I realize it’s rather parochial for someone who moved half way across the world to live here, but lately, it takes something special to coax me out of my comfortable Lower North Shore nest. Oh, I’ll hop the Metro bus to the city, but beyond that, it’s going to have to be a good friend’s birthday, Costco , or an out of this world baked good to get me over the bridge (unlike most of the rest of Sydney who won’t go north of the bridge!). It was the dream of cheesecake that led us to take a drive to Sydney’s Inner West last month, and check off two more items from my Undiscovered (By Me) Sydney list.
When my friend Mimi (former-expat and forever-foodie) lived in Sydney, she took a day trip with a friend to the Italian neighborhood, Haberfield. She came back with food for a feast, to which we were invited, and it was the baked ricotta cheesecake she served for dessert that left the biggest impression on me. Years later, I still remembered it fondly, so when she suggested I add Haberfield to my list of places to discover, she didn’t have to tell me twice.
Haberfield, as I said, is an Italian neighborhood. It was set up in the early 1900s as a “garden suburb,” one of several built after an outbreak of bubonic plague left people longing for parks and fresh air. The entire suburb is now heritage listed. Most of the houses are Federation style and are restricted in terms of building additions, and they all must retain a color scheme in Federation style. (Or so Wikipedia tells me).
We headed straight for the downtown strip which turned out to be about a two block row of delis, gelato shops, bakeries, and Italian groceries. The street seemed quiet, as we had no trouble parking – a rarity in Sydney. But, it didn’t take long to hear the sounds of energetic conversations in Italian wafting from inside shops and from people walking down the street.
We promptly found our bakery, Pasticceria Papa. Given that I’m the only one in the household for whom the baked ricotta cheesecake held a great appeal, I was excited to see that they had little mini versions (Partner-in-Crime, the lucky devil, doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth and Hushpuppy, who has an insatiable sweet tooth, can’t have dairy). We each chose a treat, added some extra bread to our order, and walked over to a little park on the strip to enjoy.
The cheesecake was every bit as delicious as I remembered it.
On a sugar high, we wandered a little more around the shops, including a cute Italian grocery and then into a deli that I was pretty sure was the one Mimi had also recommended.
I bought a smoked salami, made in-house, to share with my kiddo, who loves salami so much that her uncle and aunt gave her one for Christmas. Another member of the household was very happy to find homemade cevapcici. Now, I’m no cevapcici expert, being only Eastern European by marriage, but we went home and cooked those suckers up for dinner, served with our bread from the bakery, and I didn’t hear any complaints. I can tell you that they were far better than the ones they have at Coles, on par with the difference between eating a Twinkie and one of those cannolis pictured above.
Finished with shopping, we took a drive down one of the residential streets off the main road so that I could see some of the heritage listed Federation houses (can I just mention that I saw in the news the other day that a 5 bedroom house in this suburb just sold for $4 million!). Here are a few examples:
After Haberfield, we drove just a few minutes to the nearby suburb of Lilyfield to visit Callan Park, which a friend who lived nearby recommended. Once on the grounds, I realized that I’d been there before at a theatre writing conference at the NSW Writers Centre, which has its home there. It’s memorable because the whole compound resides on the property that was once a mental institution, and most of the buildings still stand.
It sounds delightfully creepy, but beyond the smattering of buildings is a beautiful park that overlooks Iron Cove. There were children’s soccer teams practicing on the grounds, picnicking families, and meandering bicyclists. As we walked the grounds, I took a brave peek into one of the buildings, hoping to see some rusted, spider-web covered Victorian medical equipment, but to my disappointment, the room housed a bunch of fit balls and yoga mats, home to Tuesday night pilates, rather than ghosts of the criminally insane.
We did happen upon some rock carvings, which had a sign next to them declaring them historical, but no mention as to why. They were easy to walk right past, as they were quite faded, and in fact I had to call P-i-C and Hushpuppy back for a look at them, as I was lagging a little behind and they’d walked right past.
They got me curious, as they clearly weren’t traditional Aboriginal carvings, based on the subject and dates (I don’t know if you can tell, but the one in the photograph is a nautical anchor), so who did them and why did they have historical significance? At last, I had a mystery!
Google, of course, had my answer, and it’s actually pretty interesting. The carvings, of which there are more than I saw, are believed to have been the work of Maori twins who were incarcerated at the asylum from 1879. According to this article, they are a at the center of a debate about who owns the rights to protect and restore them, the local Council or descendants who claim “hereditary rights.” I can understand the concerns of the descendants, as the carvings we saw were very much worn away, unprotected aside from a hardly noticeable sign, and easily trampled upon. It seems an interesting story significant to the ground’s history, so I hope they will be better preserved.
We quite enjoyed our wander around the lovely and evocative grounds of Callan Park. We would have stayed longer, but for the Haberfield meat purchases in the car. For those of you who make it to the Inner West more often than I do, bring a picnic and enjoy this lovely park. I’d go back with a little baked ricotta cheesecake any day!