I'm a freelance writer living on Sydney's north shore. I like tea, books and pop music. If I can combine these into a single activity I'm a happy man.
Published March 13th 2012
Think antiques, olde-worlde charm and great coffee and I'm guessing the Princes Highway in Kogarah isn't the first place that springs to mind. Right? Dismiss this noble thoroughfare at your peril though because it is at this unlikely location that you will find the Southern Antique Centre, the most charming and addictive retail experience in Sydney.
You've probably guessed from the name, that Kim & Michael at the centre deal in antiques. But cast any thoughts from your mind of dusty, cramped and cluttered antiques presided over by an elderly, slightly disapproving eccentric. This is antiques 21st century style and it is, quite honestly, retail heaven. Set out more like an upmarket department store, everything is immaculately displayed, accessible and where possible grouped into sections. No rooting through old boxes and on top of shelves here.
The regular store front and the small doorway are deceiving as once you are inside the shop spills out in front of you and seemingly goes on forever, with fascinating nooks and crannies to explore at every turn. While antiques are the mainstay of the business, there are 25 dealers using the space and between them they have something for everyone. The antiques are very accessible and reasonably priced and there are also more modern items such as giftware, lighting and clothing. I would strongly recommend you drop in and see Marguerite in the first store on the left as you enter the building. Along with some gorgeous antique glassware, clothes and cases bursting with costume jewellery she does a fantastic trade in discounted new, big-name brand homeware items, rescued from overstocked warehouses. The prices are a fraction of what you will pay elsewhere.
For the serious antique collector, all bases are covered. You'll find furniture, clocks, jewellery, toys, porcelain, linen and Royal Doulton along with a huge range of what is generally lumped under the term "collectables" - royalty, airlines, pubs, biscuit tins, Coca Cola, Australiana, automotive manuals and more. Unusually for an antique centre, there is also a fabulous 'industrial heritage' section with the kind of gritty fittings and furniture factories used to throw away but now look great in modern inner city homes.
If you are in the movie business or just a movie junkie, the Centre also acts as a kind of period supermarket for the entertainment industry and a lot of their stock has been hired out to appear in movies such as The Great Gatsby and Australia. Ask Kim to point out some of the more famous pieces, although sadly the hip bath Nicole Kidman reclined in in Australia has since found a new home.
The jewel in the crown of the centre however is undoubtedly Betie's Café at the front of the building. If you find it hard to tear yourself away from the antiques, Betie's will entrap you completely. Reminiscent of an old farm homestead with its corrugated iron and wooden supports, the café is friendly and cosy and perhaps most importantly serves amazing food and that holy grail of the foodie – a good coffee. Run by the delightful Betie, all the food is home made on the premises and ranges from Devonshire teas to full meals, all served in proper, good sized portions. There are a variety of dishes to choose from and refreshingly there is a wide selection of meals for those on alternative diets, including six gluten free choices. My pumpkin, spinach and ricotta quiche was heaven - soft and flavoursome with a distinct layering of the main ingredients. It came with both chips and a side salad, and let me tell you, when Betie serves a side salad it's not a few limp lettuce leaves and a cherry tomato. I counted lettuce, carrot, cucumber, beetroot, potatoes, tomatoes and avocado before I gave up. Try and leave room for desserts as there are plenty of cakes and a range of Melting Moments to choose from to go with your coffee.
With 5000 square feet of retailers, all manner of goods for sale from the basic to the exotic and a café that serves real food and real coffee, who needs Westfield? Next time the fancy to shop grips you, skip the mall and make a detour to Kogarah and 245 Princes Highway. It might be your first time, but I guarantee it won't be your last.
The Southern Antique Centre is at 243-245 Princes Highway (corner of English Street) Kogarah, approximately 20 minutes from the city. It is open 7 days, 10am-5pm Monday-Friday and 10am-6pm Saturday and Sunday. There is limited off street parking at the centre and plenty of on street parking in neighbouring streets. The Centre is a 10 minute walk from Carlton train station and a 15 minute walk from Kogarah train station, both via Railway Parade and English Street. Phone (02) 9553 7843 for further information or visit the Southern Antique Centre website.