I recommended that visitors start the day with a pulse-quickening coffee, and suggested that in Sydney that means a trip to the suburb of Leichhardt, the heart of Sydney’s Italian community. Café Sport in Norton Street built its reputation on serving the best coffee in Australia, but since decent coffee has now spread all over town I hadn’t been there for years.
It looks smarter and cleaner than it used to, perhaps because nobody smokes in cafés any more, but there were still real Italians there, speaking real Italian (I presume) and on the chalkboard wall were the results of the latest Serie A football games.
But I was there for caffé, a macchiato to be precise. Pay attention, everyone in Holland, Britain and the US and all other places where you serve that weak skim-milky rubbish and presume to call it ‘coffee’ – this is what coffee should be like. Note the deep chocolate colour and the creamy froth with a swirl of brown seeping through it.
About fifteen years ago a whole block facing Norton St was demolished to make way for a new development. The archway is impressive, and in case you forget where you are there are flags every five metres announcing you’re in the Italian Forum.
Given the inevitable budget restrictions, it would too much to expect the Italian Forum to be anything like this…
Dubai had more money to spend on their Mercato Mall replica of all things Italian…and came up with this. Though note the Virgin records signs and on the ground floor is a Starbucks – serving replica American coffee.
However, for all its phoniness Sydney’s Italian Forum is fun and looks to be working well. I like the design; cafés and restaurants on ground level, a square with a fountain, statue of Dante (an Italian writer, the helpful plaque informs me), then on the first floor smart shops and above them apartments with Juliet balconies. It was a very good idea to move the Leichhardt Public Library into the complex too. It’s a place people hang out, especially at weekends.
The rest of Norton Street is booming too, with the successful Palace Cinema showing a slightly non-mainstream film program, two bookshops and a string of smart restaurants. We still like scruffy old Bar Italia at the northern end, with its cheap and cheerful pasta and gelato and a pleasant garden out the back.
Should international tourists visit Leichhardt? Maybe not for a whole day, but certainly it’s worth a look and a meal. I was happy to include it in the city guide.