We eat using more senses than one. Just as chefs use presentation to enhance a dish, design works in the background—either quietly or boldly—to set the mood of the scene. A successful setting doesn’t have to be over-the-top with theatrics and flourishes; it can be as simple as an ocean-front venue that opens up to the views and takes advantage of the landscape. Or, in the depths of the city, it can be a moody space that distils the grit of the setting into a controlled experience. In short, good design is about storytelling, capable of putting you—the guest—at the heart of the tale.
Sydney is a city that is full of stories: from the laid-back salty-dog vibe of its eastern suburbs, to the punk-pop colour of its inner-west, to the CBD, where the polished office crowd meets the sensory grunge of street culture. In celebration of the recent Australian Interior Design Awards 2019—an event that showcases the best design storytelling from around Australia, and one in which Sydney always ranks highly—we take a look at some of the best-designed venues around the city: from Mexican-inspired colourscapes, to dark-panelled cafés that channel the Orient Express, to intimate cocktail bars that would make the Rat Pack proud.
The Dolphin Hotel, Surry Hills
The three individual spaces that comprise The Dolphin Hotel—public bar, dining room and wine room—were originally used to house a series of art projects. The pub element was initially designed as a pop-up by architect George Livissianis and artists Beni Single and Tracey Deep; a space draped with white fabric, strewn with graffiti and installed with dim golden lighting. At some point, it was decided that The Dolphin Hotel would remain permanent, but the design makes it look as if it is in a perpetual state of installation. The venue complements its creative décor with an inventive yet familiar menu of Italian twists, such as hand-stretched pizza, chunky polenta chips and Venetian Spritzes. Don’t miss a trip upstairs to Scout Bar, an offshoot of the London bar by Matt Whiley, which is consistently voted within the World’s 50 Best Bars.
412 Crown Street, Surry Hills.
The Grounds of the City, CBD
The Grounds of Alexandria fast became one of Sydney’s most-trafficked cafés when it opened in 2012, transforming a former industrial pocket of the inner-suburbs into a lively foodie destination. Whereas the original venue had the benefits of wide-open areas and garden plots (even including a pig pen with a resident named Kevin Bacon), the second outpost in the CBD didn’t have that luxury of space. But just as The Grounds of Alexandria transports you out of its industrial setting into a bucolic homestead, The Grounds of the City—designed by design firm Acme & Co.—plucks you from the city centre and places you on the Orient Express, complete with ornate timber joinery, studded plush pink bar stools, and old-world leather booth seating with ambient under-glow lighting. Ostensibly an inner-city café, this venue is particularly amazing for how much it can do within its relatively small pocket. Come here for eggs and coffee, stay for dashi oysters and champagne, and polish it all off with one of their house cakes.
Shop RG 12, 500 George Street, Sydney.
Saké Restaurant and Bar Manly, Manly
Saké Manly is the sixth outpost of the high-end Japanese restaurant, which has now expanded into Melbourne. Despite its expansive footprint, Saké Manly doesn’t feel like a chain, and that’s mostly because of the design by Luchetti Krelle. The venue is both upmarket and relaxed, drawing heavily on the local area for a distinct, breezy harbourside atmosphere. Natural materials such as stone, timber and dried flowers have been used throughout—for instance, the giant, rough-surfaced boulder that greets you at the entrance. But the star of the show is the harbour, which is showcased through huge floor-to-ceiling windows that run the length of the dining room, and mirrors that reflect it from the opposite end of the venue. This light-filled, view-saturated restaurant is the perfect place to experience the seaside lifestyle that Sydney is known for, as well as the fresh seafood that you want to be eating in a place where summer never ends.
Manly Ferry Wharf, Belgrave Street and West Esplanade, Manly.
Paragon Hotel Rooftop, Circular Quay
On the other hand, Paragon Hotel Rooftop in Circular Quay is a venue that recreates the breeziness of a small beach setting in the middle of a dense inner-city pocket. Located on the rooftop of the iconic Paragon Hotel, the Tzannes-designed alfresco bar is all plants, pastels and plain sky. Halfway between a pool bar in Fiji and your very stylish friend’s courtyard, the space is scattered with outdoor furniture in a variety of bright colours and plush materials, including one very comfortable pink armchair. Although guests have sweeping views of the city below, noise levels remain peaceful thanks to greenery that drapes over every available surface, including planted green walls and a ceiling thick with foliage. Serving every cocktail you could possibly think of as well as a variety of share plates, there’s no better place in the city to while away an entire day.
Cnr Alfred and Loftus Streets, Circular Quay.
Fonda Mexican, Bondi Beach
The first interstate offshoot of Melbourne’s bright and contemporary Fonda Mexican restaurant chain, Fonda Mexican in Bondi channels the young, modern, block-colour-heavy theme that ties the brand together without compromising Sydney’s distinct coastal appeal. Designed by so-hot-right-now Australian design firm Studio Esteta, the colour scheme of Fonda Mexican in Bondi is the standout feature of the design. Somewhere between desert and beach, burnt orange coats the walls and sea-blue leather bench seats snake around the perimeter. The atmosphere is cosy, designed to channel the Fonda ethos of “mi casa, su casa”, and the menu is fresh and unpretentious. Come for the market-fresh fish burritos, heaped bowls of rustic tortilla chips with salsa and zingy frozen margaritas.
85 Hall Street, Bondi Beach.
Maybe Sammy, The Rocks
Credited with delivering a rebirth of cool to The Rocks, Maybe Sammy is a new and intimate cocktail bar that channels all the glitz, glamour and seduction of 1950s Las Vegas to this harbourside pocket, long devoid of fresh hospitality openings. Although tiny, the bar punches big, with an aim to pay homage to the Rat Pack (the “Sammy” in the name is Sammy Davis Jr.). The suave design is evident in the brass finishes, the palm-leaf wallpaper, the velvet benches, the curved marble bar and the slick-haired staff sporting double-breasted dinner jackets and sly smiles. Tip: don’t leave here without having tried something from the cocktail menu, influenced by creative director Andrea Gualdi, who took out 2017 Australian Bartender of the Year.
115 Harrington Street, The Rocks.