As the Inner West undergoes more and more plastic surgeries, Ashfield holds onto the charming remnants of its ageing looks. Sure, the aspirational apartment showrooms have crept into Liverpool Road, and soon this strip will be given the nip-tuck of high density living. But something tells us the steamy dumpling holes in the wall, eccentric pockets of activity and buzzing cultural clubs of Ashfield will continue, untouched for a while longer.
Once the eucalypt-dotted land of the Wangal people, Ashfield has federation mansions, pastel Victorian castles and an unbeatable stretch of cult Chinese eateries all proclaiming to be ‘New Shanghai’. Mementos of Ashfield’s past are tucked into the parks and side streets, such as a proud bust of Mei Quong Tart – a 19th century progressive Chinese ambassador who owned a tea house in the QVB that once hosted celebs and suffragettes. Spend time meandering in dumpling queues and you’ll catch glimpses of seniors waltzing in the mirrored Town Hall, mysterious karaoke joints that may or may not be open (the lights are on, is anybody home?) and tables of locals at the Polish Club enjoying vodka, pierogi and Flintstones-sized pork knuckles with sauerkraut.
Where to eat in Ashfield
The Liverpool Road stretch of Ashfield is littered with dumpling houses these days but Shanghai Night was arguably the first. Back then, staff would make dumplings at one of the back tables in the dining room; now they’re stationed within a modern glassed-in kitchen with fancy laminated menus to boot. They’re still serving up some of Sydney’s cheapest xiao long bao soup dumplings at $7.80 for eight. But wait. There’s more. Steamed and fried dumplings arrive in hearty portions of 12 for the small serve, 18 for a large. Aside from the usual pork chicken, beef and lamb variations, fish and shallot dumplings are particularly tasty. Vegetarians score a steamed dumpling filling of mushroom, carrot, tomato and vermicelli.
Have a drink in Ashfield
On Saturday nights this monthly suburban gem transforms into a packed disco night in Ashfield including light-up dancefloor a la Saturday Night Fever with a song selection to match. Fill up on pierogi from the Polish Club restaurant then strut your stuff to Earth, Wind, and Fire while a hype man shouts encouragement from the stage. Dance battle someone to ‘Staying Alive’ and wave your arms in the air with hundreds of your new friends to Rufus & Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’ while glitter and streamers rain down from the sky.
Crocodile Farm Hotel
This Ashfield local is newly revamped, but they're not jacking the prices accordingly. For a menu redesigned to use more fresh produce and make sauces and relishes in-house, it's one of the more affordable bistro menus around and they even have a $9.50 pasta and wine night on Wednesdays, and $10 meals with an option to add a glass of wine for $2 Monday, Thursday and Fridays.
More things to do in Ashfield
Explore more Inner West gems
Petersham area guide
Have you ever tried Portuguese sweet bread? If the answer is no, you’ll need to make your way to Petersham immediately: Sydney’s ‘Little Portugal’ your first port of call for a sweet, flaky loaf of goodness from one of the many patisseries that dot its main thoroughfare, New Canterbury Road. You’ll also want to nip in to Silvas Portuguese Traditional Charcoal Chicken for a takeaway chook and chips (or try their seafood plates, which are just as good).Petersham isn’t quite as flashy as its nearby neighbours in the Inner West, but that’s a good thing: subtly and surely, it’s become one of Sydney’s must-visit destinations for eating and drinking. Daisy’s Milk Bar is a recent newcomer that’s drawn crowds who line up for a trip down memory lane (Push Pops! Mac ‘n cheese! Meatball sambos!), while Brighton the Corner does exactly that with its fresh, friendly offerings. Grab a table outside and soak up the atmosphere. And you’ll need to make your way to the historic Oxford Tavern, a one-time topless joint that just received a very hip makeover as a destination pub. Try their Jelly Wrestle, a syrupy, ice-creamy, sprinkly waffle concoction so out of this world you eat it with your hands while wearing a pair of rubber gloves.They’re having fun out in Petersham. Get out there and join them before the secret gets out.
Marrickville area guide
Once upon a time all the cool kids lived in Newtown. Then came Surry Hills. Now, well, the coolest of cool kids live in Marrickville – a suburb that used to be best known for its mall. No more: today this spread-out 'burb 7km south of the CBD is jam-packed with a huge array of multicultural residents including young families, students and artsy types chasing the affordable rents. That latter set means new Marrickville is all about awesome coffee (if you haven't been to Cornersmith, rectify your error at once) and great nights out at the fringe of Sydney's arts scene (the Factory is booking some adventurous, quirky live acts). Marrickville's also home to the official sandwich of Sydney, bánh mì – the best in town is Marrickville Pork Roll's take. Get there before the cool kids move on.