Is the Sydney hospitality scene pretentious? Sometimes. Does it deserve to be? Certainly.
Locals love eating out (brunch queues often rival box office lines) and there’s plenty of places to meet the voracious demand. Pair your meal with a stunning water view - and the requisite active wear - and you’re a little closer to understanding the Sydney existence. Here are some of the dishes locals love to devour.
Smashed avocado on toast
Ask any Sydneysider: weekend brunch is an absolute non-negotiable and no menu item is as ubiquitous as smashed avocado on toast. At the height of its popularity, it even became the rope in a Boomer/Millennial tug of war and the endlessly inventive ways it’s dished up around the city prove it’s worth fighting over. At Alexandria’s The Grounds, the stack begins with toasted turmeric sourdough, then creamy avocado with kale, tomato tabbouleh, feta, dukkah and zucchini on top. At Surry Hills’ Paramount Coffee Project, it’s adorned with ribbons of cucumber and sprinkled with ‘everything bagel’ seasoning. Don’t forget Bills, the cafe widely credited as the first to serve with the craze.
Fish and chips
This casual menu item is a firm favourite for local and visitors – its portability is a key drawcard in a city where water views are plentiful. Although being the grease-splattered heart of an impromptu picnic is its rightful occupation, a slew of Sydney eateries, if chosen correctly, delivers the same spirit. Doyle’s at Watson’s Bay reigns supreme for a great, fresh catch, as do Palm Beach’s The Boathouse and North Bondi Fish, from its perch on the Ben Buckler knuckle of land overlooking the famed beach. Bondi's 'grassy knoll' is a top choice for takeaway (and people watching); as is Shelley Beach, a short walk from Manly proper.
Sydney rock oysters are disloyal little things; despite the moniker, they actually grow in a territory as far north as Queensland and as far south as Mallacoota. Regardless, they’re delicious and offered on many menus around the city as the perfect match for a glass of bubbly. Shuck a few at The Gantry, where outdoor tables shoulder the harbour, or at The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay where the molluscs-mad can select from a menu of up to 12 species. The adventurous will love Paddington’s Saint Peter, where the eight rotating types span those plucked from the Royal National Park and Narooma’s Wagonga Inlet.
The tail end of the city’s summer days are sunny and stifling, necessitating good quality ice-cream. The inner-city suburb of Darlinghurst is the home of Messina, one of the country’s foremost gelato stores, which regularly attracts crowds at its outlets around the city regardless of time of day or weather. Other options abound, however; Enmore’s Cow & the Moon stole the world’s best title back in 2014 and Redfern’s Ciccone & Sons bases its scoops on creamy jersey milk.
Although it’s not a “dish” per se, it may as well be. For locals, bad coffee isn’t an option and luckily, there’s no need for it to be. Although everyone has a vocal opinion about their favourite, Surry Hills is the indisputable epicentre of great coffee culture: Single O and Reuben Hills capture both a great cup and atmosphere with cavernous warehouse feel, while Marrickville’s Ona Coffee points the focus squarely on its San Remo Cafe Racer-pulled espresso, an approach developed by founder and World Barista Champion, Sasa Sestic.