While other capital cities' dining scenes have had a slow start to the year, Sydney's continues to briskly push onwards. And, despite the world going a bit haywire (rising inflation, escalating food prices and staff shortages), the city has produced some outstanding newbies. While on the surface theatrics might seem to dominate – from the drama of the omakase (chef’s choice) experience, to the projections that accompany diners on a progressive dinner at a new Pyrmont venue – as ever at the nexus of Sydney’s dining scene is stunning food and seamless service.
To help you navigate so much excellence, Broadsheet's editors have tasted our way around town to present the 13 best new openings of 2022, so far.
We’re big fans of co-owner Ibby Moubadder’s Nour, Henrietta and Lilymu, and now also his new Middle Eastern restaurant Aalia. It opened within Harry Seidler’s iconic MLC Centre, now called 25 Martin Place (which underwent a $170 million transformation) and there’s a couple of things that caught our attention. Firstly, Aalia is adding more nuance to Martin Place’s food scene and without sounding superficial, it’s one of the prettiest dining rooms to open this year. We’re particularly enamoured by its concave concrete patterns and curvaceous timber ceiling and bar that mimic Seidler’s architecture, and his joyful “mushroom” building that Aalia looks onto. It’s also ambitious. Executive chef Paul Farag (executive chef at Nour, ex-Fish Butchery and Monopole) is bringing dishes, techniques and ingredients from lesser-known regions of the Middle East and North Africa, which he found by studying cookbooks dating back to the 10th century. There’s plenty of tasty things to order but we reckon the show stoppers are the lamb shawarma; khorasan pita; almond-crust John Dory with tarator and chilli; and the banger entree, the sesame leaf with aged rice, cumin and sea urchin. Plus, extra love goes to Eleonore Wulf’s wine list, that includes bottles from Syria, Jordan and Morocco.
Bay Nine Omakase, The Rocks
It’s safe to say Sydney’s omakase scene is booming. Attribute it to our ongoing love affair with Japanese cuisine, or just our inability to travel there for nearly three years, but our omakase options continue to grow. A new, impressive entrant on the scene is Bay Nine Omakase in The Rocks. The surrounds here are a little grander than many of the more stripped-back omakase eateries you’ll find across Sydney; it’s in a cosy sandstone dining room in the historic waterfront Campbell’s Stores, built in the 19th century. But at its core, Bay Nine’s dining playbook is the same: a series of courses crafted using the best available produce of the day, theatrically prepared and presented by the chefs right in front of you. While the thing here is pristine seafood – expect an influx of nigiri and sashimi with fresh wasabi, as well as meaty toothfish and delicate urchin – you’re also likely to get absurdly tender Wagyu, silky chawanmushi (savoury egg custard) and stellar tempura. It’s all best accompanied by pure, polished sake, which comes by the bottle, the glass or in a tasting flight.
Da Orazio, Bondi Beach
In March, Orazio D’Elia came full-circle, returning to the pretty Bondi spot where he cemented his reputation as one of the city’s best chefs. He was the culinary star of Maurice Terzini’s bustling Italian joint, Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta, which closed in 2018. He’s brought it back (sans Terzini and with a slight name change) – and his first solo project is simultaneously casual and chic, and has a fun, anything-goes vibe. Da Orazio is not an homage to the original – although many of the old dishes are back, including pastas and the triumphant focaccia con porchetta. If anything, this newbie feels more of an evolution of D’Elia’s cooking style and a reflection of the team he’s assembled. That includes pizza guru Matteo Ernandes, who is in charge of the Neapolitan-style pizzas, which have impressive high-walled puffy crusts. He’s perfected the biga-style fermentation process, so the bases are lighter and more digestible, meaning you can eat more – and fit in the creamy tiramisu. What else do we like? Its jukebox at its next-door bar. Will it spark a jukebox revival? We hope so.
Ele by Federico and Karl, Pyrmont
You won’t want to get too comfortable when you take your seat at Ele by Federico and Karl. While co-chefs Federico Zanellato (Lumi, Lode) and Karl Firla (ex-Oscillate Wildly) traverse fairly traditional routes at their CBD Italian diner Restaurant Leo, at Ele they’re breaking a few more rules. Guests shift tables between courses during an eight-course degustation, which might include dishes such as a Wagyu tartare-topped sourdough crumpet and dry-aged Murray cod with coastal greens. And the room itself shifts and evolves – earth, air, fire and water are showcased in a series of video loops onto screens that surround diners, while the music is specifically designed to enhance the dining experience. The duo had big shoes to fill in taking over the former Momofuku Seiobo space in The Star – and they’ve done a remarkable job upending any expectations to deliver something impossible to compare to its predecessor, let alone anything else in town.
Jane, Surry Hills
When owner-chef Tristan Rosier opened Arthur in Surry Hills in 2019, he created a new kind of neighbourhood eatery that was both wallet-friendly and homey, but still thoroughly in step with Sydney’s fine-dining milieu. This year, he followed it up with Jane, a ’70s-inspired bistro just three blocks away, with the same focus on all-Aussie ingredients but a more casual energy. You could just as easily walk in for cocktails and snacks (think wild boar ‘nduja cigars, and roo tartare with bush tomato chutney and shoestring fries) at the marble bar, or slink into one of the plush booths for a full multi-course meal. The place is also named after – and pays tribute to – Rosier’s late grandmother, Jane Merton. Not only did her Southern Highlands home inspire the handsome fit-out, the pink cake she made for Rosier when he was growing up is the signature dessert here. And the soundtrack to it all? Playlists featuring “nothing later than the ’70s”, spinning through jazz, funk and David Bowie hits.
Loulou Bistro, Milsons Point
The most popular dish at Loulou is a bit of a surprise – that is, until you taste it: a caviar-encrusted John Dory drowned in champagne and scallop sauce. It’s a rich, comforting joy to eat, and testament to head chef Billy Hannigan’s (ex-Bistro Guillaume, The Ledbury in London) sophisticated touch. Other dishes are well-executed French classics: steak frites (with truly excellent fries), a delicately hand-cut steak tartare, and bright, fluffy pommes dauphine. It’s not light food, nor food you want to eat every day. But it’s absolutely food for eating tucked away in a booth in an elegant, dimly lit dining room for a special occasion. Preferably with a Martini at hand, chased with a smooth burgundy wine chosen by cracking sommelier Shun Eto.
Oncore by Clare Smyth, Barangaroo
It takes an exacting chef to earn three Michelin stars. And Clare Smyth, whose London restaurant Core by Clare Smyth currently holds a trio of those coveted sparklers, is certainly exacting. Even though she’s based 17,000 kilometres away, Smyth’s steady hand can be seen in every aspect of her second diner, Oncore by Clare Smyth, in the glittering Crown Sydney tower. Her thumbprint is literally emblazoned on her fine china dinner plates; a selection of her favourite cookbooks lines the shelves; and the dishes speak to her childhood in Northern Ireland, as well as her travels abroad and decades cooking in England, all executed with an Australian touch. Core’s most lauded dish, potato and roe, is an homage to her spud-heavy upbringing on an Emerald Isle farm; here it’s crafted with a Southern Highlands-grown potato. Other dishes similarly tell a story – a gougere piped with warm cream is tribute to kindly staff at Restaurant Paul Bocuse, who invited Smyth in for a gougere and glass of champagne when they noticed her hungrily staring through a window. It's hard for any dining experience to compete with the views from the 26th floor of a harbourfront Sydney restaurant – but Smyth and her team (including Sydney head chef Alan Stuart) do it in style.
Parlar, Potts Point
Taking the bar snacks of Catalonia and inserting them into a fine-dining context in inner Sydney is an intriguing proposition. But Parlar, a beautiful, warmly lit, art-lined diner in Potts Point, pulls it off. Head chef Jose Saulog – who also crafted the menu at sister restaurant Franca next door – isn’t bound by tradition. He brings flair to every dish, from the simplicity of the Gilda toast – all the fixings of a Gilda (anchovy, olives, pepper) on bread – and a delicate morcilla (blood sausage) sandwich, to the very interesting, like a savoury churro draped with an anchovy, and the extremely comforting giant vol-au-vent with manchego. Service is seamless, the staff know what they’re talking about when it comes to drinks, and did we mention that gorgeous dining room?
Pellegrino 2000, Surry Hills
Is there a more fun, exciting dining room to be sitting in right now? Pellegrino 2000 is the kind of place you get swept up by, and find yourself saying things like, “Yes, we will have another bottle of wine,” and “Yes, we must get another pasta.” Pellegrino 2000 is not reinventing the (Italian trattoria) wheel. It’s really no more than an excellent neighbourhood eatery. But there’s something to this place that we can’t get enough of. We get the same feels from Andy Tyson, Dan Pepperell and Mikey Clift’s other place, Potts Point’s Bistrot 916. If you went to Bar H, you’ll know the corner terrace Pellegrino now commands. It has a unique layout that sees guests sit on stools on the footpath, at a window counter that faces inside to the bar, where more people mingle. We love it. A neon light reading “2000” leads others downstairs to a moody wine cellar complete with candles and gingham-covered tables. The trio say they’re going for “garage-style trattoria” vibes, and under vintage photographs, packets of pasta and fresh tomatoes people enthusiastically eat Pepperell’s food. We’re not going to lie, we’ve missed the Italian culinary prowess he showed at Alberto’s Lounge and 10 William St. Book a table right now.
Senpai Ramen, Chatswood
What happens when one of the country’s most lauded Japanese chefs decides to open a ramen joint? Until Sokyo’s Chase Kojima revealed he was doing just that in December last year, no one had really thought about it before. But Kojima had been thinking about it a lot. What if ramen, traditionally a “quick and cheap” option, was served as part of a 90-minute, seven-course degustation involving “beautiful snacks”, primo ingredients and a high-energy soundtrack? The answer: Senpai Ramen. And – true to Kojima’s reputation – the results are off-the-wall ambitious. Your experience is left entirely up to the chefs: you might start with sashimi, chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), agemono (something fried) and grilled fish. There’s also an option to add a mini chirashi (scattered seafood) bowl served with Kojima’s signature “liquid gold” egg sauce. Then it’s onto one of five types of ramen (we loved the soy-based shoyu number with smoked duck), which you can enhance with luxe extras such as abalone. This is ramen like we’ve never seen before in Sydney.
Topikos, Bondi Beach
So long Bondi Beach Public Bar, and long live Topikos, the new Greek-influenced diner by the Shell House team that’s taken its place. It’s very breezy, and very Bondi-by-way-of-Santorini – all white-and-blue interiors and light-wood chairs. This is a good-times restaurant and bar. Like Shell House, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure sort of experience – roll up for a drink at the bar, or settle in for a full, protein-heavy meal. If you swing for the latter, start with a spicy Margarita and wait for your saganaki to be delivered sizzling in a cast-iron pan steeped in honey. Follow it up by swiping a chunk of warm pita bread into a blushing taramasalata; this dish will stick with you long after you’ve walked back into the bustle of Campbell Parade. And the woodfired octopus will bring memories of your last Greek Island holiday rushing back. The dishes here aren’t claiming to mimic what your yiayia used to make. Instead, it’s great produce, with a light Greek touch.
While Sydney might not be short of Thai restaurants, Annita Potter wants to offer diners something they might not have tried before. Potter was Thai food legend David Thompson’s right-hand woman, working for years at a number of his restaurants, including the award-winning Nahm in London and more recently as executive chef at his lauded Long Chim, and has run a number of pop-ups around Sydney before settling here. Her menu doesn’t run pages long – it’s trimmed to a neat eight-course degustation that doesn’t include dishes that are ubiquitous at most Thai restaurants around town. Instead, expect five-hour pork curry with tomatillos, makrut lime leaves and holy basil, and flavour-punching salted duck-egg relish with aged pork, green mango and roasted shrimp paste. “They’re the kind of dishes I want to showcase because you can’t get those dishes anywhere and they’re kind of a bit racy for Thai food in Sydney,” says Potter. If you’re after Thai food that’s nuanced and intricate, this is the place.
Whalebridge, Circular Quay
The owners have big ambitions for Whalebridge. The Sydney Collective (Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, The Morrison and The Imperial) want their completely al fresco French restaurant to be the kind of place that excites Sydneysiders so much they come back again and again. I mean, it doesn’t sound like a crazy determination, yet because it’s located on the water’s edge in front of Circular Quay’s bombastic “Toaster” development – on the dazzling foreshore that leads you to Sydney Opera House – there’s a risk locals will write it off as a tourist trap. That would be remiss of you – there’s lots to like here. Whalebridge’s luring power is Will Elliott. The executive chef used to work at Restaurant Hubert and London’s renowned St John, and the food he’s serving here is big-time tasty. Come for post-theatre snacks, elaborate long lunches and everything in between. Just want a drink? You’re invited, too. We love the build-your-own seafood tower; rich bouillabaisse that’s packed with prawn, scampi and fish; the crunchy bread served with the smashable French onion dip; and the delightful steak frites. Whalebridge is an exciting addition to Circular Quay – plus if you want views with your meal, this spot can’t be beat.
Additional reporting by Aimee Chanthadavong, Ariela Bard, Georgina Safe, Jasmine Crittenden, Yumi Oba.