Bar.

Photo by Michael Shafran

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