Parramatta, Sydney’s geographical heart, is evolving at a rapid pace. Is it time to make like a Pet Shop Boy and go west?
When was the last time you visited Parramatta? Was it a night out at Roxy Theatre? A bowl of pillowy-soft gnocchi at Nonna Maria’s Place? A lap or two at Parramatta Pool?
Well, things have changed since then, and not just because – sadly – you can no longer indulge in any of those activities. Parramatta is a city on the make. Regularly touted as Sydney’s second CBD, the Parramatta skyline has transformed in recent years with office towers and apartments blocks swiftly multiplying in an effort to meet demand.
Plenty is changing at ground level, too. New restaurants, bars and events celebrate the growing and distinctly cosmopolitan Parramatta population, injecting fresh energy and widespread appeal. It’s hard keeping up with the evolution, but it’s certainly worth a try. Here are just five reasons to go west and see what Sydney’s geographical heart has to offer.
1. Food, glorious food
You know things are on the up when the big names move into town. Bourke Street Bakery, Gelato Messina, Butter, Milky Lane, Chophouse and Holy Basil are among the familiar shopfronts on or near Parramatta’s ‘eat street’. And while such renowned residents are the kind that drum up attention and excitement, Parramatta’s dining scene was worth discovering well before the gentrification process began. Parramatta’s multicultural heritage lays a solid foundation for what is essentially a global food tour, packed with flavour and authenticity.
Temasek has been serving up exceptional Malaysian cuisine for more than 25 years; cheap and easy, and delicious, are the hallmarks at Hong Fu Chinese restaurant; Pho Pasteur is Vietnamese done oh-so-right; and Kouzina Greco has been a lively space for exceptional Greek cuisine for almost two decades. The best part: this shortlist is just the beginning.
2. And drinks, glorious drinks
For a long time, Parramatta’s bar scene was pretty light on bars. Plenty of pubs, mind you: The Albion Hotel, The Woolpack Hotel and the Rose & Crown Hotel among the city’s best. For those after a more refined experience, the options have blossomed in recent years.
Located on Level 26 of Skye Hotel Suites, Nick & Nora’s is the top pick, quite literally. The rooftop bar is Art Deco to a T, and the luxurious surrounds are matched by a comprehensive cocktail menu and Champagne selection.
Taking a grungier approach, Uncle Kurt’s still delivers on sophistication when it comes to its carefully curated drinks list. Graffiti-covered walls surround the 45-seat venue to give off strong New York dive-bar vibes.
Alex & Co is another hotspot, and you won’t have to move far after pre-dinner drink; the sprawling venue is also one of Parramatta’s most popular restaurants.
3. Jam-packed event schedule
Parramatta’s events calendar is thriving thanks largely to an established cultural program, as well as a shiny new 30,000-seat stadium.
Riverside Theatres has been at the heart of the city’s arts offering since it opened in 1988; the venue’s three spaces combine to attract performances small and large to western Sydney.
Sydney Festival also lures first-class acts west, with the Parramatta program continuing to grow each year. Australia’s much-loved and hugely popular short-film festival, Tropfest, has continued to thrive after being relocated to Parramatta Park in 2017. It returns in February. Held over four days each October, Parramatta Lanes is a colourful celebration of food, world music and art, while Parramasalata, held in March, highlights the region’s cultural diversity through food and performance.
Meanwhile, as politicians and stakeholders argue over which of Sydney’s stadiums need which upgrades, Parramatta’s brand-spanking Bankwest Stadium is in full flight.
4. Hotels with luxe appeal
As Parramatta’s event calendar grows, so too has demand for a place to bed down. The CBD has long been serviced by hospitality stalwarts such as the Novotel and Park Royal, but there are a few newcomers worth checking out, too.
Located on the main eat street and adjacent to Parramatta River, Meriton Suites is a five-star stay, perfectly positioned for guests looking to explore the city. At the other end of town, Skye Hotel Suites is another stylish option, complete with 72 luxe suites, a 25-metre outdoor lap pool, a spa and sauna, and Nick & Nora’s rooftop bar.
Just one year old, The Marsden Hotel is another sleek option, tucked away from the main strip for a peaceful retreat yet still walking distance from the action. But wait, there’s more. Or, at least there’s about to be more: Four Points by Sheraton and QT Hotels and Resorts are slated to move in next year while construction on a 245-room Hilton Parramatta is expected to begin in 2020.