Travel special: Living the good life down under in Sydney
Rinky Kumar explores the capital of New South Wales. She discovers how the vibrant city is similar to Mumbai, thanks to the locals' joie de vivre
Best time to visit: All year
You need: 5 days
I was first besotted with Sydney when I saw the 2001 film Dil Chahta Hai. As Aamir Khan and Preity Zinta spoke about the travails of love in the song Jaane Kyun, I couldn't take my eyes off the Sydney Harbour's panoramic view on celluloid. My recent visit to this city rekindled my love.
Bills Darlinghurst, owned by chef Bill Granger, is a famous breakfast joint. Pics/Rinky Kumar
A suburban tale
After a marathon 14-hour flight, followed by dinner and a good night's sleep, I wake up with vigour to explore the metropolis. My guide, Duglass Hocking, suggests that we kickstart the trip by visiting Darlinghurst, a suburb. Having been raised in Mumbai, I presume it would take us an hour to reach our destination.
But I'm surprised when we reach the place in less than 10 minutes. Darlinghurst, located in the eastern part of Sydney, was earlier a slum and red-light district. Since the 1980s, it has transformed into an upmarket area. We make our way towards Bills Darlinghurst, a restaurant that is feted for offering home-style, comfort food. Owned by Bill Granger, a self-taught cook and restaurateur, the eatery has a pub-like feel to it. It is housed in a two-storey house that is painted in grey and black.
Chiswick is a casual dining restaurant owned by celebrity chef Matt Moran
Thanks to its wrought iron and latticework balcony and tiled roof, it reminds me of a cottage in a far way county. The serene ambiance outdoors hardly prepares me for the mood indoors. The white walls and huge airy windows add a cheery feel to the eatery.
Large families have animated conversations while relishing their breakfast. After scouring through the menu, I opt for the Full Aussie breakfast that comprises scrambled organic eggs, sourdough toast, bacon, cumin roast tomato, miso mushrooms and pork and fennel sausages. The eggs have a wonderful texture while the cumin adds the right amount of spice to the tomatoes' sweetness.
Its chic white interiors lend it a French appeal
Following the hearty breakfast, we step out of the restaurant and are greeted by two bikers who seem straight out of a reality show. Dressed in black leather outfits complete with a bandana and tattoos on their forearms, the duo are astride a Harley-Davidson. Duglass informs me that there's no better way to enjoy the scenic beauty of Sydney's Eastern suburbs than on a Harley-Davidson. I gather courage to sit on these giant beauties.
But once I manage to overcome that fear, it's a surreal feeling. With the breeze blowing on my face and scenic locales around me, I wish time stops. After a 30-minute ride, we reach Bondi beach.
The Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour
The beach beckons
The golden sand juxtaposed against the clear blue sky and waters is a sight to behold. Like modern day Vikings, surfers ride the crests of waves. Surfers, joggers and rows upon rows of sunbathers are sprawled on their backs. I would have loved to stay and bask in the sun but it's 1 pm.
So, we decide to enjoy the scenic view from North Bondi Fish, a popular sea-facing eatery owned by celebrity chef Matt Moran. Keeping in sync with the outside scenery, the bright airy interiors are made up in hues of white and blue. Hand-made cutouts of fish drawings adorn the walls. Wooden chairs comprise the indoor seating arrangement while long rows of benches are lined up in the al fresco dining area.
The Woolloomooloo Bay Wharf
Tom, our server, greets us jovially. As I pore over the menu, wondering what to eat, he suggests that I try the fresh snow crab slider. As I tuck into the slider, I realise the crab fillet is moist and tender. I thank Tom who dismisses it with a wave of his hand. After having heard so much about the meringue tart, a delicacy that holds a pride of place in modern Australian cuisine, I opt for the Passionfruit Meringue Tart.
And I'm not disappointed. It's everything that a meringue should be. It's soft, fluffy and melts in my mouth instantly. The dollop of tangy passion fruit ice cream goes well with the sweet tart. We soon make our way back to the city. I notice that most of the buildings in the CBD (central business district) are made of sandstone.
The golden sand juxtaposed against the clear blue sky and waters is a sight to behold at Bondi beach
Duglass tells me that sandstone is found aplenty at Hawksbury River, located in the north of Sydney. As a highly favoured material, especially preferred during the city's early years — from the late 1790s to the 1890s — its use in public buildings, gives the city its distinctive appearance.
A climb to the top
The following day, we head to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Duglass convinces me that a trip to Sydney is incomplete without it. But for someone who has a fear of heights, I'm averse to the idea. After much coaxing, I decide to give it a shot. Mitch, our guide for the climb, regales us with witty one-liners.
The Passionfruit Meringue Tart at North Bondi Fish is worth a try
But it's a middle-aged couple behind me, Alice and Jim, who ensure that I don't get too jittery. Jim informs me that it's their silver jubilee marriage anniversary and he decided to surprise Alice by bringing her for the bridge climb. I hardly keep track of time while chatting with them and climbing the steps. Suddenly, Mitch informs us that we are on the bridge's summit. I'm speechless.
After climbing 1,332 stairs for three hours and standing on the summit, 134 metres above the Sydney Harbour, I feel as if I have conquered the world. Following this Herculean climb, we head to Chiswick, a casual dining venue co-owned by Moran and Peter Sullivan. From outside, it looks like a white bungalow complete with French windows.
But peek inside and chic white interiors and a bar area with a large communal table welcome you. The eatery prides on its fresh organic produce that is grown in its backyard garden. We opt for a light salad, prawn popcorn and a risotto. I'm not a huge fan of salads but I love its freshness and the adequate amount of crunch provided by the lettuce and rocket leaves.
Over the next few days, I sail across the Sydney Harbour, dine in a restaurant alongside the Woolloomooloo Bay Wharf and grab a drink at the Sydney Opera House café. But a few images remain etched in my memory — the vast blue sky that looms large over the city, the ever-smiling locals and the servers at restaurants who are courteous and well-informed. With its vast sea and people who have a zest for life, Sydney reminds me of Mumbai, a city that never sleeps yet welcomes everyone with open arms.
The writer was invited to Sydney as a guest of Tourism Australia
Getting there: Fly to Kuala Lumpur and take a connecting Malaysia Airlines flight to Sydney
Where To stay: Opt to stay at mid-range and budget hotels at the CBD (central business district) as it is located in the heart of the city
Where to Shop: Head to Chinatown to buy quirky gifts. The market houses shops where you can buy stuff at throwaway prices