Opening a good neighbourhood restaurant is the hospitality holy grail. Many try but whether due to price, competition, or simply being not tasty enough, few succeed. Neighbourhood entrepreneurs of the future, check out Culina, it’s your new template.

The all-day cafe-restaurant-wine-bar from Naomi Lowry (ex-Biota) and Abhi Mahadevan (Aki’s) isn’t doing anything new or revolutionary – that’s the domain of a different class of restaurant. Here the idea is simply to make the recognisable and make it well. “When I advertised to find chefs I said no gimmicks, and that's what we are. I'm not a gimmicky chef, it's all about quality,” says Lowry.

It's a bold move, particularly in an area dotted with great neighbourhood venues; we're looking at you Fratelli Paradiso, Dear Saint Eloise and Cho Cho San.

She describes the menu as a mixture of what she’s learnt from her grandma, and what she’s learnt professionally in the kitchens of Biota, Popolo and Pilu. What that means for you is a regularly changing menu with a few staples including a buttery cacio e pepe tagliatelle; grilled market fish (today it’s a silver mackerel) with baby cos, radish and an umami-rich butter; and a juicy roast spatchcock flanked by broad beans and brassicas and crowned by a caramelised half onion. Some dishes – like the reimagined grandma’s scones (a clotted cream and mascarpone mix with biscuit-like crumbed scones and strawberries) – mix both Lowry’s technique and nostalgia.

“I like to think of [the menu] as a walk around Borough Market [in London], one of my favourite places in the world,” she says of the menu’s simple but eclectic feel. Mahadevan’s wine list has a similar vibe and takes cues from both the New World and the Old World of wine techniques and regions.

This is all ditched in the mornings when things become refreshingly basic – just toast and pastries from The Cannery’s Grain Bakery; scones (traditional ones this time); eggs; granola; and a dish of roast pineapple, coconut yoghurt and poppy seeds.

Taking over from Sunrise Asian, the fit-out (from Studio Messa) is far from the sterile industrial trend. The space is bright, intimate and open – somewhere between a modern espresso bar and an old-school Italian meat sauce joint. “We wanted not a retro vibe, but just somewhere to be comfortable for several hours. A cosy, homely feel,” says Lowry.

Culina
Shop 1, 19–23 Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay
(02) 9356 8307

Hours:
Tue to Sun 8am–11am, 12pm–3pm, 6pm–10pm

culinasydney.com.au