There’s no place like Potts Point in Sydney – or for that matter in Australia. It’s historic with fascinating Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco façades. It’s full of character with eclectic, antique shops. And it’s a bit grungy, too, thanks in no small part to its proximity to Kings Cross. But – most importantly – it’s a hotbed of good food and wine, with ground-breaking restaurants that range from Yellow (which dared to go all-vego in early 2016 and flourished) to Cho Cho San (which serves up sensational Japanese with an unexpected twist). It’s part of Eastside Sydney – a clutch of four inner-city neighbourhoods that also includes Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Woolloomooloo – but it holds its own. Here’s how to experience the best of it. By Akash Arora, Alex Greig and Samantha O’Brien.
Kylie Kwong can lay claim to a stellar fan club. Case in point: the table next to us, which is occupied by two Chinese-born, Kuala Lumpur-based men, who have been visiting Sydney and her restaurant for 15 years! “It’s to do with the crispy duck,” says the proud beaming waitress. “If we take it off the menu, there’ll be a riot.” Laced with citrus and crusted with spices, the bird in question is indeed quite remarkable but – for us – it’s the pippies that bring the house down. Stir-fried and doused in a piquant XO sauce, it’s positively delicious. So too are the prawn wontons with brown-rice vinegar, or the stir-friend eggplant spiked with chilli. There’s dessert, too – a duo or a trio of gelatos, but sweet is not necessarily the strongest suit here so stick to savoury and spicy and order another entrée.
1/28 Macleay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9332 3300
The spacious, high-ceilinged dining room of Bistro Rex is a far cry from the intimate – and sometimes cavernous – eateries of Potts Point. But that’s not to say it’s not charming. On the contrary, it’s a tremendous space – and versatile to a T. Mosaic-clad columns and floors give it warmth and character (perfect for romantic rendezvous), while gleaming copper booths make it ideal for business lunches. The menu by Jo Ward (ex Bloodwood) is just as pleasing. Keep it light with a slick slab of chicken-liver parfait topped with boozy currants or go the whole hog with the crisp chicken roast drenched in a decadent jus. Whatever you order, don’t forget the tuna tartare, rolled into a disk, topped with finely chopped herbs and crowned with an impossibly yellow cured egg yolk.
1/50-58 MacLeay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9332 2100
Cho Cho San
Cho Cho San is full of surprises – just like the female protagonist of John Luther Long’s short story Madame Butterfly, after which it is named. Despite being a Japanese eatery there are no vibrant shades of kimono here. Instead, a stark white palette with beige overtones sets the mood in the narrow dining room, featuring a slick long marble bar. Pull up a stool and enjoy Jonathan Barthelmess’ grown-up menu. There’s everything you expect here – sushi, sashimi, ponzu, yuzu – but also things you don’t: from Japanese bolognese (udon noodles with slow-cooked pork mince and a smattering of chilli-bean paste) to charcoal chicken with sesame yoghurt. Even the drinks list manages to surprise – not with its lack of sakés (a whole page of the menu is dedicated to them) but with its abundance of wines (more than 100 to choose from, including German rieslings and Gewürztraminers).
73 MacLeay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9331 6601
Not many fine-dining restaurants can dare to go vegetarian. But Yellow did in early 2016, and survived. In fact, it flourished. It may have something to do with the site – a mustard-hued terrace with peeling walls, polished floorboards and bentwood chairs. Or, perhaps, it’s to do with the service – brisk but not brusque, friendly yet courteous. But more than anything it’s got to do with the combined genius of chef Brent Savage and sommelier Nick Hildebrandt – the duo behind Monopole (also in Potts Point), Bentley Restaurant + Bar and Cirrus. They turned Yellow vegetarian not for ethical reasons but because they believed they could take simple vegetables to the next level. You can see it in their butternut pumpkin with lashings of miso butter, in Jerusalem artichokes elevated with goat’s milk yoghurt and in their dessert of crisp Pink Lady apple with honey and burnt onion.
57 MacLeay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9332 2344
Mayo slaw, bacon relish, nitro-infused cold brews and hibiscus-flavoured shakes… Is there any on-trend side, spread, dip or beverage that Mug Life – a sprawling booth-studded café on Bayswater Road – doesn’t have on its menu? The inventive streak continues in the menu’s large-meal section as well, with the Main Squeeze burger an indulgent stack of milk bun, crunchy beef and jalapeño jam and the Rueben toastie bringing together dark rye and pastrami with layers of Swiss cheese. There are plenty of over-the-top treats in the sweet section, too, from dulce de leche shakes to American-style doughy doughnuts. True, none of it is healthy but all of it is downright delicious.
28A Bayswater Road, Potts Point; (02) 8021 9750
Peeling plaster, rustic pipelines and chipped concrete columns… little has been done to camouflage the ageing interiors of this Greek restaurant but therein lies the appeal of The Apollo. If not for the enormous arched windows beautifully framing Potts Point goings-on, you might think you’d arrived in a historic bougainvillea-lined neighbourhood in Athens. Chef Jonathan Barthelmess’ food is just as transporting. Braised oxtail stirred through handmade risoni brings to mind the shores of the Mediterranean, while the slow-cooked lamb – which needs the slightest prod of the fork to fall apart – is reminiscent of the hearty mains served in laidback the tavernas of Mykonos.
44 MacLeay Street, Potts Point; (02) 8354 0888
The lighting is dim and the noise level high at this Potts Point institution with twin dining rooms and close-together dark timber tables. But none of it – not even the fact that you can hear every word the softly spoken couple is uttering at the table next to you – takes away from the succinct and solid (and ever-changing) menu of Italian food and wine. Lightly floured and fried calamari rings with a delicate balsamic dressing set the stage for pared-down flavours, while San Marzano tomatoes shine in a bowl of fettuccine with creamy blobs of mozzarella and a hint of basil. But it’s a slow-cooked ragu of chestnut mushrooms, duck and chicken – stirred through rigatoni – that really hits the sweet spot. That, and the velvety white-chocolate mousse with crushed Piemontese hazelnuts and peach poached in white wine and maraschino.
12-16 Challis Avenue, Potts Point; (02) 9357 1744
It’s hard to decide what’s more diverse at Monopole – the floor staff’s range of European accents or wines from the Continent. The award-winning list, curated by sommelier Nick Hildebrandt, runs the gamut from sprightly German rieslings and fragrant French gamays to punchy Italian pecorinos. There’s even a surprisingly light and quaffable Hungarian dessert wine to go with your white chocolate parfait. But that doesn’t mean chef Brent Savage’s menu takes a backseat. Sous-vide, deep-fried eggplant is elevated to fine art when slathered with almond cream and drizzled with black vinegar, while a liberally salted mussel emulsion is the perfect foil for a meaty slab of pan-fried and super-crisp Spanish mackerel. Enjoy it all as part of the set seven-course tasting menu, which the friendly, warm staff will be happy to tweak based on dietary or personal preferences.
71A MacLeay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9360 4410
For those still mourning the dearly departed Redfern restaurant Moon Park (and its fried chicken and ddeokbokki), dry those tears. Ned Brooks, Ben Sears and Eun Hee An are back with Paper Bird, which offers a more comprehensive experience with Korean-inflected food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At the beginning of the day the kitchen sends out dishes such as crab congee with donut chips and Hong Kong French Toast, a heart-stopping pleasure of white bread, peanut butter and syrup. When asked about the Everything Bagel with cream cheese, smoked trout zuke and floss, a waitress simply replies, “It’s a good time.” She’s right. From 12pm, the menu switches over and, while it’s almost a given to order the fried chicken (shrimp-brined, extra-crisp and dripping in sweet syrup), we also recommend Paper Bird’s other triumphs such as the fresh tofu in umami-laden mussel broth, crab boudin blanc spiked with XO sauce and the moreish Menbosha prawn toast sandwich.
46A MacLeay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9326 9399
The cocktails are inventive, the interiors lush with tropical greenery and the view over the city must be akin to those afforded to a Sydney rainbow lorikeet from a high tree perch. The name is an homage to Butlers Restaurant, which once occupied this site, though it’s doubtful the Butlers of old served up buttermilk fried chicken sliders, tuna tartare with tomatillo and black quinoa tostada or slow-cooked pork empanadas à la head chef Amber Doig, who honed her craft under Biota’s James Viles and Alex Stupak from Empellon.
123 Victoria Street, Potts Point; (02) 8354 0742
If you want to make a night of it, here are two excellent hotels to stay.
Seamless check-in, amiable staff and well-appointed rooms in a plethora of shades of grey: this is the Larmont Sydney, the city’s newest boutique hotel. Around the corner from Kings Cross’s iconic Coke sign and within a few minutes’ walk of the restaurants and bars of Potts Point, it’s ideally located for a city break. There are 103 rooms with modern touches such as open wardrobes, stand-alone tubs and smart TVs. Extra-special features include four dog-friendly Courtyard Rooms, free access to the nearby Anytime Fitness gym and complimentary cocktails and canapés each evening.
2-14 Kings Cross Road, Potts Point; (02) 9295 8888
Spicers Potts Point
Arguably the jewel in Victoria Street’s eclectic crown, the 20-room hotel, which opened in early 2017, combines the class and glamour of a boutique hotel with the charm of a small-town B&B. The luxury offering occupies three 1870s Victorian terraces that stand proudly side-by-side on the street. Inside, the rooms and suites are tastefully decorated and lovingly restored, combining old and new; the suites in particular are splashed with a palette of muted blues and neutral creams, timber floors, high ceilings and marble fireplaces.
120-124 Victoria Street, Sydney; 1300 525 442
Top image: Cho Cho San/Nikki To