A Guide to Sydney

Author: Pat Nourse

The question, of course, is which Sydney? Visiting some of the hottest food destinations right now, your path is likely to be well trodden. The breadth and depth of interesting eating in Sydney, though, means you can slice it a great number of ways and come up with an interesting result. Asian-influenced Italian. A comparison of the city's various Chinatowns. Testing the theory that Sydney is home to the best Thai food outside Asia. The breakfast blitz. Barefoot luxury. Nothing but seafood. The city enjoyed on and from the water alone. Good options all. There's a lot of Sydneys. Here's one of my favourites:


Kick off with coffee at Neighbourhood, a hole in the wall distinguished by unfailingly friendly service from owner Sean McManus and quite possibly the best flat white in town. Fortified, you can now consider breakfast in earnest. Sydney likes breakfast. A lot. Spice yours up with a visit to Boon, a café within a glammed-up Thai grocery. Here deep-cuts from the Thai repertoire meet unusual pastries and a Sydney café sensibility - rare is the venue that serves Brickfields sourdough and matcha waffles on the one hand and ant-egg larb on the other. Rarer and more interesting still is a place that mingles the two streams. Thai-style pork crackling garnishes the avocado toast, while bacon and baked eggs make a fine complement to grilled pork skewers and congee.


Could it be lunch already? Let's hope so. Two of the hottest options in town involve kitchens built around the hearth. At Ester, in the rapidly gentrifying streets of Chippendale, informed, easygoing service and a savvy, progressive wine list frame a menu that puts the wood-fired oven to unusually good use. The more-usual suspects such as ducks, bread and pies are baked and roasted with finesse, but the flames are also deployed to gently warm oysters (served with the twang of horseradish), char cauliflower (done with a splendid almond sauce and mint) and scorch mandarins to accessorise fat slices of cured kingfish with miso sauce.


At Firedoor, meanwhile, Lennox Hastie takes the skills he learned working at the globally acclaimed Basque-country restaurant Etxebarri and translates them to Surry Hills, in a kitchen where all the cooking - repeat,allthe cooking - is done over coals. The real surprise here is the delicacy of Hastie's touch: marron, Australia's luxurious freshwater lobster, for instance, sings with sweetness, accented with finger lime and native herbs. Firedoor also serves one of the most serious dry-aged steaks in the country - albeit at the most serious price of $149.


All this eating is apt to make a person thirsty. Seek refreshment at 10 William St, a wine bar that sneaks some surprising and subversive influences into its ostensibly Italian cellar and menu.


And then it's time for dinner. Few restaurants better characterise the modern face of Sydney cooking right now than Automata. The setting is polished and the outlook is cosmopolitan, but even as they take wing with wild ideas on the plate and in the glass (hello Balmain bug tail with steamed eggplant and XO sauce) chef Clayton Wells and his team work to keep things grounded and friendly. Dreaming big and treading lightly: could this be the new flavour of Sydney?


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