Eating and drinking at the 20th Biennale of Sydney

Author: Riley Wilson
Photography: Ben Symons

Taking place all over the city, Sydney's 20th Biennale is providing plenty of opportunity to plunge into the art and culture on offer. This year, seven themed "embassies", and a variety of moveable and "in-between spaces", are home to events and exhibitions. To complement the art on show, a range of pop-up purveyors and restaurants are catering to the hungry masses, and we've got a few suggestions of our own as well.

Cockatoo Island
Channelling its convict history, Cockatoo Island doubles as Embassy of the Real this year. The former shipyard-turned-fluid-art-space is featuring major works by a variety of artists, focusing on the relationship between the human body and the digitised era. To get to the island, it's a ferry ride. Once there, it's isolated bliss. 

At Cockatoo Island: The Yering Station Wine Bar at Biloela House serves mezze plates alongside Yering Station wines, while The Dumpling Hut at The Marine Centre Drink & Dine serves dumplings and buns. There'll also be gözleme served from an Airstream caravan.

After your visit: A ferry ride to Balmain will set you on the path towards One Ford Street, a gutsy new Italian restaurant with an approachable $65-a-head share menu. Spelt pappardelle is served with a sausage sauce, while Black Angus steak and fried potatoes are garnished with a shower of parmesan and rocket leaves.

Picnic on the island: There's always the option of stocking up before you head to the island. Bourke Street Bakery in Neutral Bay has a sweet, savoury and sandwichy selection perfect for picnicking. Try lamb, almond and harissa sausage rolls, feta, peperonata and baba ganoush sandwiches, or white chocolate, passionfruit and meringue tarts. 

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
The Embassy of Translation (aka the MCA) hosts the works of 10 contemporary artists. The concept of "history" - re-interpreted as it may be - threads the artists together, but a variety of applications and artistic processes ensures each shines on their own.

Nearby restaurant: Rockpool Bar & Grill
Perhaps Neil Perry's most well-known Sydney restaurant, this Hunter street landmark dishes up fish and grass-fed steak to city-dwellers. With more than 3,800 wines on the drinks list, it's also the perfect place to drop in for a glass. 

Nearby café: Café Nice
In this boldly-decorated space at Circular Quay, chef Josh Niland's talent for Provençale fare comes out to play on the plate. Goat's cheese and caramelised onion omelettes and green zucchini risotto make a great lunch.

Nearby bar: Bulletin Place
One of the most impressive cocktail bars to have opened in the city in recent years, this bar is all about the drinks. A Cognac Negroni or J-Pop Sour keep the good times rolling, albeit at a price. 

Art Gallery of New South Wales
2016's festivities, showcasing a variety of works by local and international artists that explore spirituality and religious ritual. 

(Very) nearby restaurant: Chiswick at the Gallery
Sharing the limelight with the art on display, Chiswick at the Gallery is Matt Moran's casual diner. The menu, which shares the same ethos as the Woollahra venue, showcases seasonal produce and the signature Moran family lamb

Nearby café: Flour & Stone
Woolloomooloo's Flour & Stone changes up its counter offerings daily, so on any given day the bakery might be selling lemon, vanilla or rich manjari chocolate cakes, leek and Gruyère tarts, or a variety of pies and sausage rolls. 

Nearby bar: Love, Tilly Devine
Hidden in an alley behind an alley, this wine bar is named after one of the city's most notorious criminals. It's tight quarters, but the outstanding display of contemporary Australian wine is worth the cosiness. The riesling selection is stand-out.

A testing ground for new and exploratory art, Artspace is a fitting starting point for the interactive, 'non-participation' art of Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The venue has morphed into The Embassy of Non-Participation, an alternative museum that changes as it moves through time and place. 

Nearby restaurant: Otto
Long-time Woolloomooloo favourite Otto is a great spot to watch the sun set after a stroll around the galleries. There's a $110 lobster pasta, a yellowfin tuna panzanella salad and a lush coconut panna cotta for dessert.

Nearby café: Petal Met Sugar
The pastries from here are Insta-famous. Two best friends opened the florist-slash-pâtisserie last year, and have been creating airy peach oolong cake and zingy passionfruit and finger lime panna cotta (inside a chocolate terrarium, no less) ever since. 

Nearby bar: Ovolo, Woolloomooloo
The newly renovated Ovolo hotel celebrates its industrial heritage with a moody laneway of bars and lounges. There are nightly happy hours from 5pm, contemporary Australian art on the walls and all the trimmings for leisure and business visits.

Mortuary Station
This year is the Mortuary Station's first as a Biennale venue. Presented as the Embassy of Transition, the space features artists Marco Chiandetti and Charwei Tsai, whose work focuses on the cycles of life and death ­- apt, considering the building's history as a coffin-transportation station.

Nearby restaurant: LP's Quality Meats
The centrepiece of the kitchen here, the massive industrial smoker, does all the talking: order some quality meats, as the name suggests, and pair with anything from the varied wine list. 

Nearby café: Brickfields
As well-liked for its killer breakfast plates as for its seriously lush Persian love cakes, Brickfields does winning coffee and bakes some of the city's finest bread to boot.

Nearby bar: The Old Clare
One of the city's newest and most vibrant hotels, The Old Clare - with its pool and three restaurants - has got it all going on. The rooftop bar offers Chamomile Highballs and frozen Strawberry Daiquiri-Piña Colada combos with a poolside view.

Eveleigh's now heritage-listed Carriageworks has transformed into the Embassy of Disappearances, exhibiting a collection of work on the themes of absence and memory. Exhibiting artists include Lee Mingwei, known for immersive installations, Biennale keynote speaker and dancer Boris Charmatz, and Nigerian-born Otobong Nkanga and her multi-medium, environmentally focused art.

Nearby restaurant: Continential Deli
The specialities at this deli/bar are in-house canned goods, and the right kind of good time that the Porteño team are known for. The fish and vegetables are mighty fine, but if Instagram is any guide, the tinned Martinis are the clincher. 

Nearby café: 212 Blu
Café by day, wine bar by night, Newtown's 212 Blu's breakfast and brunch menu - which includes the 212 toastie, rich with sobrassada and tomato relish, and house-made bircher - lasts until evening, when gears shift to a menu of small, wine-friendly eats.

Nearby bar: Mary's
There are closer bars on King Street, sure, but none promise quite the same mischief and mirth as Mary's. Expect an atmosphere thick with natural wine, whiskey, thumping hip-hop and hard rock, and the sizzle of Sydney's best burgers in a room that's dark and deeply Newtown. 

20th Biennale of Sydney, various locations around Sydney, 18 March - 5 June. Visit for more details.

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