This travelogue will help you discover some of Sydney’s best joints for foodies on a budget! So sit tight and enjoy the epicureous ride.
On January 24, 2015, to take advantage of the Australia Day long weekend, we backpacked to Sydney from Melbourne. You can see the city in a much different colour on Australia Day, making this one of the most perfect times to visit Sydney. Since this was my wife’s first visit to Sydney, we wanted to cover all the major sights. But most importantly, being foodies, we also planned to check out the city’s food-scape quite exhaustively!! To free up some extra cash to spend and embrace backpacking, we picked train as our choice of transport from Melbourne! We also booked for budget accommodation (credits to my wife, Dee) in the heart of the city and travelled light!
So in the 3 days we were there, we checked out 16 interesting & delectable joints to eat, drink & make merry! That’s 5 bars, 5 restaurants, 4 cafes, 1 chocolateria & 1 ice cream parlour..for less than $150pp
The train timings – both from Melbourne & Sydney, and the relative low cost of travel (plus a low fare promotion) makes it an absolute convenience.
The train from Melbourne leaves Southern Cross station at 15 minutes past 7 in the evening and the journey from Melbourne to Sydney Central takes approximately 11 hours reaching Sydney early in the morning at 6. To put things into perspective, in South India, the journey between most of the major neighbouring cities also take approximately the same time by semi-sleeper buses. Henceforth we chose the cheapest Chair Car seats on the train quite confidently.
First things first, these Chair Car seats are nowhere as comfortable as semi-sleeper seats on Indian Volvo buses. Trivia Although relatively much cheaper than taking a flight to Sydney, this cheapest mode of travel is more expensive per kilometre travelled compared to the more premium Indian buses.
But on the whole, the train journey to Sydney has a compelling value proposition. The onboard pantry has very moderately priced meals and the staff is genial. We reached Sydney on the dot as scheduled, which although isn’t very surprising is quite remarkable (coming from India)!
First up was the Paramount Coffee Project. This place has raving reviews and was just walking distance from Maze Backpacker’s, our place of stay. Not quite satisfied with breakfast options, we jumped ship to Two Good Eggs, a cafe around the corner! After breakfast, we walked to Hyde Park and then to King’s Cross, Woolloomooloo Wharf and Royal Botanical Gardens taking in the sights before making our way to the Sydney Darling Habour by about 1pm.
Well, this is the part of Sydney that never fails to impress! Always bustling with people, a sight that I’m sure only Indians get particularly excited by, reminding us of homeland. Clicking pictures we made our way through to have a pseudo lunch at Guylian Belgian Chocolate Café!
As our heads cleared a little later, we decided to check out Parlour Burger. As we staggered in, we weren’t quite sure about the place because it sure seemed empty! Probably we were early by normal standards for dinner and too late for lunch! Our phones were almost dead, so we found a wall socket to charge and ordered their delicious burgers and beer!
Feeling nourished an hour and half later, we stepped out back to check out the area around Darling Harbour near the upcoming Overseas Passenger Terminal.
That’s when Dee told me about the famous Opera Bar she had read about. The bar is rated as one of the best in Sydney for its ambience!
I was unimpressed from the start and at the end of what seemed like a day of standing around waiting for a table to rest our aching arms (with a drink), we were both very unhappy that we came here. It was just a bad idea after Parlour Burger! But then we didn’t let the obnoxious side of Sydney spoil the breathtaking sunset view of the Darling Harbour Bridge and the Opera House! Although now outside the bar, we waited on the seats adjoining, to watch the colours of the day give into the night.
Now quite rejuvenated we made plans to check out a kick-ass joint before we called it a night! And that’s when we heard someone talk about the 3 Wise Monkeys and that they might have a remedy.
BOOM! We got in early enough to not be asked for our IDs (bouncers don’t come in until it’s really after hours). Not that we were not carrying any or are underage, but to be let in without having to explain “We just look young, we’re probably older than you!” We sure had fun here. Cheap food and impressive range of beers. I got the ’69’ Summer Ale
Not too long after, we wrapped up for the day!
Sydney has a sweet ticket deal on Sunday. A flat rate of $3.50 all day across all the different modes of public transport. The day also started with a bang, thanks to brain jerking caffeine hit from Kingswood Coffee, a quaint little cafe in World Square. The coffee was spot on in flavour and strength. We also ate a Cronut – the croissant-doughnut hybrid pastry.
That was it! We spent the rest of the morning walking up an appetite and checking out the sights near Town Hall, Martin’s Place, The Strand, QV Building and Paddy’s Market. We then caught the train down to Parramatta for the much anticipated Chettinad lunch at Anjappar. You can read all about it here.
Our next stop was all the way across Sydney in Manly, the Bavarian Bier Cafe. So after our sumptuous meal at Anjappar, we took the train back from Parramatta to Circular Quay. From there we caught the ferry out to Manly Wharf. Taking plenty of shots of the Opera house and darling harbour, selfies included, we reached half tanned at Manly. We quickly made our way to stop at the Bavarian Bier Cafe for a Hofbräu Dunkel / Dunkel Gold, truly Munich style dark beer.
Back in 2010 when I first visited this Bier Cafe, it was a quiet little spot, new in the territory. But now it’s one of the many German bars owned by the Urban Purveyor Group, which also manages the Munich Brauhaus in Melbourne.
We walked down to the beach afterwards where it was nice and sunny. It was also extremely busy, so we thought it wiser to wade into the Bondi waters a little later on. After spending some time more in Manly, we took the ferry back to mainland.
From Circular Quay we took the bus to Bondi Beach. By the time we changed into water friendly clothes and dipped into the waters, it started getting terribly cold. Now you’d think how cold can Sydney get, after all in Jan. But let me tell you the Bondi waters got pretty freezing cold and windy.
When it started getting annoyingly windy and cold, we made back to our changing rooms and looked around to find a place to grab a bite. We stumbled across Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, an Aussie diner! And I thought diners could only be American for some reason! We shared a chili dog to satiate our immediate hunger.
Since our plans to visit Sydney weren’t made until the last minute, the FREE Open Air Cinemas at Bondi got booked out. Something unique that Sydney offers from time to time which as a thrifty traveller you must snap up.
Did you know that ice creams are meant to be had in the cold? Well, I didn’t until few years back, but now I do! So we also stopped at the Ben & Jerry’s Bondi outlet for their creamy New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream! B&J’s are the best for an occasional indulgence, for they are expensive. But it’s not some rip-off brand name like Baskin & Robbins whose value I’ve always had a problem with!
After our nice treat, we caught the bus back to the city. We got back to our room and changed. Earlier today we had seen a Thai restaurant which on further research seemed to be a very popular one with the locals – Chat Thai. So it was decided, Thai food it is for dinner. There was an outlet few blocks from Maze Backpacker’s and we got there by around 10pm. And there was a long queue of people to be seated before us. We debated whether or not to hang around or go elsewhere. Well, as they say good things come to people who wait, so we put our names down on the waiting list and went for a stroll. When we got back 20 mins later, we were ready to be seated. This restaurant serves modern Thai cuisine. Although you will find your regular dishes, most of the dishes are a contemporary take on the authentic.
The service at Maze Backpacker’s was very impressive and commendable. Although it’s a budget accommodation, there were a lot of features that made the stay here convenient. Not only did they let us check-in early on the day we arrived at no extra charge, they also let us store our luggage in the cloak room for FREE even after checking out that morning. Our train back was later in the evening and we didn’t want to be bogged down by luggage while we spent our last day sightseeing and foodspotting Sydney. It was particularly handy as Maze is close to Sydney Central and because the railway station storage is charged.
We had breakfast from Joe Black and then headed out into the city.
Australia Day as I said earlier is huge in Sydney. Having lived in Melbourne for more than 3 years, I’ve never seen anything as big as this even with the 3 years’ of celebrations put together! On display in and around Hyde Park area were vintage cars, army jeeps, motorcycles; The vintage vehicles were part of the CARnivale automotive festival: one of the largest free displays of historic vehicles in Australia.
We then spent sometime sightseeing Sydney City on the vintage double decker buses that ran on this day. It was fantastic! The sight from the top deck is something you don’t get to see very often and is totally worth it. The buses are from the Sydney Bus Museum, where with the help of volunteers they are restored and kept in mint condition. Although you don’t need a ticket to hail one, you can make gold coin donations if you wish.
At Circular Quay, a street busker was demonstrating a neat trick, wriggling out of chains tightly bound around him.
Next we checked out the plethora of food stalls and free live music venues around The Rocks. We had a plate of dumplings from the Hero Sushi Box. There were plenty of celebrations going on in most pubs as well. Definitely one of the merriest days of the year with people flying Australian flags and chugging down gallons of beer. It was a big gala festival!
We walked further down away from The Rocks, and stopped for a drink at Jackson’s on George, an Irish pub packed with people. We sat at a corner table deciding where to go next. Sydney has a gigantic Dymocks bookstore on George Street, the perfect spot to unwind and kill a few hours easily. So when we got there, Dee walked around the store and picked up Jamie’s cookbook to read, while I spent time reading books from the Lonely Planet section; making mental notes to lookup some of the interesting stuff I read up on Sri Lanka.
Around 5:30pm, we walked back to Maze to get our backpack and made our way to Scruffy Murphys around the corner. We went upstairs to the bar, ordered few drinks and sometime later our friend Amory joined us. We spent an hour and half talking loudly, still barely audible, over the blaring pub music and voices of other patrons.
By 7:45pm we prepared to leave and walked up to Sydney Central station for our train back to Melbourne. We bid Amory good-bye and promised to meet him next time in France.
This was our first backpacking trip and a good start. With minimal itinerary and planning mostly on the go it definitely was more fun exploring a city like Sydney. We saw Sydney in a completely new light and I’ve not enjoyed seeing Sydney like this ever before.
TOTAL SPENT (for a couple) – TRAVEL – $300, ACCOMMODATION – $130, FOOD & DRINKS – $290!