A streetcar named sourdough
Sick of losing out to Melbourne on lifestyle, Sydney has embraced the food precinct
When Tramsheds opened in September, you couldn’t get a seat in any of its dozen restaurants without a 45-minute wait. The frenzy subsided into a relaxed bustle after a few weeks, but it’s fair to say Sydney was very excited about this new inner-west food precinct, part of Mirvac’s Harold Park development in Forest Lodge.
After so many decades of leaving the sophisticated European stuff to Melbourne, Sydney is embracing the cosmopolitan lifestyle hard enough to crack a rib.
Tramsheds, in the restored 1904 Rozelle Tramway Depot building, is not just a new shopping centre or a clutch of restaurants. It’s more of a foodie’s playground with its industrial-chic looks, heritage and community feel, without being too overwhelmingly hipster or worthily organic.
Last month it won Concrete Playground’s Best of 2016 award and the People’s Choice award for Sydney’s Best Precinct — a category the online guide had to add this year after an explosion in new food-focused developments in the harbourside city. Tramsheds’ rivals were the waterfront district Streets of Barangaroo; the Kensington Street noodle alley in Chippendale, developed by Stanley Quek alongside the Old Clare Hotel and Carlton & United Breweries; The Cannery at the old Rosella site in Rosebery, redeveloped by Willow Frank, with its Saporium hall of providores and weekly markets; Circular Quay’s new dining zone Gateway Sydney; and the Camperdown Commons urban farm.
The Tramsheds lineup is so diverse, the only common thread is the quality, and the fact most of the restaurateurs have runs on the board. There’s Deep South-inspired fare at Belle’s Hot Chicken; cooked and fresh seafood (sustainably caught) at Fish & Co.; Egyptian fusion from Bekya’s Middle Eastern Kitchen; pasta at Flour Eggs Water (by A Tavola’s Eugenio Maiale); pizza and good bread from Dust; Brazilian tapas at Bodega (from the Porteno people); quality local meat at Butcher & The Farmer (by Jared Ingersoll ex-Danks Street Depot); stylish Japanese at Osaka Trading Co. (from the Tokyo Bird crew); burgers and beers at Sir Chapel; and Vietnamese at Mama’s Buoi.
You have Garcon for speciality coffee and espresso martinis at night (from roasters The Little Marionette); gelato prodigy Messina; and an Artisan Lane with pop-up stalls where it’s Sri Lankan hoppers one week and Saigon street food the next. I’ve yet to see sub-Saharan Africa or Scandinavia represented in the mix, but it can only be a matter of time.
To serve the thousands of new Harold Park residents there’s a vast supermarket with posh as well as run-ofthe-mill groceries, and a Naked Foods bulk health goods store. The cavernous complex also has a 500sq m community space for events and workshops as varied as breadmaking by Dust and French lessons by Garcon.
“We wanted to create a unique destination for the inner west, a food precinct that the local community were proud to bring their friends and family to,” says Manuela De Rossi, national manager of leasing strategy for Mirvac Retail. “We were never about just filling space — the curating process from start to finish took around 18 months. Tramsheds is centred around connecting people to providores, and that meant bringing together a family of retailers who are not only passionate about what they do, but also share our vision for food, education and sustainability.
“Tramsheds is such an iconic building and the open design, inspired by the grand food halls of Europe, gives justice to its heritage and charm. It also delivers a real sense of community and this is not only respected by our providores, it’s actively practised by them — from sharing produce to hosting joint workshops.”
Like The Cannery and Kensington Street, Tramsheds has transformed a piece of industrial or utilitarian architecture into a leisure space that offers what a spankingnew building cannot: a sense of depth and tradition that reflects the way we now want our food to be. That they may be brought to us by behemoth developers seems not to matter.
They also reflect the shift to defined precincts away from retail strips of mainly fashion boutiques interspersed with cafes, which sent the popularity of Sydney’s Oxford Street and Melbourne’s Chapel Street down the chute. Both of those have since come back fighting as foodie destinations — eating and drinking are, after all, two things you can’t yet do more efficiently online.
Garcon, one of a host of restaurants at Tramsheds in Glebe, above; Jean-Luc Tan and Julien Vasseur (Vive Cooking School), butcher Joel Houghton (Kingsmore Meats) and Eliot Rickards (Wholefoods House) at Saporium at The Cannery, right; Bektas Ozcan cooks simit at Anason, Streets of Barangaroo, far right; Spice Alley at Chippendale, below