When Darling Square opens in August it will be the last piece in the NSW’s government’s $3.4 billion revitalisation of Darling Harbour.
The development is rising from the space once occupied by the Sydney Entertainment Centre and its carpark. When it’s finished, it’ll be a mix of apartments, laneways, retail outlets, eateries, community spaces and offices (the Commonwealth Bank has already moved 3000 of its employees into the area).
Slowly forming is the precinct’s centrepiece – a striking six-storey building wrapped in wood. Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, The Exchange will house a “library of the future” and a new Golden Century outlet.
The ground floor will also be home to 12 retailers known as the Maker’s Dozen. The first of these include Pasta Wafu, a Japanese pasta collaboration between Banksii’s Hamish Ingham and Rebecca Lines and Ume’s Kerby Craig; Andy Bowdy’s dessert den Saga; the second outlet of bar and bottle shop Bucket Boys (the other is in Marrickville, which will have cocktails on tap; Boque by Tapavino, which is inspired by the La Boqueria market in Barcelona; and Japanese-Vietnamese fusion joint Mr Bao Buns.
In addition, a new retail and food hub known as Little Hay Street has just been announced. Deemed an “electric treat street”, it’ll bridge the space between Haymarket and Darling Square, and will also be jammed with food joints and retailers. Dopa by Devon’s menu will be half sweet, half savoury; Shortstop Coffee and Donuts (which has an outlet in nearby Barangaroo) will serve US-style doughnuts and coffee from specialty roasters; Messina will plug the gap between its Star and Surry Hills locations; Rey’s Place will serve Filipino street food as well as cocktails and desserts; and Bengong Black is coming over from China to serve pastries that are inspired by French patisserie but have Asian flavours.
Little Hay Street’s retail outlets will include a new Thirteen Feet Tattoo studio (the first is in Newtown), lifestyle and apparel store 15 Sheets, and La Cosmetique, which sells Japanese and Korean beauty products.
The NSW Government engaged development company Lendlease with overseeing the work (it also developed nearby Barangaroo). Gary Horwitz is Lendlease’s managing director for retail and says the company’s goal is simple: to make Darling Square somewhere people actually want to visit.
“We want to create a neighbourhood,” Horwitz tells Broadsheet. “Somewhere that tourists and people from other parts of Sydney want to come to, but also somewhere people want to live.”
To do this, Lendlease commissioned market research to inform the build, and found people wanted “an eclectic mix of things,” says Horwitz. “Asian influence, a combination of lifestyle, fashion and eateries, and no big brands”.
The precinct is on the doorstep of Chinatown, and Horwitz says that proximity has played a huge role in how the development was shaped – and there’s one restaurant in particular he’s most looking forward to.
“I’ve been going to Golden Century [GC] for 30 years, ever since I moved here [from South Africa]. Darling Square is the back door of Chinatown. We’re conscious of the fact we’re subservient to Chinatown.”
The yet-to-be-named GC restaurant is big news for Sydney’s dining scene. When it was announced there would be a third restaurant from the iconic Cantonese family, Billy Wong (the owners’ son) told Broadsheet to expect fusion Chinese food targeted at a younger demographic of diners. “The idea was [about] taking the old and making it new. It’s the next generation of the legacy and the story,” says Wong.
One of Sydney’s best cafes, Edition, moved to Darling Square last year, and says the proximity to Chinatown heavily influenced its decision to pack up from Darlinghurst.
“We have a lot of Asian customers – both locals and tourists – who have found us on Instagram and would come to Darlinghurst to visit us,” Jackson tells Broadsheet. “So we thought, instead of them coming to us, why not go to them?”
He says the precinct also gives the cafe an in-built audience. Visitors stream in from Chinatown, and eventually thousands of people will live there and work there every day.
Little Hay Street and the first six retailers of Maker's Dozen are slated to open in August. The remaining venues will open in October.