The owners of sprawling new North Sydney diner Rafi, which opens on Thursday, are hoping it attracts a diverse range of diners.
“We want it to become a bit of a one-stop shop where people will visit for after-work drinks,” Hamish Watts, who co-owns Applejack Hospitality (The Butler, Bopp and Tone) with Ben Carroll, tells Broadsheet. “Or they could come here for some nibbles and meet a friend. Or they could come in for the full dining experience.”
While Applejack’s latest venue seats 300, the space (designed by Luchetti Krelle) is multi-faceted, offering a space for every type of experience. The inside is split into multiple dining sections, each given their own dimension with distinctive artwork, furnishings and flooring (depending where you sit you might find real stone, marble mosaic, custom parquetry, granite and terracotta beneath your feet). Rendered walls give way to floor-to-ceiling windows. At the long marble bar, which has its own menu, the stools are lined with fabric inspired by the Australian desert by Walmajarri artist Jimmy Pike.
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Applejack Hospitality knows how to nail an al fresco experience (its outdoor space at The Butler is a beauty), and Rafi is no exception. The terrace, which is tucked in among the treetops, is also split into parts, and its design evokes European summers. Decorative white metal gates enclose the area, and the centrepiece is the Arbour, a glasshouse hung with greenery and lined with banquettes for a partly al fresco experience. Surrounding it are intimate tables beneath bright orange umbrellas, perfect for parking up for a post-work summer drink.
Applejack’s head of culinary Patrick Friesen (ex-head chef Queen Chow Manly, Papi Chulo) and Rafi executive head chef Matias Cillóniz (ex-Central, Lima), who has just arrived in Sydney from Peru, have put together a menu that’s all about choosing your own adventure.
“The words used [for the menu] are ‘Sydney coastal,’” Friesen tells Broadsheet. And while that means a lot of focus on seafood, it’s more about how people eat in coastal Sydney, meaning vegetables are also the star of the show. “You can come and have a pile of vegetables and some really nice [house-made] bread, and that could be lunch. Or you can venture down on a sunny day and have lots of grilled seafood. Or if you really just feel like a steak, well, you can have that too.”
Watts says one of his top picks from the menu is the Glacier 52 toothfish skewers, with roasted pepper and salsa. And he reckons the crispy potato with seaweed and sea urchin is a “flavour bomb. It’s almost like a potato galette, it’s just full of umami and flavour, flavour, flavour.”
Go light with Cantabrian anchovies with hojiblanca or oysters and a glass of wine, or get stuck into those veggie dishes that reflect the best of the spring harvest – heirloom tomatoes with tonnato (tuna mayonnaise) and sumac, and new asparagus and peas with pistachio. Grilled king prawns with chilli-miso butter are sure to be a spring-day success, while grilled lobster with cultured butter is made for celebrating business wins.
While the coast informs Rafi’s menu, a desire to appeal to a diversity of diners sees crispy lamb ribs, roast chicken with spring onions and broad beans, and a Wagyu sirloin all on the menu as well. And expect to see more of Cillóniz’s Peruvian flourishes as the restaurant evolves.
“He’s starting to put a bunch of his influences on it,” says Friesen. “By no means will it be a Peruvian restaurant, but there’ll be lots from his background.” A kingfish ceviche has been given a Peruvian touch with the addition of sweet potato puree, which Friesen says balances out the dish.
For drinks, expect fun seasonal cocktails, local tap beers and wines by Australian winemakers.
“Rafi is kind of like the alter ego of our city restaurant Bopp and Tone, where it’s quite heavy, masculine and moody,” says Watts. “And the food is meat-heavy, and it’s smoky, dark and warm. Rafi is light, bright and seafood-focused.”
|Broadsheet Access experienced Rafi before it opened to the public. Want to come to our next Editor's Preview Night? Find out more.|
99 Mount Street, North Sydney
(02) 8376 2900
Mon & Tue 11.30am–11.30pm
Wed to Sat 11.30am–midnight