A new breed of casual, quality restaurants have opened their doors over the past six months. Gone are the days of formal dining rooms and fatiguing dégustation menus. Sydney has ushered in a new era of dining: one that focuses on menus designed to share in convivial surrounds.
So far, 2016 has been a bumper year for Sydney restaurants, with instant hits such as Restaurant Hubert, No. 1 Bent Street and Automata. The hits keep coming, though, with the past few months proving particularly fruitful.
Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt aren't content with owning three dining and drinking dens in Sydney. The innovative duo behind Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Yellow and Monopole have set up shop in the former Noma pop-up at Barangaroo. And what a shop it is. The space has been reconfigured to make the most of the glorious water views and the menu is an homage to the finest seafood in the country. The malt-glazed salmon with Japanese kabu turnips is already a contender for dish of the year and you won’t have any trouble washing it down with something interesting from the excellent wine list, which offers more than 30 wines by the glass.
23 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo; 02 9220 0111.
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The first thing you notice upon entering the warm, glowing dining room at Barzaari is that appetising aroma of lamb slowly roasting. The restaurant, an oasis in the culinary desert of Addison Road, takes Cyprus as its muse. The rotisserie on which the lamb turns also roasts marinated pork necks and quails basted in pomegranate molasses, and the wood-fired oven turns out nigella seed-strewn flatbread and fish baked in vine leaves. These two elements – the spit and the oven – are key to Cypriot cooking and they’re working hard for Barzaari’s owners, Andrew Jordanou and former Quay chef Darryl Martin. Start with tiropitakia – joyful little bites of fetta and ricotta wrapped in brik pastry and served with mandarin, caper leaves and pine nuts – and don’t miss one of the spit-roasted offerings. For our money the pork neck, served simply with warm flatbread, yoghurt and lemon wedges, is the standout. For dessert, it would be churlish to go past a coil of baklava topped with quince ice-cream. The wine list is an eclectic mix of local drops and those from as far afield as Morocco and Romania.
65-69 Addison Road, Marrickville; 02 9569 3161.
An Israeli, a Palestinian and a Lebanese walk into a Surry Hills drinking den, but this is no joke. The trio form part of an impressive who’s who of culinary and design talent that have transformed the Tokonoma site in Surry Hills from a dark timber-and-leather-laden lounge bar into a bright, buzzing, modern Lebanese restaurant. Aptly, the restaurant’s name is the Arabic word for light. Nour is the vision of co-owners Ibby Moubadder and Ella Harris, the team behind Newtown’s Cuckoo Callay café. Just don’t expect to find baba ganoush or tabouli on the menu. Head chef Nader Shayeb and executive chef Roy Ner eschew hackneyed fare in favour of a playful take on classic Lebanese flavours. The result is an impressive array of punchy share plates, such as charcoal eggplant with pickled green tomato, lupini beans and goat’s curd emulsion, and slow-cooked lamb shoulder with mograbiah (giant couscous), lamb’s tongue and a date dressing. If you can manage dessert, the spiced pumpkin cheesecake with halva ice-cream and honey pepitas is a must-try.
490 Crown Street, Surry Hills; 02 9331 3413.
Balcón by Tapavino
With an open kitchen on one side and about 5000 bottles of Spanish wine on the other, it’s hard to know where to look at Balcón by Tapavino. Or what to order, for that matter. Thankfully, the waitstaff know their wines; simply tell them what Australian drops you like and they’ll find something with a similar profile. Balcón is one of two new ventures by the team behind Australia’s first sherry bar, Tapavino, near Circular Quay. (Born by Tapavino, in Barangaroo, is set to open soon). Equal parts wine bar and restaurant, Balcón’s tapas menu is led by the hearty flavours of northern Spain – must-orders include jamón serrano served with leek, olive and the softest cow’s milk cheese, and the Balcón trifle with Pedro Ximénez-soaked almond sponge. To finish, let the waitstaff talk you into a glass of sherry – you’ll be surprised by this wallflower wine.
17 Bligh Street, Sydney; 02 9223 6176.
The Paddington Inn
After a six-month renovation, the old Paddo Inn has lightened up a little. Gone are the back bar’s dark-leather booths; in their place, a 120-seat restaurant decked out with rattan chairs, marble tabletops and muted shades. The storied kitchen has followed suit, installing Justin Schott, formerly of Rockpool, as head chef. He has some hard acts to follow: Stefano Manfredi and Matt Moran (now a business partner) both cut their teeth at The Paddington Inn. Schott’s specialty is his light touch, launching a menu he describes as “uncomplicated and flavoursome”. That’s not to say it’s basic, just that his dishes – including oysters with a rhubarb mignonette and roasted duck with fermented cabbage – let the produce shine. Regulars will be pleased to hear that, although the front bar has also been dressed up, the casual vibe sticks.
338 Oxford Street, Paddington; 02 9380 5913.
Located in Martin Place, with its entrance discreetly tucked within Angel Place, Long Chim is indisputably one of the hottest new restaurant openings in Sydney this year. David Thompson, the man behind Bangkok’s Michelin-starred Thai restaurant Nahm, is at the helm of this vast space of rustic walls, striking art, mood lighting and a long open kitchen overflowing with rich aromas. On the menu is Thai street food with robust flavours. Order a plate of sizzling beef skewers laced with cumin, coriander and turmeric to start and follow with a serve of spicy green beef curry with roti.
14 Martin Place, Sydney; 02 9223 7999.
Discreet inside a terrace off Paddington’s Five Ways lies Tequila Mockingbird, a contemporary riff on Latin American cuisine that trips from Argentina to Mexico in mostly local ingredients. Dishes bursting with flavor – the Peruvian dressing mejunje fires up a standout ceviche taco, while passionfruit similarly sparks salmon carpaccio with shiso and wild rice – are designed to share, and many are gluten free. Gabriel Valenti, of Peruvian-Japanese restaurant Osaka in Buenos Aires, leads the kitchen with executive chef Regan Porteous (Riley Street Garage, formerly Toko, Zuma, Maze) and Matt Taylor-Watkins (of Bentley Restaurant and Monopole). There are 130 wines and 32 tequilas to choose from, but kick off with the house’s Tequila Mockingbird cocktail of Don Julio Blanco, elderflower liqueur, jalapeño, lemon and agave. Luchetti Krelle designed the three storeys with summer in mind; there’s a retractable roof on the terrace and a leafy courtyard out back.
6 Heeley Street, Paddington; 02 9331 6749.
Pablo Tordesillas, former head chef of Brisbane’s Ortiga, is behind The Resident, a bistro-style bar and restaurant located just across the road from Hyde Park in Darlinghurst. Enjoy a drink at the bar – there are more than 300 Australian and international wines to choose from, plus a concise menu of six cocktails – then make your way to the restaurant for Tordesillas’ Mediterranean-inspired fare. Sample the Spanish mackerel with piperrada and watercress or opt for fried cuttlefish with egg and potato, and don’t forget dessert. The rum baba with quince and almond cream is a standout.
18 College Street, Darlinghurst; 02 8318 8618.
On an unassuming stretch of Cleveland Street sits a charming old corner building that used to be Mulligans, an Irish institution serving up stew with a side of fortune telling. And while we must lament the passing of a truly eccentric Sydney spot, we can celebrate that in its place is Kindred. Chef Matt Pollock, formerly of A Tavola, serves up an Italian-ish menu that’s fresh, generous and unpretentious. Pollock and his team strive to make everything in house, which includes the sourdough, the puff pastry, the pasta, the condiments (mustard, relishes and house-cultured butter are winners) and the gelato. One thing they don’t make themselves is the wine. Instead, there’s a cracking list of biodynamic and natural wines and a selection of beers on tap. Must-tries are the roasted carrot triangoli, sweet little parcels of carrot in a little pool of burnt butter with sage and hazelnuts, and the rhubarb sorbet – a revelation. Yes, we’re definitely Kindred spirits.
137 Cleveland Street, Darlington; 02 8937 0530.
This buzzing venue is the newest addition to the lively strip on Stanley Street in East Sydney. It's really more a bar than a restaurant, but we're super-excited about Johnny Fontane's Chicago deep-dish pizza – Sydney's first – from Longrain alumna Cy Gwynne. The Italian-inspired menu offers all the classics: arancini, meatballs, pasta and bruschetta, but it's the pizza, with its focaccia-like base, you really need to try. We couldn't decide which was better between the spiced-beef Luciano and the vegetarian Gambino, but we loved the generous amount of toppings on both. The drinks menu includes beers, wines and cocktails with an Italian spin (you'll find Birra Moretti along with four different kinds of Negroni). Try Nonna's Lemon Pie cocktail if you're up for a liquid dessert or One For the Road if you're after a whiskey-fuelled kick – you'll find a chilli frozen in your ice ball (no cubes).
77 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst; 0450 701 485
Sugarcane has been pleasing crowds in Surry Hills for eight years and now chef and owner Milan Strbac has upped sticks for a second venue at the beach. The new iteration is focusing on seafood, but many of Surry Hills’ greatest hits have been imported to the beachfront, too. It’s a menu built for sharing, with lots of selections under the headings Small, Bigger and Large, plus a good Vegetarian list and a new section: Fresh. This is where the seafood really shines, in dishes such as rock oysters with pomelo dressing, miso and lime, and hiramasa kingfish with roasted rice. Desserts are rarely more than an afterthought on a Thai menu, but we advise you not to ignore them here. Sharing the spiced banana cake with butterscotch sauce and peanut-butter ice-cream is unwise – there’ll be a fight for the last bite. The wine list is extensive, but why not start with one of the Asian-inspired cocktails? You’re at the beach, after all.
1/56 Carr Street, Coogee; 02 8313 9790.
Beta Bar is the chic, younger sister to Peter Conistis’ Alpha. Situated one floor above the acclaimed restaurant in Sydney’s Hellenic Club, on the surface Beta Bar looks like an unfinished renovation of a Victorian building. But there’s no need to wear a hard hat. Plush furnishings in warm teals and turquoise bring a cosiness to the uncovered high ceilings and stripped-back archways that frame the softly lit concrete bar and the exposed staircase behind it. Featuring a meze menu that breathes life into old classics (the “Horiatiki” Greek salad with cucumber and tomato sorbet, fetta jelly, candied olives and “papara” dressing admittedly takes some getting used to) and Aegean-inspired cocktails (try the Mahi, with spiced vanilla rum, Greek honey, lime and sparkling rosé), Beta is a hip and intimate lounge that’s perfect for beginning your night with a few drinks and a light bite.
Level 1, 238 Castlereagh Street, Sydney; 02 8599 8970.
By Alex Greig, Akash Arora, Kirsten Galliott, Craig Fordham, Hana Jo and Emma Mulholland.