Despite its size, Sydney has a village feel that harks back to its settlement days. LEANNE WALKER finds there are plenty of places to relax, eat and shop in the city’s many suburbs.

Sydney has always been a city of villages. From its first days as a fledgling settlement on the shores of Port Jackson (more commonly known as Sydney Harbour), the village community mentality has remained. Today’s urban colonists continue to transform the city’s suburbs creating havens of modern village life, from the bohemian chic of Paddington to style ghettos like Danks Street Waterloo.

Down ‘The Depot’ on Danks Street
Light industrial Danks Street in Waterloo has undergone an incredible metamorphosis in the past five years. Today, ultra modern warehouse apartment blocks, art galleries, restaurants and retail outlets are springing up overnight. The Gallery complex (a former Kodak factory) at 2 Danks Street houses 10 art galleries and the Danks Street Depot, a café/cocktail bar whose chef and owner Jared Ingersoll’s Mediterranean inspired menu is the benchmark for other restaurants in the area.

Across the road at Fratelli Fresh (7 Danks St), Barry McDonald’s fruit and vegetable market is the wholesaler of choice for Sydney’s leading restaurants. On the first floor, rows of coffee and food exotica such as imported Italian olives, oils, balsamics and anchovies share space with Café Sopra. A free cooking school also operates here and is so popular that it’s booked out for months in advance.

Brunch and Baths at the Beach
The southern beachside suburbs of Coogee Bay, Bronte and Bondi are each symbolic of the brassy, laidback and hedonistic nature of Sydneysiders. A magnificent walk along the cliff tops connects these three, offering an enduring angle on beach life in the ‘burbs. Between them, these three suburbs offer all the classic imagery in abundance: life-savers with their red and yellow caps, bronzed Aussie surfers, bikini-clad babes, sea baths and beach volleyball.

Start in Bondi, and time Bronte for mid-morning. Holding its own here amid a strip of cafés is the well established Bogey Hole Café (473 Bronte Rd), the place to ‘do brunch’ and be seen. Poached eggs on toast washed down with the ubiquitous latté while reading the Sydney Morning Herald and taking in the view is about as ‘Sydney’ as it gets. Back on the trail, the Coast Path winds up over the cliffs to a dramatic conclusion at Coogee Bay and the style-conscious Dive Hotel at 235 Arden Street.

Boutique browsing in Paddington
The narrow tree-lined streets of Paddington with their sophisticated Victorian terraced townhouses are an enclave of who’s who where the salons of some of Australia’s top fashion designers can be found. The legendary Saturday morning market on Oxford Street is a launch pad for other up-and-coming designers, who sell everything from eclectic handmade jewellery, distinctive home accessories and vintage clothing.

I guess I resonate with the artistic community in Paddington,” says musician Dale Nougher, whose ultra cool, easy-listening tunes bathe the market stalls with a fusion of ice house and progressive jazz. Fellow stallholder Ross Duncan agrees. “I got frustrated looking for good vintage clothing and decided to design my own. It stemmed from that,” he says.

On nearby William Street well-heeled socialites strut their stuff as they browse the renovated Victorian two-storey cottages that have been converted into fashion boutiques. Make sure you pop into the Paddington Alimentari, (2 Hopetoun St) – a Euro-style café delicatessen for lunch.

Alfresco dining at Wooloomooloo
The thing to do at Wooloomooloo is to dine alfresco. The once dilapidated Finger Wharf in Wooloomooloo Bay dating from 1917 has been transformed into a swish complex of residential apartments (Russell Crowe has his penthouse here) and swanky waterside restaurants. There’s nothing more iconic in Sydney cuisine than a plate of freshly shucked rock oysters combined with a crisp white wine and harbour views.

At the other end of the dining spectrum, but with every bit as much character, is Harry’s Café de Wheels (Cowper Wharf Rd). This 24-hour pie-cart has been serving pies and mushy peas alongside the wharves since 1945. The smiling faces of famous customers such as Elton John, Olivia Newton John and Pamela Anderson peer out of the multitude of photos on display at the counter.

Street-savvy Surry Hills
Surry Hills was formerly considered a slum, housing the city’s poor. Today the vibe is anything but with a fashionable mix of restaurants, cafés, designer galleries and leafy Victorian streets. Down at the Bourke Street Bakery there’s a queue out the door, but it seems the locals don’t mind the wait as the aroma of freshly baked bread wafts over the heads of those in front. Over the road the barista in the Book Kitchen (255 Devonshire St) is renowned for making the perfect espresso.

Further up the hill is Mohr Fish (202 Devonshire St), a favourite of U2’s Bono when he’s in town. The menu in this dressed up fish ‘n’ chippery is anything but ordinary: Mahi Mahi with oyster mushrooms, snow peas and a generous dollop of creamy mashed potatoes washed down with a chilled Chardonnay. And according to the New York Times, the scrambled eggs at Bills 2 at 359 Crown Street (owned by celebrity chef Bill Granger) are the best in the world.

Art and design is a big part of the Surry Hills scene, and the Brett Whiteley Studio (2 Raper St) is a must-see. One of Australia’s best known contemporary artists, Whiteley converted this one-time warehouse into a studio and living space in 1986. Since his death it has operated as a gallery and museum housing his paintings and memorabilia. •”