Australia’s former raunchy capital of sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll is fast becoming a much tamer hot spot of coffee and cakes instead.
Where once nightclubs, sex shops and strip joints beckoned, now it’s tarts, doughnuts and artisan bread that are taking over Sydney’s Kings Cross.
And in the bakery-led recovery of the former red-light suburb, the promise of hot buns suddenly has a whole different meaning.
“I think Kings Cross is at the tipping point of a new cycle,” said Nuno Filipe, head chef and manager of the new Royal Bakery in the area, which serves a range of bread, pies, cakes, coffee and its speciality – Portuguese custard tarts, or pastel de nata.
“While it’s been difficult during coronavirus, it has meant that some places have closed down, making way for fresh businesses. In the long-term, we hope it’s a chance to bring the Cross back to life and maybe give others the opportunity to reinvigorate the area.”
Moving into the space that formerly housed a bar, underneath the new Omnia apartment building – which used to be a hotel – on Darlinghurst Road near Kings Cross Station, he’s found business pre-COVID-19 was brisk for cafe-style meals, the bakery and those famous tarts, whether original flavour, raspberry, Nutella, apple or coconut.
“We thought there was an opening to provide good quality, affordable home-made food, and people have reacted well,” said Mr Filipe.
At the other end of the old Golden Mile, there’s a queue forming outside another new bakery-cum-cafe, Cafe de la Fontaine, opposite the iconic fountain where Darlinghurst Road becomes Macleay Street.
Moving their ovens from their previous business, Cafe Douce France a few doors away, to upstairs in their new premises, they bake a whole range of their signature eclairs – including white chocolate and raspberry, and pistachio – as well as baguettes, crepes, croissants, pastries and galettes.
Open for just two months, they’re on the corner that previously sported an ice-creamery.
“We’ve been amazed by the support of the Potts Point community and everyone’s been incredible considering the awful [COVID-19] conditions that we opened in,” said co-owner Stephanie Onisforou. “I think for us, it isn’t a place that’s selling a crazy five-course really expensive meal or something downmarket.
“Instead, it’s a really cool place in between. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful pastries and people feel happy and cosy in there with antiques that make you feel it’s been there forever.”
Certainly, Kings Cross has always had its fair share of regular bakeries, with the long-running Kings Cross Bakery on Bayswater Road, the Vietnamese Sun Hot Bakery in the Kings Cross Centre and the Croissant d’Or on Macleay Street, as well as bakeries in the local Harris Farm Markets, Coles and Woolworths.
But now there’s a sharp rise in the number of new entrants.
Just off the main strip, a doughnut bakery has also opened in the past two weeks, the first Sydney store of the OMG! Decadent Donuts brand.
Owner Maggie Morgan says the changing nature of Kings Cross has meant there’s been a big turnover of businesses, and lots of premises up for sale and lease, often at good prices.
“Kings Cross felt ripe for a place like this as it’s still one of the most densely-populated places in Australia,” she said at her premises on Earl Place, where she sells hot gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan doughnuts in a variety of flavours, from Strawberry Patch and Luscious Lemon to Choc Mint Bliss and Spicy Ranga.
“I think people are keen to try new things here. And while we’re selling traditional doughnuts, anyone can eat them even if they have allergies, and we have lots of different types. We get so many people coming in saying they haven’t had a doughnut for 40 years – and their faces when they eat one …!”
Yet another new bakery is just around the corner, Baked by Keiran, at the start of Elizabeth Bay Road. Opened by French-trained former Jamie Oliver chef Keiran Mckay two weeks ago, it’s his second bakery after launching in Dulwich Hill in 2017.
“Kings Cross has changed incredibly over the past five to six years with the lockout laws and now, even more than before, it’s becoming a real restaurant and food hub,” said Mr Mckay, who sells a range of artisan breads, pies, pastries and cakes. “It’s so densely populated and there are a lot of people here who want really good quality food, something a bit different to a normal bakery.
“But while people are keen for that, there are still the elements of the old Cross left. We had a customer the other day on her phone talking business, and no one who overheard was left in any doubt what kind of business she was in!”
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