Since relocating to Sydney 10 years ago from Auckland, Maree Sheehan has familiarised herself with the inner-city, and her knowledge is so vast she now runs tours in the area.
But unlike traditional walking tours that point out city icons, Sheehan’s version, The Sydney Connection, brings tourists together around the dining tables of local eateries in Elizabeth Bay, Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, and Potts Point.
Sheehan tells Community Table the idea behind it is to showcase curious tourists where locals like to go out to eat and drink, saying it was sparked by an unusual encounter she had with an American man, referred to only as Oscar, who she met through internet dating and was dropping by Sydney for a holiday.
“He asked me if I could show him around, so I told him to meet for coffee at the Strand Arcade. We ended up spending the whole day visiting some of my favourite places,” Sheehan says, noting some of those spots included Ichiban Boshi and Fratelli Pradiso.
The feedback she received from Oscar at end of the day was so encouraging she spent the next three months building a website, and getting the word out about her new business, before officially launching in January 2013.
“He said, ‘I’ve been around the world and that was really interesting; you gave me a real sense of Sydney and you told me a lot of things along the way. I got a real sense of direction, and I know what I’m going to do for the rest of the week’. I gave him a little list of things to do because I was working for the rest of the week, and apparently he did them all,” she says.
Not long after launching the business, Sheehan landed her first client: a former colleague from New Zealand and his family. In that same week, friends of friends were in town, too. “[My friend] told me, ‘I’ve got these friends in town but I can’t show them around because I won’t be there. Would you show them around? I’ll pay you’. We negotiated a fee, and in that same week I took her friends around as well. So I was like when it rains it pours!”
When touring, Sheehan sometimes choose places that she’d personally like to try, but also often return to old favourites where relationships have been built. “That’s what the industry is built on; we show our appreciation by dining there and treating the staff well.”
More recently, Sheehan has been teaming up with City of Sydney busy organising dining walks for specific city events such as the Pyrmont Festival, Mardi Gras, Illuminate Oxford, and Good Food Month.
Sheehan reveals her current food crushes include Waterman’s Lobster and Co and Pizza Boccone in Potts Point; and Embers Mezze Bar in Darlinghurst for their version of “sexy Lebanese food”. She added these restaurants are reflective of what she loves about cuisines with clean flavours, such as Mediterranean and Vietnamese.
“I don’t like rich foods. I like the Australian contemporary food that has influences from different cultures…I’m also a real sweets girl. I often have dessert even when I don’t need it. I had a whole tiramisu to myself the other night after we had pizza [at Pizza Boccone].”