Sydney creative agency Buffet Digital is a leader in the hospitality scene. The team – led by Nikki To and Sophie McComas-Williams – has been strapping bodycams to Lennox Hastie during service at Firedoor, shooting fluorescent drinks at Centro 86, eating pasta for breakfast at Icebergs, and lighting up fruit stores with Nonna’s Grocer.
The directors have an “easy split” of strengths within the business: McComas-Williams (a former editor of Broadsheet Sydney) is on brand direction, client strategy and copy, and To is the principal photographer and leads the visual and production teams.
Here, they share their Sydney.
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Tell us a little bit about yourselves as a duo – friends or strictly business?
McComas-Williams: We met while I was editor of Broadsheet Sydney – I commissioned Nikki to start shooting for us. We became friends over the years and continued to work together via various other jobs, but regularly schemed over bowls of Chongqing noodles about starting something together. And we did it! Happy to say we’re still friends, as well as business partners, almost seven years in.
What do you love most about Sydney?
McComas-Williams: How self-assured the city is, and how comfortable people are taking risks here. Sydney doesn’t focus on the competition over the border; there just is no comparison. It knows its strengths and plays to them. It’s constantly surprising me.
To: The diverse culture and community that can be found in our city – in particular, how this translates within the city’s food scene. As much as I love all the amazing restaurants and bars we have in central Sydney, it’s equally delicious heading out to have Indian on a Friday night in Harris Park, Cantonese in Eastwood or Afghan in Merrylands. We’re very lucky to be home to so many communities.
What venues make Sydney a better place?
McComas-Williams: Everything Mucho group has created makes this city better: a micro mezcal bar in a CBD bin alley? Tick. Martinis via porron on gritty Enmore Road? Yes. A hidden tequila bar in, god forbid, Martin Place? I love it. These are bars delivered with absolute heart and dedication, and are singular to Sydney.
To: I’m with Soph on Mucho group, they are second to none from the top down. I also love some of our longstanding institutions, venues that have stuck to their guns and survived the industry for years. Think Fratelli Paradiso and Sean’s Panaroma. These guys nail that rare balance between feeling familiar and fresh every time you dine.
Where are you breakfasting?
McComas-Williams: I’m a lunch-out gal these days, but when the mood and schedule strikes I’m at Valentina’s in Marrickville for a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast muffin. For coffee, it’s Mecca in Alexandria, or Artificer [in Surry Hills].
To: Ever since I was a kid I’ve been heading to Super Bowl in Chinatown for breakfast with my family. Deep-fried Chinese doughnuts (dau chao quay, or youtiao) dunked in chicken congee, fried noodles and steamed rice noodles (cheung fun) are our go-to. For coffee, I’m usually at Good Ways Deli as our office is right next to their Redfern space. Lately in this heat I’ve been stopping in for their ice-cold Milo mocha for that sweet caffeine hit!
What’s your favourite restaurant in Sydney right now?
McComas-Williams: Look, this is lo-fi but TBC by Grape Garden in Potts Point is so full of welcoming hospo charm, duck-fat scallion pancakes, impeccable dan dan and dumpling deliciousness that I simply can’t stop going back for more, more, more.
To: Lankan Filling Station in east Sydney has always been great, but recently O’Tama has been putting on buryani nights with guest chefs every Monday. I went not long ago, when JP [Jean-Paul El Tom] from Baba’s Place took over – he cooked a lamb neck and kolbas XO buryani with tomato samba rice, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
What is Sydney’s most underrated spot?
McComas-Williams: I don’t know why more people don’t talk more about City Oltra. It’s pushing some of the best pizza in the city! Wake up, folks.
To: Parami in Surry Hills is a super cute cafe offering delicious onigiri filled with tasty flavours. Recently I had their bacon-and-soft-egg rice ball, an interesting mix but well worth it. They also make a legit matcha.
You’ve got guests you want to impress – where are you taking them?
McComas-Williams: Always Ragazzi [where my husband Scott McComas-Williams is executive chef] for that artichoke ravioli and a glass of lambrusco. Or, if it’s a more showy kind of vibe, it’s pretty hard to go past a seat at the bar at Bennelong for the everlasting wow factor.
To: The bar at Icebergs. Sure, the dining room is special but so is the bar, just a little more casual. Day or night you can’t go wrong: classy snacks, slick cocktails, grab a table and take in that view.
It's lunch time, what's your go-to?
McComas-Williams: Our studio is a couple of blocks from Good Ways’ Redfern branch, and we all eat there like it’s going out of style. I’m always up for the chicken sanga with added chilli (compulsory). And they recently changed my very firm viewpoint that all salad sandwiches are shit and pointless with their textural, hefty example. I think it’s the house-made mushroom pate that hits different.
To: I’m always trying to find an excuse to head into the city for a lunchtime meeting or shoot so I can stop by Malay Chinese afterwards. If you know, you know. And everyone who does knows their laksa is up there. I always go for the chicken laksa – so silky, so creamy.
Where are the top spots to stock up on pantry staples?
McComas-Williams: Picnic Central, down on Eddy Avenue, by the Condimental team is a treasure chest for anything ferment-y or pickle-y. Their passionfruit hot sauce should be stocked in every cafe, everywhere, for added emergency flava.
To: New Yen Yen Supermarket in Haymarket is my favourite Asian grocery to stock up on all my Chinese cooking staples. As far as Asian groceries go, this one has a big instant noodle section and condiments as far as the eye can see. It’s also the only supermarket (and I’ve searched all over Sydney) that stocks my favourite Golden Bag-brand white pepper powder. It’s the MVP in a lot of my Chinese cooking. I’m also a sucker for tinned fish in cool packaging; Drnks has you sorted when it comes to this.
Where do you go to escape the city?
McComas-Williams: My parents live in the Southern Highlands, near Mittagong, so we’re there pretty often. Over the summer we discovered Nellies Glen swimming hole near Robertson, which has the most beautiful waterfall you can swim right up to.
To: Our dog, Dolly, loves a good run on the beach, so we use this as an excuse to drive down to Sharky Beach near Coledale. We go for a swim and then swing by Ciro’s for pizza in Thirroul, pray the Peperonata is on and always get extra anchovies on top.