Sydney Institutions

Updated March 25th, 2021


Even the most successful operators tend to refresh their business every now and then. From superficial renovations to completely new concepts, it’s a rare restaurateur who doesn’t feel the need to change things up.

That’s what makes the venues on this list so impressive. Many have sailed past their 50th anniversary on the same foundations they started with. Some have never changed what they do.

As a group, they’ve weathered recessions, gentrification, rising rents and fluctuating tastes. We think that’s worth celebrating.

  • 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.

  • The old-school Italian with the iconic green door has been kicking hard since 1987 with honest Napoli-style fare including hand-made pastas, fish and beautifully prepared meat courses. The tablecloths are white, the upholstery is floral and the service is pitch-perfect.

  • This is the godfather of Italian dining in Sydney. Beppi’s has been ticking-over with the same consistency, fit-out and leather-bound menus – hand-carved by the late Beppi Polese himself – since 1956. Immortal dishes include clams and mussels with garlic, olive oil, white vino and tomato; and zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, basil and mushrooms.

  • 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.

  • At one time, the breakfasts at Bill Granger’s sun-drenched cafe were the yardstick by which all the city’s cafes were measured. This blonde-wood institution still hits with avo on Iggy’s bread, poached eggs with elevated sides and ricotta hotcakes.

  • Part of the pantheon of Sydney’s Italian joints and the attention to detail and fresh produce is just as sharp now as it was back in 1988 (fish is still delivered twice-daily and the pastas are all house-made). CEOs and prime ministers past and present aren’t just framed on the walls – you might just catch them dining here, too.

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  • Gloria’s is the reason they call Petersham Little Portugal. Come for taberna-style charm and huge huge and hearty serves of provincial Portuguese food. Think red-bean, pork, beef and chorizo stew with rice, or fried pork with clams, capsicum and coriander on a bed of cubed potatoes. Don’t leave without trying the Portuguese tart.

  • Whale Beach’s own elegant fine diner and hotel lives inside a wartime-era coach house. The menu has an Italian edge, with wild-caught fish and a couple pastas starring. If that's not enough to lure you in, the dining room has priceless ocean views to match the superlative food.

  • This elevated vantage of Bondi’s sloshing surf is one of Australia’s great views – one a less conscientious restaurateur might easily lean on. Not Maurice Terzini, who’s been pushing his resplendent Italian diner to greater and greater heights since 2002.

  • A North Indian-style diner plating up Punjabi specialties. Before Harris Park ever claimed Little India status, Billu’s was the first on the ground with its now-famous tandoori chicken. It’s marinated for 24 hours in yoghurt and spices, then wood-fired in the tandoor. It’s a fine entry-point, but be sure to venture towards the regional dishes you won’t find elsewhere.

  • Curbside dining, Sopranos-style, since 1965. The buzzy dining room upstairs is a good alternative though, where you’ll find generous bowls of pasta and super-sized schnitzels with cheese and veg. Hair-raisingly robust espresso from 6am until midnight.

  • This German restaurant, which opened in 1961, has a 4000-bottle cellar-slash-dining area you have to see to believe. There’s seven sorts of schnitzel and a killer pork knuckle too, plus a smattering of Dutch-Indonesian dishes. And with 48 hours notice, chef Max Dietz will oblige any special request for an off-menu German dish.

  • An institution among Laksa addicts. Today the name has two locations under its banner, but the original, now-closed Hunter Street shop was ladling bowls of piping hot laksa all the way back in 1987 – long before most of the CBD’s other Asian restaurants joined the party.

  • Set over two storeys in an iconic Paddington terrace, Sydney’s most experimental wine bar has Italian swagger in spades. Come for pastas that are anything but traditional, and a pretzel with whipped bottarga that’s so spectacular it’s never left the menu. The wine list changes so frequently, you could visit three times in a week and never get bored.

  • This “rickety-chic” institution has been winning over Sydneysiders with its ever-changing seasonal menu since 1993. It’s packed with ultra-fresh produce from the restaurant’s own farm in the Blue Mountains – check the restaurant chalkboard details. Cheerfully charming and dangerously good.

  • Cultish popularity and loads of sambal. Expats, students and food explorers make the pilgrimage to Anzac Parade for the Indonesian fare at this institution. Visit for outrageously tender chicken (choose from charcoal or deep-fried options), street-style satays and nasi goreng.

  • 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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  • This underrated fine diner has been going strong since the 1950s. It sits on the edge of Cowan Creek, one of several waterways feeding directly into the Hawkesbury River near Mooney Mooney. Expect elegant waterside dining at its best, with beautifully-plated European dishes and a progressive wine list.

  • Moncur has been in business since 1993. The food here deftly deploys Australian produce across its concise menu of well-executed European dishes. The tome of a wine list is filled with Australian and European pours (at occasionally dizzying price-points).

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  • Two words: Snow Egg. It was the dessert that catapulted Quay to global fame, but chef Peter Gilmore has retired his fabled creation in search of new horizons. He’s unlikely to abandon Quay’s incredible vista, though: 270 degrees-worth of unfettered Sydney harbour; the ultimate backdrop to this quintessential Sydney dining experience.

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  • There’s charcoal chicken joints, then there’s El Jannah. The Granville original put the Western Sydney suburb on the culinary map with its tender birds, addictively punchy garlic sauce and neon-pink radishes. These days it’s a well-oiled chicken machine, with sister locations across town.

  • 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.

  • Come here for hawker-style laksas by way of KL and Penang. There’s also a Borneo-specific style heavy on the shrimp and spice, plus a myriad of chicken and pork dishes. It’s all supported by deep-fried Malaysian bites. There are two relentlessly-busy locations in Kingsford and Campsie.

  • You'll find this Potts Point fixture at the Paris end of Macleay Street. That location, combined with a stately exterior and a menu boasting French bistro classics, makes for truly transportive dining. Expect steak frites, salmon tartare, oysters and a tight list of French and Aussie wines.

  • A cornerstone of south-west Sydney’s Cantonese-speaking community. Its suited-up service and low-key decor have remained unchanged since 1980. And you can expect the same consistency from the extensive menu. Equally primed for one-person lunch or a banquet for many.

  • Sleek and informal Asian dining at the Cowper Street Wharf. The menu is a knock-out homage to the best of Chinese and south-east Asian cuisines. Try tenured dishes such as tea-smoked duck with tamarind and plum, or the pork belly with chilli caramel and *nam pla phrik* (sweet-and-sour sauce). White tablecloths and city skylines included.

  • This sandstone brewpub has been continuously trading since 1841. Lately though, it’s become a craft beer holy ground and tourist destination. The house Three Sheets Pale Ale tastes great poured fresh from the tap, and it's best paired with a warming curry from the rather flash bistro menu.

  • Whether you’re stopping in for that iconic lasagnette bolognaise or just a snack, Frat Paz nails it every time. Its groundbreaking wine list introduced the city to many minimal-intervention styles we're now obsessed with.

  • Some fanatics call this the best pasticceria in Sydney. Five Dock’s Italian community certainly seems to think of. In any case, the quality of Tamborrino’s Roman-style biscuits, cannoli and cream-filled pastries is evident. For a quick breafkast, go for an Italian-style croissant and a strong espresso.

  • Enmore Road’s perennial late-night Pakistani joint. Newtown kids gravitate towards the excellent tandoori, but past midnight, the taxi driver set fuel up with flash-fried Lahore-style curries and stews ordered off the special menu (the staff write it in biro on the back of a docket).

  • Visit this slamming Maltese eatery for big bowls of pasta and flaky, addictive pastizzi (savoury pastries). After moving from its original South King Street digs, it’s now three times the size – but remains an essential Newtown venue.

  • Hungarian treats have been front and centre at this bagelry and pretzel-maker ever since it opened in 1979. Here you'll find exquisitely layered chocolate cakes and strudels, plus bagels good enough to stand up to any of Sydney’s flashy new-school bagelries.