The mere thought of dining alone is cringe-worthy to most. What could be more daunting than feeling the pitiful burn of onlookers’ eyes as they speculate as to why you’re unaccompanied? No one likes to have their solitude paraded for all to see, do they?
This once-stigmatised dining habit, however, is now clearly becoming more socially acceptable. Even celebrated. After all, food doesn’t necessarily improve with company.
With the rise of social media, especially photo-sharing platforms such as Instagram, diners can now virtually “share” their meals with others while flying solo.
As Giovanni Paradiso, co-owner of Fratelli Paradiso in Potts Point remarks, “dining alone is like an adventure book, you can dictate the vibe, the eating, the drinking. It's completely self-satisfying and very indulgent, be it a quick drink at the bar or a 5-hour session."
You’re no longer hindered by the choices of fellow diners, manners can be left at the door as you roll up your sleeves and tuck in with abandon, and you can go at your own pace. “The lone diner has a sense of romance about them, they have a haze of mystery. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and transcend,” he says.
But what about the loneliness factor? Simone Buffalo, the manager at 10 William Street, insists that many customers “are increasingly coming in solo to have a bit of vino and a chat with some random people sitting around the bar”.
With more and more communal long tables and open kitchens springing up around Sydney, solo diners need not feel quite so alone. “With great things happening at the bar, I would personally sit on my own there easily for a quite long time,” says Buffalo.
So bite the bullet and be bold. In what’s becoming less of an act of bravery and more of a self-nurturing exercise, here are Sydney’s best venues for solitary dining.
10 William Street
Stepping into this terrace building at 10 William Street alone feels more like entering a friend’s home. A revolving door of interesting people, it’s cosy and, particularly upstairs, loud and lurid. Tuck yourself away on a corner table with a glass of orange wine and a book to while away the hours. The menu features homely pasta dishes such as lamb-ragu pappardelle, and spaghetti alla chitarra and pork meatballs. There’s also flathead with shallot, zucchini flower and brown butter; and a cured pork, taleggio cream and shallot bruschetta. Dining on the tall wooden stools at the bar is ideal for those travelling light.
Dumplings and Beer
As a pint-sized venue, with a capacity for only 25 diners, Potts Point’s Dumplings and Beer is the place to drink an unusual beer all by yourself. Pull up a funky red stool at the long wooden benchtop or head upstairs to grab a bite in the loft space. Reflecting a more casual take on Chinese cuisine, the menu features just 20 items. While it’s small, the offerings are diverse, from barbecue pork buns and scallop-and-chive dumplings to pan-fried tofu with slow-roasted eggplant.
We’re all familiar with the sushi-train concept, but no one saw a Lebanese train coming. Mezza Train opened its doors in Mascot in January. Solo diners can sit at the bar and watch coloured plates parade around the central marble benchtop. You won’t be thinking about anyone or anything other than the mezze plates. Dishes include staples like tabouli, hummus and baba ganoush, along with a grilled haloumi stack topped with watermelon slices, basil and mint leaves; and warak enab, or vine leaves rolled with rice, tomato, parsley, minced beef, lemon and spices.
Harajuku Gyoza makes the experience of dining alone fun, with its kitschy youthful decor and boisterous atmosphere. Sitting at the wooden counter, you’ll be facing the kitchen, accompanied by the chefs and bartenders, who will plate your food and mix your beverage before your eyes. With an izakaya-style menu, dishes include a cucumber salad dressed in a sweet miso sauce; and the signature poached or grilled duck, prawn or chicken gyoza. Pair your dishes with the iced green tea and Kirin on tap, or one of the many Japanese beers available, and finish off with the dessert “gyoza”, a fried banana-and-Nutella crepe.
With a seating arrangement centred around a communal long table, 121BC is ideal for those who don’t like to share their food. It was designed with a relaxed small-plate dining experience in mind, reiterated by the attentive and warm native Italian staff. Sample the balsamic pork ribs or the bruschetta bresaola, confit tomato and ricotta. Be sure to purchase a bottle of regional Italian wine at the adjoining enoteca afterwards.
Located on a narrow pedestrian strip behind Chippendale’s Kensington Street, Spice Alley is made up of four permanent South-East Asian stalls, each run by a popular Sydney restaurateur, and two small restaurants. The collective exudes the vibes typically felt in a Singaporean hawker–style market, with exposed brick walls and colourful murals. And what better way to navigate a market than alone, free to sample from differing vendors as you please? Try Alex Lee’s chatterbox rice, Old Jim Kee’s teh tarik (Malaysian milk tea) and Bang Luck’s papaya salad with chicken ribs. At Hong Kong Diner, order the slow-cooked beef brisket with radish; at KYO-TO, the takoyaki octopus balls garnished with bonito; and at Lower Mekong, the banh xeo (crispy pancake).