Nestled in the sweet spot between Sydney’s east and inner west, Waterloo has always held a certain charm for the city’s weekend brunch set. But over the past few years it’s also become a destination unto itself. Close to everything and one of a few suburbs well served by public transport, it’s a bourgeoning hub of art, design, parks and markets.
With a dedicated train station, retail hub and community precinct – featuring an aquatic centre, parkland and sports field – proposed for the area in the next few years, it looks like Waterloo’s stock will rise. Here’s our guide for what to eat, drink, see and do in Waterloo.
Food has always been one of Waterloo’s strong suits. From breakfast to dinner there’s some heavy hitters hiding around.
For daytime nourishment, Barista & Cook on Bourke Street is a huge local draw for its coffee and excellent breakfast. The space is blocky, with a lot of glass, high ceilings and generous natural light. The dish you won’t find anywhere else is a smoked-trout kedgeree. It’s a British-Indian dish traditionally made with haddock, rice, eggs and spices. It’s on the menu to honour owner Alan Thompson’s heritage.
Then there’s a mac’n’cheese toasty made with sourdough; fried-chicken rolls; a breakfast chargrilled pork belly with chilli fried eggs; and an ice-cream sandwich with custom-made Gypsy Espresso coffee gelato by Ciccone & Sons. Coffee includes espresso, V60, Chemex and cold drip by Gypsy. There's a range of smoothies, milkshakes and fresh juices, such as the Green Power (kale, spirulina, apple, celery and coconut water).
For a pastry hit par excellence, head to Sonoma Waterloo, the third offshoot of the famous Sydney bakery brand, where you can also satisfy your carbohydrate cravings with its epic sandwiches. John Smith Specialty Coffee is another excellent spot for a morning caffeine dose, It’s hidden away in a warehouse at the end of Botany Road and is popular with locals thanks to its unique brews and lunch – try the goat’s-cheese dumplings.
There’s also the Mediterranean-inspired Kepos Street Kitchen led by Israeli chef Michael Rantissi (ex-Bather’s Pavilion). He replicates the kind of food he makes in his kitchen at home, such as tabouleh salad and slow-braised lamb shank off the bone. The Danks Street Produce Merchants has become a mecca for local produce fans and includes a provedore, butcher, cafe, bakery, coffee roaster, pasteria, creperie, fromagerie, homewares store and a florist under its roof. Upstairs is Mezzanino, the Mediterranean-inspired yum cha-style restaurant by ex-Grossi Florentino (a longstanding, family-owned Melbourne institution) chef Riccardo Interdonato.
For dinner there’s the Japanese-Italian hybrid of Porcorosso on Allen Street, which serves some of the area’s best pizza. There’s also SO9 on Danks Street, one of Sydney’s best-looking (and tasting) Vietnamese restaurants. Owners Kim Tran, sister Ngan Tran and their husbands, Tony Vo and Billy Ha, serve traditional street food in a contemporary venue. The menu covers basics such as rice paper rolls, salads and crunchy bánh mìs thick with mayo, pate, homemade pickles, traditional pancakes and noodle soups. Look out for the bun suong, a popular Vietnamese noodle soup with shrimp sausages and sliced pork that’s rare in Sydney.
Luke Mangan’s Mojo Wine Bar is the best-known drink spot here. Situated in an old industrial warehouse across the road from Danks Street Produce Merchants, the complex is an ideal place to unwind over a smorgasbord of tapas-style share plates and a glass of wine in a casual, intimate setting that can seat up to 26. There’s a relaxed vibe – nothing fancy or pretentious. Think crispbread with guacamole and Mangan’s mum’s tomato chutney; kingfish sashimi with ginger, shallot and Persian feta; charcuterie plates; pork-belly tacos; and prawn and pineapple salsa mini burgers. All expertly paired with Mojo’s extensive wine range. On weekend evenings the shutters come down once the space reaches maximum capacity and you almost feel like it’s a secret warehouse dinner party.
Over on Botany Road The Forgotten Cask is upstairs at the revitalised Cauliflower Hotel. The rooftop cocktail bar is by husband-and-wife team Justin and Pippi Drew who bought the old pub in 2014 and transformed the upstairs into a laid-back St Lucian rum-focused cocktail bar. There’s a Caribbean theme to the venue, from the palms and the grass roof, to the vintage rum posters on the walls.
The cocktail bar extends into the lounge deck and out onto the tropical-inspired rooftop terrace. All the drinks are named after pirates – signatures include The Captain AA, a twist on a Dark and Stormy with spiced rum, habanero chillies, lime and ginger. There’s also the Bonnie and Reed with Amaretto, macadamia nut, coconut water and lemon. Or just grab a coconut.
The food is similarly themed; expect Central and South American dishes such as a spicy jerk-chicken sambo; fajitas with ancho chilli con carne, guacamole and salsa criolla; and tacos with Southern American spices.
They’re not the only two go-tos in the area: those who like a classic sports pub have Bar Cleveland and its Sunday afternoon burger and beer sessions. A short walk into nearby Redfern delivers Arcadia Liquors with its famous midnight cheese toasties; The Dock, a ship-themed bar that hosts sea shanty sing-a-longs on Mondays; and The Bearded Tit, with some of the best music selections and front-window displays in town.
As one of the city’s newer-zoned residential neighbourhoods, Waterloo has a selection of outdoor activities. Sporty types can go for a run at nearby Waterloo Oval, from which Moore Park’s tennis and golf facilities are a short walk. For the mental athletes there’s the heritage-listed Waterloo Library on Elizabeth Street. Originally built as the local town hall in the early 1880s, the library hosts the Koori Collection in Sydney – a historic archive of more than 1250 items on Aboriginal history and the arrival of Europeans.
On weekends there’s also the neighbouring Joynton Park Markets, which offer live music, fresh food and vintage wares and knick-knacks.
If it’s high art you’re after, Waterloo has that, too. May Space (formerly Brenda May Gallery) on George Street is home to a small group of accomplished artists who regularly show their own work and support emerging artists. The Darren Knight Gallery is a five-minute walk around the corner on Elizabeth Street. One of Australia’s best and most highly regarded small galleries, the space regularly boasts some of the world’s most high-profile and forward-thinking work. Along with the requisite fanfare of opening-night parties, the art-heavy alcove lends a touch of international class to the strip.
Formerly a warehouse precinct, Waterloo is a haven for those obsessed with design and interiors. Clustered around the same stretch of Danks Street as Mojo and Produce Merchants, homewares stores include Zaffero, which offers a contemporary spin on furniture and its industrial lighting made from copper, wood and glass; French, Italian and Belgian-inspired indoor and outdoor specialists Parterre; Abode, which heroes Australian brands alongside more unusual international pieces; and Eco Outdoor, which specialise in raw-material surfaces such as sandstone, bluestone and slate. And it’s not just shops: high-profile landscape and interior designer Adam Robinson runs his award-winning practice out of the same building as Eco Outdoor.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with The Finery by Mirvac, a new boutique residential project in Waterloo.