The ongoing redevelopment of Sydney’s inner city and city fringe is driving a dining renaissance, with new venues opening all the time.
Across the spectrum of culinary styles, Sydney chefs are pushing the envelope with an ever more creative and exacting eye.
Here are ten top places to eat in Sydney, at a variety of price points. This is not the definitive Sydney dining guide (and it’s in no particular order), but it will give you a broad taste of what’s hot and happening around town.
Corner of Pitt St and Angel Place, Sydney
Review: Adam Ford
Long Chim opened in Sydney in mid 2016. Having recently been wowed by David Thompson’s original Long Chim in the basement of Como The Treasury in Perth, I was keen to see if the Sydney franchise had managed to pull off the same level of subterranean cool. It has.
Housed in a heritage basement just off Angel Place, huge drapes and mirror balls festoon the entrance to a shadowy underworld that melds industrial chic with traditional Thai touches. Long Chim is the sort of place that has something happening wherever you look. If it’s not the open kitchen holding your gaze, there’s a street level view out into Angel Place with its cafes and eateries, and pendulous assemblage of birdcages. It’s not quite the back alleys of Bangkok, but there are some similarities.
Long Chim serves up a take on Bangkok street tucker, and is very successful at evoking the diverse flavours and spicy essence of the Thai capital’s prodigious street food scene. Essential spices are brought in from Thailand and mixed with the freshest local produce. For its efforts, Long Chim Sydney recently picked up a chef hat in the 2018 Good Food guide.
Highlights include the crunchy prawns with herbs, shallots and chillies (down the hatch they go, heads and all), the dried prawns, ginger and toasted coconut wrapped in betel leaves, and the green curry of roast duck with baby corn and fragrant Thai basil. If you just can’t decide, the Maa Long Chim tasting menu is great value and offers a bit of everything.
There’s a superb cocktail list available, but I matched my dinner with a glass of the very reasonably priced Howard Park ‘Long Chim’ Shiraz from Margaret River, which provided a deliciously peppery finish. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the spice-rich dishes on which you’ll feast.
Long Chim offers a very cool, but at the same time, very accessible dining experience.
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Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro
1/33 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo
Review: Ruby Boukabou
Sydney’s Barangaroo redevelopment has opened up a whole new world of harbourside dining, and Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro is situated right in the heart of the action.
This dynamic eatery by husband and wife duo Hamish Ingham (chef) and Rebecca Lines (sommelier), formerly of Bar H, is named in honour of Sir Joseph Banks – the famous 17th century botanist who visited Australia’s east coast with Captain James Cook in 1770. The eatery offers subtle flavour combinations across a modern Mediterranean-influenced menu, along with a range of accompanying vermouths (fortified wines infused with a variety of botanicals – and hence the nod to Banks).
With its large terrace by the harbour, Banksii’s design (by Luchetti Krelle) is soft and elegant. Out on the terrace there are nice touches for added comfort, including candles, throws and heaters for those cooler Sydney evenings.
The menu is designed to share. Don’t miss the tasty grilled prawns with curry leaf butter and pickled turmeric, the delicious pan-fried gnocchi with sea parsley and oyster mushrooms, and the crisp seared snapper fillet with wild fennel vinaigrette, fermented chilli and dandelion. Mouth-watering. For dessert, it’s hard to go past the Banksii trifle – sponge cake, smooth vanilla custard and Rosella jelly, coupled with a Mancino Rosso vermouth.
The list of vermouths, curated by Lines, deserves special mention. Amongst the dozens of infusions, the famous Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambery (France) with elderflower, hyssop and rose, and the Carpano Antica Formula Torino (Italy) with vanilla, saffron and basil are distinctive must-trys.
Banksii received a chef hat in the 2018 Good Food Guide. Sir Joseph himself would be chuffed.
238 Castlereagh St, Sydney
Review: Adam Ford
Alpha occupies the former historic digs of the Australian Workers’ Union on Castlereagh Street (which it shares with the Hellenic Club). It’s a big space but it fills remarkably quickly. Within 15 minutes of my early arrival for lunch, the whole joint was jumping and filled with animated conversation.
The interior design is light, airy and finely balanced, and reminded me of lazy days on the Mykonos waterfront. Whitewashed walls and creamy furniture give way to a pallete of blue, orange and brown accents in the cushions and other soft furnishings. Stylised fishing nets form the light fittings.
Peter Conistis’ superb menu takes traditional Greek favourites and gives them a Sydney polish. There are twists and turns on the theme, but at the heart of it all is the Greek tradition of generous servings and an emphasis on seafood, fresh vegetables, olive oil and plenty of wild herbs and spices.
For starters, try the tomatokeftedes – deep fried green tomatoes, mint, and Kalamata olives. There’s a delicious sweetness from the toms that seeps through the savoury batter.
There’s plenty on the mains list to satisfy any set of comestible demands, but the pumpkin and halloumi ravioli with burnt butter, verjuice raisins, peas and asparagus sounded way too good to miss. The burnt butter crystalises and releases a sweet essence that you would swear was brown sugar. It’s melt in your mouth stuff.
Try a glass of the 2015 Domaine Porto Carras Malagouzia with your meal. It hails from Halkidiki in Northern Greece. The Malagouzia grape was all but extinct 40 years ago, but was revived in the late twentieth century. The after-tones are reminiscent of the dry sweetness of wild Greek herbs.
Alpha promises much and delivers every time. The restaurant is also generous of spirit, which makes it an even more memorable culinary experience.
1/2-10 Kensington St, Chippendale
Review: Ruby Boukabou
Bistrot Gavroche is a fabulous French-style brasserie, tucked away in inner-city Chippendale. It’s housed in an old rum warehouse, complete with large windows, high ceilings and wooden floors. The antique furnishings (including a silk manufacturer’s table) and a three-metre high oak entrance from Brasserie Georges (one of Lyon’s classic brasseries, no less) add to the ambience.
While it’s possible to enjoy a quick steak frites and espresso and get on with your day, it seems far more appropriate to draw out a long lunch or dinner, à la parisien/lyonnais. Fresh oysters, foie gras, succulent slow-cooked mains and pink bubbles are just some of the attractions.
The menu has been designed by co-owner and executive chef Frederic Colin. Inspiration comes from years spent in the kitchen of his grandfather’s restaurant, and later stints in several Michelin-starred French eateries.
The attentive and knowledgable French-speaking staff keep everything running smoothly. Co-owner/sommelier Lionel Richard has put together a fabulous French and Australian wine list. His passion as an oenophile is inspiring.
For business or pleasure you can’t go wrong at Bistrot Gavroche. Don’t forget to leave room for dessert – profiteroles with vanilla ice cream or perhaps a delicate Crêpe Suzette.
4 Ash St, Sydney
Review: Adam Ford
Mercado chef and co-owner Nathan Sasi likes to get back to basics. According to the restaurant’s website, we’re talking cheese making, bread baking, preserving, whole animal butchering and meat curing. That last one comes as no great surprise when you read that Nathan’s father was a smallgoods maker in Hungary. I’d be prepared to bet that Nathan also knows the origin of each and every vegetable in his kitchen. It’s that level of connection with everything you’re served that gives this eatery an extraordinary point of difference.
Slick and sophisticated, but somehow warm and fuzzy at the same time, this is a ‘wow’ culinary experience from the moment you walk through the door on uber-cool Ash Street, (just off Angel Place), and down the marble staircase. Polished concrete, earthy tones, brass table tops and leather seats all work together to give the room a rich gravitas. It’s a tight fit in the main dining space in front of the open kitchen, but the floor staff navigate it with flourish and seamless efficiency.
Mercado’s menu draws on Moorish and Spanish culinary principles. The Spanish-style cold cuts make a great shared starter. I also eyed off a neighbour’s spinach, dandelion and goat’s feta empanada with a fair dash of entrée envy.
For mains, the ineffable Turkish-style pumpkin ravioli, yoghurt and burnt butter was offset perfectly by the spiced cauliflower, pine nuts, pomegranates and labne. Sweet and savoury never played quite so nicely.
I have to admit that I scoffed when I once saw something similar on a Denny’s menu in Vegas, but here the dulce de leche icecream, butterscotch sauce and candied bacon just works.
For a special occasion you’re onto a winner at Mercado. But hey, life is short and who needs an excuse? Book now.
Writer: Cindy Bingley-Pullin
Old Town Hong Kong
Mercantile Walk, Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo & 10 Dixon St, Sydney
There are two branches of this Chinese-style ‘tea restaurant’ – in Chinatown and Barangaroo. Each offers a slightly different menu, but the commonality is delicious, predominantly Cantonese cuisine, served in a casual atmosphere.
Old Town Hong Kong features functional wooden tables, canisters of chopsticks and spinning Lazy Susans laden with delicious dishes. Crispy-skinned duck and slabs of suckling pork hang from butcher’s hooks in glass windows, and waiters balance trays bearing pots of fragrant jasmine tea and steaming bamboo baskets of dim sum.
Tuck into the translucent-skinned prawn dumplings and fluffy pork buns with gusto, but make sure you leave room for the sweet mango pancakes for dessert.
259 Riley St, Surry Hills
Rustic, authentic and fantastic, Pasta Emilia is the spot to enjoy traditional Italian cuisine in Sydney.
This osteria in Surry Hills proudly promotes the use of certified organic, seasonal and sustainably sourced ingredients in dishes made from traditional recipes, using artisanal techniques. Even the wine list showcases natural and biodynamic drops from Italian and Australian wine makers.
The ‘tasting lunch special’ is terrific value – and if you’re left craving more at the end of your visit, the cantina downstairs sells take-home packs of homemade pastas and sauces. Think jars of zesty pesto, pomodoro and puttanesca sauces, and pasta options including kale and caramelised onion tortelli, and a decadent duck and truffle ravioli.
Kansas City Shuffle
195 Gloucester St, The Rocks
The name Kansas City Shuffle references an old Chicago con game, but don’t be fooled – this cheeky eatery in the heart of The Rocks serves deceptively decent food indeed.
Take a shot at the ‘Gangsta Eats’ section and order the smoked beef brisket with chilli butter and perfectly poached eggs. Alternatively, wash down a ‘John McClane’ (medley of mushrooms, cheeses, greens, and eggs on toast) or a ‘Piggie Smalls’ (pork belly with apple, fennel and hazelnut salad) with a chilled Budweiser or a coffee slushie.
While Kansas City Shuffle serves hearty American-style fare during the day, it morphs into Tuxedo after dark – a bar that specialises in espresso martinis. They even have them on tap. Fun!
69 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills
If the advance booking time is anything to go by, the Sydney spin-off from popular Melbourne eatery Chin Chin is every bit as hip and happening as its southern cousin.
Chin Chin is billed as a quintessentially Aussie take on Asian food. Housed in the iconic Griffith Tea Building, this is where Sydney’s in-crowd gathers for creative cocktails (watermelon martinis, and drinks with yoghurt, kelp and even ham!), and hot and spicy banquet dinners.
Standout dishes include the kingfish sashimi with lime, chilli, coconut and Thai basil, pad seuw with braised wagyu beef (the rice noodles are served rolled up in tight bundles instead of the usual long strips), egg noodles stir-fried with prawn and bug tails, and a juicy, fiery-hot Isaan-style BBQ chicken.
10/23 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo
The team behind celebrated seafood restaurant Cirrus have some serious cred when it comes to Sydney dining. With an impressive line-up of hatted restaurants already in their portfolio, Cirrus recently picked up two chef hats in the 2018 Good Food Guide. It was one of the first eateries to open in the prime harbourfront precinct of Barangaroo (taking over the site vacated by the famous noma Sydney pop-up in late 2016).
The focus is on fresh, sustainably caught and immaculately presented seafood. Options include NSW rock oysters, caviar, crustaceans, and a pedigreed fish list of Cone Bay barramundi, Ora King salmon, and Hiramasa kingfish.
Nick Hildebrant is the mastermind behind the Cirrus wine list. You’re in very good hands – Nick is Australia’s most awarded sommelier.
Do you have any recommendations to add to our list of ten top places to eat in Sydney? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock