Sydney Festival is back for their huge 40th year anniversary, once again propping up their central hub in the leafy surrounds of Hyde Park, this year presenting a re-brand of sorts as what was once known as Sydney Festival Village now becomes Meriton Festival Village. Not much has changed aside from the name though, and thankfully last year's spacious layout is recreating almost exactly, with a few changes here and there, and an even bigger focus on providing families with a tempting all-day pop-up bursting with entertainment and hospitality.
Each year, the village becomes a day and night destination for Sydney-siders, helped along by some of the best local food outlets around, particularly Gelato Messina who have once again come on board due to popular demand, curating a menu of exclusive creations and bringing back some very popular treats.
This year Messina have designed their village pop-up as the Il Carnivale di Gelato Messina and are offering twists on classic carni treats, plus a doughnut gelato bar for good measure. As pictured above, their Five Million Dough-Lars ($10) (headline image) dessert is set to be one of the most popular items here; it surely is one of the most sightly. Ask for a spoon when you order this one because you definitely don't want to eat it like any other burger, unless you do want sticky red chocolate glaze all over you. The smooth chocolate gelato between the doughnut buns is scooped on generously, sitting on some crushed peanut cookies with caramel and some popping candy.
I'm working backwards here though; if you don't want to get straight into the sweet treats then there are plenty of excellent savoury options to go around. Porteño are right by Messina's side under the biggest sheltered space of the village, serving up some of their classics like the vegetarian-friendly Grilled Mushroom and Provolone Sandwich ($10) which is nice, smokey, and earth, although it would be better if the cheese could be melted. Even more essential is the great Smoked Wagyu Brisket Reuben Sandwich ($15) with a thick cut brisket. Pair these up with some Chilli Cheese Fries ($15), some Fried Chicken & Waffles ($15), or even just a BBQ Corn on the Cob ($10) for maximum satisfaction.
Attached to both is the pop-up bar from Kirin Cider, offering more comfortable seating options and benefiting from that sheltered space that is necessary in weather like what Sydney has been getting lately.
Backtracking towards the entrance are the other food outlets which include Bite Size Delights serving smaller treats like Freshly Baked Pastizzi ($4.50) and various Pita Pockets ($13-$14), the Harvest Trader & Co. stall with burgers, fish & chips, and salads, Bar Pho for hot bowls of Vietnamese noodle soup, Oysters Unplugged with the simple offering of Freshly Shucked Waterfall Oysters (3 for $10), and an Italian Street Kitchen with small pizzas and pork rolls.
There's still that small gazebo with seats around it for various styles of live music, nearby the great movable library which is always well stocked (and is also hosting circus skill classes 10th-24th Jan). There's even a small-scale cellar door experience all the way from Pokolbin by James Estate Wines.
Of course, the main reason to head along to the village year after year are the shows at both The Famous Spiegeltent and Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, which from the outside looks much larger than in previous years. More information on the shows are plastered on the various timetables found around Meriton Festival Village and you can always purchase any last-minute tickets right at the nearby box office - or plan ahead at the link below.
For more information and a full list of performances - free and ticketed - click HERE