Melbourne has traditionally overshadowed Sydney as Australia’s culinary capital. While the former became famous for its café culture and hip laneway eateries, the latter seemed stuck in another era, favouring stately institutions with big water views and even bigger bills over more youthful and experimental ventures.
But in more recent years, the tide has turned in the Harbour City. Local heroes like Neil Perry, Matt Moran, and Kylie Kwong have incited a revolution in Sydney’s foodscape, bringing innovation and excitement (and many happy tummies) to a dining scene that now commands global attention.
We still love the classics. Icebergs, Porteño, Fratelli Paradiso, Tetsuya’s, Billy Kwong, Momofuku Seiōbo, the Bentley, Quay, and the late Rockpool (RIP) retain a special place in our hearts, but we have plenty more appetite to go around. Add these cool Sydney restaurants to the bucket list for your next nights out.
Chef Clayton Wells honed his skills at Momofuku Seiōbo, Quay, and Tetsuya’s before going solo in 2015. His powerful, provocative cuisine takes centre stage at Automata, where the décor is best described as ‘auto shop chic’ and the five-course tasting menu rarely stays the same for more than a couple of weeks.
Acme is the kind of restaurant that serves up something you never knew you needed: Italian with an Asian twist. Here linguine comes with black garlic and burnt chili, and a melon salad is bedecked in black sesame and thai basil. There’s also a baloney sandwich that bears no resemblance to sad school lunch fare, and a tightly curated list of cocktails sure to impress on date night.
The newest addition to Matt Moran and Bruce Solomon’s ambitious three-level Barangaroo House was three years in the making and has been open for less than three months, but already Bea shows promise. Executive chef Cory Campbell, whose CV includes Melbourne’s Vue de Monde and Copenhagen’s Noma, makes fine dining fun and fashionable with a focus on quality meat and seafood and indigenous Australian ingredients.
Bacco Osteria e Espresso
Inner-city Italophiles can get their carb fix at Bacco Osteria e Espresso, a cosy 2017 opening in the CBD. The buzzy all-day Italian joint dishes out something for every mood and moment, whether you need a quick panini and latte pick-me-up at midday or a handmade pistachio and pecorino gnocchi feast with your latest Tinder date.
At Ester you’ll find fine dining sans stuffiness that appeals to mums and mates alike. Both the food and the fit-out are minimlist, accessible, and smart – simple but expertly finessed, with a focus on substance over exaggerated style. Be sure to try the cauliflower with almond sauce and mint, a signature dish beloved by the Sydney chefs who make Ester a regular haunt on their days off.
Firedoor is the name and flame is the game. Chef Lennox Hastie never takes the easy way out, eschewing the efficiency and convenience of many modern kitchens to showcase the natural beauty of wood fired cooking. Everything at Firedoor is prepared over an open flame and cooked to order with almost obsessive attention from Hastie, who grills like Claude Monet paints lilies.
A produce-driven restaurant in Merivale’s Oxford Street, Fred’s is all about top-notch Australian ingredients cooked with care. Chef Danielle Alvarez builds her menu around seasonality and combines old-world techniques with innovation, which you can personally witness thanks to the restaurant’s arrangement around a central open kitchen.
Cultures collide at Blanca, a Bondi Beach outpost the owners describe as “a blank canvas where our diversity and travels come together.” The menu manages to simultaneously feature elements of Mediterranean, Japanese, and Scandinavian cuisine, while the influence of Australia can be felt in the wine list. Traditionalists may find the menu dizzying, but for the experimental, it’s a welcome addition to the Sydney food scene.
Bennelong is back and better than ever after a 2015 revamp that brought celebrated Aussie chef Peter Gilmore aboard. There are multiple ways to eat here: an à la carte restaurant downstairs, the Cured & Cultured counter up a level, the theatrical Circle dining room, the bar at the top, and for a splurge, the exclusive chef’s table. It’s hard to go wrong, whatever you pick, when you’re dining inside the architectural majesty of the Opera House sails.
It’s easy to miss the diminutive Sixpenny, tucked away in a corner terrace not far from Stanmore Station. Sixpenny makes a point to forego excesses in favour of a more economical approach to both food and furnishings, but what it does, it does exquisitely well. Anything you taste, touch, hear, smell, or see has been curated and crafted with a tremendous level of care that earns ongoing accolades.
Restaurent Hubert brought a breath of fresh French air to Sydney in 2016, and has since made many a ‘best of’ list thanks to a masterful menu, a warmly inviting atmosphere (complete with 100-seat theatre), and a team pedigree that includes Baxter Inn, Frankie’s Pizza, and Shady Pines. Hubert is impeccably realised and impossibly romantic, with a vintage take on dining out and atmosphere in spades.
Located in a former industrial precinct from the 1920s, The Grounds of Alexandria is a landmark coffee roastery, café, sustainable garden, and one of Instagram’s most tagged foodie destinations. You’ll be in for a wait so get in early, pop your name on the list, and pass the time wandering the artisan market until your table’s ready. Alternatively, try Alexandria’s younger, CBD-based sibling, The Grounds of the City.
Jade Temple is Sydney’s answer to classic Cantonese cuisine served with a contemporary spin. The menu is, by the restaurant’s own admission, “a little retro and a little cliché”, but familiarity isn’t always a bad thing, and it’s hard to ignore the allure of anything that bears the Rockpool Dining Group name. With its biggest competition, Mr. Wong, just across the street, Jade Temple will have to work overtime to ensure it stays at the top of its game.
LuMi Bar & Dining
With a prime backdrop of the Pyrmont waterfront, LuMi Bar & Dining is an idyllic dinner destination for relaxed fine dining. The food is Italian with a Japanese twist, and served only in a degustation menu designed around seasons and market availability. Choose between a 5-course, 7-course, or 10-course feast, and pair it with something from the Italy-focused wine list.
The Moon Park team’s new venture, Paper Bird, is an all-day East Asian eatery in Potts Point. Korean cuisine takes the lead, with influences from China and Japan coming into play for variety. Go for the fried chicken and prepare to weep tears of crispy, delicious joy.
If you want fine dining with an edge, Nomad is your go-to Sydney restaurant. Local seasonal produce and traditional culinary skills make up the menu. Add to that an all-Australian wine list and an open plan kitchen, and you’ve got an effortlessly chic dining experience in the heart of Surry Hills.
Pino’s Vino e Cucina
Beyond the wooden doors of Pino’s you’ll find accessible, inventive takes on rustic Italian cuisine, signature cocktails, and wine sourced from the finest organic producers in Italy, France and Australia. Come for an after-work aperitivo, a romantic dinner or a group banquet when you crave a mischievous taste of Italy, complete with house-made pasta.
New to the scene last year, Sasaki prioritises simple home cooking inspired by owner/head chef Yu Sasaki’s youth in the Japanese countryside. The tiny Surry Hills spot is spare but intimate, a heartfelt and nostalgic ode to tradition, childhood, and food made with a mother’s love. At $80, the 10-course omakase menu is a steal.
Mr. Wong elevates dim sum to a level you didn’t know was possible, dishing out what are likely the best dumplings you’ll find this side of the Great Wall. You can easily spend hours working your way through the menu and wine list, and soaking up the 1930s jazz-era Shanghai vibe. Bigger is better at this a two-level temple to Cantonese cuisine – including the line, so come prepared to wait for the privilege of experiencing this Sydney institution.
Renowned Sicilian chef Lino Sauro brings his award-winning cuisine and Italian hospitality to Chippendale with Olio. Sauro comes from a long lineage of Sicilian farmers, and his dishes reflect a strong connection to his roots – including olive oil sourced from his family’s Sicilian farm. Visit during warm weather for alfresco dining on the terrace.