February 13, 2023
15 mins Read
It’s been a long time in the making, but three years after works began to revitalise and restore the wharves at Walsh Bay, the City of Sydney has done the big reveal on this legendary new landmark performance precinct. It’s safe to say, it will take dedicated art and theatre lovers many return visits to appreciate all that’s on offer.
As well as being home to Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Dance Company and Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney’s brightest new arts precinct has also provided Bell Shakespeare with its first permanent headquarters in its 32-year history. It’s also important to mention the Walsh Bay Art Precinct was a traditional meeting place of the Gadigal people for millennia and an industrial hub through the 19th and 20th centuries.
The resident companies at the carefully repurposed, heritage-listed finger wharves, which sit on the land and water of the Gadigal people, also include the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian Theatre for Young People, Gondwana Choirs, Sydney Philharmonic Choirs and The Song Company.
In addition to the award-winning heritage-listed architecture and art, the waterfront neighbourhood of Walsh Bay is a spectacular backdrop for a city weekender. Here’s how to best spend 36 hours in Walsh Bay.
11am: Dig out your best legwarmers, leotard and neon-bright tutu for the Introductory Short Course of Adult Dance Classes that will get you in the groove at Sydney Dance Company, which is renowned around the world for its contemporary dance performances.
The company has been a resident of the purpose-built studios at The Wharf in Sydney’s Walsh Bay since 1986 and has, in the past few years, found a new audience with its program of online, on-demand and virtual classes.
If you’re not ready for the serious cardio that comes with an adult dance class, you can instead build up to the barre by working on tightening your abs with Pilates instructor Felicity McGee.
As well as offering personalised Pilates programs to members of the public, Felicity, a former ballerina, is now the strength and conditioning manager for the Sydney Dance Company’s ensemble of dancers.
Felicity moves with all the fluidity of a dancer as she guides me toward the trapeze table to assess which areas of my body I need to focus on. The room, on the second floor of the Sydney Dance Company’s premises overlooking Sydney Harbour, is full of Pilates props such as high-density foam rollers, balls, and back-arc barrels.
Felicity is very intuitive and, as someone who had to pirouette away from her promising dance career due to injury, is right there with me as she instructs me to find the joy in movement and meditation and breath work. I walk out of her studio feeling like I’m three inches taller and, weeks later, still find power in the everyday exercises Felicity gave me to soften my posture and improve on the lingering pain in my lower back.
Channel Jennifer Beal in Flashdance and mooch around the many cafes, bars and restaurants where you can rub shoulders with colourful local residents, Sydney Dance Company dancers, and Australian Chamber Orchestra musicians. You’re also likely to see thespians coming and going from rehearsals, but play it cool. This is not the place to fangirl.
Noon: Watch the dumpling chefs fold and pinch precious little dumplings in this atmospheric spot with an open kitchen that is centred around the chef station.
Take a seat on one of the mint-green stools at the bar and inhale the aroma of the eatery’s most popular pork-and-chive creations while watching the kitchen team preparing baskets of dumplings that disappear within an hour or so of being made.
The Lotus Dumpling bar, which is part of the Lotus Dumpling Group, is a dumpling destination for die-hard lovers of the steamed or pan-seared treats; expect fillings such as shiitake mushrooms, prawns, pan-fried chicken and kimchi and pork and prawns.
Follow a plate of dumplings with plates to share such as five-spiced soft-shell crab with chilli and fried garlic, crispy eggplant with honey and chilli and crispy chicken in Shandong sauce. The sweet and sour pork is also one of the restaurant’s signature mains.
Step into the restaurant with the cobblestone floors and you will feel like you’ve landed in a cool backstreet bar in Shanghai: there are Chinese characters scrawled across roughed-up brick walls and oversized copper lights enhancing the atmosphere in the dimly lit space.
1pm: The Day Spa by Chuan at The Langham is one of Sydney’s well-loved underground sanctuaries. After treating myself to a Chuan Harmony massage, I’m invited to choose my ‘element’: Earth, Metal, Water, Fire, Wood after answering a few simple questions about what season I prefer and what time of day. I wind up with Water and at this stage am heavily invested in the massage, which is a signature Chuan Harmony treatment combining acupressure with massage techniques.
I float out of the space with fluffed chakras, wafting lavender in my wake to indulge in some freestyle float therapy in the 20-metre indoor pool, which features a star-dappled night-sky ceiling and summery murals.
2:45pm: The hotel is housed in an Irish Georgian-style building that underwent a $30 million remodel located in the historic harbourside enclave of Miller’s Point. It is surrounded by terraced houses and laid-back pubs and my room has a harbour outlook across Sydney, the perfect base for a staycation.
4.45pm: The Pink Rose cocktail is a lavish indulgence served at the Observatory Bar that perfectly encapsulates The Langham brand, which has pops of that signature colour of pink throughout the lobby bar.
The cocktail bar here is manned by proper mixologists and the Pink Rose cocktail arrives under a cloche and covered in a pink-hued cloud of vapour for extra drama.
Touches of pink can also be found in the bouquets of pink roses on every table and the place is popular for special occasions, with couples here on first dates to those celebrating significant anniversaries.
6pm: Act one, scene one. Meet your significant other at The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf at Pier 4 before seeing the latest show produced by the Sydney Theatre Company or Bell Shakespeare. The newly renovated bar is designed to enhance a night at the theatre with the act of sharing plates of goods with great company as part of the experience.
Try to ignore the A-list actors in the corner and sit outside the warehouse-style space to enjoy a glass of wine alongside plates of skin-on fries and crispy beer-battered fish while drinking in those sweeping views of the Sydney Harbour. The bar is open late in the evening on Fridays and Saturdays if you want to dissect the show.
7:30pm: The Walsh Bay Arts Precinct has long been a place that shares stories through music, song and dance. Tap into the rich vein of content by logging onto the Sydney Theatre Company where you will find behind-the-scenes interviews, features, podcasts and more that will inspire you ahead of the show. Check out What’s On for the calendar year so you can select your seats in advance.
6am: The best time to capture the sunrise over Sydney Harbour is at dawn when everything is honeyed in a golden light. The streets of the city around Walsh Bay and Miller’s Point used to feel quite deserted pre-dawn. But the new residential apartments at Walsh Bay have invigorated the area.
Enjoy the chirping of birds and the groups of early-morning walkers all out and about to see Sydney Harbour in all its glory. Clock up a few morning laps in the pool at The Langham Sydney before setting off for the day.
8.30am: This family-run cafe serves delicious breakfast fare in a beautifully relaxed setting right over the water at Walsh Bay. The Zupano Espresso Bar serves as a hub for hip young creatives who slope in their slouchy beanies and wide-leg jeans for avocado on sourdough, and a sophisticated Sydney set who are delighted with their new digs in Walsh Bay.
The owners, Antonia and Theo Laliotis, inject a lot of love and Greek hospitality into the offerings here and it’s become a buzzing little hotspot for cyclists, exercise enthusiasts, staycationers and holidaymakers.
During Covid-19, the Laliotis family got creative, and Zupano’s Home Greek Feast Pack remains on the menu. It’s the perfect pit stop for coffee and bakalavak to boureko drenched in a sugary syrup.
Although the menu is inspired by the Mediterranean and loaded with Greek herbs and spices, it’s designed for Australians and suitably described by the Laliotis family as ‘Aussiterranean’.
The homemade spanakopita is so coveted you’ll have to get in early before they’re snaffled. It’s the simplicity and seasonality that makes the dishes here so special and oh the spanakopita … it could operate as its own currency.
10am: Sure, you could set off on foot for your own walking tour of Millers Point. But the area is best explored with Sydney historian Max Burns-McRuvie’s Merchants, Mysteries and Pubs who expands on the history of the harbourside village with colourful tales featuring merchant princes and larrikin locals.
The tour, which goes for just under two hours, sets off from Ventuno restaurant, where a dark, grisly discovery was made by a doctor in a nearby cobblestoned lane. Max colours in the margins for visitors, taking the reins in the glare of bright Sydney sunshine and using the humble terraces and wonderfully ambient wool stores as the backdrop for his storytelling.
In addition to the murky maritime stories, Max rewinds the clock on this notorious neighbourhood as we roam down cobbled alleyways to hear the storied history of the area, which was once teeming with local scallywags, sailors and smugglers.
Max also details the restoration of Millers Point and Walsh Bay before returning to restaurant Ventuno for a communal lunch to unpack all that we’ve learned about the precinct’s colourful past.
Enjoy a glug of good Italian wine and food from the set menu at Ventuno Pizzeria Birreria Enoteca, which is owned by the Sydney Restaurant Group (Aqua Dining, Ripples Chowder Bay, Ormeggio at the Spit, etc) and located near to the Walsh Bay Wharves, which were constructed in the 1920s.
2pm: You will have a new appreciation for the heritage-listed finger wharf when you’ve learned all about its industrial history on your walking tour of the precinct designed to ‘sex up Sydney’s history’.
The finger wharf is really one of the jewels in the crown of the Walsh Bay precinct, which was part of a landmark project by the NSW Government and Create Infrastructure to rejuvenate Walsh Bay into a cultural and creative hub.
Australia’s newest cultural precinct was awarded the top honour at the 2022 NSW Architecture Awards alongside the award for Public Architecture, the Greenway Award for Heritage and a commendation for Interior Architecture. The Precinct also won in the Adaptive Reuse category at the National Trust Heritage Awards 2022.
Director of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects, Peter Tonkin, said it had been an honour and a privilege working on the robust and beautiful 20th century buildings at Walsh Bay. During a tour of the Bell Shakespeare space, Tonkin says the spaces were imbued with the kind of richness and texture that cannot be achieved with a new build.
Tonkin consulted heavily with companies such as the Australian Chamber Orchestra to get the acoustics right and the result is a beautifully realised time capsule that has been adapted with great effect.
“We’ve used active architecture to change the acoustics of depth and space of the room, so it is like you’re in a cathedral. Creative people are so great to work with because they sort of comprehend the process you’re undertaking. It was important that I understood their brief in order to create something like this,” he says.
Roslyn Mayled, director, Create Infrastructure, says the vision for the project was to get ‘a whole lot of creatives together in one space’. “We wanted the production and performers to be in one space. That way, everyone feels like they’re part of this creative process. By bringing all these creative forces together there’s a kind of collaboration that happens by default.
3pm: The crowd at the Langham Sydney’s Afternoon Tea ranges from a pink-haired tween and her grandma to a gaggle of women celebrating a significant birthday, and a couple with angular cheekbones taking Instagram shots of the exquisite arrangement on their three-tiered tray.
It’s a heightened sensory overload, with Laurent-Perrier Champagne flowing and Wedgwood tea sets in a genteel setting that adds to the air of luxury at The Langham. Given the tradition of serving luxury afternoon tea to guests began at The Langham, London, in 1865, it’s fitting that this version on offer is much loved by both visitors and locals.
Duck into the The Langham Sydney between 11am and 5pm daily to enjoy afternoon tea in these opulent surrounds, which provide a refuge from the hubbub of inner-urban Sydney.
Visit The Langham Sydney website to see whether there are any themed afternoon teas on offer, as they change with the seasons but do expect staples such as cucumber and chive cream cheese finger sandwiches and plain scones with strawberry jam and cream. Republica Cel Cacao white chocolate mousse with truffle and hazelnut praline is worth a sonnet on its own.
As well as being a place for celebrations and special occasions, The Langham, Sydney, is a daytime hangout, too, which you can book via DayAway.
5pm: The ATYP is a national theatre company that aims to enrich the lives of young Australians through transformative theatre experiences.
The 196-seater space, built with the help of a $1 million donation by actor Rebel Wilson is sitting pretty in its new harbourfront home, with rows of rich red velvet seats, state-of-the-art acoustics, and theatrical interiors designed by Tobhiyah Stone Feller.
Details of performance dates and how to book are available via the company websites.
7pm: Kitchens on Kent is a refreshingly laid-back hotel hideout. By early evening, there are some low-fi beats that you will want to add to your Spotify playlist, and a row of comfy couches where you can kick back in. Again, expect a steady stream of locals and, in true Aussie fashion, a dress code that veers from Zimmermann-clad fashionistas to an arty Avalon look of nautical tee with tailored jeans.
There are a lot of different offerings at Kitchens on Kent so time your visit appropriately: truffles are the focus in winter; stone fruits get top billing in summer. Also, you can opt for interactive dining, and buffets that are as diverse as they are innovative, everything from Tales from the Sea to Charcuteries & Grazing, Flavours of Asia and A Taste of India. Sushi and sashimi obsessives will also love the Raw Bar. Vegetables also get top billing.
If you’d prefer a la carte, Kitchens on Kent is also an exciting pit stop. The thoughtful menu by executive chef Stephen Lech includes dishes such as Queensland spanner crab tortellini, Tasmanian octopus with chargrill chorizo, and Riverina Black Angus grain-fed beef fillet with shoestring fries.
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