A bunch of new dining hubs have appeared around Sydney recently, with developers hoping to keep a captive audience hanging around for breakfast, lunch and dinner (plus coffee and snacks). It’s not a new phenomenon – shopping-centre food courts have been doing the same for decades. But these precincts are generally more visually appealing with higher-quality tenants. They’re the sorts of places you’d happily lose a couple of hours – think Barangaroo’s sprawl of casual eateries and fine-diners; Tramsheds in Glebe; and The Cannery in Rosebery, with its cult-cool tenants such as Archie Rose, Black Star Pastry and Three Blue Ducks.

In the last year we’ve seen a petite four-venue precinct bring sophisticated dining to Western Sydney, a megalithic inner-city complex with 70 retail and dining outlets, and a laneway hub catering to office workers. Here’s a rundown.

Barrack Place, CBD
Where
In a laneway beneath a 23-storey office building on Clarence Street.

What’s the story?
Barrack Place opened in February last year, in the same spot where the lavish Grand Central Coffee Palace opened in 1889. It’s been built to give workers in the offices above (and in the surrounding area) somewhere to grab top-quality food and coffee when they’re on the go. Vendors occupying its small shopfronts include in-demand Japanese-salad joint Fishbowl; Bar Pho (a permanent spot for the popular Bondi Market stand); and St Dreux Coffee Roasters, which includes a nitro-brewed coffee on its menu.

Broadsheet’s pick
The rou jia mo (a speciality from northern China) at Mo’st. It translates to “meat sandwich”, and many people reckon it’s the oldest sandwich in the world, dating back 2300 years. Traditionally the mo – a Chinese flatbread – is stuffed with pork. But at Mo’st it also comes with beef meatballs and chips, grilled cumin lamb and Hainan-style chicken breast.

Newmarket Dining, Randwick
Where
On Barker Street, opposite the Prince of Wales Hospital.

What’s the story?
The Newmarket food hub is part of a new apartment development by the same name. Four new eateries – an outpost of Redfern’s RaRa Ramen; a reprisal of Surry Hills diner Baccomatto Osteria; a Cali Press; and Cafe Mckenzie, which serves coffee and Middle Eastern fare – have opened, with more to come in the next few months.

Broadsheet’s pick
RaRa Ramen’s top-secret tonkotsu (pork-bone broth) ramen. Owners Katie Shortland and Scott Gault have worked hard to maintain the consistency of their original in Redfern, installing a “noodle theatre” at the Randwick outpost to continue churning out their thin noodles made from high-protein flour and tap water. Those noods are served in that pork-bone broth (made off-site), along with chashu pork, seasoned bamboo, creamy ajitsuke tamago (egg) and black fungus. A neon sign on the wall glows with the words “Big Noodle Energy”; this particular dish has it in spades.

Darling Square, Haymarket
Where
At the western edge of Chinatown, where the Sydney Entertainment Centre used to be.

What’s the story?
Darling Square is possibly the biggest eating, drinking and shopping precinct in Sydney. With a whopping 70 retailers, it caters to, well, everyone. The striking Exchange building – a whirlwind of timber – houses 13 venues alone, including Golden Century spin-off XOPP; Andy Bowdy’s bakery, Saga Lyte; Spanish eatery Boque by Tapavino; and beer gurus Bucket Boys. Other eateries around the precinct include a second outlet of Marrickville Vietnamese joint Hello Auntie; Devon cafe’s latest concept, Dopa Donburi and Milk Bar; Belles Hot Chicken; and Edition Coffee Roasters. The precinct also houses a public library, clothing stores, a tattoo parlour and hairdressers.

Broadsheet’s pick
The salt-and-pepper squid at XOPP. This Chinese diner in the Exchange building’s mezzanine might be named after the star dish at sibling venue Golden Century, but the salt-and-pepper squid is equally great. “It’s Australia’s unofficial national dish,” says Broadsheet Sydney editor Sarah Norris. “You can get it in pubs, restaurants, takeaway Chinese eateries – but at XOPP they do it better than anyone.” Also noteworthy: the coffee from Edition.

The Paper Mill Food, Liverpool
Where
As the name suggests, The Paper Mill Food is located in a former 19th-century paper mill, on the banks of the Georges River in Liverpool. Like Newmarket and Darling Square, it’s part of a new residential development.

What’s the story?
This miniature food hub has four restaurants under one roof, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee seven days a week. The variety of cuisines reflects the cultural diversity of Liverpool – fewer than one-third of residents surveyed in the 2016 census were born in Australia. There’s a full-service restaurant, the Fire Pit, which serves carby, meaty dishes from across the globe. Expect cheesy bread from Georgia and kefalograviera sagnaki (fried sheep’s cheese) from Greece. There’s also a casual pizza diner, a Lebanese charcoal-chicken joint, and a cafe and dessert bar.

Broadsheet’s pick
Joe’s charcoal chicken. The group behind Paper Mill claim their charcoal chicken is the best in western Sydney. We can’t really confirm that, but Joe’s is pretty damn good. It’s cooked on custom-made grill and served with delightfully sharp pickles, Lebanese bread and garlic sauce.

Campbell’s Stores, The Rocks
Where
You’ve probably seen Campbell’s Stores dozens of times and never paid them much mind – they’ve been around almost as long as Sydney has. They’re the line of sandstone warehouses along the waterfront at The Rocks. Until recently the area housed four venues, including an Indian restaurant and an Italian joint.

What’s the story?
The heritage-listed mid-19th-century warehouses that make up Campbell’s Stores were recently given a little TLC. At the moment they’re home to three eateries: The Catch, a seafood diner led by a Michelin-starred chef; 6Head, a premium steakhouse; and a pop-up version of modern Greek restaurant Alpha, which will be in the space until at least May. Once all the tenants have arrived there’ll be seven restaurants and bars in total.

Broadsheet’s pick
The tower of seafood at The Catch. Feast on cured salmon, spanner crab, chilled mussels and king prawns (all served on a bed of ice), with two of the world’s most iconic structures – the Harbour Bridge and Opera House – at your feet. We can’t think of anything better.