The Best Things To Do in Sydney in October

It looks as though the gray clouds are here to stay for a while – but the weather’s getting warmer, daylight saving has finally arrived and we’re being lured out of our houses by all the ace stuff happening around Sydney this month. Chinatown’s the place to be, with two festivals and a supremely tasty new Thai diner. Bars where the snacks are on equal footing with the drinks are having a moment. And two beautiful new stores are selling beauty products from cult international brands. Find out my top picks for the month below, and follow along with my adventures on Instagram.

good in the hood
Refettorio, a charming Crown Street diner run in collaboration with Italian chef Massimo Bottura, serves people who are food-vulnerable three-course lunches in a lovely space that offers them dignity. But once a fortnight the eatery opens to the rest of the dining public for its Neighborhood Dinners, where diners are served the same wholesome three-course vegetarian meals as the venue’s usual patrons, all made from produce that would otherwise go to landfill. A recent visit saw guests served skordalia (potato puree) with focaccia and salsa verde, carrot and onion fritters with crispy chickpeas, and a lovely tangelo roulade. Every ticket ($80, including three courses and non-alcoholic drinks) helps Ozharvest feed at least four people in need.

you beauty
Two major international beauty brands have recently opened sumptuous new stores in Sydney. Eight-hundred-year-old Florentine brand Santa Maria Novella has launched a boutique in the Strand Arcade evoking old-world apothecaries. Among ornate wallpaper, chandeliers and glass cabinets, shop fragrances that evoke the breeze of an Italian summer evening; the brand’s latest Firenze 1221 bath and body collection; and Tabacco Toscano, a fragrance blending woody and smoky vanilla notes.

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Over in Potts Point, cult perfumery Le Labo has opened its second Sydney store in a beautifully rustic space. There, fragrances are blended to order (including blockbusters such as the Palo Santo 14 candle and Santal 33 perfume), and labeled by hand. It’s a luxurious experience that shows there is still a lot to be gained from bricks-and-mortar shopping.

on the streets
Last year, the City of Sydney shut a bunch of main streets to traffic – we’re talking major thoroughfares like Crown Street in Surry Hills, Glebe Point Road and Macleay Street in Potts Point – for a series of street parties. And this year, it’s happening again throughout spring. This weekend (October 15) Stanley Street in Darlinghurst will be closed to cars from 11am to 10pm for roving entertainers, on-street dining and live music. Mrs Palmer and its Mexican bar La Farmacia will be throwing a fiesta, Lord Roberts Hotel will be pouring frothies from local breweries and the SASH DJs will be playing at Stanley’s. The following Saturday (October 22) it’s Redfern Street’s turn. Expect music at 107 Projects, and special events put on by the Tudor Hotel, The Redfern, Sunshine Inn and Noble Hops. If last year’s festivities were anything to go by, it’s going to be a rambunctious time.

Malaysian on wheels
Sharon Kwan Kitchen on Parramatta Road in Petersham became a local go-to for Malaysian-style flame-grilled chicken, curry and laksa when it opened in 2019. But thanks to staffing troubles, owner Sharon Kwan has shut up shop and hit the road. She’s roaming Sydney in a food truck, stopping in at The Beer Bar in Alexandria, Mortdale’s Social Brewers, music festivals and more, to serve nasi lemak, deeply flavourful curries in roti wraps, and chicken wings. Though Kwan is now on wheels, she’s still putting carefully made, thoughtful food into the world. Follow along on Instagram to find out where she’ll be next.

A triumphant trio
Food isn’t an afterthought at a bevy of Euro-inspired bars that have opened in Sydney recently. You’ll find delicious things at Bar Louise, the latest venue from the Porteno Group. Behind the old purple-and-pink Marie-Louise Salon facade on Enmore Road, the crew is doing Spanish-style tapas such as house-made chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage) with peas and fried eggs, and house-cured and preserved snacks . The wine list – pulled from Spain, Italy and France – is a thrill, and word on the street is the Sangria packs a punch.

Negroni-lovers ought to beeline for Bar Conte in Surry Hills. This moody, Italian-inspired corner bar is all about the perfect three-part cocktail – its owner wo n’t reveal his secret, but does hint that it’s all about good-quality vermouth. Apart from the classic, there are 20 Negronis and Negroni adaptations (including a Negroni Bianco and a barrel-aged number), as well as a collection of rare digestivi. The food, by an Apollo alumnus, also riffs on the Negroni – think Negroni-infused salami, and a Negroni-spiked dressing for oysters. @barconte_surryhills

Firedoor’s Lennox Hastie knows his way around a piece of meat – his 200-day dry-aged beef is a Sydney staple. But he’s also a deft hand at Basque-style cooking, thanks to years in the Spanish region. And it’s this part of the world he’s focusing on at Firedoor’s new sister wine bar, Gildas. It takes its name from that famous pintxo (tapas), the gilda – a skewered trio of olive, anchovy and pickled pepper. You’ll find the classic here, as well as two Aussie riffs: the grillda (sardine fillet skewered with pickled Dutch carrot, finger lime and fennel pollen), and the Matilda (seared kangaroo, salted desert lime and native pepperberry).

Chinatown celebrations
You’ll find us hanging around Chinatown a lot this month, thanks to two exciting festivals. For five weeks (from October 15 to November 20), street festival Neon Playground will take over Dixon Street with art, lights, music and food. It all begins on October 15 with a free block party. Asian-Australian artists including Chris Yee, Jason Wing, Joy Li and Steffie Yee have created street-art installations for the duration of the festival. Plus, a host of local diners have created neon-inspired desserts, and bars (including Covent Garden Hotel, Market City Tavern and Bancho) have concocted neon cocktails. You can also expect regular performances by local artists, pop-up art galleries, workshops and more.

And in the long-abandoned Harbor City Cinema, a six-week music and art festival, Pleasures Playhouse, is happening right now. There’s a raft of events – DJ sets, queer balls, an emo night and the Send Noods Cinema: arthouse flicks with a side of noodles from Biang Biang and natural wine by P&V.

On nearby Ultimo Road, a Long Chim alumnus is cooking Thai street food and home-style classics at new diner Porkfat. Narin “Jack” Kulasai is recreating the memories of his home country, pounding his own curry pastes, and making his own sauces. You’ll be eating dishes that aren’t super common in Sydney, including deep-fried barramundi with mango salad loaded with lemongrass, mint and coriander, and baked tiger prawn with vermicelli and ginger. We reckon it’ll become a go-to for Thai-lovers Sydney-wide.