Ashfield area guide

The best restaurants, bars, shops and events in Ashfield

Customers at Excelsior Jones
Photograph: Daniel Boud

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.

No Inner West trip is complete without a dig around Newtown, and why not go even further west with our guide to Parramatta.

Where to eat in Ashfield

Excelsior Jones
Restaurants

Excelsior Jones

It's been nearly four years since we stumbled upon this café in the quiet suburban streets of Ashfield and ordered the pork hash breakfast. That dish was a revelation. Tender strands of pork hock with crisp, caramelised edges tossed with sweet, roasted eschallots, golden potato nuggets, chives and micro herbs. This crisp, crunchy mess wore a wobbly poached egg like a jaunty cap, but the truly genius addition was the crunchy little buckwheat kernels. It was the most exciting thing to happen to café breakfasts that year. We went back to Excelsior Jones recently to take the temperature of the area, and that breakfast bowl is still the hot ticket item. And the crowds are still packing out this corner café on a weekend. Of course, one dish does not make an excellent café, but the rest of the menu isn’t slacking. Big hearty breakfasts of mushrooms on toast or eggs Benedict are popular orders, and plenty of people are swapping a cowboy’s start to the day for the breakfast salad of kale, black rice, pomegranate berries, seeds, and nuts with a blended avocado and tahinI dressing. It's from somewhere between the Middle East and the California Coast and manages to put flavour ahead of health points. They’re extracting a toasty espresso here that does exactly what it says on the label, but to really put a spring in your step fly high on sugar after downing a properly malted milkshake in flavours like butterscotch and cherry ripe. We’ve always liked Excelsior Jones because they had the

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
AD's Kitchen
Restaurants

AD's Kitchen

There’s nothing like seeing a batch of freshly cooked puri coming straight out of the kitchen. Puffed up like UFOs, these hollow and soft deep fried breads have slightly crisp edges and a speckled golden brown surface. They cook them all morning long on weekends at AD’s Kitchen, one of the few places offering a traditional Nepali breakfast in Sydney. AD’s Kitchen started as a home-run catering service by Anjana Dhakal (AD) before blooming into a restaurant business. Swing by during weekends for their buffet breakfast, hugely popular with ex-pats seeking a sentimental taste of home. Pay $12 at the register and you’ll be provided with a plastic plate to load up as often as you like at the self-serve buffet. That means limitless puri breads, aloo matar – a mild potato and pea curry – and kala chana, a dry curry of black gram beans that you can bling up with raw red onion and tiny green chillies that pack some serious heat. On the sweet side, dig into kheer sweet rice pudding and bright orange swirls of syrup-soaked deep-fried dough called jeri, the Nepali version of Indian jelebi. A massive urn of strong and sweet chai tea will have you buzzing in no time. Go from savoury to sweet or meander back and forth between both. It’s not uncommon to sandwich the stickily sweet jeri inside a puri and eat them together, like a Nepalese version of a desert taco. Start with small serves of everything so you can figure out what you’d like for seconds. And thirds. Just make sure you follow

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Manmaruya
Restaurants

Manmaruya

Relish a whopper, soothing bowl of spicy tan-tan ramen at the best outpost of Japanese chain Manmaruya, undeservedly quieter than its sisters. Try the sake and Mother energy drink ‘cocktail’ if you dare, or just stick to some of the classic dish gems they do so well.

Shanghai Night
Restaurants Book online

Shanghai Night

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.

Book online

Have a drink in Ashfield

Polish Club
Restaurants

Polish Club

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
Bars

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.

Ashfield Hotel
Bars

Ashfield Hotel

With cheap beer, steak and chips, a sports bar and no fancy reno, the Ashfield is a classic old-school pub.

More things to do in Ashfield

Ashfield Park
Things to do

Ashfield Park

Take a dreamy walk around the leafy and expansive Ashfield Park and you’ll find a curious iron statue of Mary Poppins. Author PL Travers spent time in the area.

Ashfield Library
Things to do

Ashfield Library

Ashfield Cycles
Shopping

Ashfield Cycles

Get customised accessories or impulse buy a ride at Ashfield Cycles. The store has been greasing the wheels of Liverpool Road since the ’80s and runs regular free maintenance workshops.

Fruitarian Supermarket
Shopping

Fruitarian Supermarket

Stock up on hard-to-find groceries from the Fruitarian Supermarket, one of the last small specialty grocers outside of the mall. Fill a bag with bok choy, durian and that imported chilli paste you’ve been looking for everywhere.

Users say
1 out of 5 stars

Explore more Inner West gems

Petersham area guide
Things to do

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
Things to do

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.