Secrets of Kings Cross

Rebecca Varidel
6th Dec 2020

Locals know the secrets. Kings Cross Sydney is a thriving community in which to live and play.

And extending just beyond the infamous yet fabulous Golden Mile is our even richer local Potts Point radius of eating, drinking and shopping. As a Macleay Street resident, living right opposite the iconic fountain that my dad built, I'll admit a bias - yes I truly love Potts Point. This also affords me the opportunity to share with you, some secrets from us, the Potts Point locals. Half of my reason choosing to live here is the incredible local diversity of people and wonderful community. The other just-as-important reason is because I believe this to be one of the best (if not the best) dining and drinks precincts in contemporary Sydney. While I do sometimes cook at home (because I like to, not just because I can) I actually have no need when there are so many top spots so close. Some of my neighbours in my building actually eat out locally for every meal - yes the food and drinks in Potts Point are that good.

Although 2020 may not have been a great year for the world, it is exciting that Sydney is pulling out of it well. Potts Point is up there as one of the most thriving locations in Sydney, buzzing with many new food and drinks venues - bars restaurants cafes patisseries and take aways - that cater for the widest possible range of tastes and budgets. Here is just a sprinkling of my favourite joints within easy walking distance of my home.

Llankelly Place backs on to my place and is a great eating and drinking strip. 

Dear Sainte Éloise which spills out of doors as a laneway bar onto Llankelly Place is once again awarded our Sydney Scoop bar of the year (both 2019 and 2020). 

“Dear Sainte Eloise, if you exist, please send me some money. I don’t ask for much – just enough to buy some bread and a bottle of wine” – George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933

This seems the perfect name and quote, as Potts Point is actually known as the Little Paris of Sydney, and is also renowned for the best examples of art deco architecture in our city. The bar curates a considered list with an array of exceptional, hard to find and natural wines, offered by the glass. Beyond the best wine list, the dishes offered here are some of my favourites of the area too. Bites here celebrate produce with a hand of classic technique and a nod to contemporary innovation.

Et al is probably the place in Sydney where I eat most often. I can be on my way to Harris Farm to buy produce, and end up sitting down under the canopy to have an aperitif, and eat an impromptu dinner here instead. Why is Et al so enticing? Iconic British chef Alistair Little brings all his wealth of life, eating and cooking to his new table, paired with some of the most experienced high end Sydney service to be found. The end result is this favourite Potts Point eatery which is approachable and affordable, and does every detail right.

Room Ten & Pina - It was only just recently that the coffee brunch stop of undercover celebrity chefs Room Ten celebrated its 10th birthday. Room Ten makings might mean damn coffee and fine eggs but topping it all off has super friendly staff. And now there are two. What started as a popup just across the laneway and has just cemented its renovation and permanent opening. Pina is like a spiritual awakening, the balancing of yin and yang for brunch - with offerings that are both at the same time solid yet edgy. And while these sibling cafes, Room Ten & Pina, are co-located in Llankelly Place, they are dishing up differently. Pina is grabbing our attention and taste buds but not our wallets. Already you'll see the same faces waiting for a table most days.

Kings Cross Distillery put it all on the line and opened during this covid-year. With its beckoning lush interior, yes, as the name implies there is a distillery on the premises. Kings Cross Distillery makes its own bespoke gin using Australian botanicals. One of the best secrets at the distillery is the gin lockers. Buy your own bottle to keep in the locker then keep having your cocktails poured from your bottle each time you visit at no extra cost. You also get to take a second bottle home with you. Doesn't this sounds like the perfect Christmas gift for that someone who has everything! Hey, will someone buy one for me - please?

Here's another Llankelly Place secret;  while we are saddened to hear that the special tiny Osaka Bar is closing due to the ill health of the chef, local gossip has it that a new Japanese restaurant will be completing the Llankelly Place laneway dining soon.

Orwell Street

The Roosevelt kept me going in lockdown. They were one of the earliest businesses in Sydney to adapt and change offering a lockdown take away menu and home delivery of affordable $20 dinners. Even before this year of change, they were already making, the most spectacular martini in Sydney. And as eat-in they dished up one of the best steaks in our town. During lock down, I kept myself nourished with their winter wonders such as beef bourgignon (and of course a take away gin cocktail). My birthday dinner was delivered from there as a gift by my girlfriend who couldn't travel. The Roosevelt is one of my top Potts Point bar and restaurant picks before, during and after. It's intimate, so book your table.

And now my secret: my aunty worked in that Orwell Street building during the 50s as radio station 2KY when Potts Point was the epicentre of Sydney broadcasting. Take a look at the sandstone letterbox outside The Roosevelt and you'll see what I mean. Across the corner you can see the exterior of the art deco Minerva Theatre which holds its own magic and legends, such as mobbing Noel Coward in the street outside his play in 1940, through to 1000 people red carpet opening nights for the revolutionary 70s musical Hair.

Macleay Street

Bistro Rex French restaurant and bistro does it well, so well I'd claim it is one of the best places to eat and drink in Potts Point. Design, décor, service, food, wine list, cocktails - are all winners. I've eaten here so many times I've had the chance to mix it up, yet keep coming back to my Bistro Rex favourites, Twice baked cheese soufflé, Chicken liver parfait, and Rabbit & pork rillettes. Other yumptions are Pissaldiere, Omelette and classic Steak frites. Chocolate lovers rejoice and be sure to leave room for the Dark chocolate tarte.

Macleay Street Bistro is a little further down the Paris end of Potts Point and extends the French classics. From Garlic prawns with prawn & chilli bisque, classic French onion soup with Comte cheese, and the most magnificent mixed-at-the-table organic grass fed steak tartare right through to Pan rendered fillet of duck breast with peaches, eschallots and Armagnac jus - over 30 years of tradition carries on in style. Macleay Street Bistro has a loyal following of locals so it is a good tip, to book ahead.

Darlinghurst Road

Dulcie's could easily have been a den of sin in another era. Now it's established as a purveyor of fine cocktails, burlesque and keeper of late hours. The most interesting intimate bar space in Kings Cross with some of the best service. Dulcie's is intimate, so ring ahead.

Roslyn Street

Metisse is my special occasion go-to restaurant, plating considered and refined food. The Roslyn Street fine dining establishment is a wonderful place to take a special date, to close a business deal, or to gather family and friends. That level up service is consistently professional and informed, and the food is to die for. In 2020, Metisse provided one of the most memorable moments of the year with their Mothers Day set menu with matched wines. Like an experience inside the restaurant real, the delivery degustation was balanced, detailed and perfectly crafted. In case you were wondering, I bought it as a lockdown present for myself, so I could pretend I was out and treated with white tablecloths.

Penny's Cheese Shop as a specialty store supplies the 'hood with our farmhouse cheese needs, and that includes all the bits and bobs and specialty knowledge. So, while it's true we head there for our farmhouse and international cheeses, the secret that sells out every day is discretely written on the blackboard outside until it does - Penny's triple cheese toasties.

Honkas spacious courtyard is well loved by locals for its cocktails and Asian street food - from Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Now owner Hamilton Kings is reinventing the upstairs space into Pivot Lane Wine Bar. It's not quite open yet, but I did get to sample the snacks and take a preview peek. The winner is the most delightful ball of salty crunch, Sage leaf with anchovy - inspired by finger food at an Italian wedding that Hamilton attended. Oh those memories of when we all could travel. 

Elizabeth Bay Road

Bloody Mary's has just moved from their first Darlinghurst venue, resuscitating the iconic ground floor of Gazebo. And we couldn't be happier. While there is a spacious allocation of drinks possibilities, first choice has to be to stick to the namesake. It's a whole lot more glamourous to drink than your average bevvie. Although the drinks here are anything but average.

"I'd start a first date with that" echoed across the table by Maree Sheehan, who hosts dining walks at The Sydney Connection, as we started with oyster shots in Bloody Marys.

The fun doesn't stop there. There's nothing quite like being greeted at the door by the pink glam sash of the Bloody Mary's covid marshal. Get down and boogie in the pretty in pink venue. Keep your eyes on the disco ball and look out for the drag queens. Not just a late night venue, Bloody Mary's Gazebo does Victoria Anthony Disco Brunch each Saturday, and offers bottomless brunch 2 hours of Bloody Mary's every weekend. 

Kellett Street

Silly Tart Kitchen with its secret inside/outside garden, sits on the corner of this famous street. Locals in the know enjoy bottomless brunches and marvellous dinner hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Kings Cross in another world.

Ezra is one of the most talked about new restaurants in Sydney. Like a few of the other Sydney hot spots Ezra is booked out this year. Bookings are taken 90 days in advance, so you shouldn't have to wait too long. With his new restaurant, the very talented Ben Spears has recently moved into the 'hood, proving his flexibility by flipping cuisines. Chef Spears transports us at Ezra with "Ashkenazi, Mediterranean and Mid East flavours - Sydney style" with a menu of small dishes best for sharing.

Dean's Lounge is for me perhaps the most exciting new Sydney venue of this year. Once a renowned Kings Cross establishment in the Kellett Street 80s 'heyday' this newly opened incarnation bringing back the famous Monster Nachos alongside a killer cocktail list of perfectly crafted classics and some of the best vibe and service in town.

If those walls could talk. Gossip is that the owner bartender could recount a tale or two from the legendary days. Jaxon was just a nipper hanging out at the original Dean's when his mum was baking cakes there. This not quite a secret makes me warm to version 2.0 Dean's Lounge all the more. And it looks like Jaxon has a nostalgic soft spot for the 'hood just like me. Because my dad built the fountain, I've been coming here before I event went to school.

Potts Point! These joints only just scratch the surface. There are so many more choices. Apologies: Ria Pizza + Wine, The Butler, Lotus, Mrs G's, Cho Cho San, Franca, Wonderland Bar, Piccolo Bar, Primary Coffee Roasters, Joseph Hyde, Gliders (x 2 locations), La Bomba, Melo's, Café de la Fontaine, Baked by Keiran, as well as the late night early morning 5am close Five Star Kebabs and all the other places I've patronised in the last year. It's no wonder I find it hard to leave 'the bubble'. Even after all these there are so many more worthy Potts Point establishments to tell you about... (I'd better write you a Potts Point Part 2 at some stage soon. Or work on a more comprehensive Potts Point guide.) In the meantime, the best way to find out is to come visit my 'hood. One special opportunity is coming up soon. 

Pictured drinks Im(peach)ment @ Kings Cross Distiller KXD Classic Dry Gin, Massenez Crème De Peche Byrhh, Salted Honey. The inspiration of the cocktail - Kings Cross was quite the scary place, that had a history of organized crime and corruption which finally led to a Royal Commission in the mid 1990s, and now blossoming like a peach tree.