Discover Sydney Rd’s Hidden Gems
As one of the longest retails and dining strips in the southern hemisphere, Sydney Rd is known for its diversity in culture, food and trade. I realise what I’ve been missing during my visits to the street only after experiencing Flavourhood Tours – Welcome to Sydney Road Food Tour.
Like a tourist in an exciting city, I eagerly await our guide, Raffaela Ceddia at the Coburg Library. Raffaela grew up and still spends time in the area, giving her the ideal credentials as a Flavourhood Tours guide.
Our group of 10 stroll to Zaatar, a four year old Middle Eastern café and bakery, run by brothers Charlie and Jeff. What was originally a Chinese restaurant, and more recently a Greek eatery called Zorba’s, the venue is now a bustling establishment for modern Middle Eastern cuisine. We’re spoiled with a ‘Zaatar big breakfast’, consisting of eggs, soujok (Turkish sausage), labneh dip, olives (imported from Lebanon), tomato, cucumber and classic Lebanese bread (baked fresh on site). The best way to eat this food? With your hands, of course! To drink, we have a not-your-average English breakfast tea, with cinnamon and mint.
Our next stop is Vasili’s Garden. Vasilis himself beckons us with Greek coffee and Melomakarona (Greek biscuits) in hand. This is an established family-run business. Indeed, Vasilis himself was born on this very property! I’m impressed by the range of chemical-free seedlings and plants, including avocados, mangoes, guavas, native apricots and Vasilis special tomato variety. I won’t spoil the surprise! The café is cosy, serving amazing coffee and food using ingredients taken from their own veggie garden.
A quick stop into Trivelli Cakes takes us to sugar heaven. This established Italian cake shop of 51 years will stun you with its many traditional Italian cakes and biscuits freshly made on site. Digging into my sfoglliatella, a pastry filled with creamy ricotta with a texture and shape resembling leaves, I’m transported to a sunlit café in Italy.
Our next port of call is the Coburg Market, one of Melbourne’s oldest and traditional markets where all kinds of traders excitedly display their wares. A dry goods and spices stall entices me with the huge array of products available. As a bonus we go away with a bag of freekah to create our very own freekah, artichoke and broad bean salad (recipe provided by Very Good Falafel).
For lunch we venture to a hidden gem called Half Moon Café for a moist and enjoyable Egyptian falafel that owner Nabil creates using broadbeans. Established for 13 years, it’s obvious why this is a local favourite. The popular ‘Half Moon Falafel’, consisting of tabouli, chickpeas, hummus, yoghurt, pickled turnips (pink in colour from being soaked in beetroots), black olives and falafel fried in cotton oil, is a clear winner. You may also want to try the popular and colourful salad bar to make your own ‘Falafel Dish’.
A short tram ride later and we are at Neruda’s in Brunswick, a South American café named after the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. This small but vibrant café is owned by Oscar and Gus, whose hospitality almost convinces you that you have been going there for years. Popular is mate (pronounced mah-tay), a traditional herbal tea that is drunk through a metal straw called a ‘bombilla’. Rich in caffeine and reputed to have many health benefits, mate went well with some delicious pastries filled with dulce de leche and cinnamon sugar.
A quick stop afterwards at the Royal Nut Company makes us ‘nutty’ as we inspect the huge range on display. This 30-year family owned and run business is home to every nut, spice, confectionary and health food conceivable. Be sure to try the Australian dried plums and the dry roasted almonds.
We wander through the Brunswick Market, visiting several traders including John the Cobbler, well known in the area for his quality shoe repairs.
A visit to Sparta Place commemorated the mass migrations of Spartans to the area. Now, this laneway is home to a number of boutique shops and an art gallery.
A stop at the renowned Mediterranean Wholesalers presents with us all things Italian. Think deli goods, freshly baked bread, pasta, wine, pots and, yes, even cleaning products. Owner Mr. Madaferri started the family operation in 1961, which eventually became the primary deli in the area by buying out its rivals. The huge store dwarfed the milk bar that was originally on the site. The shop is staffed by Madaferri family members and boasts some of the cheapest espresso in the area at around $1.60. Drinking it all in, we lustily dive into a divine spread of cold cuts, cheese, ciabatta bread and wine.
As we amble to our final destination, our appreciation for how diverse the area really is set in. What was once a narrow, one chain (20 metre) wide service road accommodating the gold rush and farming industry, Sydney Road is now buzzing local businesses and community. Food, retailers (including a vast number of bridal stores), community centres and of course, the locals who make the area what it is today. In addition to the venues we were lucky enough to visit, Raffaela points out a number of other favourites which are a must try.
Our final visit for the day brings us to The Retreat Hotel, which is the cherry on the cake. Offering live music nightly, it’s a huge venue comprising two bars, a beer garden and the Amelia Shaw upstairs cocktail bar. With a super relaxed vibe and catering to all demographics, this is the perfect spot to while away some time with a group of friends.
As I sip my Brunswick Bitter and listen to Raffaela reading us the ‘Brunswick Blessing’, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. For $99, which includes tastings at six different venues, transport during the tour and samples to take home, the Flavourhood Tours Sydney Road experience is a worthwhile way to spend a day.
Replete with good food, drinks, culture and history, I’ve become part of the Sydney Road community.