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Outside on street at Sixpenny Stanmore
Photograph: Anna KuceraSixpenny, Stanmore

20 hidden gems of the Inner West

These little-known spots will help you realise what the locals already fervently believe: the Inner West is best

By Time Out in association with Inner West Council
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From Ashfield to Annandale, from Summer Hill to Stanmore, the suburbs of Sydney's Inner West are filled with character. There are independent shops, superlative restaurants and buzzing bars, as well as a relaxed atmosphere that belies the fact that this area is one of Sydney’s top culture and entertainment hubs. You’re likely already familiar with the big, hyped venues, but stick your head into some of the smaller spots and you’ll find out exactly what gives the locals their immense neighbourhood pride. In partnership with Inner West Council, we offer a list of 20 hidden gems to discover in the Inner West.

Go west for these highlights

  • Bars
  • Summer Hill

Is the bar ironically named for the historic American society of teetotallers? Or for the virtue of moderation, in a sophisticated wine bar sort of way? Whatever it is, this bar seems to know its audience, as it’s perennially popular with Summer Hill locals vying for the comfiest Chesterfield or the sought after wicker chairs in the library nook. (If you’re drinking alone there’s Agatha Christie, back issues of National Geographic, and a copy of divisive '70s novel The Dice Man to keep you company.) It’s a pleasing spot for a tipple and a snack, be it a bowl of Sicilian olives, a hunk of cheddar with pickled onions, cornichons and bread, or a rabbit terrine served with wedges of pale green pickled tomatoes. The drinks list is concise but well executed, with around a dozen wines, four rotating craft beers on tap, and cocktails – including an excellent Whisky Sour.

In a clean, minimalist dining room, chefs Lisa Northmore and Sedat Acma (ex-Efendy) turn out Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-inflected food that’s a refreshing change from standard café fare. All-day breakfast options include cous cous porridge with fruit, pistachios and mascarpone; savoury pea pancakes with avocado, fetta and poached egg; and a Middle Eastern brekkie plate with falafel, chickpea stew, salad and Lebanese bread. Later in the day there are jaffles, burgers, tacos and wraps, plus mezze plates to graze on, such as crumbed halloumi with honey and za’atar or fried cauliflower with tahini and sesame seeds. On warm days, customers sip Alchemy coffees, freshly squeezed juices and smoothies in the courtyard or at sunny pavement tables on Lackey Street.

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  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Balmain

Much to the delight of those with both a sweet tooth and dietary requirements, this pastry palace is packed wall to wall with gluten-free, vegan and dairy-free treats. But don’t go thinking these are good for you. They’re delectable and bad in the best possible way. Doughnuts come individually or by the box, and there are about 40 flavours to choose from. There are also giant cookies, bricks of rocky road the size of your fist, logs of housemade Twix and Milky Way – and did we mention the cakes? The line-up changes constantly but the hollow doughnut cake is a reliable standby. Big enough for 15 people but yummy enough to eat alone, it’s available in a number of flavours including double chocolate, rosewater and pistachio, and Bounty.

Belle Fleur, Rozelle
  • Shopping
  • Rozelle

This shop is a little corner of Bruges in Rozelle (the medieval Belgian town with more chocolate shops per square kilometre than seems possible, seeing as you ask). The chocolatiers here construct elaborate window display sculptures of anything from a woodwork bench complete with chocolate mallets and chocolate wood shavings through to six-foot chocolate Christmas trees. Inside the display cabinets you’ll find smaller assorted items rendered painstakingly out of cocoa, from violins and stilettos to coffee pots and seashells, as well as thick, rough slabs of chocolate studded with caramel, peanuts, popcorn and more. There are also bars of single origin chocolates from Africa, the Americas and the Pacific, and dozens upon dozens of beautiful handmade bon bons and truffles that can be packaged in boxes of 10-64 (the latter can be useful for occasions when you really need to impress).

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Not to be confused with the establishment of the same name in Neutral Bay, this café, restaurant and bar is on the site of the former Tetsuya’s restaurant before it moved to the city. A Japanese fusion menu acknowledges this lineage, with wasabi-soy oysters, a gingery ceviche of kingfish, yakitori skewers, karaage cauliflower bites with Kewpie mayo and Wagyu ribs in a teriyaki shiraz glaze. (During the day you’ll find more standard café fare such as salads, sandwiches, burgers, coffees and pastries.) On Saturdays nights DJs spin electronica, soulful and deep house tunes, but drop in on a Sunday afternoon to catch musicians and bands playing live.

This Filipino supermarket is stocked with imported groceries and household products, such as Cream Silk shampoo and Likas papaya soap. Fill your shopping cart with Pinoy ingredients like longganisa sausage, rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), sukang maasim (cane vinegar) and Mighty Juicy hot dogs (the Australian version of Tender Juicy hot dogs) as well as ready-made snacks and sweets.

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A small bar with big soul, Miss Celie’s is a good bet for live jazz, funk and blues music on the weekends. Support local musos while enjoying a cocktail or whatever Young Henry’s brew they’re pouring that week; if you’re hungry, the brisket burger on a brioche bun is a solid choice. Six dollars will stretch surprisingly far during the 5-6.30pm weekday happy hour, buying you a beer, cider, wine or plate of “jazz” wings.

It was Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin – 18th-century French lawyer, politician and renowned epicurean – who proposed an addition to the nine Greek muses in the form of Gasteria, goddess of taste. Think of this specialty grocer as her temple, a place to find gourmet ingredients from around the world as well as artisanal local products. They stock some really hard-to-find stuff, such as dried epazote leaves that give Mexican black beans their depth, dried barberries to make proper Persian rice, and double-salted Dutch liquorice that will win the affection of your Northern European friends and make enemies of everyone else. After you’ve browsed the shelves, browse the website for inspiration in the form of recipes, articles and tips.

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  • Shopping
  • Florists
  • Annandale

This narrow shop on Annandale’s busy Johnston Street is run by long-time florist Jodie McGregor and her husband Stu White, who traded his former commute to a CBD finance job for early mornings at the Flower Markets. The pair opened the store 20 years ago (the same year they were married) and in that time they’ve earned a loyal following by ignoring trends and remaining dedicated to providing the preferred blooms of their much-loved customers. That includes sunflowers, peonies, gerberas, orchids, irises and roses, as well as an impressive selection of natives – golden-green nests of dryandras, dusty pink Geraldton wax flowers from Western Australia, flame-red grevilleas and all their cousins, plus freshly perfumed branches of eucalyptus.

Black Toast, Annandale
  • Restaurants
  • Annandale

There’s no burnt toast in sight at this café, but there are some tasty burgers and thick shakes. The latter can take a little while to make because they jam it with so much ice cream that the rotors on the milkshake maker have trouble turning, but when you get it you can stand a spoon up in it. The front part of the café is dedicated to foot traffic but out the back the place is huge and spacious, with big open windows looking out over the laneway. There’s loads of seating to be had here as they seem to have purchased every reclaimed dining table to have passed through Vinnies in the last five years, so no need to balance your coffee on your lap.

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Nipponophiles will have a field day in this store that stocks sake and Japanese steel (we’re talking kitchen knives, not swords, though they are equally sharp and beautiful). The store was previously all Chef’s Armory until owners Leigh and Stephane Hudson decided to convert part of it into a rice wine cellar. They now stock more than 100 bottles of sake, shochu, umeshu and Japanese beer as well as beautiful ceramic, glass and wooden drinkware. The Hudsons know that sake can be a wide and intimidating world for the uninitiated, so they’ve curated their selection with an Australian palate in mind and will happily help you find something to suit your tastes. They also offer plenty of classes, workshops and tastings in the store so that customers can learn more about this versatile, complex and tasty beverage.

  • Restaurants
  • Modern Australian
  • Stanmore
  • price 3 of 4

This is a fine-dining experience ripped from the pages of a glossy design magazine, but it’s not in Tokyo or Norway, it’s in an unlikely pocket of the Inner West. The secret ingredient on the menu here is confidence. It takes moxie to make a potato the star of your degustation, but here a poached or confit tuber is often the most memorable dish of the meal. Sixpenny is a master of understatement but that doesn’t mean they leave off the flourishes. Each course is presented by the chef who cooks it; service is so warm you wonder if you haven’t met somewhere before; and the vibe in the room is far more relaxed than the degustation price tag suggests.

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  • Bars
  • Craft beer
  • Rozelle

It looks like an old corner pub – the ceilings are low, there’re big screens for sport watching and there’s weekly trivia – but the food and drink has been elevated to something special. The craft beers on tap reflect the evolving boutique brewing scene in Sydney and also match the season. If you don’t know what you like or don’t recognise the line-up, grab a tasting paddle for $20 and work it out the fun way. There’s a modern Italian menu in the adjoining restaurant, but in the pub itself you’ll find bistro stalwarts executed to an exacting standard. Chef Daniel Mulligan was formerly head chef of Pilu at Freshwater, and his pedigree shows in elevated takes on classic pub dishes such as pie, pasta and schnitzel.

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Rozelle

People are enthusiastically embracing a plant-based diet nowadays and the Green Lion pub kitchen (upstairs from the Red Lion Hotel) is surfing the wave of their fervour. The green mack burger is a house take on a Big Mac: a double-decker, double (non-) meat patty with shredded lettuce and special sauce. The fishless fillets in the tacos are a good, neutral base for the flavours in the zingy salsa and red cabbage slaw, but if you’re not convinced by faux-meat products you should order the samosas and pakoras – a basket piled high with little two-bite pastry triangles and fragrant crunchy onion fritters with a fresh and zippy salad on one side. Whatever you order, make your food and drinks out onto the balcony to watch the sun set over Callan Park.

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  • Shopping
  • Tattoo parlours
  • Balmain

Boasting seven in-house tattooists and a constant flow of prized guest artists, this body-art parlour caters for a wide-range of styles including traditional American and Japanese, fine line and dot work. Set over two storeys with polished wooden floors, the interior features classic flash and art prints on the walls which are also sold in-store and online. The family-owned business is known for its friendly, approachable staff, making it an ideal spot to discuss your first tattoo or your 20th. Ink is forever but we all know things change (relationships, tastes, what we think is funny) so business partners Fade Laser also offer a laser tattoo removal service on site.

  • Shopping
  • Balmain

There’s not a retro lolly jar or antique clock out of place in this carefully curated vintage store. This exacting style all comes down to the shop’s enthusiastic owner, Leanne Carter-Taylor, who travels to England, France and Belgium twice a year (Covid permitting) to source all the items personally. She unapologetically chooses things she likes, and it appears by the diversity on the shelves that she has broad and eclectic taste. There are industrial-style stools and light fixtures, weathered chopping boards and rolling pins, and collections of glass wine jars and a perpetual calendar. Each object is displayed with a little cardboard plaque detailing its era and story, as well as possible uses for it in your home – that medicine ball would make a great door stop, for example.

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  • Restaurants
  • Summer Hill
  • price 2 of 4

The restaurant and bar is built inside a heritage-listed former post office, and split across two levels. Downstairs, you’ll find high ceilings and a long brushed metal bar that doubles as a dining area. It’s also the best place to sit if you’re going to put a dent in the impressive wine list. The upstairs bar is more relaxed but the kitchen – overseen by chef RJ Lines, formerly of Neutral Bay Bar and Dining – follows a similar ethos: good produce cooked with restraint, served in semi-casual surrounds. Crunchy salt cod fritters don’t skimp on the fish; the excellent cheeseburger comes with a side of thick cut cheddar-flavoured crisps; and the banana-caramel beignets with chocolate dipping sauce are like soft, slightly juicy doughnuts.

The original aquatic centre on this site closed its doors in 2018 after 55 years of serving the area's residents and visitors with splashy recreation. It received a $440 million upgrade before reopening in October 2020. The revamped aquatic hub now features five different pools: an outdoor program pool, a 50-metre outdoor lap pool (that's Olympic-sized for you hopefuls), an outdoor leisure pool, an indoor baby and toddlers pool, and a multi-purpose indoor pool. Additional facilities include a sauna, steam room, spa, creche, gym, yoga and pilates studio and a café and kiosk. You can sign up for group fitness classes and swimming lessons for all ages, or just splash around for fun. With those kinds of options, who needs the beach?

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The Vintage Record, Annandale
  • Shopping
  • Annandale

The warm tones of vinyl have made a comeback, and if you want to start a collection, from rock to classical to soul and even comedy, then the Vintage Record is your port of call. The store is somewhat of a vintage item itself, in operation since 1994 and having no online presence at all. If you want to browse, you’ll have to come into the Parramatta Road shop and physically flip through the record sleeves. Your efforts will be rewarded with interesting finds from overseas buying trips as well as locally-sourced second hand items, plus books, tour programs and other collectable merchandise. You can also bring in your dusty LPs for professional cleaning, which should get rid of those annoying pops in the audio.

Crocodile Farm Hotel, Ashfield
  • Bars
  • Ashfield

That's not a quirky local pub, this is a quirky local pub. The Crocodile Farm is named after its resident 12-foot model crocodile, which originated from the set of 1986's Crocodile Dundee. Other than that unexpected piece of décor, this pub has everything you’d expect from a local: sports on the screens, $10 lunch specials in the bistro, and a fully stocked bar with one tap dedicated to the hotel’s very own Croc Lager. They also have two happy hours every weekday, and you can't say fairer than that.

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