Peruse the below and you’ll notice that many on this list are the second, third and fourth venues offered by some of the city’s best restaurateurs. We’ve also seen a flurry of Italian restaurants, ramen taken to the next level and Sydney’s vegan scene mature.
What we love about these places is each has a vision – whether that is to nail one dish, offer an inexpensive low-fi dining experience with smashable carafes of wine, or to pump out food that walks the line between modern and traditional to create something entirely new.
We raise a glass to the front of house staff, the kitchen crew and the people working behind the scenes to make Sydney such an exciting place to eat and drink. And to everyone who followed Broadsheet Sydney to discover the places impressing us the most.
Will chef Dan Pepperell be responsible for making tripe cool in Sydney? In Rome trippa alla Romana is usually a rich tomato number, but not on Pepperell’s watch. Here he’s mixed tripe with fried bits of tripe so there’s crunchy bursts, and used a jumble of Indian spices to make it taste like a spongy butter chicken of sorts. Quick, bring me another bowl, sir.
Yet not everything is tricked up at this super fun, immensely good-looking Italian restaurant – Pepperell’s pork cotoletta, breaded and fried with hints of rosemary, is fairly traditional, but just a bloody great version of it. Best schnitzel in town? Maybe.
The crew who bought us some of this town’s finest venues – Hubert, Frankie’s, Baxter Inn and Shady Pines – has struck again with something outstanding. Sure, it’s only just opened, but Alberto’s bustling, intimate dining room has an allure and energy – you just want to be part of it. The walls are lined with remarkable artwork and old Italian movie posters, and local artist Allie Webb (a frequent collaborator with the group) is behind the striking illustrations on the menus and coasters, and she’s responsible for the mural on the back laneway.
As co-owner Anton Forte says, “Sydney is beautiful. There’s so much passion, care and love going into every venue that opens. The range of venues is so diverse and cutting edge. Honestly, it’s one of the best cities to eat and drink in the world.” Here here.
The pizzas are so good here one Broadsheet staffer visited twice in one night: first for dinner with friends, then later in the evening with her paramour. Indeed, any restaurant born from the pedigree of LP’s Quality Meats and Porteno was destined for greatness, and with Bella Brutta, the result is a pizza that sits somewhere between a Neapolitan and New York slice.
Toppings seesaw between classic-ish and creative: tomato, fior di latte and basil on one; massive, paper-thin rounds of LP’s pepperoni on another. And our favourite, the clam pizza, with clams, pecorino and fermented chilli.
The sides are just as notable as the pizzas, with not a grassy rocket salad in sight. Instead, you’ll get French-style boiled artichoke (pluck off the leaves, dip in aioli); smoked mackerel with horseradish and turnip; and celtuce, the mysterious, nobbly lettuce spied in Asian groceries that here is sliced and diced with young-sunflower stalks and a soft-boiled egg. Second dinners, here we come.
It’s hard not to be taken by the beauty of this northern beaches bistro – it’s gorgeous. Not in a showy way, although the menu is peppered with ingredients you could say are: oysters, caviar, hand-picked mud crab, sea urchin and anchovies the kitchen debones for you (they’re then fried for decoration). Let’s just say it’s the type of place you want to visit wearing relaxed neutral-coloured linen and order a round or two of Bellini’s and settle in for a long lunch.
If you can tear your eyes away from the pretty wicker-covered ceiling, the sparkling waters of Pittwater through the trees and the mesmerising scalloped shape of the bar (that bar), you’ll see the food coming from the kitchen is fancy but restrained and most definitely on point, expertly guided by executive chef Jordan Toff (who is one of mega hospitality group Merivale’s star recruits (Coogee Pavilion, The Newport).
Sure, it’ll be a kick to your wallet if you say yes to everything you’ll want to order (we’re looking at you, shellfish section), but if you can manage it, this is one place to treat your self.
It’s about one thing and one thing only at this subterranean CBD haunt, and that’s steak. And not just any steak, one particular style: bistecca alla fiorentina, or T-bone, which is traditionally cooked, originally in Tuscany, over coals and served rare.
You can have it any way you want it here, but it’ll be cooked on a hearth that takes centre stage in the small dining room.
There is no other restaurant in Sydney as singular as Bistecca – a basement-level eater you’ll find in an alley near Circular Quay, then down a flight of stairs and via a door discreetly placed in the back corner of a Euro-style cocktail bar. Once you enter you’re asked to hand over your mobile phone and, if you’re keen, your precious will be placed in a lockable timber drawer so you can live out your meal minus the cares of the world (or social media).
It’s all part of the charm say owners James Bradey and Warren Burns (The Wild Rover and Grandma’s Bar), who have succeeded in creating a transportative experience. Case in point: that candle melting away on each table on arrival. It’s made of beef dripping you can dip your focaccia into. Bring us another round of candle, we say.
When the Full Circle guerrilla kitchen team was setting up Don Peppino’s in the former nightclub glory of the Grand Pacific Blue Room, they found a new light switch every day. One toggle lit up the bannisters of the wide faux-marble stair entrance in changing neon colours; another illuminated the bathroom vanities in an eerie blue glow. It’s a tacky time warp to the ’90s, and we love it.
Want more switches? Check the menu, which changes weekly. There’s fagioli and swordfish for primi and secondi one week, anchovies and hanger steak the next. We’ve loved the maccheroni ragu, green-and-gold tonnarelli primavera, and the delicious return of the ceci e tria (chickpea pasta) from the Wilmer pop-up – although we really can’t stop thinking about that oozy garlic bread.
We’re also digging the old-school sorbet-served-in-its-mother-fruit-vessel (lemon sorbet in a hollowed-out lemon, and mango sorbet in an empty mango cheek), and the complimentary watermelon slices presented at the end of the meal. But mostly, we’re glad the Full Circle chaps have signed their longest pop-up lease yet; Don Peppino’s will stick around for a whole 12 months.
Lankan Filling Station
If the lines are anything to go by we’re not the only fans of this Darlo diner. Two years in the making, it’s headed by the incredibly talented O Tama Carey who, along with head chef Jemma Whiteman (Pinbone, Mr Liquor’s Dirty Italian Disco), turns out a version of Sri Lankan food that’s part modern, part traditional, entirely flavour-packed and consistently excellent.
The dhal here is fluffy and so far from the stuff you get from bain-maries it’s almost an entirely new dish. The crumbed, pan-fried savoury beef rolls, served with a fiery fermented chilli, is a close contender for best dish, rivaled only by the buttered, tumeric-battered cuttlefish stir-fry.
First timers might get a little confused about what to choose and how to eat the fluffy hoppers, but persevere. After all, this is one of the only places in Australia you can order a sambal-splattered egg hopper and minimal-intervention wine by the glass.
While you won’t get a roast chicken as storied as the one served at Fred’s, and the clams in butter aren’t nearly as fancy as what they are at A1 Canteen, Ron’s Upstairs completely nails its low-fi-food-in-a-fun-and-chilled-setting brief – with a price tag to match.
Which is why we keep going back, and enthusiastically ordering one-litre carafes of Sparrow and Vine to go with the delicious food.
And let’s not forget the decor. One Broadsheet writer perfectly described its Euro-lodge fit-out as magnificently garish – “a museum-worthy tribute to the wood-panel-chic outer-suburb Eastern European community clubs trapped in the early 1980s”. Right on.
Normally, a multi-page menu sets off alarm bells – it screams “jack of all trades, master of none” on behalf of a kitchen that lacks focus, discipline and quality. But there are exceptions to the rule, and Malaysian restaurant Ho Jiak is one of them. The expansive menu covers a spectrum of Malaysian cooking, from the simple “peasant” home-cooked dishes of owner Junda Khoo’s childhood, to the more luxurious options he ate during new year feasts.
There’s the Malaysian-Indonesian-Singaporean classics you’re familiar with: nasi goreng, Hainan chicken rice and char kway teow (the must-order latter is done better here than at many other places around town). But if you fancy taking a leap into the unknown, you’ll also be pleasantly fulfilled.
Opt for the delicate stir-fried bean sprouts with salted fish; the bak chor me, a Teochew-origin dish of flat egg noodles, vinegar and pork. And the fried chicken with salted egg yolk, butter and curry leaves (a flavour combination not often found this far from Asia).
This isn’t a fancy place and sometimes the service it a little skew-whiff, but we don’t care – the food is memorable and the classics are taken to new heights.
Paperbark ticks all the buzzed-about-in-2018 boxes. Plant-based? Tick. Pours minimum-intervention wines? Yep. Incorporates native Australian ingredients? You bet. But does any of it feel gratuitous or as though it’s paying lip service to a trend? Not remotely. This is food that could be accidentally vegan, not just meat dishes without the meat. As co-owner Grace Watson (Verd) told Broadsheet: “Being plant-based doesn't mean we just leave out animal products; the dishes really hero vegetables.”
That could mean plump gnocchi swimming in a mushroom and pepperberry broth, or the umami bomb of a slow-roasted tomato with mushrooms and seaweed. Indigenous ingredients star in dishes such as the slow-roasted beetroot with barbequed oyster mushrooms and karkalla (or pig’s face) served with a Davidson’s-plum sauce.
The drinks list is a who’s-who of Australia’s top natural-wine producers (all wines are vegan) – and cocktails are all mixed using Australian spirits. The interior is a veritable forest of indoor plants that’s almost as beautiful as the artfully plated food. Paperbark, after all, is all about plants. And that’s just fine with us.
Sáng by Mabasa
At first glance the menu at Sáng by Mabasa looks pretty typical for your average Korean joint. But unlike your average Korean, this Surry Hills eatery serves food rarely seen in Australia and outside of home kitchens. Owners Seung Kee Sun Son, Kenny Yong Soo Son and Youmee Jeon (formerly of Balmain’s Mabasa) set out to change Sydney’s perception of Korean food – and they have succeeded.
“We have so much faith in the depth and variety of Korean food, but a lot of people in Australia just know [it] as fried chicken, barbeque, bibimbap and kimchi,” Yong Soo Son told Broadsheet.
The Sáng gang have upped the ante, dishing up relative unknowns such as gujeolpan, which is simply nine ingredients arranged around a pancake; and janchi guksu, a meal traditionally made from leftovers. Here it consists of noodle soup with carrot, zucchini, egg and kimchi. It’s great drinking food, which is handy, because the small drinks list is sprinkled with stellar choices such as Korean beer Kloud, soju and a tiny collection of Australian wines.
The schmick Surry Hills Gogyo serves bowls of ramen swimming in an ebony-coloured soup, flavoured with burnt lard and miso. It’s unlike any other ramen available in Sydney, and from the counter you can spy (and smell) the scorched-miso work in action.
There’s no spying allowed at Ra Ra though, where the tonkotsu recipe is kept under lock and key. Owners Katie Shortland and Scott Gault have been sworn to secrecy by their Japanese ramen consultants, but hey, it’s the taste of the standout creamy pork broth and smoky free-range chashu that counts, right?
At the Kingdom of Rice pop-up, which slid into the Tennyson Hotel (the former residence of Mr Liquor’s Dirty Italian Disco) a couple months ago, it’s all about Cambodian food. There are plates of lort cha (stir-fried tapioca drop noodles), prahok k’tis (raw vegetables with fermented fish paste) and the crowning glory, mork ung – whole chargrilled octopus with a shallot and pork-fat dressing. It’s sadly shutting early, with the last day on December 30.
And while it’s impossible to beat the Newtown version of Continental Deli – its bar is one of the absolute best places in Sydney to snack and imbibe – we’re glad the CBD got a version. It's the new menu items that have us loitering in this lawyerly part of the city. Hello Ameri-can-o (a soda, Campari and red vermouth pre-mix in a tin) and welcome, bucatini with macadamia pesto.
One of the biggest restaurant openings of the year was technically a reopening after Quay took a short hiatus to regroup, rejig and refocus. The white tablecloths were folded away, the room was refreshed and executive chef Peter Gilmore ushered in a menu he thinks better reflects what it means to eat in a fine-dining restaurant in 2018. His umami-rich hand-harvested seafood, with aged vinegar and seaweed, is a Gilmore triumph.
And then there’s the man who shaped the world’s dining scene, Bill Granger. This year he closed his 23-year-old Surry Hills Bills and opened next door. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; we’re not the latest and greatest fashion – we’re too old for that,” he told Broadsheet. And we’re glad – dining at Bills is a charming and tasty experience, replicated and reiterated in cafes and restaurants across the globe.