Flying interstate this summer? Or just need some inspiration for things to get up to in your hometown? Broadsheet’s city cheat sheets are here to help. From the hottest new players that live up to the hype, to old favourites that continue to deliver, this is how to make the most of your visit.
Get to Darling Point’s Navy Bear early so you can nab an outdoor table. We promise it’s worth the early rise – the views across the harbour from this literally-on-the-water cafe are irresistible. And the food, while tasty, won’t start any trends – think bacon-and-egg rolls, avo and haloumi on toast, and chia bowls – what your eyes will be taking in will be more than sufficient to satisfy you.
At Marrickville’s Kurumac, on the other hand, the food does all the heavy lifting. The Japanese-inflected cafe is serving one of the most exciting breakfast menus in Sydney, as well as great coffee and iced drinks with scoops of gelato from local gelateria Mapo. The spicy cod-roe melt – a thick slice of shokupan (Japanese milk bread) spread with a peppery roe and grilled with tasty cheese – became an instant classic when the cafe opened last year. And the vegetable tempura with green-tea soba noodle soup is a brilliant way to start the day (and is a brilliant hangover-buster).
If you’re going to eat lunch in Sydney, you may as well do it by the water. And it probably should involve seafood. Enter Ormeggio at the Spit, a classic Mosman diner that underwent a makeover during lockdown and went full pescatarian. Wherever you sit in this lovely restaurant, as you tuck into plates of clam pasta and dig at mud crab, will afford you glimpses of the D’Albora Marina, wafts of saltwater and vistas of the incredible houses that cascade down to the water.
Also by the water? The Coogee Pavilion – a former aquarium built in the 1800s that has retained its vintage grandeur for the past 130-odd years. The building has several beautiful spots to eat, including the jewel in its crown, Mimi’s. But for a lazy long lunch that’s less caviar bumps, more settle-in-for-the-long-haul, our pick is Una Mas. The menu is packed with Mediterranean-accent dishes – fresh buffalo mozzarella on lemon leaf, XO squid with pico de gallo, and house-made charcuterie. Perfect fare for kicking back with the house specialty spritz (made with vermouth and pét-nat) and watching beachgoers sun themselves on the sand.
Honestly, you could visit any of the restaurants on Broadsheet’s best restaurants, best new restaurants and best restaurant openings of 2020 lists and have a rip-snorter of a time. But for our money, we’ve chosen two relatively new standouts: Pepito’s in Marrickville and Restaurant Leo in the CBD.
Stepping into Pepito’s is a bit like entering an alternate universe where international travel is allowed and you’ve just stumbled across a hidden bar in a foreign city where all the in-the-know locals hang out. This “taberna” (an atmospheric diner where you both eat and drink) is one of the only spots in the city serving Peruvian food. It does a mean Pisco Sour and its food is made for sharing (but if I were you, I’d order an entire olive and brie sandwich to yourself for good measure).
Restaurant Leo opened in a CBD laneway in the heat of lockdown, and has wowed us ever since with its smart take on modern Italian dining. The menu veers from a cheesy cauliflower gratin, to comforting strozzapreti with pork and fennel, and a snappy koshihikari risotto with cuttlefish and peas. The service is seamless, everything is made in-house (including pastry, bread, pasta and pickles) and honestly, sometimes it’s just a pleasure to be seated at a table with a crisp white tablecloth.
The Sunshine Inn isn’t just a cute name for this Redfern bar – it accurately describes the natural light that floods the whitewashed space in the afternoons. Pull up a stool and settle in for cocktails made with Aussie spirits, and helpful tasting notes on the menu such as “pick-me-up” for the Auspresso, and “orange-cola” for the Amari Sour. The vino list involves mostly natural Aussie drops and, if you fancy some tucker, you can pop out to the back-room diner DD’s, which serves a surprisingly affordable vegetarian set menu ($39 for three courses).
Thanks to coronavirus restrictions, standing-room only garage mezcal bar Cantina Ok isn’t so stand-y anymore. Instead, it’s set up crates and tables in its atmospheric alley, where you can sip Sydney’s best Margarita (albeit out of a takeaway cup). If you’re settling in for the long haul, tackle the pocket-sized bar’s mezcal selection. Its clever bar staff will take you through the flavour profiles, and you’ll even get a little plate of seasonal fruit to take the edge off.
Pre-dinner, post-dinner (and dinner if need be):
Love, Tilly Devine is hidden down a Darlinghurst laneway. It’s a little bit easier to find of late, thanks to tables that have been set up either side of the road to maximise al fresco space. While away the hours digging into the extensive-yet-thoughtful list of lo-fi wines, and tucking into snacky dishes that might include a mortadella sandwich with curry butter and sauerkraut, or juicy tomatoes on focaccia.
Another classically “Sydney” option is Monopole. This wine bar – which pioneered the concept of giving equal weight to food and vino – recently upped sticks into a bright and airy CBD space. Visit for creative European bistro-style fare, and stick around to explore its dynamic and textured vino list.
Look past the slick fit-out, uniformed staff and theatrics at Rocks bar Maybe Sammy and you’ll find its true heart: truly excellent cocktails. It’s recently been ranked 11th in the World’s 50 Best Bars list and rightly so – the drinks here are well balanced and tasty, the service seamless and you can easily sample your way around the menu, thanks to the half-pour versions of its signature cocktails.
You don’t need us to tell you that visiting the beach when you’re in Sydney is a must. If I’d just stepped off a plane from elsewhere, I’d be heading to Bondi for the atmosphere and Parsley Bay (Vaucluse) or Resolute Beach (in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park) for the tranquillity.
Apart from beaches, Sydney is lucky enough to be absolutely surrounded by national parks. Head to Garigal National Park, just 20-ish kilometres north of the CBD, and tackle the easy-going, 3.8-kilometre Cascades Track, which winds through red gum and bloodwood forest. If you’re lucky you’ll spot lorikeets, rosellas, swamp wallabies and the odd echidna as you stroll past natural pools and creeks. Importantly, the area also has more than 100 Aboriginal sites, including rock engravings and cave art.
If you’d prefer to stick to the city (and don’t mind a bit of mid-morning geekery), the Opera House has recently launched daily tours exploring the history and architecture of the iconic building. You’ll learn how a beach ball was instrumental in exacting the house’s shell shapes; why its original architect never saw the finished product in person; and why Bennelong Point – which was a significant gathering place for the local Gadigal people – was chosen for the structure’s location.
SHOP AND RELAX
Beauty buffs ought to make a beeline for the new Mecca store on the main thoroughfare of Sydney’s CBD. Sprawling over four levels, it’s the largest store dedicated to beauty in the Southern Hemisphere. Not only does it stock brands such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, Drunk Elephant and Byredo, but it has an on-site naturopath, a facial aesthetician and a beauty concierge that’ll guide you through the mass of product.
For those who want to work sustainability into their beauty routines, Bondi’s Foile is the place to be. It sells a range of multi-functional oils in refillable bottles, as well as a choice selection of products from cult brands such as Sodashi, Mukti and Lesse.
Incu – the Hong Kong-inspired designer-fashion retailer, which already has a few stores around town – has recently launched two sleek new shops in the CBD. For the first time it’s stocking brands including Comme des Garcons Homme, JW Anderson and Simone Rocha, alongside staples such as Rag & Bone and Ganni.
And despite living in a damn gorgeous city, with plenty to do and see, sometimes we actually stay at home (especially this year). Thankfully, we have a slew of incredible bookstores to keep entertainment levels high when we’re going full hermit. Pick up tomes to take home at the beloved Gleebooks; the tiny but well-curated Potts Point Bookshop; Books Kinokuniya (where you’re bound to find something of interest among its 300,000 titles); and second-hand bookshops The Bookplate and Sappho (where you can also settle in with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese in its laneway).
Since this story was compiled, Sydney’s northern beaches has gone into temporary lockdown, and Navy Bear cafe has been visited by a coronavirus case. The NSW Government is strongly advising masks be worn in public and the situation is being closely monitored. If you have concerns about visiting businesses or public spaces, or questions about self-isolation or coronavirus testing, check out the latest updates from NSW Government.