Surry Hills stalwart Ross Longmuir shares his favourite local haunts

We quiz Planet Furniture's owner about his suburb's best restaurants, shops and creative hotspots

Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

What’s your favourite thing about Surry Hills?
Diversity and creativity is at the heart of Surry Hills. We have Greek Orthodox churches and a mosque, a chinese community that goes back to the 19th century, loads of hipsters, a large gay community… Peppering the local buildings are also architectural firms, graphic designers, photographic studios, a rag-trade centre, a huge hospitality offering, “massage parlours” and, of course, a vast retail sector that is all about unique boutique offerings. I think that diversity makes us all stronger.

Where are your regular Surry Hills haunts?
I love eating at Nomad on Foster St and had a great Indian meal at Masala Theory on Crown Street this week. Title Store is fantastic for books, videos and music. Ici Et La is always worth a look for vintage objects for the home and the Hollywood Hotel has original character and is a true local gem. I was chatting to the chef from Firedoor this week… a totally wood-fired restaurant and now it’s on my list, but I think that Izakaya Fujiyama is amazing – such great food but casual and creative.

Are there any local hidden gems?
E and M Greenfields is a fabric wholesale supplier on Anne Street. It’s vast, professional and has incredible stock range. Published Art is a bookstore specialising on architecture and design on Mary Street, and Culla Change is a dyeing business on Devonshire Street – what better way is there to recycle your things?

What continues to surprise you about Surry Hills even after so long?
It always surprises me when another restaurant opens. There are so many and they are all so diverse… will anyone remember how to cook soon?

How did you start Planet furniture store?
I had nothing, so I just did what I could and worked in a café to pay for rent in a shared workshop, buying tools and Australian hardwood timber when I could. I wanted to make things that made sense from local materials, objects that would be beautiful because they were useful and simple, well-made and not harmful to our environment. I wanted to make a difference. Using Australian timbers was unusual and cabinetmakers told me that it was unsuitable so my hands-on research was invaluable.

Any secrets to your shop’s longevity?
Clients walk in and often have a huge emotional response... We make a huge effort to make everyone feel welcome and accommodated. We have a toy box, dogs can come inside, we are large enough that clients can get away from us and small enough so that we can share a story about a product if they are inclined. We try to have interesting music, we smell different… We want to enhance the discovery of a marketplace with considered service. Since 1998 we have shown local studio ceramic makers focusing on tableware and at present there is a huge surge of interest in this. I design many textile products and this area is expanding. We use textiles from Japan and India and make locally and carpets are made in India to my designs.

How would you sum up Surry Hills in one story?
We used to have a bed in our front window on Crown Street and an older gentleman called Nick, who lived in a care facility, used to stand at the door almost daily on his walk and ask whether we had "sold the bed yet” and then we would have a chat. We’ve sold thousands of that model and that’s why it was so prominent. I still don’t know whether he thought we were just a bunch of losers, but he made our day and hopefully we made him feel like part of a community.

Ross Longmuir's local faves

Published Art

It's a browser's paradise. This Mary Street bookstore specialises in art, architecture, fashion, design, typography and photography covers. They stock titles from the best international publishers and they like to rotate those titles frequently.

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Ici et La

Surry Hills French interiors store Ici et là (‘here and there’) has gathered a strong following for its collection of antique French deckchairs, zinc letters, industrial light shades and vibrant striped fabrics. You’ll find vibrant stripe cotton fabrics, linen and folding stools. 

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Surry Hills
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Title Music Film Books

With a filing ‘system’ designed to encourage chance discoveries, you’re bound to find something enticing among the hand-picked selection of cult DVDs, books and music. Their LP offerings are particularly good for discerning collectors of upscale new releases and reissues.

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Surry Hills

Culla Change

Freshen your old rags with a colour change. This Surry Hills store specialises in updating fabrics and clothing of all types by dyeing the fabrics. It’s another way to recycle your clothing, or update homewares from lounge covers to curtains and towels. You can drop off fabrics and a consultant will give you a buzz to find out what colour dyes you’d like them to use.

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Surry Hills
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Nomad

Nomad is good fun. Especially if you start with a Trinidad Sour, that bracing classic cocktail of a whole shot of Angostura bitters shaken with whisky, sweet syrup and lemon juice. Or just go straight to the wine. The list is a smart combination of approachable and challenging. It’s a really nicely designed room, too, all open plan and sunlit with its Danish-style furniture and decorative jars of pickles by the bar-style seating. 

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Surry Hills

Firedoor

Chef Lennox Hastie's pedigree is littered with Michelin stars and a five-year stint in the Basque Country at Asador Etxebarri, widely considered one of the finest restaurants in the world. What sets Asador Etxebarri apart is its focus on fire. Hastie brings the same approach to Firedoor. Shellfish is cooked over applewood to imbue the meat with a gentle level of sweetness. Burning mallee root, in contrast, heightens the earthiness of mushrooms. And the aromatic smoke of orange wood balances the richness of salmon. 

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Surry Hills
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Masala Theory

The decor is as loud as the flavours at this 'neo-Indian' eatery on Crown Street. The interior is decked out with technicolour murals and Hindi street signs – there’s even your requisite bike-tacked-onto-the-wall, complete with pink neon rims. The food is best summed up as traditional flavours and ingredients presented with a novel twist, from mint and masala lamb sliders to a chai panna cotta. 

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Surry Hills

Izakaya Fujiyama

They don’t take bookings here, so it’s a matter of taking your chances when it comes to getting a table, or settling for a spot at the bar. This being a Japanese-run restaurant, a seat at the bar is hardly Siberia, so jump at the chance if it’s offered. Start with a bowl of edamame and some salty mixed pickles and then get some hooch on the go. 

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For more ideas see our Surry Hills area guide

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