Our 2016 Sydney restaurant hit list
Author: Pat Nourse
It's been a rollercoaster year in Sydney. But the highs have significantly outweighed the lows. Despite the closing or rebranding of some big players (Marque, Rockpool, Guillaume) and the startlingly short lifespans of some ballyhooed arrivals (Silvereye, The Resident), the past six months alone have seen a record number of openings of note. Among these are expansions from groups or would-be groups (Merivale and Solotel among them), and many are part of large new dining precincts (most notably Barangaroo in the western CBD, and the Harold Park Tramsheds in the city's inner west), but there's also a sprinkling of owner-operators making waves (hello, Saint Peter), plus a clutch of promising pop-ups. Here's our take on the best of the latest.
362 Oxford St, Paddington, (02) 8937 2530, saintpeter.com.au
EAT The best seafood cooking in town, from fine fish 'n' chips to John Dory liver on toast with parsley butter.
PLUS Perhaps the best showcase for the flavour of Australian fish in Australia right now.
MINUS The room isn't quite as superb as the food.
THE STRATEGY Can't get in for dinner? Weekend lunches are the smart move.
RUN OR WALK? Make haste. It's a true standout.
Fish rillettes at Saint Peter.
380 Oxford St, Paddington, (02) 9240 3000, merivale.com.au
EAT A little taste of Chez Panisse comes to Sydney, with vibrant cooking from American-born chef Danielle Alvarez that dazzles with the true savour of seasonal ingredients and traditional technique rather than kitchen tech and cheffy squiggles. Beetroot cooked in the coals with anchovy and radicchio? Just say yes. It's Ester gone Eastern suburbs (in a good way).
PLUS One of the best-looking dining rooms Sydney has seen in years.
MINUS The name. Fred who?
THE STRATEGY Don't miss the roast lamb - there's none better in Sydney right now.
RUN OR WALK? Go, go, go.
23 Barangaroo Ave, Barangaroo, (02) 9220 0111, cirrusdining.com.au
EAT The Bentley team turns its focus to seafood, loosening up the collar but keeping plating tight on the likes of the silken smoked ocean trout parfait and the grouper roasted in paperbark.
PLUS Bright flavours; Bentley's signature polish and smarts front and back of house; badass wine list.
MINUS The trek past three other restaurants to the toilets.
THE STRATEGY Lunch is the best showcase for its light, brightness. Order the seafood platter and go large on great white wine.
RUN OR WALK? Run. The food, wine, service are all in sync.
11 Bridge St, Sydney, (02) 9252 1888, rockpool.com
EAT Rockpool rebooted offers all the thrills and luxury of Phil Wood's eclectic cooking with the flexibility of an à la carte menu. Take it outré with abalone roasted in brown butter and XO sauce, or go comfort-plus with charcoal-roasted chicken stuffed with pork and prawn.
PLUS Fine dining with all the trimmings.
MINUS We miss the bar menu.
THE STRATEGY Pack some extra money for the wine list; it's every bit up to any impulse you may have to lash out.
RUN OR WALK? Neil Perry has reworked the formula of his flagship roughly four times in the past 10 years, so sooner might be better than later.
Phil Wood and Neil Perry at Eleven Bridge.
Harold Park Tramsheds, 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, (02) 8624 3133, bodega1904.com
EAT A reminder that before Porteño, Continental, Stanbuli et al, Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz made their names with rock and roll tapas. This return to their roots is the pick of the Tramsheds restaurants, not least for the grilled queso fresco with burnt leek and salted lime vinaigrette.
PLUS An improved wine offering that extends to a small retail area.
MINUS Landing a seat ain't easy.
THE STRATEGY Miss the spiced blood cake at your peril.
RUN OR WALK? Bop on down.
Shop 3, 490 Crown St, Surry Hills, (02) 9331 3413, noursydney.com
EAT Flavours from Lebanon and Israel plated with a modern hand - the "Old City mix" of fried chicken offal on flatbread turns the Jerusalem favourite into an elegant entrée without sacrificing its earthiness. Oh, and camel-milk panna cotta.
PLUS A fresh take on some much-loved flavours; pleasant service.
MINUS Room for improvement on the wine list.
THE STRATEGY Go with a group. There's a particularly lovely private dining room, too.
RUN OR WALK? Trot rapidly.
Angel Pl, Sydney, (02) 9223 7999, longchimsydney.com
EAT Thai food with both barrels. David Thompson has opened a restaurant in his hometown that proves, even via a chain restaurant focused on street food, that he is the pre-eminent ambassador for the cuisine of Thailand. Taste the quality as readily in the familiar (the smoky $34 pad Thai) and the less expected (the smoky stir-fry of cabbage, dried prawns and fish sauce).
PLUS The complexity and breadth of Thai cuisine finds a new local showcase.
MINUS The extractor fans of the showcase are not quite up to the complexity and breadth of Thai cuisine. (Also: $34 pad Thai.)
THE STRATEGY The wine list invites a leisurely investigation of the menu over dinner, but don't discount lunch - it's a pacy service with a handful of dishes all its own.
RUN OR WALK? Go early, go often.
Pork skewers, rice and papaya salad at Long Chim.
CHAT THAI GATEWAY
Lvl 1, Gateway, 1 Macquarie Pl, Sydney, (02) 9247 3053, chatthai.com.au
EAT Chat Thai might've expanded at a rapid clip of late, but its newest (and biggest) branch might be its best yet, with great new dishes such as Thai takes on prawn toast and Vietnam's golden khanom bueng pancakes.
PLUS Sommelier-at-large Charles Leong wrote the wine list, and the team from This Must be the Place consulted on the cocktails.
MINUS That ventilation is awfully loud.
THE STRATEGY Don't skimp on dessert; it's a feature here. Dinner is way less of a battle than lunch.
RUN OR WALK? Your new pre-theatre lifesaver.
4-5, 355, Crown St, Surry Hills, (02) 8937 3599, zamborestaurant.com.au
EAT Italian food but not as you know it. In lesser hands, tricks such as cross-breeding the classic pizza and the Aussie meat pie, or rethinking rigatoni all'Amatriciana as (very) al dente pasta coated in parsley butter and a foam of Roman pecorino with the other usual ingredients (onion, garlic, chilli, tomato, guanciale) offered in powder form could be a travesty, but Matteo Zamboni's focus on flavour makes it all work.
PLUS Clever takes on Italian classics.
MINUS Not the place to go if you like your classics done classically; average room.
THE STRATEGY Zamboni caters for guests who don't eat gluten or meat, so this is an unexpectedly good option for coeliac, vegan and vegetarian diners.
RUN OR WALK? Worth a detour.
THE PADDINGTON INN
338 Oxford St, Paddington, (02) 9380 5913, paddingtoninn.com.au
EAT Not to be confused with The Paddington, the Merivale venue halfway up the same block, this landmark pub has been redone from scratch by Aria chef Matt Moran, who cut his teeth here back in 1991. Big flavours don't disguise ex-Rockpooler Justin Schott's careful cooking: charry octopus with spicy 'nduja, say, or juicy roasted flathead with beans and sesame.
PLUS Smart eats that won't scare the horses: oysters, steak, fish, lamb, but plenty more besides. Love the potato-bake chips.
MINUS Noisy. The public bar seems a missed opportunity, too.
THE STRATEGY Team Aria's reputation for excellent wine lists hasn't let them down - go hard.
RUN OR WALK? An excellent offer for anyone not more seduced by 10 William St, Saint Peter or Fred's.
167 Enmore Rd, Enmore, (02) 9240 3000, merivale.com/queenshotel
EAT High-end yum cha? In the inner-west? In a pub? With a great wine list? Merivale's move into Enmore is pressing all the right buttons. Say hello to roast duck and pork spare-ribs, steamed scallops with XO sauce and vermicelli, and beef with oyster mushroom and potato.
PLUS Smart Chinese food, good wine, comfortable setting, decent tunes.
MINUS Pointlessly vegetable-driven cocktail list. And "The Smelly Goat" is one of the least appealing bar names in living memory.
THE STRATEGY Hit it Friday lunch to beat the weekend crowds for maximum dumpling pleasure. (There's also a small sampling of the dim sum menu offered at dinner.)
RUN OR WALK? If you're a Mr Wong devotee, it's probably not worth crossing Cleveland Street, but it's a big leap for Enmore Road nonetheless.
Typhoon shelter crab at Queen Chow.
33 Barangaroo Ave, Barangaroo, (02) 8072 7037, banksii.sydney
EAT It's billed as a vermouth bar and bistro, but that doesn't really do justice to the eats from Bar H's Hamish Ingham. If there's a theme here, it's freshness, of product and ideas: grilled prawns in curry-leaf butter with pickled turmeric, for instance, or prosciutto with grilled peach and glazed almonds.
PLUS Ingham is all about the flavours of China and Japan at Bar H these days, but his more European stuff (shot through with a dash of the native) is just as compelling.
MINUS Banksy? Banksy-eye? Banks Two?
THE STRATEGY Half the restaurant is out on the terrace; late-lunching or early dining are the go.
RUN OR WALK? Make tracks; definitely one for summer fun.
259 George St, Sydney, (02) 8622 9555, bistroguillaumesydney.com.au
EAT This is Guillaume Brahimi's third branch of Bistro Guillaume (following Melbourne and Perth), but could it have the hometown advantage? The Barossa chicken roasted for two with tarragon and Paris mash argues the affirmative.
PLUS Unlike Brahimi's other bistros, this one also has a counter selling pastries, sandwiches, cakes and bread from Iggy's.
MINUS The ultra-corporate lobby setting.
THE STRATEGY It's the only one in the group to serve breakfast; make the most of it.
RUN OR WALK? Go bientôt.
MORE TO WATCH
88 View St, Annandale, (02) 8084 8466, cornersmith.com.au
EAT Everyone's favourite pro-pickling café has branched out from its Marrickville headquarters with a beautifully designed second, much larger eat-in premises in Annandale, offering the fresh, garden-driven likes of black bread with buttermilk ricotta and greens.
PLUS Lots of stuff to go from local producers - Country Valley milk, Nonie's gluten-free bread, free-range eggs from Egg Lady Deliveries and Pepe Saya butter.
MINUS No dinner. Yet.
THE STRATEGY Borrow a picnic rug and take breakfast or lunch to Hinsby Park.
RUN OR WALK? Skip gaily.
Charcoal bread at Cornersmith Annandale.
Wulugul Walk, Barangaroo, umeburger.com
EAT Following the success of his burger pop-ups, chef Kerby Craig has reopened his Bourke Street HQ as Bar Ume, and planted his flag at Barangaroo with this Japanese-flavoured smart-fast takeaway.
PLUS The prawn burger finds a permanent home.
MINUS The Bolognese on the Ume burger is a real room-divider.
THE STRATEGY Bracket it with a hot chicken sandwich from Belle's and a doughnut from Shortstop for an afternoon of happy excess.
RUN OR WALK? One for the fans.
122 Pitt St, Sydney, (02) 8080 7070, universalhotels.com.au
EAT David Tsirekas returns to the CBD in a heavily decorated room that takes the Greek War of Independence (as per the name) as its theme. The only fight in the menu is choosing between the old-school moussaka and the pork-belly baklava, a Tsirekas signature from his days back at Perama in Petersham.
PLUS Lobster spaghetti!
MINUS It's $95!
THE STRATEGY Make it a business lunch. Get them to pay.
RUN OR WALK? Worth a detour.
FLOUR EGGS WATER
Harold Park Tramsheds, 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, (02) 9188 7438
EAT Flour plus eggs plus water equals (among other things) pasta. In the hands of gun A Tavola chef Eugenio Maiale it means pappardelle (with lamb ragù) and fusilli (with crab and chilli) of notable quality.
PLUS They also sell the pasta to go.
MINUS On our last visit the concept of welcoming customers to the restaurant was something the staff were still puzzling over.
THE STRATEGY Book ahead. They're nowhere near as adept at queue management as their fellow tramshed operators.
RUN OR WALK? At your leisure.
65 Addison Rd, Marrickville, (02) 9569 3161, barzaari.com.au
EAT The flavours of Cyprus, Greece and Lebanon presented with contemporary restaurant smarts and plenty of smoke and flame. Orange-scented loukaniko sausage paired with wood-roasted grapes? Yes, please.
PLUS Friendly neighbourhood service, generous serves.
MINUS VERY, VERY LOUD. Also some fairly busy plates.
THE STRATEGY Don't drink the sand-roasted coffee if you intend to sleep in the following 36 hours.
RUN OR WALK? If you don't mind the volume of the room as full-bore as the flavours, have at it.
The Langham Sydney, 89-113 Kent St, Sydney, (02) 9256 2222, langhamhotels.com
EAT The Langham swaps its Kent Street Kitchen concept for "upscale neighbourhood bistro": twice-cooked Gruyère soufflé, saddle of Flinders Island lamb with garlic and olive, and the like.
PLUS The prices are lower, with most main courses now under $40.
MINUS The room is still more global hotel than local favourite.
THE STRATEGY Chef Dave Whitting counts Bistro Guillaume and Guillaume at Bennelong among his previous kitchens; expect gentle twists to the classics.
RUN OR WALK? If you're in the neighbourhood.
2/166 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe, (02) 9518 4592
EAT The brief is Italian cooking with influences from the greater Mediterranean, osso buco and faro appearing in vine leaves, tahini binding silverbeet and chickpeas in a pleasing side.
PLUS A gleaming fit-out that references the old lines of its Valhalla cinema premises.
MINUS The fit-out looks better than it sounds: the room's acoustics are brutal.
THE STRATEGY Leave your deafer friends and relatives at home, or bring the ear trumpet.
RUN OR WALK? Meander; it's a pleasant new local.
Shop TG3, 8 Quay St, Haymarket, (02) 8385 9880
EAT Outlets specialising in Chongqing-style noodles and Sichuan flavours are quietly taking over Chinatowns all over the country, but none balance polish with smarts in the kitchen so well as this newcomer. The wontons are top-notch, too.
PLUS Nice to see a Chongqing noodle eatery where as much care has been taken with the setting as the noodles themselves. MINUS It's really small. Could be even spicier, too.
THE STRATEGY Don't neglect the sides; the peanut and chicken salad is definitely worthwhile.
RUN OR WALK? Like noodles? Like spice? Proceed without delay.
OSAKA TRADING CO
Harold Park Tramsheds, 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, (02) 8880 0717, osakatrading.com.au
EAT Moving on from the yakitori focus of their Surry Hills outpost, the crew from Tokyo Bird open their menu up to a broader izakaya brief: potato salad with miso mayo, fried chicken et cetera, plus creative cocktails and Japanese whisky.
PLUS A Japanese-style katsu sando (in this case the classic pork schnitzel number) to go.
MINUS But not to eat in? What?
THE STRATEGY Underorder slightly when you're seated, then get the katsu sando for the ride home.
RUN OR WALK? To reach Osaka Trading Co you walk past Bodega 1904 on one side or Belle's Hot Chicken on the other. Tough break.
81 Enmore Rd, Enmore, (02) 9517 2060, cairotakeaway.com
EAT Charcoal chicken rolls! Lentils, rice and fried onion! Baked eggs with spicy sausage! Egyptian cuisine gets much-needed representation in Sydney in the form of an eatery that's as much inner-west as it is Middle East.
PLUS The superb fit-out and hyper-local beer list give it more eat-in appeal than the "takeaway" part of the name hints.
MINUS It's possible that not everyone will appreciate the bass-heavy tracks from Ahmed Mekky, the Egyptian-Algerian rapper, on the playlist (their loss).
THE STRATEGY Breakfast in the courtyard out the back: parsley omelette rolls! Ful medamas! Breakfast couscous!
RUN OR WALK? Entirely worth crossing the street for.
BOUCH ON BRIDGE
6 Bridge St, Sydney, (02) 8278 9400, boucheonbridge.com
EAT "A new take on fine dining", the website proclaims, only to segue into one of those menus written entirely without adjectives, verbs or style that chefs seem to think are a good idea: "gurnard, bullhorn peppers, zucchini"; "diamond clams, celeriac, beer".
PLUS Impressive wine list.
MINUS A truly unfortunate name.
THE STRATEGY If you're looking for a cocktail haunt on a night when everything else is rammed, Bouche is also home to one of the least-known basement bars in town.
RUN OR WALK? No rush.
EXCHANGE RESTAURANT AND BAR
34 Oxford St, Darlinghurst, (02) 9358 2311, exchangerestaurantandbar.com.au
EAT What was once one of the Oxford Street strip's most hard-partying venues has reopened with an Italianate menu under new owner, Nina Gravelis, late of the Fratelli Fresh empire. Out go the day-parties and sticky carpet and in come orecchiette with chicken and green olive ragù, and sausage, potato and rosemary pizza.
PLUS If you've been looking for a curious meld of a pub and an Italian restaurant, your dreams have been answered.
MINUS The food needs work.
THE STRATEGY Service is a bit listless and the music is loud and generic, so BYO atmosphere.
RUN OR WALK? Hold fire. They're still working out some kinks.
36 Llankelly Pl, Potts Point, 0401 829 216, restaurantwilmer.com.au
EAT You might remember Full Circle from their Italianate pop-ups in Chippendale (The Eat In) and Leichhardt (Alfio's). Now they've taken over the former Wilbur's Place space with tomato, tuna and bread salad, mutton cutlets, and fusilli pasta with sausage and chilli.
PLUS That signature Full Circle seat-of-the-pants sprezzatura.
MINUS With just 32 seats, landing a table can be a mission.
THE STRATEGY Don't BYO here; it's licensed, with wines blended by South Australian up-and-comers Manon, and Sparrow & Vine.
RUN OR WALK? Sprint. Wilmer is slated to close end of February.
Cavatelli with tomatoes and clams at Wilmer.
GOOD LUCK PINBONE
121 Anzac Pde, Kensington, pinbone.com.au
EAT Last seen cooking Italian at 10 William St, and modern Australian on the Buzo site before that, the Billy Kwong-trained Pinbone team returns to its roots cooking fresh takes on Chinese food in a very DIY space on Anzac Parade. Say hello to raw prawns with buttered and seaweed-dusted white bread, and Sichuan oil, and killer pork ribs with black bean, ginger and longans.
PLUS Low prices, high quality, no fuss, pleasant service.
MINUS No bookings, no décor, quite a lot of noise.
THE STRATEGY It's unlicensed, so go hard on the BYO. It's also quite dark at night, so if you like to Instagram (or merely see) what you're eating, go for lunch.
RUN OR WALK? Run. It's fun and excellent value. The building is due for demolition in early 2018.
370 Bourke St, Surry Hills, (02) 8034 3818, folonomo.org.au
EAT Sydney's first "profit for purpose" restaurant gives 100 per cent of its profits to charity. A roster of guest chefs take turns running the kitchen; right now it's Josh Murphy, who has headed two of Melbourne's best-liked eateries, Cumulus Inc and the Builders Arms Hotel.
PLUS Kingfish tartare with seaweed, capers and pomelo! Tomatoes braised with coconut and curry leaves, served with chickpea pancakes!
MINUS Service has a bit of charitable-organisation disorganisation.
THE STRATEGY Murphy's excellent food is best shared; take a posse. He also writes the menu for Gratia, the café next door.
RUN OR WALK? Josh Murphy cooking in Sydney? Get into it.
172-174 Liverpool St, Darlinghurst, (02) 9331 4358, classicomodernorestaurant.com.au
EAT Chef Bryan Gerlini's CV hints at what you can expect: time at Capriccio Osteria in Leichhardt and with pasta-masters A Tavola, but also a stint at the edgy (and sorely missed) Café Paci. Here he presents modern twists on the food of Emilia-Romagna: a balsamico cannoli with mortadella mousse ticks the wacky box, while tortellini bathed in butter and parmesan keep things real.
PLUS Interesting cooking, big flavours, excellent value.
MINUS Needlessly tricky menu structure.
THE STRATEGY At $45 for three courses, it's a steal. Dive in.
RUN OR WALK? It doesn't have a set end-date; get down sooner rather than later.