It’s been a big year. We know we say it every year, but it’s true. Merivale expanded their empire (there’s more to come online, too) and The Rockpool Dining Group opened two high-profile venues, Rosetta and Jade Temple.
Until then, these are the places we loved this year in Sydney’s thriving, exciting and ever-evolving restaurant scene.
Bacco Osteria and Espresso
A trend for 2017 has been the return of the all-day eatery, many with a Mediterranean or Italian influence. Our favourites of the lot is Bacco, Andrew Cibej’s (Vini, Berta, 121 BC) and chef Scott Williams’ two-part CBD Italian venue. One side operates as an old-school Italian café, serving thick-cut pizzas, paninis and espressos. The other offers house-made pasta, old-school gnocchi and regional Italian classics for dinner in a casual dining room setting.
When news broke Melbourne’s cult-loved cocktail and Thai food palace Chin Chin was heading to Sydney, many of us questioned whether it could work. Unlike Melbourne, Sydney already has a thriving Thai food scene. But we needn’t have worried – while it’s not yet hitting the culinary heights of some of Sydney’s best Thai venues, it’s had queues from day one for its party vibes, punchy cocktails and even punchier kitchen.
Even among big-name chefs and lavish new fit-outs, many of the most enjoyable restaurants this year were casual joints doing something a bit different, such as Bacco, Culina, District and Rocker. Take Marrickville’s Pizza Madre, an entirely vegetarian pizzeria and natural wine bar from the team behind Two Chaps. Rather than churning out the traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas now ubiquitous in Sydney, the Pizza Madre approach is centred around wholemeal sourdough bases topped with seasonal ingredients from veggie merchant Shane Roberts and Marrickville cheesemaker Vannella.
We never would have guessed one of Sydney’s toughest tables to secure in 2017 would be at a place serving don and tea. This isn’t your regular rice bowl joint though, owner Anna Ishiguro (a former graphic designer, whose last hospitality posting was with Tomoyuki Matsuya at HaNa Ju-Rin) has turned what is usually an untidy mix of meat, egg and rice into a work of art. Every bowl is as exquisitely designed as it is cooked; everything is plated in artisan Japanese crockery, and the restaurant itself is an exceptional piece of modern Japanese styling.
Pinbone, pasta, karaoke, a walk-though wine store, a dance floor and the backing of the Merivale group – what the hell is Mr Liquor’s Dirty Italian Disco? The short answer is Sydney’s hippest, oddest and most irreverent restaurant serving some of the city’s best food. The long answer is an experience beginning with guests choosing a bottle of vino from a Franck Moreau-curated walk-in cool room so cold you’ll need to don a house parka, followed by excellent food by Mike Eggert and Jemma Whiteman, perhaps a green ragu pappardelle. Add cocktails, music and dancing. (Note: As this is a pop-up, word is it will close April 2018).
If you’re going to wipe away your Moon Park memory tears, let it be with another piece of shrimp-brined fried chicken. Ben Sears, Ned Brookes and Eun Hee An’s latest venue retains a lot of what was great about its Redfern predecessor – an unpretentious and seamless blend of cuisine, a killer booze list and good vibe – but strips it back, making it less fine-dining, less Korean and more casual. We’d say this is sort of like a broadly East Asian mix of Bar Brose (RIP) and 10 William St.
With a curtained entrance, timber furniture, carpeted floors and hand-carved Japanese cutlery and crockery – it’s the closest thing you’ll get to eating in the hip end of Tokyo without actually going there. Except for what’s on the plate. There are Japanese touches but it’s far too imaginative to be classified as just that. Where else would you find a dish of beef, dark chocolate, red miso and wine?
Considering Fujisaki opened a couple weeks ago, it’s a big call to name it one of 2017’s best. But it makes a convincing case. The most persuasive arguments are a 300-strong wine list, lavish Design Clarity fit-out and the triple-pronged chef team of Chui Lee Luk, Ryuichi Yoshii and Kumiko Endo. The former, an ex-Claude’s owner and chef, covers the main kitchen (split between a robata grill and a steamed and simmered section) while Yoshii (formerly or Yoshii’s) handles the raw section of the menu and the 13-seat sushi bar. Endo is a dedicated pastry chef, a rare addition to high-profile Sydney restaurants these days.
Pino’s isn’t doing anything radical, nor is it trying to. It’s simply a neighbourhood Italian restaurant with good pasta, tasty cocktails and a solid wine list. The reason it’s on this list alongside such illustrious company is because of its vibe. Add to the things we love about this place an excellent soundtrack, ambient lighting and refreshingly simplistic fit-out, and it’s one of the most comfortable, fun restaurants in Sydney.
Serving Sydney’s finest cacio e pepe is probably enough to make most best restaurant lists, but the signature buttery pasta may not even be the most delicious thing on the menu. Marta is a traditional Roman restaurant and also dishes out crisp pizzas and flat breads from a wood-fired oven, biodynamic Lazio-sourced wines imported exclusively for the restaurant, classic Italian cocktails from, and a simple but vibrant broad bean, pea and zucchini flower risotto. The ambiance and service, under the skilful direction of Flavio Carnevale, rounds out the experience.
The sort-of-Mexican bar-restaurant gets a tip of the Broadsheet hat for a refreshingly not health-orientated contribution to Sydney’s vegan scene. We love its impromptu dance floors and a concise, ever-changing list of minimal intervention wines.
If we had an award for the best new restaurant under $20 this would win. Sylvia Tran and Kiren Chua's South East Asian-inspired diner has taken Sydney’s American burger obsession and flipped it. They scrapped the milk buns and gimmicky milkshakes in favour of bao burgers – or baogers – as well as salted-egg fried chicken, an innovative vegan menu and Tran’s signature creation: spicy bao noodles.