10 William Street
This modern Aussie restaurant boasts one of the most memorable settings in Sydney. Its indoor and outdoor tables hang suspended in a glass cube-like structure over the North Sydney Olympic Pool right between Luna Park (the city’s vintage amusement park) and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As you dine on fresh oysters and prawn tartlet or fried zucchini flower and mozzarella salad, you can watch sailboats on the harbor and swimmers doing their laps in the historic pool. This is a taste of how Sydney revels in its unique geographic blessing.
Aria Restaurant has a central location on Circular Quay and a view to match its award-winning menu. French-trained chef-owner Matt Morant contributes to Sydney’s fine dining scene with an elegant culinary experience based on seasonal produce. The dining room is sophisticated and the atmosphere is grown up. The restaurant’s exclusive chef’s table provides an in-kitchen experience and the opportunity for guests to interact with the toque. While lunch offers a choice between one-, two- and three-course meals, dinner is served à la carte, with a variety of excellent wines options (both well-known and boutique) to pair. Advanced reservations are necessary.
Housed in the iconic Sydney Opera House and overlooking the bustling Circular Quay, Bennelong Restaurant is a delightful spot for innovative cocktails and modern Australian cuisine. Despite its touristy location, Bennelong feels refined and intimate, serving fresh takes on seafood dishes.
bills Surry Hills
The three bills cafés are the places to brunch in Sydney. Bill Granger—another of the city’s perpetually sunny-natured celebrity chefs—has perfected the art of delicious yet basic food in convivial (if noisy) surroundings. His cookbooks have become international best-sellers because he celebrates keeping things simple. Blackboards serve as menus and his ricotta hotcakes with banana and maple syrup are considered a Sydney icon right up there with the Opera House.
This tiny, convivial inner-city bar exudes a kind of artfully undone glamour, thanks to a subway-tiled bar, scuffed white painted walls and industrial-chic furnishings, with an unfurled roll of butcher’s paper scrawled with the day’s drinks menu. The cocktails are a revelation: changing each day according to what’s fresh and fabulous and archly named, expect concoctions like the “Fresh Quince of Bel Air” (cognac, vermouth and spiced quince) or the “Toreador,” made with tequila, lime and smashed apricots.
With an enviable location on the rooftop of Customs House, this upscale venue offers fabulous harbor views from its dining room, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, an outdoor terrace and a buzzy cocktail lounge. While the sweeping vistas over the harbor are reason enough to come, Café Sydney also offers exquisite dishes like Suffolk lamb with smoked eggplant, labneh and mint and a host of seafood and shellfish dishes. The interiors are elegant, contemporary and sleek and the service is attentive and polished. Café Sydney is a fabulous spot to welcome oneself to the city.
Catalina Rose Bay
This award-winning restaurant, one of the grande dames of the Sydney restaurant world, is for those who prefer more serene water views than are on offer at such trendy seafront spots as Otto’s or Icebergs. Few experiences match watching the quaint little seaplanes take off just outside the window as you feast on roasted snapper, but do look out for the enormous resident pelicans. Owners Michael and Judy McMahon have now been joined by their children James and Kate, whose glittering CVs include stints at some of the city’s hippest restaurants and bars, and who are injecting a new forward-thinking spirit to this old classic.
Executive chef Ben Haywood, whose CV includes a stint at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, brings a playful sensibility to the Chinese-Cantonese menu at this delightfully kitschy, old Shanghai-themed restaurant tucked in a small cobblestone inner-city laneway. Order a cheekily named cocktail – Slow Boat from China; Mao’s Elixir – while you peruse the comprehensive menu. Assertive spices infuse dishes such as five spice “drunken” lamb and swordfish jungle curry, but there are plenty of less feisty options as well, like delicate prawn, snow pea and water chestnut dumplings. There are also banquet menus available for groups, an impressive list of vegetarian offerings and a private dining room that seats 10 people.
Doyles on the Beach
Opened in 1885, the original Doyles restaurant (there are now three), sits in the same spot on Watsons Bay overlooking Sydney Harbour as it has for five generations. Serving specialty seafood dishes in their wood-paneled dining room or beachside outdoor terrace, it is a much-loved classic among Sydney locals.
Eau de Vie
The genesis of Sydney’s cocktail bar revolution could be traced back to this speakeasy-style player that set the standard for high-minded mixology when it opened in 2010. Expect romantic mood lighting, a playful but grown-up ambience, skilled bartenders using vintage cocktail shakers and bespoke glassware, and Gilded Era libations with a twist, like the classic martini chilled down with liquid nitrogen. Boozy bonus: the Eau de Vie “Personal Drinks Cabinet,” in which regulars can keep their favorite bottle in a personalized cabinet.
This elegant brasserie in the heart of Sydney’s Central Business District is cozy, intimate and decorated with Parisian tiles and imported French chandeliers. (The French theme continues to uniforms, waiters are dressed in black bowties and long aprons). The menu is diverse and features European specialties and delicious French classics. In the Balthazar vein, Felix offers a relaxed but upscale bistro atmosphere with fresh meat, shellfish and vegetable dishes and a varied wine list to match. Service here is friendly and easy going, making it a great stop for lunch or dinner for both families and couples.
Right on Manly Wharf where the ferries arrive from Sydney, Hugo’s is a fabulous waterside spot for a casual lunch or dinner. Its owners are a pair of Aussie celebrity chefs, Pete Evans and Massimo Mele, and their pizzas are considered among the best in town. Other popular items on the menu are seafood such as oysters served with sherry vinegar, fried calamari, seared scallops with tomato and basil and delicious pastas such as homemade gnocchi with roasted zucchini, garlic and basil pesto and spinach pappardelle with scampi, sea urchin, broccolini and garlic and lemon.
Tip: There are no reservations accepted for dinners on the weekends so if you want to be sure not to have to wait for a table, book for lunch Monday to Sunday or dinner Monday to Thursday.
Icebergs Dining Room and Bar
When Sydney’s beautiful people want to see and be seen, they head here. The famed Bondi restaurant is hyperbole-inducing—wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of Bondi Beach, and the artful Mediterranean dishes are simply but expertly executed. Fashion editors, models and celebrities all rub elbows here, but the mood is refreshingly unpretentious: chalk it up to that casual Bondi spirit. A regular sight: a few girlfriends in flip-flops and tank tops stopping by to enjoy a bottle of Dom Perignon while they sun themselves out on the terrace.
The latest venture from the Hemmes family, whose empire includes hotspots like Est and The Ivy, this on-point modern Cantonese den pays homage to yum cha (dim sum). The 240-seater, two-level, French Colonial-inspired restaurant has group tables, private dining rooms and the occasional table for two, and serves up Cantonese classics such as Chinese-roasted duck, along with riffs on old favorites, like the “faux” shark fin soup. But, of course, the dim sum selection is the star: expect to be plied with an array of delicious morsels like steamed barbecue pork buns, seafood dumplings, lobster rolls and turnip cakes.
The Lebanese Nour restaurant in Surry Hills has street-side seating and dishes like spiced cauliflower, hummus and wood-fired duck.
An important distinction in the restaurant search is deciphering between those places that are touristy and those that draw in tourists because they offer something special – and Opera Bar is the latter. Set on the lower concourse of the Opera House with front row seats of Sydney Harbour and the Harbour Bridge, Opera Bar offers Sydney’s foremost wow-factor: the view. The Opera House, the city’s most iconic landmark, features a colossal stone-paved forecourt with monumental steps, akin to Paris’ Palais de Tokyo. An afternoon drink, evening glass of champagne or nightcap here is a rite of passage in Sydney. Whether enjoying some sunshine and the movement of the ferries, yachts and seaplanes that buzz through the harbor, or watching the twinkling lights of Luna Park and the bridge as they reflect on the water, patrons have unrivaled views of Sydney’s most iconic sites. It’s a fabulous spot for drinks, but meals should be had elsewhere.
Bigwigs power-lunch here on oysters and sinfully rich dishes like hand-rolled porcini pasta with wild boar ragu from head chef Richard Ptacnik. It doesn’t hurt that Otto’s location on Woollomooloo wharf has turned into a people-watching promenade, complete with lurking paparazzi (Russell Crowe has a penthouse at the far end), and superyachts docked in the sparkling marina out front.
Palmer & Co
The Merivale Group – behind hits like Ivy and Hemmesphere – strikes again, this time with a speakeasy-style bar located behind Establishment Hotel. The raw brick walls, vaulted ceilings and black and white mug shots on the walls add to the Prohibition feel, as do the waitresses dressed as flappers and the classic cocktails like Sidecars and Vieux Carrés. Even better news for late-night tipplers: the bar has a 5am license.