If I was an overseas visitor to Sydney, Balmain is where I would choose to stay. Even though it is close to the city with a quick hop on the ferry it has the feeling of community. Corner stores selling everything except for the kitchen sink, and my partner Dan’s favourite baklava, to coffee shops selling fresh produce and family and dog-friendly parks.
This is where we spent last weekend. I am seriously not a city girl. I hate traffic and crowds and am not a fan of constant hustle and bustle (go figure why I love New York so much!)
So for those reasons we don’t usually spend too much time in Sydney. But this was different. This was time with family. With Dan’s sister Fiona and her husband Peter. And I had been looking forward to it for so long. We have a few things in common including food and homewares. Yep, when I’m not travelling or talking about travel or art these are the passions you will find me indulging.
I don’t mean interior design, although I like to play in that space too, but homewares. Things that make your home you. The “stuff” you just love. Home is my sanctuary. And I am a little contradictory in that way because when I travel I never want to come home, but when I am home it is my “everything”. Something to do with my Cancerian star sign maybe, I don’t know. What I do know is that I strive to surround myself with things I adore.
And of course, there’s food. Anyone that knows Dan and I know we love our food. I am at my happiest as a couple when we are together in the kitchen cooking up a storm. It makes my heart sing and nurtures my soul.
But back to our Balmain weekend. What can I say other than Fiona created THE BEST itinerary for us and by Sunday afternoon we had packed up the back of the car with our “new” purchases and waddled our way back to Wollongong, grins on our faces and extra donuts on the back seat.
Fiona took us to:
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Fiona’s Balmain Weekend Itinerary
We arrived Saturday morning after a good run up from Wollongong, unpacked and headed out.
Fiona and Peter live in the Birchgrove, a lovely leafy suburb filled with heritage homes, beautiful parks and amazing views.
Officially our weekend itinerary didn’t just take in Balmain, we ducked to Alexandria for a couple of stops that were well worth it, and spent the rest of our time in Balmain and Rozelle.
We started out with a walk to the Gladstone Store for a coffee. A quaint corner store that has been around since 1886 and filled with locals either grabbing takeaway coffee or sitting outside relaxing.
Filled with so many tempting goodies including fresh produce, it was hard to resist. But I had an inkling of what Fiona had planned for us and there is only so much food you can fit in in one day, even for Dan and I.
Ordering our usual almond milk lattes we were more than happy to file this location away for another time, to come back and sample the delicious food on offer.
The store is in a perfect location for grabbing a coffee and heading across the road to the park. Which is exactly what we did.
If you are a visitor to the area and are conscious of your travel budget I would highly recommend stocking up here on a few picnic supplies and making the most of the park and the stunning views of the harbour.
Choosing supplies from their gourmet deli, freshly baked pies and quiches, fresh fruit and even homemade lemonade wouldn’t be too hard. Your biggest problem would be too many things to pick from!
The Gladstone Store is located at 37 Grove Street, Birchgrove.
You can find out more about the Gladstone Store here.
Birchgrove Park is a park and a sports oval on the waterfront of Sydney Harbour. Even on an overcast morning, it was lovely to spend time, sipping our coffee, taking in the views and catching up.
Lunatiques is a Vintage and Design Collective filled with a vast array of furniture, collectables, antiques… quite frankly too much to even describe.
Fiona was excited to show us this place. Dan and Fiona’s mum loved all the same things as they do – food, homewares, antiques. She was an amazing cook and also had an eye for decor and art. It is a store she would have loved so it was especially nice for me to walk around with the three of them as they reminisced with funny stories about Monica.
Sadly she passed 10 years ago, but it touches my heart to be included in these adventures and conversations and know that we would have had some shared passions.
Lunatiques was incredible. I could spend a day here exploring all they have on offer. We laughed over strange items – steam bath!! And oohed and aahed over beautiful ones. My mind went crazy over the possibilities and I could have easily have filled a truck with new found treasures.
All we need now is a house for them to go in!
I will be back Lunatiques and fingers crossed my desk will still be there for me to claim, once I have the room to fit it in!
Lunatiques is located at 284 Wyndham Street, Alexandria.
Open 7 days from 10 am – 5 pm.
You can find out more about Lunatique here.
L’Americano Espresso Bar
By this stage, Dan was getting hungry. We had forgone breakfast and had a juice instead because we had anticipated a big “eating” weekend. But now he was more than ready to eat.
Fiona and Peter had discovered our next stop by chance and I’m glad she decided to include it in our weekend itinerary. In a thousand years, we would never have found this place on our own.
Located within Coco Republic, L’Americano Espresso Bar is such a find. And you know, what a chore it was for us to have to wander through Coco Republic to get to it. Terrible really!
L’Americano Espresso Bar looks expensive. Welcoming and warm, it has a sense of old world Italian style drawn from Vittoria Coffee’s Italian heritage. It offers a breakfast and lunch menu created by Executive Chef Alex Kearns.
But surprisingly it wasn’t expensive at all. The food and service were fantastic. They also offered gluten free and dairy alternatives.
Dan and I chose a single sandwich with provolone and cheese and also the Proscuitto & Avocado Toast with Feta and Tomatoes to share. Delicious. It hit the spot.
We tasted Fiona’s gluten free Granola with sheep’s milk yoghurt and it was awesome too. The coffees were great and Peter’s hot chocolate looked good too.
A great dining experience and one I would highly recommend.
L’Americano Espresso Bar is located at Coco Republic at 34 O’Riordan Street, Alexandria and is open Monday – Thursday 7.30 am – 3 pm, Friday 7.30 am – 4 pm, Saturday – Sunday 9 am – 4 pm.
You can find out more about L’Americano Espresso Bar here.
The next stop was back in Rozelle and was all about indulging our passion for cooking. Essential Ingredient was one of Dan and Fiona’s mum’s favourite stores and now I know why.
Every conceivable kitchen utensil is available here as well as food, tableware, cookware, books, kits plus so much more.
We spent quite a bit of time wandering around displays, up and down aisles and peering into freezers.
This place is a cook’s dream come true and if you are that person and haven’t been here, JUST MAKE IT HAPPEN!
Essential Ingredient we will be back. In September in fact (or at least Dan will be) to do the Salami Making from Scratch Class!
Essential Ingredient is located at various locations in NSW but the one we visited was at 731-735 Darling Street, Rozelle and is open at Monday – Wednesday & Friday 9:30am – 5:30pm, Thursday 9:30am – 7pm, Saturday 9am – 5pm, Sunday 10am – 4pm.
You can also shop online.
For out more about Essential Ingredient and their cooking school here.
Belle Fleur Fine Chocolates
The food adventure continued in Rozelle with a visit to Belle Fleur Fine Chocolates. Belle Fleur has two stores, one in Rozelle and one in Petersham.
This store and product blew me away. There’s chocolate and then there is Belle Fleur Chocolate. I am from European heritage. I have eaten delicious chocolate. But I have never experienced chocolate, or flavours, like this and now I am ruined for all others. This was something very special.
I need to start with a bit of their history. Belle Fleur has been making chocolates for four generations, originally from Belgium and with over 30 years here in Australia. Using their proven chocolate making techniques and combining them with an ongoing passion for chocolate making, they continue to produce exquisite chocolates that not only would have been found in their grandparents Belgium shop but ones with modern and adventurous flavours as well.
Handmade fresh daily these chocolates are AMAZING! Some are made with fresh cream centres and all are from high-quality Belgian couverture and ingredients sourced from all over the world.
We had a fun time choosing our chocolates. Fiona knew her favourites but Dan and I had a hard time picking. They all looked beautiful.
But what was even more amazing was when we tasted them later. Wow. I have never eaten a chocolate that has levels of flavour. I can’t describe how good they were. Each one we had was divine but I have to say so far my favourite is Lemon Meringue, and Melba, and Lime & Cointreau and Passionfruit and … Oh who am I kidding, they were all my favourite!
I cannot wait to go back and try more. I have a sneaking suspicion that we will be visiting a lot from now on.
If you are struggling to buy a special gift for someone, then these would be perfect. They look exquisite and taste divine. Hint, hint Dan!
My photos really don’t do these chocolates justice. I should have taken photos of the individual chocolates we had bought and shown the layers inside. But you know, we ate them! And I wasn’t really thinking about taking photos at that time. So maybe next time.
Belle Fleur Fine Chocolates Rozelle is located at 658 Darling Street, Rozelle. They are open Monday to Friday 9 am to 6 pm, Saturday 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm.
Find out more about Belle Fleur Fine Chocolates here.
You would have thought we would have had enough by now but we had one more stop to make. This one had been at our request because we had sampled them before. And we were not disappointed.
Who doesn’t love a good donut?! OK, Ok technically these are not your typical fried donut. But who cares???? These are so much better than a typical donut.
Nutie has nailed the flavour with these. The donut itself is a cake consistency that is "to die for" and the icing... Well, I don’t know how they make their icing and I’m pretty sure they’re not going to tell me, but it is so good. Put it all together and you have something incredible.
We visited here twice over the weekend. Once on Saturday when we bought a box to share between us for afternoon tea, and again on Sunday for another box to take home. And even the fussy 17 year old who doesn’t like trying new things absolutely loved them. We should have bought more.
The flavours we tried were Mint, Rosewater & Pistachio, Lamington, Salted Caramel, Raspberry, Red Velvet, Peanut Butter and Chocolate. And there are still more flavours to try.
And I forgot to mention, they’re HEALTHY!!!! Gluten Free Baked Donuts with Vegan and Dairy Free Options also available.
These donuts would be amazing for a birthday party. The presentation is gorgeous.
The service here is incredibly friendly. We had a great chat each time we went in.
Nutie also has other healthy treats, nut mylks and coffee, but our eyes were only seeing donuts.
See you again soon Nutie. We need to order donuts for the fussy 17 years old’s 18th later in the year now we know how much he loves them. I hope he’s not reading this!
Nutie is located at 13 Beattie Street, Balmain and is open daily.
You can see more about Nutie on Facebook.
Now I assure you we did other things besides visit food stores. I promise we did. I just didn’t get photos of it. There are great homeware stores to be explored and we did browse through a couple but to be honest we were exhausted. So with the donuts calling us, we decided to head back to Fiona and Peter’s for a bit of a rest and some donuts (because we hadn’t eaten enough already in one day!)
Ballast Point Park
After a small reprieve, we headed out for a walk to Ballast Point Park.
An interesting park, once the site of a private residence. Falling into disrepair in the late 1920’s, the site was bought by Texaco in 1928 and became a fuel depot and packaging facility.
In 2002 the site was returned to public ownership and is now owned by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. It was turned into Ballast Point Park, a lovely recreation area using design elements as a reminder of its former life.
Although so close to the city, it felt like we were in a small neighbourhood. As we strolled around the park and made our way back home we passed families enjoying the unusually warm autumn weather and dogs having the time of their life running free in the dog park.
It was a great day. And it ended with a delicious meal cooked by Peter who is a fantastic cook.
Sunday Morning Breakfast
Instead of heading out for breakfast we were in for a treat with Peter’s Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with bacon and Maple Syrup.
With the stunning views from Fiona and Peter’s house, it couldn’t have been nicer. It was a beautiful morning and after a busy day the day before it was nice to spend time relaxing over breakfast.
My photos don't do the pancakes justice, but they were yummy. And of course, gluten free, a necessity for Fiona and I. If anyone is interested in the recipe just ask in the comments below and I will try and wrangle it out of Peter. He tends to make up recipes as he goes along, but I may be able to get something down in writing.
Rozelle Collectors Market
I had spied the market the day before, it’s across the road from Belle Fleur Fine Chocolates, held in the grounds of the Rozelle Public School.
Luckily the Rozelle Collectors Market is on every Saturday and Sunday so we decided to have a stroll through with Dan and Fiona’s brother Matt joining us. I really didn’t expect much but I had a very pleasant surprise. Filled with second hand and antique stalls the quality of the wares was incredible.
We spent a good hour wandering around and in the end, we bought an original Golden Crumpets crate (yes we collect crates!), a necklace and two framed botanical prints that Fiona had spotted for me. They were an absolute bargain at $6 – for the two of them!
I am told that every week the wares are different and there is always something different to see. The market has been operating here for over 20 years and we will definitely visit again when we are in Balmain.
I apologise for the lack of photos. I think I got so caught up in the market I forgot to take them. Trust me, go. You will have fun.
Find out more about Rozelle Collectors Market here.
The Hunter Works
All that shopping made us hungry. Surprise! There was a café that Fiona and Peter had been wanting to try in Balmain so we headed there.
We would never have found it on our own had they not known where to go. Off the main street and hidden in a rear courtyard this place has great food.
The Hunter works specialises in Speciality Coffee and Bagels and also has a deli.
I am not usually a big fan of bagels but they delivered something special. They even had gluten free bagels. And we decided to order the bagel of the day which was the Hunter Rueben. OMG!! Sorry everyone for going on and on about how good it was. Filled with beef brisket, cheddar and sauerkraut it was a taste sensation.
I highly recommend it if they have that special again. The other meals in the café looked amazing as well and the serving sizes were big.
The coffees were great. Matt loved his espresso and we tried their Almond Milk Lattes which were good too.
It was a great find and nice to try something new with everyone.
The staff were really friendly and helpful and it was a lovely way to end our time in Balmain. I look forward to going back there again and trying more on the menu.
The Hunter Works is located at 332 Darling Street, Balmain and is open Monday – Friday 7 am – 3 pm and Saturday – Sunday 8 am – 3 pm.
Find out more about The Hunter Works on Facebook here.
Getting around Balmain
A car is great in some aspects for ease and convenience particularly when you are travelling between Birchgrove, Balmain and Rozelle but parking can be a hassle. Peter did all the driving and it made it so much easier being with a local when it comes to parking.
Public transport is a good option to get between the suburbs but honestly, if you have time (and energy) I would try and walk as much as possible.
There is so much to see and I always think walking is the best way to find new possibilities to explore.
We headed home after lunch on Sunday. It had been a perfect weekend with Fiona taking us to places we all loved.
But most importantly it was great spending time with them and I really can’t wait to do it all again. I didn’t think I would enjoy the area so much. But I really felt comfortable and I am itching to get back to see everything we couldn’t cover.
I highly recommend spending time in Balmain. Or better yet make it your base and explore the city from there. I loved it and I think you will too.
Cindy Reid is the founder of Travel Charm. Cindy has travelled extensively both personally and with her groups. She has now combined her love of art, food and travel and hosts Painting Trips to Europe and continues to explore and roam in Australia.