1 Macquarie Street
East Circular Quay
Tel: 61 2 9252 2555
Aria gives newcomers a crash course in Aussie pop culture. Views of the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge? Check. Native A-listers like Nicole Kidman? Check. A local celebrity chef? Check. Matthew Moran, star of the foodie documentary Heat in the Kitchen and a judge on a popular reality TV show My Restaurant Rules, is king of the kitchen here. All fun, but as with so many made-for-TV chefs, Moran's taste for drama outshines his food. A VIP table for eight in the kitchen trumps more important items such as, well, appetizers; the pan-fried scallop tortellini, for instance, are just tiny, overpriced morsels. The main courses, only slightly more expensive than the apps, are a better bet; try the flavorful baked snapper fillet or the zucchini flower with crabmeat.
Open Mondays through Fridays noon to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 11:30 pm, Saturdays 5 to 11:30 pm, Sundays 6 to 10:30 pm.
St. James Trust Building
185 Elizabeth Street
Central Business District
Tel: 61 2 9283 7098
Despite the cute Italian name and historic building, the interior of this place is pure Paris. Dark wood paneling, black-and-white photographs, mirrors scrawled with the daily specials—all of it evokes a romantic Left Bank bistro. The menu is largely French, too, although Italian and Mod Oz dishes—cracked-pepper spaghettini with sautéed prawns, crispy-skinned barramundi with truffle mashed potatoes—are the standout main courses. Be sure to save room for the chestnut-and-honey crème brûlée. For pre- or after-dinner drinks, the newly opened Bambini Wine Room across the hall is a little jewel box of a bar, glittering with chandeliers and Italian marble. Just around the corner, the Bambini-fication of the neighborhood continues with the addition of Bambini on Park, a more casual café (open for breakfast and lunch only) that exists largely to service the well-heeled journalists at publishing house ACP, in whose foyer it resides.
Open Mondays through Fridays 7 to 11 am, noon to 3 pm, 5:30 to 10:30 pm; Saturdays 5:30 to 10:30 pm.
4 The Esplanade
Tel: 61 2 9969 5050
A quick ferry ride to Middle Harbour will bring you to one of Sydney's classic eateries. Set in a restored 1920s Spanish Mission-style building on Balmoral Beach, it was once a changing parlor for beachgoers. These days, it serves up food that's a little local, a little Mediterranean, and a little Asian—the fusion otherwise known as mod-Oz cuisine. The seared Moreton Bay bugs (don't be afraid—they're like small lobsters) steamed with pork belly and Asian mushrooms in double consommé are especially good. Another of our favorites: Murray cod grilled with crab and tomato, and served with a lentil and celery ragoût.
118 Queen Street
Tel: 61 2 9328 7997
Breakfast at Bills is a near-religious morning experience for Sydneysiders. This location (the original is in Darlinghurst) has a cluster of tables in a sunny outdoor courtyard. It's the perfect place to greet the day with Bill Granger's "sunrise drink" of orange juice, banana, yogurt, and berries, or his mouthwatering ricotta hotcakes with bananas and honeycomb butter. Lunch dishes include linguine with fresh crab and chiles, and grilled chicken salad with grapefruit, pistachios, and mint.
Open Mondays through Fridays 7:30 am to 5 pm, Saturdays and Sundays, 8 am to 5 pm.
3/355 Crown Street
Tel: 61 2 9332 3300
Chef Kylie Kwong introduced the masses—or more accurately, the few lucky enough to nab a table in her tiny restaurant—to Cantonese home cooking, and her star has yet to wane. The restaurant is more of a casual neighborhood eatery than a big-occasion place, and it doesn't take reservations, so come by about 6:30 pm to learn why this convivial little box of a room and its frenetic kitchen has such a cult following. A huge light fixture casts a flattering glow over tables of young, local families and arty types, who perch on stools while tucking into plates of cloud fungus and pickled cucumber, steamed scallop wontons with piquant chile dipping sauce, and the swoon-worthy signature crispy-skinned duck. Kwong is a chef with a conscience, sourcing organic and biodynamic produce and actively supporting worthy causes such as Oxfam's Make Poverty History initiative.
Open Mondays through Thursdays 6 to 10 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 6 to 11 pm, and Sundays 6 to 9 pm.
116 Queen Street
Tel: 61 2 9363 2519
Ask any stylish Sydneysider for their favorite neighborhood bistro, and chances are at least a few of them will grudgingly give up this name. Bistro Moncur is an antidote to the flashy, harborside marquee names: Tucked on a quiet, leafy side street opposite Sotheby's, this is the kind of place you'd make a Monday night tradition if you lived here. A recent makeover—a timber barrel-vaulted ceiling gives the impression of sitting in a chic aircraft hangar—has only enhanced the grown-up yet lively feel of the place. The food coming out of chef Damien Pignolet's kitchen is unfussy and well executed; representative dishes include house-marinated salmon, twice-cooked gruyère soufflé and homestyle "bangers and mash." The wine list is extremely well priced—there's an excellent pinot noir for under $30. Reservations are not accepted, so arrive before 7:30 or wait in the adjoining bar of the Woollahra Hotel, a well-heeled scene in itself.
Open Tuesdays though Sundays noon to 3 pm and 6 to 10:30 pm.
Above Fratelli Fresh
7 Danks Street
Tel: 61 2 9699 3174
One could be forgiven for failing to consider the once-gritty industrial neighborhood of Waterloo as a likely location for one of the best new cafés in town. Nevertheless, that's where you'll find Sopra, tucked away above Fratelli Fresh, which supplies many of Sydney's restaurants with quality Italian goods and fresh produce. The whitewashed, slightly churchlike room (presided over by two mosaics of the Madonna) is open only for breakfast and lunch, but it does those two meals to perfection. Begin with a Campari and fresh blood-orange juice and work your way through the extensive blackboard menu, which is intensely, exuberantly produce-driven—chef Andy Bunn changes items to reflect the best of what's in season each day. There are ample temptations like comforting roast pork belly or oyster mushroom salad with kipfler potatoes and asparagus, but the antipasto plate best reflects Bunn's reverence for flawless ingredients done simply.
Open Tuesdays through Fridays 10 am to 3 pm, Saturdays 8 am to 3 pm.
252 George Street
Tel: 61 2 9240 3010
The chichi elegance of the restaurant inside the Establishment Hotel, with its columns and pressed-iron ceiling, polished timber floors, and crisp linens, is aptly matched by the sophistication of chef Peter Doyle's food. The dishes sound deceptively simple—like the salad of sand crab, avocado, and pink grapefruit, or fillet of John Dory baked in a carrot juice–and-sherry sauce. But once you taste these creations, you'll understand exactly why est. was chosen 2006 Restaurant of the Year by the Sydney Morning Herald: Simple can also mean perfect.
Open Mondays through Fridays noon to 3 pm and 6 to 10:30 pm, Saturdays 6 to 10:30 pm.
488 George Street
Tel: 61 2 9265 6068
Chef Luke Mangan's mod-Oz menu has a French spin; among the standout dishes are fig tart with red onion jam, steak tartare, and the whole fish of the day (if you're lucky, it'll be barramundi) in a broth of mussels, tomato, and chervil. He set up shop in this glass-walled spot (it also has glass-enclosed wine cellars) in 2005, and it's been packed with fans ever since. The best tables overlook the ornate Queen Victoria Building across the street through 42-foot floor-to-ceiling windows.
Open Mondays through Fridays 6 to 10 am, noon to 3 pm, dinner from 6 pm; Saturdays and Sundays 7 to 11 am, dinner from 6 pm.
1 Notts Avenue
Tel: 61 2 9365 9000
Set on a bluff above Bondi Beach, this is a spectacular place to watch the waves (and the skimpily clad locals surfing them). Restaurateur Maurice Terzini certainly has the golden touch, as evidenced by his other ventures, the ever-popular Otto and the hip new spot North Bondi Italian Food, but this is the star in his restaurant firmament, if only for its peerless setting. The glamorous dining room, with turquoise columns that match the sea, draws a posh, beach-bleached crowd. Some come for the scene, but the food, while pricey (main courses can run $40 and up), is a genuine draw: Options include solid Australian/Mediterranean dishes such as spaghetti with crayfish and tomato sauce, ocean-trout carpaccio with tea-smoked tomatoes, and grilled rib-eye steak rubbed with garlic and herbs.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays noon to midnight, Sundays noon to 10 pm.
85 Commonwealth Street
Tel: 61 2 9280 2888
Another of the converted warehouses in Surry Hills, this modern Thai spot (which has a sister location in Melbourne) isn't the easiest to get into—dinner reservations aren't taken for fewer than eight people. But that doesn't seem to stop diners from lining up for the casual benches and tables. The food can be exhilarating—and very spicy. Among the best bets are a starter of betel leaves with smoked trout, galangal, and trout roe, and a main course of caramelized pork hock with chili vinegar. The braised duck with red curry is also a winner.
Open Sundays 5:30 to 10 pm; Mondays through Fridays noon to 2:30 pm, 6 to 11 pm; Saturdays 6 to 11 pm.
355 Crown Street
Tel: 61 2 9332 2225
Not for the traditional, this small, eggplant-colored dining room—where tables are so close together that you can practically taste what your neighbors are eating—is the preferred destination for adventurous foodies. The reason is chef and owner Mark Best, a former electrician who apprenticed at Arpège in Paris and who now fuses classical French technique with surprising food pairings. When he succeeds, the results are exceptional (when he doesn't, you wonder what on earth he was thinking). Boudin noir with sea urchin is one unusual combination, but another particularly delicious standout is the "risotto" of local calamari and prawns—the seafood is chopped so finely that it resembles arborio rice. There's also roast wood pigeon, served with a parsnip and chocolate tart.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 6:30 to 9:30; last seating at 9 pm.
594 New South Head Road
Tel: 61 2 9327 6561
Pier has long been a haunt of seafood connoisseurs; Chef Greg Doyle is locally legendary for his deftly flavored fish dishes. In 2005, he added a long, narrow bar (called The Tasting Room) where diners can sample small plates accompanied by a big selection of wines by the glass. It's easy to spend an afternoon here, overlooking the sparkling water of Rose Bay and snacking on dishes such as kingfish with Vietnamese chile dressing; curried king prawns with lime, chiles, and coconut cream; and scallop tartare with Mascarpone and caviar. In the main dining room, larger portions and more elaborate preparations are served, among them confit of ocean trout in a horseradish velouté and steamed blue-eye with scallop lasagna.
Open Sundays noon to 3 pm and 6 to 9 pm, Mondays through Saturdays noon to 3 pm and 6 to 10 pm.
Australia NSW 2096
Tel: 61 2 9938 3331
In Sydney, all eyes are on the Pilu Kiosk and its suckling pig panini. Pilu at Freshwater is the restaurant that Giovanni Pilu runs in a big old timber beach house right on Freshwater, one of the prettiest of the city's northern beaches. The food of Sardinia, Pilu's birthplace, is its focus, and between the signature porchetto arrosto and Lara Caraturo's wonderful wine list, it has risen through the ranks to be recognized as not only one of the most interesting Italian restaurants in the country, but a singular Sydney dining experience. And now, in a manner of speaking, you can have it in a bikini. Pilu has opened a small shack on the edge of the property selling good coffee, Nutella pancakes, and—oh yes—a sandwich filled with slices of slow-roasted suckling pig, all crunchy of skin and buttery of flesh. They don't offer fiaschette of Cannonau to go with them yet, but here's hoping.—Pat Nourse, first published on Gourmet.com
West Circular Quay
Overseas Passenger Terminal
Tel: 61 2 9251 5600
The address might scream "tourist trap," but don't be fooled. This is one of the best restaurants in Sydney, and has been ever since Peter Gilmore became chef in 2000. Among the must-try dishes is the "sea treasures" starter of sashimi tuna and poached octopus with green-tea rice, wasabi, and dashi jelly. The suckling pig entrée is braised then roasted and served with prunes cooked in Spanish sherry and cauliflower cream. The prices are high, but they're somewhat tempered by the million-dollar view. Book way in advance for dinner.
Open Tuesdays through Fridays noon to 2:30 pm and 6 to 10 pm; Saturdays through Mondays 6 to 10 pm.
107 George Street
Tel: 61 2 9252 1888
Ponytailed celebrity chef Neil Perry caused a seismic ripple on Sydney's gastro-scene when he announced his plan to shutter his most famous creation, Rockpool, and reinvent it as a casual fish restaurant. His reasoning: Fine dining is over, and it's time for a new challenge. It's said Perry was inspired by the success of his new Melbourne spin-off, Rockpool Bar & Grill, for which he introduced à la carte menus (instead of the wallet- and gut-straining degustation of his Sydney flagship) and a less big-occasion vibe. Whatever the case, Sydneysiders have embraced the new venture, renamed Rockpool (fish), which heralds a move to wholly sustainable seafood. The $660,000 makeover traded the old incarnation's heavy wooden blinds and formal feel for a more laid-back ambience. There's a new oyster bar, casual additions such as fish burgers, and a nod to old favorites like the stir-fried crab omelette.
Open Mondays through Fridays noon to 2:30 pm and 6 to 11 pm, Saturdays 6 to 11 pm.
201 Sussex Street
Australia NSW 2000
Tel: 61 2 9283 1990
With Tetsuya's former chef running the show, interest in Sepia ran high even before the ink on the contract was dry. Martin Benn is one of the brightest chefs Sydney has seen, and the news that he was striking out on his own for the first time after years with Tetsuya Wakuda (and Marco Pierre White at London's Criterion before that) had restaurant groupies going crazy. But this is no Tetsuya's lite. Dishes like spanner crab and buckwheat risotto with tarragon-mustard butter and a cloud of foamed shellfish essence suggest a chef flexing his muscles anew. Desserts show similar inspiration, and the quietly luxe setting and punchy wine list indicate that Sepia has legs.—Pat Nourse, first published on Gourmet.com
529 Kent Street
Tel: 61 2 9267 2900
After cooking for years in a humble storefront, chef Tetsuya Wakuda moved to this glamorous place in 2000—and now both the food and the setting are well worth the long reservation period and the over-the-top prices. Certain dishes on Wakuda's multicourse degustation menu are perennial, like gazpacho with spiced tomato sorbet and confit of Tasmanian ocean trout with unpasteurized roe, kombu, and daikon—but there's always something new, too. If you want to get a real appreciation for Wakuda's alchemy, try some of his recipes at home (he published a cookbook in 2001).
Open Tuesdays through Fridays from 6 pm, Saturdays from noon to 4 pm and dinner from 6 pm.
Tel: 61 2 9331 0709
Foodies welcomed beloved Sydney chef Christine Manfield home with open arms after her two-year stint in London. Her new venture, Universal, is oddly situated in the courtyard of hip apartment complex Republic 2. The tucked-away location detracts from the buzz of the otherwise chic decor of the indoor-outdoor dining room, whose splashes of orange, yellow, and pink play on Manfield's love of spices. However, all sins of ambience are forgotten once the menu is in hand. The concept is "tasting plates," listed from lightest to most robust. The black-clad staff (who expertly balance the friendly/formal divide) recommend three plates per person, which are brought to the table in descending order of heaviness. It sounds needlessly complicated, but it isn't really. The dishes are a wonderful reflection of Manfield's global wanderings (she has a soft spot for mod Chinese), and each one is displayed so artfully it seems a shame to spoil it with something as gauche as a fork. Highlights of a recent visit were a fragrant lemongrass and turmeric broth with shiitake-stuffed dumplings; a meltingly sweet piece of marron fish in spiced gazpacho; and for dessert, a heavenly riff on Gaytime, a popular Australian ice cream—served here in a pyramid crusted with cookie crumbs.
Open Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays 6 to 10:30 pm, Fridays noon to 2:30 and 6 to 10:30 pm.