Photo credit : Giuseppe_Santamaria

Maree Sheehan is chief guide and founder of The Sydney Connection (TSC), a business dedicated to showing locals and out-of-towners hidden foodie gems over Sydney. Her walking dining tours are much loved and her specially curated Crafty Dining experiences have been part of the Sydney Craft Week program since the inaugural festival in 2017.

We take five with Maree and get to know more about what she has planned for her upcoming Crafty Dining walk in East Sydney, featuring: Australian Design Centre, Lankan Filling Station, Stylecraft, Toki, Grand Days, Dulcie’s, Skarfe and Kakawa.

 This is your third iteration of Crafty Dining, held during Sydney Craft Week - can you share some of what makes these crafty dining walks so special and different to your usual offerings?

Normally we go to the bar and restaurant spaces and enjoy their great food and wine and fabulous interiors but for Crafty Dining we visit contemporary furniture design, homeware, vintage and contemporary fashion showrooms and stores. Before dining in store, guests will listen to a short talk from each owner operator about the establishment of their store, the process of selection and their design favourites.

This event is also created for the locals, unlike our weekly dining walks which are aimed at the tourist market. It's fun to watch people re-discover their own city from a different perspective.

In previous years, what have your customers enjoyed most about the Crafty Dining experience?

Best refer to a couple of the delightful reviews we received from our previous guests:

“An absolutely fabulous evening with Craft Dining in Redfern. It was a night of adventure and discovery. Every business we visited was a delight and the food was incredible. Maree is the ultimate hostess and such fun to be with. I am now looking forward to re-visiting everywhere we discovered last week to enjoy at my leisure.” - Jennifer, October 2018

“We took part in the Crafty Dining on Foley tour. Weren't sure what to expect and ending up having a fabulous night. The studios we visited were stunning, and it was really interesting and insightful to hear from the artists and craftspeople involved.

From pottery to handmade shoes and clothing, it was a privilege to be shown how these pieces were lovingly created. As for the food - heaven with some interesting twists. Will definitely be visiting the restaurants involved. All topped off with some lovely company. Thanks. “ - Anna, October 2017

This year your Crafty Dining walk is set in East Sydney. What do you love about the area and what are you most looking forward to sharing with your audiences?

One of the reasons I chose East Sydney for this years event was that it has been given such a hard time of late: the lockouts, high rents and encroaching development. I wanted to say to Sydneysiders: there are really good businesses in this part of the city and you need to support them and patronise them with your presence and purchasing power if you want this community to continue.

What I love about East Sydney is that all the best food, shopping and viewing is not in plain view. You have to treat it like a treasure hunt and take an afternoon to wander down the main trunk of William Street and into the lower parts of Riley and Crown Streets.

I like that most of the spaces we are visiting and the food and beverage providers are small owner/operators operations that have a true passion for what they sell and make. And you can feel that passion when you taste their locally sourced, seasonal dishes or try on a handmade piece of jewellery, or handle a ceramic vessel shaped by an artist. There has been a lot of thought put into the design and merchandising of the showrooms and stores. You're in someone's world that they have created especially to share with you as a shopper. Grand Days is a great example of this idea.

I also like that there is a mix of modern and old spaces that reflect Sydney now and in the past. Stylecraft's showroom is next level in design and sophistication. Skarfe is housed in an old building on a small and well-known street in Potts Point.

This part of town has a rich and vibrant history from the very beginnings of Sydney as a city and prior to the arrival of the white man, with the Gadigal people of the Eora nation hunting and gathering on the coastline of Port Jackson. In the spirit of this history we will be introducing our guests to the fantastic Gadigal Mural designed and created by Jason Wing , Lucy Simpson and Dennis Golding as part of the evening's activities at our first stop, the Australian Design Centre.

What kinds of craft will people be able to engage with on this Crafty Dining walk?

Well we have a bit of everything: textiles, ceramics, glassware and jewellery in the Object Store at Australian Design Centre; contemporary imported and locally made furniture and homeware at Stylecraft; vintage jewellery and fashion at Grand Days and imported and locally designed silk, cashmere and cotton scarves at Skarfe. So there is something for everyone to touch, hold, model and maybe even buy while we are on the walk. I think we have covered all bases which was one of the key focuses when choosing the venues to visit.

Sydney Craft Week's 2019 theme is play - how do you explore play through your Sydney Connection experiences?

I think shopping and eating can be the adult version of play! I work in retail as a part time day-job and I watch women try fashion on and they are playing with the idea of "does this item: make them look better, feel better and will it impress other
people who see them wearing that piece"?

When we are children we like to play because it makes us feel carefree, part of a group or even creative. And as adults sometimes I think we need to rediscover those feelings to relax us because we have such busy and stressful modern lives.

The ritual of sharing good food and fine beverages may conjure the same feelings. Restaurants are the new nightclubs when you're over forty! And Dulcie's cocktails and Kakawa chocolates are very playful! Putting together one of Lankan Filling Station's hoppers can also be great fun: deciding what flavours you want to mix and trying to eat it without spilling it all over yourself!

Originally published on the Sydney Craft Week website