Exploring Sydney- Darling Square

Sydney’s latest urban neighbourhood!

As sad as we were to see the Entertainment Centre being pulled down, but now that the re-vitalization of Darling Harbour is almost complete – I guess I have to admit that our Sydney Overlords probably got it right this time! Very appreciative that Sydney-siders now have this brand-spanking new public space to enjoy!

The old Entertainment Centre site used to be the far extremity of our ‘full-circuit’ (the full circle we used to walk around Darling Harbour after a particularly heavy Saturday lunch – the Entertainment Centre being the far south, while the Pyrmont footbridge was the far north of the loop), so we were particularly aware of the Entertainment Centre’s demise as our circuit was cut short by all the years of construction. And as we watched the Centre of dreams being flattened to rubble, we watched the gradual upward rise of 1 Darling North, Darling One, 3 Urbanest Darling Square, and 4 Urbanest Tower. And the most eye catching of the 5 new buildings – what my wife dubbed ‘The Bee-hive’ when it first started to take shape – is ‘The Exchange’.

On Thursday 1 August 2019, The Exchange first opened its doors to the public to little fanfare; the first we noticed that the empty stalls were now trading was last Saturday (ten days after they opened up). We had taken our first sneek peek , and this Saturday we came back for a proper look and taste test.

Steam Mill Lane has now been around for more than a year, but on the far side of the Exchange, closer to Chinatown, is the latest Melbourne-like laneway – Little Hay Street.

Made up of a mixture of retail stores and restaurants, the trendy and the hip have made their residence –  walking past you can’t help notice the distinct buzzing sound of someone getting ink done at ’13 Feet’. And fingers crossed that it was only the direction of today’s blowing winds, but the new laneway was a bit of a chilly wind-tunnel.

And after checking out all that could be seen from the outside, we went on in to The Exchange to see what we could eat! Maker’s Dozen refers to the ground floor food court and mezzanine level of The Exchange (there are 6 levels – occupied by Darling Square Library, reception/admin, and a childcare centre on the upper levels).

The first thing you notice that makes the Makers Dozen stand out from the neighbouring food courts down this way (Dixon Street food court or Eating World), is the rough bumpy cobbled tiles underfoot, and the some-what blaring music coming out of speakers set high overhead. And the overall vibe of the place, is one of activity with a touristy vibe to it? I felt this same vibe at Boston’s Faneuil Hall? The options in the food court were Pastries, fusion Asian (Viet, Japanese or Chinese), Sri Lankan, or Poke. And 2 beverage outlets – one alcoholic and the other non-alcoholic to quench your thirst. And after we had decided that we’ll keep coming back to the Maker’s to try all 12 options – it made our decision easier to make! Today we were in the mood for Baos, so we lined up at Mr Bao Buns for his fluffy sweet buns! Mmmmmm.

They have 5 savoury Gua Baos on offer- Chicken, beef, pork, mushroom, and tofu ($6.50) each, and again being lazy and not bothering to expend too much effort deciding, we just ordered one of each. And a sugarcane drink ($6.00) to wash it all down with.

After making your orders and payment, you stand off to the side and wait for your name to be called (if you so choose, you can stand closer and watch your food being freshly handmade!) And once you receive your food, you go look for seating (either inside or outside). We elected the inside seating area.

The plan was to share each bao i.e. I eat half and when I’ve reached the half way point, we swap. But probably easier in theory than in practice, as the baos were bursting open with all the fresh filling and the toppings were balancing  vicariously on top.

We started off with the non-meat options first, I had the mushroom (sautéed mushroom, fresh lettuce, pickled ginger, rocket, with a lime-y tasting Aïoli?); while I took a bite from my wife’s Tofu (deep fried tofu cube, pickled ginger, and pink cabbage).

On our second round of baos, we tucked into the meats – I had the beef (Korean Bulgogi balancing on a bed of shredded Kimchi, lettuce and other herbs); while my wife had the pork (crispy pork belly, +an extra piece of crackling, coriander and thinly sliced cucumber, with the hoisin sauce you’d usually find with duck pancakes).

And after two baos, my wife felt full-ish, while I was still wanting. And with one bao left, we properly split this one- the chicken was a Japanese karaage (a piece of fried chicken smeared with a tasty mayo, balancing on a bed of fresh greens).

And the sugarcane drink was sweet and refreshing, I think a squirt of condensed milk (?) was added to give it some extra sweetness that cloudied the water.

The stand out for us with Mr Bao was how fresh all the ingredients were! Every veg was crisp and flavoursome, and the toppings were generous and cooked perfectly! The actual bao? One word, PERFECT! Pillow-like, sweet and a joy to eat – says my teeth. Maybe a bit hard to get full on, but we’d definitely be back to Mr Baos, perhaps for entrees before tucking into another store’s main-sized meal.

Getting here:  you can drop in on Darling Square anytime. It’s so centrally located – a stone’s throw from Chinatown, before or after an event at the ICC, or take the kids there during an outing at the Powerhouse Museum! Or purely make a trip out – walk here from Central station via the ‘Goods line’.

Get on down here, before every man and his dog makes a bee-line to the bee-hive shaped Maker’s.  

The Exchange, 1 Little Pier Street, Haymarket

Weekend trading hours 7am – 11pm

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