01 July 2014

20 years ago today - Newtown in the 1994 Cheap Eats in Sydney Guide

King Street Newtown featured as one of the Eat Streets in the 1994 Cheap Eats guide to Sydney. What places are still going after 20 years and what is different?

While digging around at a book fair we found this Cheap Eats in Sydney 13th Edition 1994. It published a selection of maps highlighting 'Eat Streets', one of which was Newtown. We loved looking back at what places were around when we fitted into a much skinnier pair of jeans.

We walked King Street to find out what places still exist 20 years later and did some research to dig up anything we could find of the times. One of the amazing aspects of looking for information outside of the social media era is a real lack of photos and reviews of these places. Most of the information we could find came from old guide books to Sydney and a few random photo sites.

Our research dug up this article published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1994 that mentions many of the now gone eating places, and was a great resource for information.

1. Safari - 26 King Street, now L D F Tattoo and Suzy Spoons Vegetarian Butcher. Safari Indonesian first opened in 1980 and spread across these two shop fronts. A protest over unpaid workers in 2004 saw the restaurant closed for a few weeks, perhaps it contributed to it's eventual closure. They were empty for a long time until they were renovated.

There is now a Cafe Safari in Jakarta owned by the same family. (Photo from www.cafesafari.info)

2. Maurice's - 69 King Street, waiting to be leased. This shop is in the old Trocadero site, renovated in 2005-2006 but some shops out front are still waiting for tenants.

There's footage of Maurice's in the film clip for John Kennedy's Love Gone Wrong 1985 classic 'King Street'. Maurice also gets a mention in the song.

3. Thai Land - 74 King St, now Chedi Thai. One of the many Thai restaurants on the strip, this one was unique in offering traditional cushioned seating. Started by the owners of Thai Foon, they moved to Canberra and opened Gungahlin Thai Kitchen.

4. Old Saigon - 107 King Street, now Thai La-ong 2. Little tin helicopters hung from the ceilings in what was a good Vietnamese joint for it's time. Owned until 2003 by a former Vietnam war correspondent Carl Robinson who moved to Australia in 1977 with his Vietnamese wife Kim-Dung. They worked as consultants on Philip Noyce's movie The Quiet American and now live in Brisbane. The restaurant closed some time around 2008.

There's a great photo of the back street and the large jacaranda that grew behind the building here.

5. Ban Thai - 115 King Street, now Green Gourmet. Recommended by Australia Ensemble violinist Dene Olding in the 'Newtown Foodtown' article published in 1994.

6. Newtown Fish Bar - 119 King Street, now Asakusa Japanese. Also known as the Fish Tank, this was a new listing in the guide in 1994. Service was described as slow but salted fishcakes, large plates of seafood and fish and chips were winners.

7. Santorini's - 121a King Street, now the closed Peasants Feast (business is for sale). A throw back to the time there was a sizable Greek population in Newtown, Santorini's featured a taverna style atmosphere with fishing nets and wall hangings, even the prow of a fishing boat. What's next for this site is anyone's guess, it's been vacant with all the table settings intact for some time waiting for a buyer.

8. Stromboli - rear of 134 King Street, now Hikaru Japanese Restaurant. A 'volcanically stylish' cafe, it had burgers, dinners and desserts.

9. Green Tea - 171 King Street, now Kammadhenu. Green Tea served cut price sushi and sashimi, buckwheat noodles and of course, green tea. "What this eatery lacks in quality and style, it makes up for in low, low prices and pleasant service, not to mention unlimited green tea from the urn".

10. Side Door - 174 King Street. The Side Door was quite an institution at the back of the Newtown Hotel. Later to become the popular Linda's (now further down King Street) and then Soni's, which moved across the road then closed after the death of the owner. There's no longer a restaurant at the back of the hotel, which was restored with balconies a couple of years ago.

11. Le Kilimanjaro - 280 King Street. We remember the dishes were cheap but the servings were small, so you had to order quite a few to get a decent feed. One of the earliest African restaurants in Sydney, with a mix of Sri Lankan fare. Good to see that after a couple of changes the Africa mural on the side is still going strong. Wow Cow closed not long after this photo was taken, a new shop is being installed.

12. Thai Pothong - 294 King Street. This was David Marr's favourite Newtown restaurant in 1994. The only restaurant listed on the map still in existence today. While the food is still the standard Thai fare, this place is always packed out, most likely for the space it offers big groups and the special gluten free and vegan menus it cleverly provides. And the birthday balloons.

Thai Pothong on Urbanspoon

13. Summerlee - 324 King Street, at the Bank Hotel. The perennial group favourite for huge serves of Thai food (at a huge price), eaten at big wooden tables in the downstairs area. The Bank was refurbished, reopened and then closed again after a fire, with a second renovation undertaken. Burgers and other standard pub food items are on offer now.

14. Singapore Gourmet - 520 King Street. We were lucky enough to get to this restaurant before it closed in the early 2000's. We had one of the oiliest (but super tasty) fish and eggplant dishes we've ever tried.

The Singapore Gourmet was one of the last restaurants run by Henry and Jennifer Chin, a Malay and Singaporean couple who emigrated to Australia in the 1970's and worked hard to establish a restaurant empire only to see it lost through changing trends (FBT and RBT) and illness. For an insight into their story, this chapter in A Shop Full of Dreams - Ethnic Small Business in Australia by Jock Collins, Katherine Gibson, Caroline Alcorso, Stephen Castles and David Tait (Sydney, Pluto Press Australia, 1995) is well worth a read.

Not mentioned on the map but given reviews in the book are also:
Steki Taverna (the only other place still going)
Razor's Edge Enmore (moved into Bistro at Queen's Hotel but no longer running).

Ever changing, always interesting.

Map reproduced with permission of Universal Magazines.


  1. Old Saigon was a family favourite and we were there often when I was growing up. Always the cook and wrap your own rolls at the table - such good fun as a kid. And the coke and VB can helicopters! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  2. Amazing, though not unexpected, that only one original restaurant remains! I miss some of these old places - like Old Saigon.

  3. Oh wow, what a wonderful treat!

    I think the only one left is Thai Pothong - many of the others have been replaced as you've so cleverly noted ... you can read about their replacements, noted by street number, here www.paintingthebridge.com

  4. Great post! Can't believe 1994 was 20 years ago. Feels like yesterday...

    1. How that time just slips away. Makes you want to get back and revisit old favourites before they go as well.

  5. This really brings me back down memory lane - so many of these restaurasnts had such awesoe recipes that should be taken down, printed and laminated and kept in storage for whoever wants to reproduce the yummy foods in the future! Good food should never be allowed to die!

  6. Hi all, Linda's on King is now in its third incarnation. We began behind the Newtown hotel after Side door in 1994,then moved to 341 King Street in 2005. We are now at 508 King St after a break of about 9 months. Still crazy after all these years and still Linda and Graham!

    1. We noticed your new digs recently, good to see you back!


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

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