With Melbourne’s strict no-bookings policy sneaking its way up to Sydney, getting your foot in the door at a new restaurant can be near impossible. What used to be seen as the next best thing – being seated at the bar – is now often our first preference. Patrons seem to be happy to rub shoulders and bump elbows over dinner.
We are no longer favouring the seclusion offered by that quite table in the corner. Instead, we want to be part of the action, front and center at a long communal table overlooking theatrical open kitchens.
More restaurants are including designated bar-dining areas in their redesigns. Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll, the owners of Applejack Hospitality, have certainly capitalised on the increased popularity of at-the-bar dining. Now the duo has five themed bars, including Della Hyde, their latest venture, which opened in November last year. Watts believes the trend is driven by the “interactive experience”. He says diners, “love the theatre” of eating at the bar. “It’s always more exciting to watch the bartender while they make your drink, or the chef while they plate up your food.”
Anton Forte’s choice to include two bars in his latest restaurant Hubert, though, was not driven by trend. “I just like bars,” he admits. Forte says dining at the bar offers convenience. “I think it’s a comfortable, easy spot to shoot the breeze while having a meal. Not to mention, they’re sick fun.”
Here are some Sydney restaurants that have nailed open kitchens and casual bar dining.
With its pale-pink and green palette, Darlinghurst’s Della Hyde looks as though it was plucked straight from a Wes Anderson film. It’s the latest venture from Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll of Applejack Hospitality, the duo behind SoCal and The Butler. The bar area faces the sparkling liquor cabinet around which everything else revolves. Diners can select from the signature cocktail list, which follows the seasons. Drinks include a cold-drip-based gin orange aperitif and The Hyde Espresso, infused with salted caramel and topped with honeycomb. To eat there is ceviche, garlic-prawn pizza and sweet-potato fries with a honey-yoghurt dressing.
Harvest Bar at Majestic Harvest
Majestic Harvest in Petersham is in a building that was once a 1920s cinema, then a nightclub and then a roller rink. Now Majestic Harvest has opened another wing to its upscale grocer and restaurant. The new Harvest Bar is upstairs, in a loft space. The bar offers a tapas menu, which is different to the offering downstairs. Diners can choose from bar classics such as cheese boards and fried chicken, and more sophisticated plates such as pan-roasted scallop with sweet-corn puree and parmesan foam, and duck-liver parfait. The wine list complements the dishes and there is Batch Brewery Company on tap.
The bar stools at The Gretz are upholstered with owner Gregory Llewellyn’s jeans, and those of his friends and family. It’s primarily a bar that serves both classic and innovative cocktails, but the snacks should not be overlooked. With a seafood focus, the menu has a diverse selection that includes smoked mackerel pate, crab dip and a retro prawn cocktail. For dessert, there’s a peanut-butter cookie banoffee-ice-cream sandwich.
Kensington Street Social
Occupying a spacious ground-floor spot in Chippendale, you’d expect this venue’s concrete pylons to diminish its ambience. But they work in harmony with the gold-brushed metal fittings. Consider the English wild-mushroom tea and bone-marrow toast for two, with “gentleman’s relish”. Or try the more sophisticated Queensland spanner crab with frozen cucumber gazpacho and rhubarb. If you’re feeling bold, try the Vegemite-infused martini. The bar stools face the kitchen, so you won’t miss a beat.
Furnished with upholstered leather booths, Bar Pincer offers an abridged form of the a-la-carte menu. The Normandy burger has dry-aged beef, pickles and Gruyère. Pair it with the thin Bordelaise-sauce steak frites.
The Bar at Bennelong
The Bar offers an experience in stark contrast to the formal setting of the restaurant on Bennelong’s lower level. It’s where people meet briefly before or after a show, and it has an Australian wine list and an original cocktail menu. Standouts include the Snugglepot & Cuddlepie, with Buffalo Trace bourbon and cherry, walnut and quince shrubs. Or the Bitter Disposition made with Dolin Bitter, Lillet rose, Antica Formula and raspberry granita. Another option is the Cured & Cultured section, where you can also sit at the bar and order an ultra-luxurious toastie of Byron Bay black pig culatello, truffle butter and radishes sandwiched between barley toast.
From a team that includes Bulletin’s (Circular Quay) Rob Sloan and Farmhouse King Cross’s Tristian Rosier, Dead Ringer bears some, but not many, similarities to Bulletin. There’s an extensive cocktail list dominated by fresh flavours as seen in the cucumber and ginger Summer Gin Punch and the Black Amber Bramble with vodka, plum jam and umeshu. Its “honest” food menu includes appetizers such as seared sardines with miso butter and black tahini. Mains include roast chicken with cavalo nero, and the black angus sirloin with black-garlic mustard. The seating is around a blond-wood bar.
Brought to Enmore by Porteño’s Joe Valore, Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ibrahim Kasif, Stanbuli is easy to miss when strolling along Enmore Road. Disguised by its original 1950s hair salon façade, its interior exudes a different vibe altogether, tastefully decorated with Mediterranean tiles and wooden cabinetry. Pull up a stool at the long marble bar and sample a few mezze plates, the most popular of which is the melon and cheese. There’s also savoury tomato-braised flat beans and smoky eggplant with cucumber and sumac. If you’re feeling something heavier, be sure to try the pastirma (Turkish cured beef), which is made in house and accompanied by chilli, garlic, fenugreek and cumin. Pair with the Aryan, a salt-infused yoghurty drink for a truly authentic Turkish experience.