Lotus brings old Shanghai to the eastern suburbs
Head chef Chris Yan went to a feng shui master to choose the auspicious opening date of November 11 (11/11) for Lotus Double Bay. Although 2020 was undoubtedly an unlucky year, Yan believes the restaurant has enjoyed good fortune thanks to the supportive local community. The menu is an ode to his childhood in Shanghai and the surrounding countryside. His grandma’s sticky red-braised pork belly is on the menu, as are wontons filled with steamed pork and shepherd’s purse (a wild plant that grew in the fields he used to roam as a child). Designer Melissa Collison took a sustainable approach to the fit-out, preserving much of the decor from the space’s last restaurant, Mr G’s, adding elements to create a venue reminiscent of 1930s Shanghai.


A regional Italian experience
Growing up in north-eastern Italy inspired Italian Street Kitchen’s food manager Giulio Marchese to imbue the group’s formerly Rome-centric menu with regional influences. The resulting fare, found at the group’s four Sydney locations, is familiar – tender beef meatballs in arrabbiata sauce, woodfired pizzas, fresh pastas, bistecca fiorentina and rotisserie chicken – but the ingredients are premium. For example, the group partnered with an Italian miller to create its own stoneground type-one flour for the 48-hour pizza dough, and durum semolina 00 flour was developed for the fresh pasta. After eating your way through the primi, secondi and contorni sections of the menu, you’ll find yourself facing enormous portions of tiramisu and Nutella calzone for dessert. Share between many.


’50s Palm Springs meets Sydney
Villa at Longueville Hotel in Lane Cove is all about lazy summers and long lunches that lead to sunset cocktails. The veranda space – with shades of white, soft green and pink – is inspired by 1950s Palm Springs. Cacti and succulents dominate the garden. The menu, though, is all Sydney. Tacos are filled with panko-fried Cone Bay barramundi; kingfish ceviche is marinated in smoked salt and lemon ponzu vinaigrette; and there’s a cauliflower schnitty, a vegan nod to the hotel’s old menu of tried-and-true pub fare (a meat version is also available). Frosé and seasonal frozen cocktails are served alongside old-school classics such as dry gin Martinis, Negronis and several takes on the Bloody Mary.


A neighbourhood wine bar in the CBD
Although Vini Divini Wine Lab has the cosy feel of a family-run venue, the sleek fit-out and vast wall of wine means the Mediterranean-inspired food and wine bar doesn’t feel out of place in the CBD. A large bar is central to the space, and co-owner Philippe Gilbert can be found there daily, chatting with regulars and sharing his excitement over the latest drops from often overlooked wine regions such as Greece, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey. As much as Gilbert enjoys experimenting with new wines, the menu also features plenty of old-world varietals from France, Italy and Australia. The food menu has a strong Italian influence, with plenty of small plates to complement the vino selection – such as kingfish crudo; soft-boiled egg with anchovy; and stracciatella with summer vegetables.


Perfect barbeque buns from a dumpling master
Kirk Yip credits everything he knows about dumplings to his days at Lotus Galeries. Lotus head chef Chris Yan says Yip has evolved from dumpling apprentice to dumpling master. But Yip, now chef at Castlecrag modern Chinese restaurant Jia, which opened last year, is humble, saying there’s always more to learn and improve upon. His barbeque pork snow bun, inspired by Tim Ho Wan’s version, is near perfect. Assembled fresh every day and baked to order, the soft, flavourful buns are snow white, with an outer crunch that gives way to a fluffy, light dough surrounding hand-cut barbeque pork. Other notable dishes include the clear-skinned prawn and scallop dumplings; three cup chicken (a Taiwanese dish made with a Chinese rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil base); and the green beans with house-made XO sauce. If you think Castlecrag is a bit far afield, you’re not alone. Yip says customers are constantly asking Jia to open in other areas, so the restaurant is heeding the call with plans for a second spot in a yet-to-be announced suburb.