Walking around Newtown is a sure way to work up an appetite. The trendy inner-city neighbourhood is famously lined with acclaimed restaurants, cheap eats, trendy bars and excellent vintage shops. There’s so much to explore here that the real challenge is staying on course.
On any given day of the week, Newtown’s streets are swarming with tourists, partygoers, arty locals and shopkeepers, all looking to satisfy those hunger pangs.
Among Sydney’s best-known cultural hubs, Newtown has plenty to offer in the way of food and drink. The inner-city suburb, with its laid-back vibe, keeps its menus accessible and diverse to suit its clientele. No one knows this better than Sydney-based stylist and food blogger Niwa Mburuja, who’s caught the attention of residents and out-of-towners alike for her tips on how to navigate Sydney’s restaurant scene. By way of ambience, affordability, customer service and, of course, taste, Mburuja helps Culture Trip narrow down the best Newtown restaurants.
With great enthusiasm, Mburuja says she spent the best part of a year recommending Continental to anyone who would listen. “It’s such great value for money, given the quality of dishes served,” she says. “I highly recommend the barbecued octopus. If it’s on the menu, get it.” The dinner item is usually topped with puy lentils, chimichurri, mayonnaise and sourdough breadcrumbs. The combination of flavours, Mburuja says, is the best you’ll taste in Sydney. For a light bite, order a charcuterie and cheese platter to share and enjoy the buzzy atmosphere and chic decor.
Not only is Newtown a magnet for foodies and creatives, it’s also the heartland of vegan and vegetarian food in Sydney. Visitors have restaurants like Gigi Pizzeria to thank for the progressive culinary shift. In 2015, nearly 10 years after opening, the pizzeria stripped its menu of all meat products and “created a new plant-based menu that better aligns with Gigi’s ethics,” says the owner, Marco Matino. “We stay true to the traditional Neapolitan pizza by using fresh, local produce.” And the changes have paid off, with Gigi remaining one of the most popular pizza spots in the forward-thinking suburb.
“So much of my cultural identity as an Australian has been shaped by the Inner West,” says Mburuja. The bubbling inner-city district is all about celebrating cultural diversity, culinary expression and the willingness to try new things. One notable contributor is Cairo Takeaway. The cheap and cheerful takeaway restaurant masters colourful, plant-rich Egyptian cuisine and traditional favourites. “Its freshly made falafels are on point,” and while the most popular item off the menu could easily be the lamb kofta and barbecued chicken mixed plate, it’s “the vegetarian options that really shine at Cairo,” says Mburuja.
Hartsyard has undergone some huge changes since opening as an American-style restaurant in 2012. Long-time chef and short-time owner Jarrod Walsh made notable adjustments to the menu after taking the keys from his former boss in late 2018. “Loved it before, love it now,” says Mburuja, who’s dined at both the before and after versions of Hartsyard. “But, the current menu is more creative than it’s ever been,” she adds. The casual, modern Australian restaurant has a focus on fresh produce and local catches, to fill its plates with elegant seafood and vegetarian offerings. The kingfish head with XO butter and fried bread is a must-try.
The legendary Thai Pothong, a stone’s throw from Newtown station, has been around for more than 20 years. The restaurant oddly yet charmingly doubles as a gift shop, and it’s one of the largest importers of authentic Thai products in Australia. Guests who dine at this charming Thai restaurant are given gift cards that they can trade in for trinkets after their meal. “The food is delicious, reasonably priced, great for big groups of friends,” says Mburuja. Not only do patrons leave with a full belly, they also get to take home a piece of handcrafted memorabilia.
Dubbed “the most communal restaurant in Newtown” by Mburuja, Lentil As Anything is always brimming with guests. “Even if you arrive alone, you’re bound to have company,” she says. The pay-as-you-feel, non-profit vegan restaurant has become increasingly popular due to its willingness to strive towards social fairness and community initiatives. It relies on the generosity of patrons and volunteers, and in return provides wholesome, nourishing nosh. “It puts you in a completely different mindset than you’d have in a commercial place. That’s what is great about it,” says Mburuja.
Mary’s Newtown is a hotspot for hungry partygoers in the neighbourhood. Since opening in 2013, the American-style burger joint has boasted a “short menu, loud music and plenty of booze” for anyone willing to queue. The dimly lit restaurant, with thrash metal font for its menu, has become a cult favourite in Newtown since its arrival. If the idea of beers, burgers and candlelight excites, Mary’s Newtown is the place to be.