The Best Restaurants in Sydney’s CBD

Updated 2 weeks ago

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There’s an enormous concentration of restaurants in Sydney’s CBD, as in the centre of any big city. But not that long ago, eating well in the city meant either sticking to Chinatown or burning the expense account at a fancy steakhouse – with not much middle ground in between.

The above is still true, but shiny new developments in Darling Square, Baranagaroo and Circular Quay have changed the game entirely, ushering in a new wave of options bridging the gap between affordable and upmarket. Whatever your budget, occasion or preferred cuisine, our guide has you covered.

City Centre

  • This art deco drinks-and-dining complex has three seductive bars, but the heart and soul of the building is the spectacular ninth-floor restaurant. Take your time with a lengthy menu of seafood, pasta and protein-heavy mains, and a wine list highlighting French classics and new world naturals.

  • Set within Merivale’s sprawling Ivy Precinct, Bar Totti’s is more than just a facsimile of the Bondi original. It brings together the best bit of the OG (signature pastas, outstanding antipasti and woodfired flatbreads), but has a few of its own tricks, too. Notably, regular DJ sets and a late-trading licence to keep the good times rolling for longer.

  • Restaurants all over Sydney have tried to copy Mr Wong’s refined Cantonese-led menu, its modern fit-out and the quality of its service, but none have been successful. Inside, a bank of barbequed ducks aren’t just great to look at: they’re plump, juicy and delicious. Likewise the delicate dumplings, which are some of the city’s best. Chef Dan Hong sets a benchmark that has the right amount of Aussie-Cantonese nostalgia.

  • Few restaurants have maintained their excellence and hunger for invention like Bentley. It opened in an old Surry Hills pub in ’06 before moving to this grander location in 2013, announcing its culinary ambitions in the process. Chef Brent Savage and sommelier Nick Hildebrandt continue to post some of Sydney’s most varied and progressive wine lists and degustations.

  • The CBD has some of the best cocktail bars in the world, but there’s a surprising lack of venues with a focus on vino. Since moving from its original Potts Point location, Monopole, with its clever mix of snacking and thoughtful drinks list, has changed that.

  • Hubert’s low ceilings, timber-panelled walls and candle-lit tables feel like they’ve been there forever. And yet, this convincing facsimile of a grand European restaurant circa World War II only opened in 2016. Behind this extravagant and ambitious facade there’s unmatched reverence for classic hospitality and notably un-classic French food.

  • This heritage corner site has lived many lives – but its most recent one is arguably its best. Come for freshly shucked oysters from the cabinet, premium Australian steaks and a focus on local and French wine varieties.

  • Sydney’s fine dining benchmark. Tetsuya’s alumni (Dan Hong and Luke Powell, to name a few) have gone on to shape the city’s culinary landscape. They earned their stripes here first, plating-up a famous menu that includes the signature confit of Tasmanian ocean trout – one of Australia’s most iconic dishes. It’s all set within a serene Japanese-style interior.

  • Though the original Rockpool is now closed, the opulent steakhouse which bears its name is still the clear favourite in Neil Perry’s family of bars and restaurants. Despite being (slightly) more casual than the original, this is still one of Sydney’s premiere special occasion restaurants. That’s because Rockpool Bar and Grill epitomises Perry’s legacy of timeless dishes cooked with fastidiously-sourced ingredients.

  • More than 15 years on, this moody underground restaurant remains one of the best places in town to try the cuisines of China's Yunnan, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. While Sichuan food is king here, the entire menu is stylish, vibrant and goes well with cocktails inspired by the Chinese zodiac.

  • The liberation of Paris is the theme behind this polished cocktail bar from the team behind The Lobo. Settle into sophisticated surrounds for rum and rye Old Fashioneds and French-influenced dishes with modern Australian flair.

  • At this restaurant-bar, chef-owner Junda Khoo experiments with regional Malaysian specialties. Plus there are tiki-inspired cocktails and a fun wine list.

  • Southeast Asian street food is the focus at Merivale’s rowdy good-times diner: oysters spiked with Vietnamese-style vinaigrette, jungle curry with pipis and Phnom Penh fried chicken. To drink? Fresh cocktails and a famous yuzu slushie.

  • A sexy wine bar from the team behind Love, Tilly Devine, where the pasta menu changes almost daily and comes supplied by its retail sibling, Fabbrica a few blocks away. You might order cavatelli with pippies and house-made pork sausage one day, and goat ragu mafaldine the next.

  • A solid lunchtime dining option in the CBD, with an alfresco plant-filled terrace and a whopping 900-kilogram wood grill.

  • Merivale’s opulent Japanese diner puts a modern spin on the country’s traditional cuisine. Take your seat at the white marble counter for a theatrical experience involving premium seafood, sake and no shortage of knife skills from the team of highly trained chefs.

  • A classic French brasserie experience from Merivale. The laneway setting already feels like a Parisian backstreet – but it’s the seafood platters and cote de boeuf that really take you there. You wouldn’t want to celebrate Bastille Day anywhere else.

  • A cosmopolitan Italian diner with enough marble to sink a ship. It’s a spin-off of Matteo’s in Double Bay, and the pizza is just as good. This place has a few of its own moves though – notably, an executive chef who was trained by the inventor of Roman-style pizza.

  • This laneway eatery by Oscillate Wildly’s Karl Firla and Lumi Dining’s Federico Zanellato is plating up duck ragu with curly malfaldine, plus a note-perfect tiramisu.

  • Apart from sides, there's only one thing on this menu: T-bone steaks, sold by weight.

  • Descend the stairs into a labyrinthine den of lush velvet booths, flowing booze and a menu that champions Riverine rib eye.

  • Thai cuisine by David Thompson, one of the world’s most lauded Thai chefs.

  • From the group behind Balmain’s Efendy comes this veg-forward diner inspired by Turkey’s Aegean coastline. Meze is at the heart of the menu, and you can pair dishes such as beetroot falafel with Turkish wines you won’t find elsewhere.

  • The restaurant in Angel Place has whole rotisserie beasts, daily cheeses, an enviable wine list and charcuterie.

  • Southern Indian spices and village cuisine are at the centre of Sam Prince’s restaurant.

  • A Parisian-style bistro in the heart of the city.

  • A modern Japanese restaurant where ’90s grunge and rock reigns supreme.

  • The best of New York inspires the Pellegrino 2000 crew's handsome CBD seafood grill and steakhouse. As ever, it’s all about irreverently executed classics: steak tartare with an unexpected twist; macaroni alla vodka that tastes like the best pasta bake you’ll ever eat; and cocktails that cross New York classics with the “daggy drinks” of the ’80s.

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  • Behind a nondescript door in town, the second iteration of Toko echoes the experience beloved at the original Surry Hills site for 15 years. Expect good-times playlists, signature dishes including Moreton Bay bug tempura, and a sushi bar.

  • The team behind Ragazzi have taken cues from their favourite Roman trattorias and New York's Gramercy Tavern to create their dream Italian joint – with a walk-in bar area and a beautiful art-filled dining room spanning 120 seats. Slide into a velvet-and-leather booth for a plate for lovingly made pastas, and a choice of 600 wines from Italy and beyond.

  • This immersive Korean diner has pinched a chef from a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Seoul. He’s uniting Korean and European influences inside a futuristic space unlike anything else in the CBD.

  • This spot blends fifties-style Shanghai glamour with CBD laneway dining. It's the more relaxed addition to the China Doll and China Beach family of restaurants.

  • There’s no velvet or faff at this humming diner from the team behind Bistecca and The Gidley. Order a Riverine sirloin steak – aged and butchered in house – and it’ll be on your table in 15 minutes. The brutalist, art-filled space also packs in a bar with the energy of east London, and serves what might be the coldest Martini in Sydney.

  • Tokyo, Hong Kong, Brooklyn. Merivale’s fun basement diner takes cues from all three cities. As for the menu, it’s a no-rules affair by Totti’s executive chef Mike Eggert, powered by woks and woodfire.

  • Direct from Japan, this steakhouse lets you choose from three affordable cuts of meat, then watch as it’s slapped on a super-hot stone to cook at your table.

  • Acclaimed chef Khanh Nguyen leads the Bentley Group’s 100-seat East Asian restaurant – complete with the playful xiaolongbao and Filet-O-Fish crossover we never knew we needed.

  • The chef behind two of acclaimed Melbourne restaurants is bringing his produce-driven approach to the GPO building in Martin Place. At Morena, he's showcasing the best of Latin American cuisine, and Australia's largest collection of wines from the region.

  • Tomoharu Shono's Michelin-starred chain has arrived in Sydney. Hit this “farm to bowl” spot for a signature chicken soup – featuring house-made noodles made from Australian wheat varieties.

  • This smart Korean diner puts modern spins on classic dishes like tteokbokki and sundae. It also brings the fun of eating out in Seoul to a sleek space that’s primed for both casual and special occasion dinners.

Circular Quay & The Rocks

  • The standard-setter for fine dining in Sydney. Executive chef Peter Gilmore is tireless in his pursuit of what’s interesting, new and Australian. His backyard is peppered with test plantations of rare vegetables, he works with local ceramicists on custom crockery and he’s a leading advocate for native produce. The restaurant’s theatrical tasting menus show off all this and more, bolstered by some of the city’s best harbour views.

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  • This is the show-stopping star of Matt Moran’s culinary empire. The artfully-plated dishes warrant the lofty price-tags, but those generous harbour views do a lot to offset the sting. This is one of Sydney’s great try-before-you-die restaurants – a pillar of modern Australian dining.

  • Set within the window-cupped, city-facing end of the Opera House, Bennelong’s dining room is spectacular, no matter if the sun pours in or the CBD’s lights are illuminated. Quay’s Peter Gilmore and head chef Rob Cockerill run a menu that matches the location – seafood from nearby waters, house charcuterie made with all Australian produce and show stopping desserts.

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  • A Mediterranean grill and wine bar unlike anything we’ve seen in The Rocks before. Visit Swillhouse Group’s grand-statement venue for two-sip Martinis; dishes cooked over charcoal; and a massive mosaic from Italy.

  • The overhaul of this once notorious late-night dive was a long time coming. And the chic public bar, elegant European bistro and sunny rooftop were all worth the wait. The best part? You’ll actually want to be there during daylight hours, too.

  • A ritzy institution on the Customs House rooftop. The menu bounces between Indian and Italian flavours to create an altogether modern Australian vibe that spans surf, turf and vegan dishes. An appropriate focus on seafood works a treat, given the jaw-dropping views of Sydney Harbour. Book ahead for the window seats.

  • Set within the historic Campbell's Stores precinct, this luxe Japanese diner lets you choose your own experience. There's an omakase counter where your meal is left entirely up to the chefs, and a bigger dining area with a set menu. There's fresh-caught seafood and sake on the cards no matter where you sit.

  • Burgers, craft beer, minimal intervention wine, thumping rock music and a fern-filled outdoor dining space with 30 seats. And the whole menu can be ordered vegan.

  • An ultra-luxe fine diner specialising in two of Japan’s great culinary traditions. The multi-course menus highlight premium produce, from lobster to Wagyu and abalone. But you can’t put a price on those stellar harbour views.

  • A pioneering Greek-Australian chef is celebrating the cuisines of the south Aegean at this handsome harbourside diner. Dig into spanakopita-inspired dumplings and chargrilled octopus in the heritage-listed sandstone dining room. Or snag a seat outside for cocktails with one of the country’s most iconic views.

  • This all-day eatery inside Hinchcliff House mills its own flour, using grain supplied by NSW farmers. That means house-made pastas and ciabatta to go with produce-driven share plates and cocktails.

Barangaroo

  • Second only to Saint Peter in the art of seafood cookery. While Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt’s Barangaroo restaurant is similarly interested in issues of sustainability, this waterfront restaurant is more focused on luxury. An all-Australian seafood tower, multiple caviar options and an unrivalled selection of chablis are proof of that.

  • This is the long-awaited Sydney outpost for the beloved Japanese dining empire, and it's brought its signature miso cod along for the ride. Dine on salmon-sashimi tacos and evaporate-in-your-mouth nigiri, knock back "sushi cups" and enjoy some aged sake.

  • For the theatre of a Michelin-starred meal without the stiffness, look no further than Alessandro Pavoni’s elegant Italian diner. Come for Genovese pesto pounded tableside, a roving gelato cart and sparkling harbour views.

  • Celebrated Irish chef Clare Smyth brings to Sydney the same farm-to-plate concept that earned her London restaurant three Michelin stars. Expect signature and locally inspired dishes, backed up a 3000-bottle wine list and spectacular harbour views from atop Crown Tower.

  • This dazzling fine diner – from the duo behind legendary CBD restaurant The Bridge Room – was worth the wait. Each kitchen of the four kitchens here harness a different element: steam, fire, smoke and ice.

  • A less-spicy outpost for a Harris Park Indian favourite.

  • Contemporary Chinese meets native produce is the brief at Lotus. The group's Barangaroo restaurant takes full advantage of its waterfront location, and is a perfect spot for oysters, dumplings and cocktails.

  • A bright Barangaroo taqueria doing mezcal and tequila cocktails, plus stellar tacos and share plates marrying Mexican flavours and cooking techniques with Australian produce.

  • Ethically sourced seafood on the waterfront.

  • Nashville-style spicy fried chicken, natural wines and craft beers.

  • Matt Moran’s Japanese-inspired listening bar has a high-quality sound system pumping out tracks curated by top Sydney artists. It’s also serving up playful Japanese-inspired dishes, two omakase experiences and a huge selection of sake.

Haymarket

  • The upmarket sequel to legendary Sydney Cantonese restaurant Golden Century. It’s named after its now-closed sibling’s most famous dish, the XO pippies, which you can absolutely order here. Plus, Cantonese-style roasted meats, live seafood and outstanding wines from the tome-like list. There’s also a daily yum cha service from midday.

  • One of Sydney’s yum cha kings. This slamming Cantonese favourite can be a tad expensive if you're dining with a smaller group – but the premium is warranted. The quality of food, speed of service and deep history is undeniable.

  • A trailblazer in Sydney’s Thai restaurant scene. When the late, great Amy Chanta opened it in Darlinghurst in 1989, it brought Bankgok flavours that were then-unknown to Sydney diners. The Thai street food here is fine-dining quality, served at very reasonable price points. Today, it’s a super-popular chain with stores all over Sydney.

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  • In the old Golden Century site, this 400-seat Cantonese diner is ushering in a new era for Chinatown. The seafood tanks are full, the yum cha trolleys are back in action and late-night dining runs until 3am.

  • One of the few places in the centre of town where you can try Nanjing specialties. If you’re into duck, this is the spot for you.

  • Hokkien-style Penang home cooking.

  • This slamming Thai institution has all the classics you know. Plus, a hardcore Thai following to rival the corporates and students dropping in for an affordable lunch and dinner.

  • Affordable Malaysian food with a range of flavoured roti. If you don't get in before the lunchtime rush you can expect to queue for a while.

  • Find this cavernous Thai grocer and cafe in the heart of Sydney’s Thai Town. Despite serving burgers, bowls and pasta, Boon doesn’t mix elements of Thai and western cuisine – it reimagines them like they always belonged together.

  • The home of the richest, most unctuous tonkotsu ramen in town. Owner Mori Higashida rips through 300 kilograms of fresh pork bones every day to make his soup, which has been hailed by Dan Hong as the “most hectic” in Australia.

  • For fast-paced, real-deal Thai.