You’d never know a suburban IGA lurks just outside Apera’s doors once you're ensconced in the inviting homestead-style eatery. Flush with lively visitors even on a weeknight, this restaurant warms the cheeks (and stomachs) with hearty and rich hospitality and food. Simplicity triumphs as far as the latter goes, with just a handful of trusty, delicious mains, including porchetta that hails from Bangalow and a Cowra-reared lamb laced with Dorrigo pepper chimichurri. Dessert should not be sacrificed, no matter how full you feel: the red gum pear with iron bark honey and rosemary crumble defies the boring reputation ordinarily associated with poached fruit. It’s worth rolling home for. – Bridget de Maine
Read the full review
23-26/100 Edinburgh Road, Castlecrag; (02) 8971 5148

Matteo Downtown

Inspired by the raucous restaurants of Milan and Rome, the team behind Matteo in Double Bay has opened this energetic all-day city eatery smack bang in the middle of Sydney's CBD. Italian chef Orazio D’Elia is 
at the helm, with dishes such 
as osso bucco with saffron risotto and squid ink fregola. The dining room is intimate yet lively, with an open kitchen, while the bar area features 
44 striking artworks. For drinks, select from a 300-bottle “wine wall” containing everything from bold reds to crisp white varietals or sample small-batch Italian liquors and craft beers.  – Akash Arora
20 Bond Street, Sydney

Brix Distillers

Brix Distillers

Primarily a craft rum distillery, Brix – a minute's walk from The Beresford in Surry Hills – is also home to a chilled-out bar serving sensational 
fare by Colombian-born chef 
Ivan Sanchez (ex Bodega 
and Porteño). There are more than 150 rums from around the world, a good selection of Australian wines and craft beers, plus an array 
of rum-based cocktails on the drinks list. When you're ready to order, try the crisp 
tostadas laden with ceviche 
and the plantain chips with mojo picante. – Akash Arora
352 Bourke Street, Surry Hills; (02) 9360 5441  

Mama Mulan

Mama Mulan

There are traces of traditionalism within the sleekly modern interior at Mama Mulan, such as the jade-coloured cabinets and forest green chairs that punctuate the mostly sand-toned bunker. That blend of old and new goes for the food too, with eternal favourites such as kung pao chicken and seafood slathered in XO sauce anchoring the menu alongside more surprising additions such as an impossibly crisp ice plant salad with creamy scallops. And while deep-fried ice-cream makes the cut on the dessert menu, it’s not exactly as you know it: this version comes encased in crispy panko and doused with salted caramel and it's indescribably better than the lesser versions you devoured in your childhood. – Bridget de Maine
Level 1, 88 Archer Street, Chatswood; (02) 9157 1488

Republiq Shisha Bar & Grill

Republiq doesn’t do subtle. The downstairs dining space is a riot of primary colours courtesy of the mosaic tiles that line the floor and walls, a bold decorating scheme completed by a wide marble bar that houses a enormous, illuminated fish tank. Understated it ain’t, and the same bold ethos extends to the menu. This busy waterfront stretch of Brighton-Le-Sands is known for great Greek restaurants and Republiq keeps up – and then goes one better by filling the menu with dishes from four other countries: Spain, Morocco, Lebanon and Turkey. Highlights from head chef Bektas Özcan (ex Efendy) include hummus elevated with a generous pour of pomegranate molasses; a pair of prawns sliced and stuffed with a herb-and-nut paste; and a deconstructed “kebab” of chunky slices of lamb backstrap wrapped in shreds of kataifi pastry that you can dip into a burnt butter jus or rich eggplant begendi. And save room for dessert: the slab of flaky baklava is topped with rose petals and pale wisps of Persian fairy floss. – Kate Barracosa
96 The Grand Parade, Brighton-Le-Sands; (02) 9599 1018


Bistecca, Sydney

Is this the most intriguing eatery in Sydney right now? You bet. Firstly, it’s hard to find. Located on the rather quiet (and rundown) Dalley Street, the subterranean establishment hides behind what has to be the city’s most nondescript entrance. Next, it’s virtually impossible to get into. Of course, you can pull up a stool at the bar and while away a few hours, but if you’re trying to nab a table in the restaurant proper, then join the queue – Bistecca doesn’t take bookings unless you’re a group of six or more. Once inside the jovial low-ceilinged dining room, you’ll be discouraged to use your phone (there’s a locker where you can store it) but encouraged to dip your bread into molten candle, which is – in fact – lard. But the most surprising aspect of the restaurant has to be its food. There’s only one dish when it comes to the main course – the revered bistecca alla Fiorentina, aka the T-bone, which is weight and cut tableside, then cooked over raging fires in the open kitchen. Thankfully, it’s supported by a cast of 20 exquisite sides, some of which make excellent entrées. The seared Brussels sprouts blanketed smothered in pecorino and sour cream is a great place to start, while chocolate-studded Tiramisu is a fitting finale. Service is switched-on and smart, while drinks can either be chosen off the menu or you could just wander into the onsite cellar and pick something to have on your table. Intriguing, indeed. – Akash Arora
3 Dalley Street, Sydney
Image: Dominic Loneragan

Bellucci Cucina

Smack-bang in the middle of the CBD, Bellucci Cucina brings an abundance of Italian fare to Australia Square. Teofilo Nobrega (who hails from Potts Point institution Fratelli Paradiso) has designed a menu brimming with traditional dishes, as well as a few modern surprises in the form of three vegan wood-fired pizzas: Margherita Vegana, Sensazioni Vegane and Il Vegano. Expect to feast on an ever-changing selection of pastries and tarts at breakfast (though the Sicilian cannoli is always available), deli-style sandwiches on fresh sourdough at lunch and handmade pasta and wood-fired pizzas come dinner. As for the vino, the edited selection of Australian and Italian wines is available by the glass. – Kate Phillips
Podium 1, Upper Plaza, Level 5, Australia Square, 264-278 George Street, Sydney; (02) 9252 5325

The Botanica

Botanica, Vaucluse

The Botanica is beautiful. Its interiors are so, well, pretty, that it’s easy to become distracted by a just-spotted feature in your surroundings instead of focusing on what to order. Every conceivable nook sprouts green leaves – vines even hang from the light fittings – the chairs are a velvety, dusty blush-pink and a giant swathe of wallpaper featuring an aviary’s worth of birds pecking at plump fruits and flowers coats the back wall. Once you do turn your attention to the menu, you’re guaranteed a plate that fits in with the décor. Dishes are presented simply but beautifully – a few pearls of caviar atop a serve of scallops, a selection of lily-shaped leaves crown a tender duck breast – and showcase produce sourced from the restaurants’ farm in Jamberoo, a tiny town 90 minutes’ drive from Sydney. Ingredients not grown on the property come from other select organic producers around the country, though the plan is to rely more heavily on the farm as it flourishes. – Kate Barracosa
2 Laguna Street, Vaucluse; (02) 9191 8989
Image: Nikki To

Social at Verandah

Palm murals, rattan screening and hanging greenery are the order of the day at the recently revamped Social at Verandah in the Sydney CBD. It’s a welcome antidote to the concrete jungle outside, as the traffic buzz gives way to the hum of patrons contemplating the extensive cocktails list and Tasmanian whisky flight. Thankfully, this temple of artisan spirits caters to other appetites, too, with a bar menu that ranges from snacky to substantial and a full à la carte service from the kitchen of award-winning chef Brad Sloane. Native ingredients pop up everywhere, in kangaroo tartare dusted with Australian spices and saltbush crackling or succulent yabby tail with housemade tortellini and a shellfish reduction too good to leave on the plate. Mains range from a juicy Tasmanian striped trumpeter to duck breast winterised with brussels sprouts and house-smoked bacon. Can’t decide? Try the set menu or Social Feast but be sure to squeeze in sweets – the strawberry jelly with silky yoghurt cream and prosecco granita is perfect for sharing. – Sandra Bridekirk
55-65 Elizabeth Street, Sydney; (02) 9239 5888

Ete Restaurant

Every restaurant worth its salt these days is all about seasonal, regional produce. But Été takes the fresh factor to a whole new level. Along with the menu, it tweaks its interiors (artworks, cushions and, most importantly, a feature wall of flora) with changing seasons. Which means it might feel intimate and feature hearty food in winter but turn over a new leaf in spring with bright colours and light favours. The one thing that won’t change, however, is its name Été (which means summer in French). Seasons aside, Été offers a sensational take on French cuisine with timeless combinations such as confit duck leg and orange, pork and peach, and lamb and turnip appearing on chef and co-owner Drew Bolton’s (ex Quay) menu. The service is refined, the drinks list sumptuous and the dessert section not-to-be-missed. Try the crème brûlée with luscious, oozy fig (if it’s in season, of course). – Akash Arora
T1. 03. Tower 1, Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo; (02) 9052 5383.


Alibi, Sydney

Let’s first address the most important questions. What’s the difference between plant-based and vegetarian food? The former is entirely, well, plant-based, while the latter uses dairy and other animal products such as eggs. That’s easy though. It’s the next one that left us in a whirl. What’s the difference between plant-based and vegan? The former is all about food, while veganism is a lifestyle. So a plant-based restaurant can use leather trimmings to deck out its interiors but a vegan eatery can’t. But of all the questions, this is the most crucial: Is plant-based food any good? In the case of Alibi – US celebrity chef Matthew Kenney’s eatery in Ovolo Woolloomooloo hotel’s atrium – it’s definitely interesting. And rather brave. There are no pretend-meat dishes here – no tofu trying to be chicken, or mushroom dressed up as beef. Each ingredient is comfortable in its own skin and even though the dishes sound familiar (pizza, tacos, burger, et al), they taste nothing like them. Lasagne, for instance, is layers of sliced zucchini and heirloom tomatoes, while cheeses such as cashew cheddar and macadamia ricotta give a new texture and taste to the smelly stuff. Is it interesting? Absolutely. Delicious? Yes. Is it for you? Go try it yourself. – Akash Arora
6 Cowper Wharf Roadway, Woolloomooloo; (02) 9331 9000
Image: Nikki To

Bar Patrón

A collaboration between Neil Perry’s Rockpool Dining Group and Patrón Tequila has seen the once-dreary space occupied by Café Ananas in Circular Quay transformed into a bright, breezy dining room, replete with glass, stone and plush leather. Chef Pamela Valdes, from Xalapa in the Mexican state of Veracruz, is the force behind rambunctious flavours in dishes such as aguachile (lime-, salt- and coriander-marinated prawns) and chiles rellenos en escabeche (stuffed, pickled jalapeños). She’s also responsible for overseeing thousands of feather-light tortillas made on site each day – they’re perfect for rolling up fillings that range from marinated flathead to skirt steak. But it is the flan napolitano – cooked, chilled, then drowned in a good measure of tequila – that brings the house down. That, or the Millionaire’s Margarita (priced at $100), with top-flight Gran Patron Platinum tequila! – Akash Arora
2 Phillip Street, Circular Quay; (02) 9259 5624


It’s hard not to slip into a daydream as you gaze out at the Walsh Bay finger wharves from your table, imagining one of the luxe boats bobbing gently on the water belongs to you. But you’ll quickly snap out of the reverie once your meal arrives in front of you at Seventeen. Opened in December 2017 by Clint Jaegar, an alumnus of Tetsuya’s and Bill’s, this 100-seat restaurant and deli reflects its waterside location in the interiors with sandy blond panelling and nautical touches and serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a selection of delicate cured meats and rich cheeses from the deli. The tight menu changes every six weeks or so but attention to detail remains the same: baby Angasi oysters come wrapped in a light tempura batter and precisely arranged in a six-strong line, while the size of the Huon salmon fillet would satisfy even the hungriest fullback. And if you’re lucky enough to call one of the nearby vessels or apartments your own, Seventeen offers a concierge food delivery. – Kate Barracosa
Shop 2, 17 Hickson Road, Dawes Point; (02) 9247 6790


Hartsyard’s fried chicken might have been a Sydney institution but the introduction of a completely new menu in January, sans the battered bird, still draws eager crowds to Newtown. Come 8pm on a nondescript Tuesday, all but four spaces in the 50-seat restaurant were filled with patrons eager to scoop up as much of the seafood- and vegetable-heavy menu as possible. Hartsyard 2.0 is still based on sharing plates – five or six plates of varying size from the list of 12 dishes (plus two desserts) should be enough for a pair of dining companions – and though you might only cast an order with one or two words, each unlocks a dizzying array of flavours. “Tomato” is a bowl filled with tender wedges of the red fruit, plus charry calamari, torn basil leaves and crisp Korean bugak that shatters in your mouth. “Duck” features thin slices of the rich roast bird, drizzled with a pale vinegar jus and a sprinkle of crackling. “Corn” is American barbecue with an Italian twist: sweet kernels swirled with stracciatella and a generous dusting of Old Bay seasoning. Seriously impressive comfort food. – Kate Barracosa
33 Enmore Road, Newtown; (02) 8068 1473

Zona Azzurri

Specialising in wood-fired pizzas (cooked in just two minutes in the huge pizza oven) and family-style cuisine, the standout dishes at this Italian restaurant are the simple ones that allow flavours to shine: chunky pieces of gnocchi in rich tomato sauce, a prosciutto pizza decorated with generous dollops of cheese and a salad of fresh sliced tomatoes, basil and an enormous piece of olive oil-drizzled mozzarella. The restaurant is part of a cavernous warehouse space that also houses football store Ultra Football (the restaurant’s name is a nod to the Italian football team) but the moody lighting and impressive wine wall create intimacy. It technically opened two weeks before the New Year but we reckon it’s worthy of inclusion in your 2018 restaurant hit list. – Kate Barracosa
160 Bourke Road, Alexandria; (02) 9669 4741

Hopper Kadé

A street-side kitchen of sorts, where you can see hoppers deftly being turned out by chef Diago Fernandes, gives the game away as you enter Hopper Kadé. The bowl-shaped pancakes are namesake of this casual Sri Lankan eatery and they’re the reason why you should visit. Puffy, chewy and warm, the hoppers can be finished with or without an egg inside and pair perfectly with a range of fillings, from pulled pork to spiced chicken and beetroot curry. But the menu also includes a vegetarian biryani, which comes with a tangy assortment of pickle and coconut sambol, a cuttlefish salad served with fresh herbs, lime and papaya, and addictive eggplant chips. While the restaurant is only open for dinner four nights a week, brunch and lunch is served from Tuesday through to Sunday and is a single-handed, street-food style affair: think jaffles with a Sri Lankan bent, roti wraps and hoppers filled with tempting fillings. The chai tea and housemade mango lassi are both worth trying but the restaurant is also conveniently BYO. – Hana Jo
253 Crown Street, Darlinghurst; 0404 506 223

Bert’s Bar & Brasserie, Newport

Don’t let its location inside the casual sprawl of The Newport fool you – Merivale’s newest offering, Bert’s, is a world away from the carefully dishevelled crowd that frequents Sydney’s Northern Beaches. With interiors washed in soothing seaside colours of mint, jade-green marble and blond wood, the energy of Bert’s emanates from the arresting array of seafood piled on the counters. That mingle of élan and extravagance is what will set Bert’s apart from Merivale’s swelling portfolio. The starters may be dainty but they’re incredibly rich: there’s sea urchin stamped on brioche fingers slathered with chicken butter as well as pork and game melded pâté en croûte that, despite its small size, should be shared. The heartier dishes foray into lighter, fresher territory: the taglioini with lobster is staggering for its centrepiece of buttery crustacean alone and the Brooklyn Valley grass-fed beef will inspire an attitude against sharing. The whole NZ turbot comes with a side of waiters that make performance of bringing it down to size and luckily, the result is worth the flurry. Like most Merivale ventures, in fact. – Bridget De Maine
2 Kalinya Street, Newport; (02) 9114 7350

Mark & Vinny’s Spaghetti & Spritz

Mark & Vinny's

Blue tagliatelle? Beetroot spaghettini? A vegan egg yolk made from sweet potato? If this narrow restaurant can lay claim to one thing, it’s that you won’t forget the quirky pasta you’ve twirled around your fork in a hurry. The first Sydney outpost from the team behind one of Melbourne’s favourite hipster haunts, Matcha Mylkbar (of blue algae latte fame), it serves up sizeable pasta dishes spiked with superfoods and a selection of 50 variations of spritzes. The aforementioned blue pasta gets its hue from the blue spirulina that’s added to the pasta dough before kneading, and is served with chunks of blue swimmer crab and a stock made from the whole crustacean. The end result? It tastes of the sea. With the focus on the brightly coloured dishes, the interiors are kept necessarily simple: bare walls and pale wooden tables illuminated by the glow of a neon sign above the Aperol and Campari-loaded bar. If technicolour carbs really aren’t your bag, there are more traditional Italian dinners on the menu, including an eggplant parmi (though, granted, its made with soy mozzarella) or cacio e pepe spaghetti. – Kate Barracosa
G08, 38-52 Waterloo Street, Surry Hills; (02) 9007 7789

Culina et Vinum

Married to an RAF squadron leader, chef Naomi Lowry’s grandmother lived all over Europe from the late 1940s to 2008 (when she passed away). And wherever she lived, she added recipes of that region to her hand-scribbled book. That tattered tome is now the basis of Lowry’s menu at Culina et Vinum – a small neighbourhood restaurant in Elizabeth Bay with a vast repertoire of dishes. There’s hearty gnocchi and risotto from little-known Italian towns and carpaccio from the Mediterranean shores but that’s not to say Lowry (ex Biota) hasn't giving those recipes and dishes her own distinct touch. While the scones, for instance, are based on her grandma’s recipe, Lowry smashes them up and serves them crumbled, with steamed ricotta and mascarpone pudding for a decadent dessert. Tying it all together is a succinct list of Old and New World wines developed by Abhi Mahadevan (ex Aki’s). – Akash Arora
Shop 1/19-23 Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay; (02) 9356 8307.

Top image: Republiq Shisha Bar & Grill

SEE ALSO: The Darlinghurst Restaurants and Bars You Need to Visit


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