The spice of life, Sydney style
Kyoto? Kanazawa? Well, Kensington Street in Chippendale at the south end of the Sydney CBD, actually. It’s the city’s buzziest new precinct, or “lifestyle destination” as the marketing boosters prefer. It is “comprised of interlacing streets inhabited by daring innovators” or, with less hyperbole, here we have a quarter of restaurants, cafes and shops, mostly Asian in character. Old buildings and terraces have been hollowed out and reimagined and there’s a nice emphasis on the small and hand-hewn.
Which is where this vibrant mural, and others like it, come in. What I love about this type of street art, and the concept of small cheek-to-jowl eateries with outdoor tables and one or two talked-about specialties, is how cohesive and friendly it feels. Kensington Street’s dining hub is Spice Alley, a jagged laneway strung with lanterns, popping with wall art, and featuring tiny joints serving Malaysian, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese dishes. It feels like a Singapore hawker centre, hours are flexible (about 11am-10pm daily), no cash changes hands (use payWave or a topped-up Spice Alley credit card) and there’s a big student push, given the proximity of the University of Sydney. Tourists are part of the mix as well, especially those staying along the way at The Old Clare, a dining destination in itself with Silvereye on the premises and Automata and Jason Atherton’s new Kensington Street Social on the doorstep.
A notable collection of street art can be found around Penang in Malaysia where clever creators have helped revitalise the heart of UNESCO World Heritage-listed George Town. There’s a marked trail to follow and some murals incorporate the fabric of the building so, say, a real window becomes part of a painted image of a house. It’s even merrier when a resident’s head pops out and startles the selfie crowd.
Back in newly cool and chipper Chippendale, what fun it would be if these Japanese maidens were to suddenly twirl their parasols or wink at diners. I will be keeping an eye on them next time I settle in for a bowl of noodles.
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