Over the last year, Sydney has overtaken its southern dining rival, Melbourne, for new restaurant openings largely due to shiny new precincts in the city at Barangaroo, Kensington Street, and Tramsheds Harold Park. Sydney chefs and restaurateurs are embracing Australian seafood, regional Italian and even desserts, with some of the best quality produce worldwide.
Here is a selection of the best restaurants to open in Sydney in the last year so you can get booking that perfect night out, now.
‘A Palestinian chef and an Israeli chef walked into a kitchen,’ sounds like the start of a bad joke, but together, the two of them have redefined Lebanese food at Nour (noursydney.com) putting a contemporary spin on traditional dishes. They cook with what they describe as an ‘unrestricted approach’, which results in falafel with baby prawns and smoked black tahini; duck shawarma pastilla; wood-fired honey figs with date challah, halloumi and black garlic and even a Lebanese bombe alaska. The space boasts round edges, a glass wall with black arches, lush banquettes and pink tones that warm the open kitchen and bar.
One of the many restaurants worth visiting at Sydney's new Baranagaroo dining precinct, Cirrus (cirrusdining.com.au) is a smart establishment with views of the water, outdoor seating and a wooden 1950s boat called Alvin suspended from the ceiling. It’s owned by chef Brent Savage and sommelier Nick Hilderbrandt. You'll find a seafood-heavy menu here with a section for oysters and caviar, starters like reimagined fish fingers and the best of Aussie crustaceans (Moreton Bay Bugs with house XO sauce, anyone?). If you're not in the mood for decisions, the multi-storey seafood platter is one of Sydney's best.
Sticking to Barangaroo, just a few doors down from Cirrus is Sydney’s first vermouth bar, Banksii (banksii.sydney). In their latest venue, the duo behind Sydney’s Bar H are championing botanicals in both drinks and food, with contemporary Mediterranean takes on dishes such as Rangers Valley minute steak with botanical butter and fries through to the more delicate seared snapper fillet with wild fennel vinaigrette, fermented chilli and dandelion. Stick around for dessert, specifically the signature trifle with vermouth sponge, burnt vanilla custard and rosella jelly. Shared menus at $69, $79 or $89 offer especially good value.
Merivale's latest venue, Fred's (merivale.com.au/freds) has a menu driven by the farmers who supply the produce, so head chef Danielle Alvarez isn't just writing ‘black Berkshire pork chop’ on the menu, but knows where the Jerusalem artichoke is coming from, too. Dishes here honour the ingredients, not overpowering them with sauces or seasoning. The venue is beautiful, reminiscent of a dream kitchen from the south of France you’d swoon over on Pinterest. Be sure to visit the cavernous Charlie Parker's bar downstairs while you’re there, a speakeasy serving cocktails with ingredients like sea grass, pineapple, pickle and olive oil – although not together.
Blanca Bar & Dining
This new Bondi restaurant, named after the Italian word for ‘white’, is exactly that. White walls, white chairs and white beams contrast against black tables, which act as blank canvases to showcase a fusion of Japanese and European flavours. Two chefs are at the helm of Blanca (blanca.com.au); Nordic co-owner Tomi Bjork has owned and worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, while partner Samuel Cole cooked at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. The pair met in the kitchen at Quay, one of Sydney’s best restaurants, which should give you an idea of the standard of food here. Think oxtail dumplings and soft shell crab black buns to snack on, followed by a cured section featuring bonito pastrami and diamond shell clams. Frilled Fremantle octopus and pork ribs with miso caramel are examples of some larger dishes.
Good Luck Pinbone
There's something disarming about walking into Good Luck Pinbone (pinbone.com.au), which looks like a run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant. What it lacks in decor, Pinbone makes up for in dishes. Think Chinese with an Aussie touch – perhaps kangaroo tataki, blue swimmer crab with white pepper sauce, or their popular dish of stir-fried potato strands with bean sprouts and raw egg yolk. A little history: Pinbone set up originally in Woollahara then after closing, completed a four-month pop up at 10 William St last year. There’s a limited shelf life in this Kensington reincarnation, with the building set to be demolished in early 2018. On the plus side, it’s BYO.
Olio (olio.kensingtonstreet.com.au) hasn't been open long, but already their signature 900-gram salt-baked wild snapper has something of a cult following. An armor of salt is cracked open to reveal the fish once cooked, which is served at the table with EVOO mayonnaise and salmoriglio, a southern Italian condiment that nods to the restaurant’s Sicilian menu. Located in The Old Rum Store in Chippendale, it has big, industrial windows and a rooftop terrazzo with olive trees and a view over Kensington Street. The perfect place to start with an Aperol spritz and continue with a bottle of DOC Sicilian red.
Sydney’s northern beaches let out a collective cheer when Alessandro Pavoni, known for his Mosman restaurant Ormeggio at The Spit, opened Sotto Sopra (sottosopra.com.au) in early 2017. The name translates roughly to ‘upside-down’ – a reference to the glass-walled kitchen floating above the airy dining room, the latter with white paper lanterns, pale timber, comfy blue cushions and an impressive chestnut communal table. The imported wood-fired oven is the centerpiece of the menu, which churns out dishes like porchetta with crispy skin and salsa verde cooked overnight, and a must-order caramalised mango tart with whipped lemon mascarpone.
For the ultimate take-away bite or a casual meal with a side of people watching, try Egyptian street food from Cairo Takeaway (cairotakeaway.com), a corner shop on Enmore Road in Newtown. The green falafel are the house specialty, and you'll probably spy owner Hesham El Masry frying them behind the glass counter as you walk in the door. There are skewered meats, dips and pickles in terracotta bowls, but for the real deal, order koshary, a delicious jumble of lentils, rice and pasta with chickpeas, fried onions and garlic salsa. Hot tip: visit on weekends from 9am for breakfast.
And just like that, we’re back at Barangaroo. But this time it’s at the incredibly handsome, 230-seater restaurant and dessert kitchen, 12-Micron (12micron.com.au). In fact 64 of those seats are designated to a dessert degustation, designed by Burch & Purchese sweet studio in Melbourne. If it’s savoury you’re after, chef Justin Wise’s menu is a tribute to both produce and his journey – so you can eat half pigeon with ‘his mentors’’ red cabbage and Illawarra plum, or a 300-gram Cape Grim scotch from the grill. There’s also a 400-strong wine list and a great value express lunch ($45 for two courses or $55 for three with a glass of wine).
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