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Sydney restaurants that showcase Australian food (modern and traditional)

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My husband and I will be traveling from Seattle to Australia next Saturday. We're spending most of our time near Darwin, but we have two full days in Sydney at the tail end of our ten-day trip. What restaurants in Sydney would do a great job of showcasing Australian food, both modern and traditional? I read about Bill's for breakfast and am considering Tetsuya's if we can possibly get a reservation with such short notice. (Are they open on Sunday or Monday?) We're both pretty adventurous eaters and have no allergies (that we know of) or restrictions.

Two important things I should mention: First, we haven't yet booked a hotel. (I like to fly by the seat of my pants when I travel!) If there's a part of Sydney with a particularly good concentration of great restaurants, we'd love to hear about it. Second, we haven't decided yet if we'll rent a car. We both enjoy walking and would prefer to use public transportation if possible, so if any restaurants you recommend are particularly difficult to get to without a car, we would appreciate it if you could mention that in your review.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. A truly wonderful place for dinner that tourists don't know about (should I even be posting this?) is Blackwattle Bay Boathouse, at the end of Ferry Road, Glebe Short taxi ride or water taxi from the City. It has a marvellous view of a small somewhat industrial cove and beautiful bridge called the Glebe Island Bridge. Tel - (02) 9518 9011. Lunch and dinner Tuesdays to Sundays. About A$90 pp for three courses. The thing to order is their signature dish Snapper Pie. Australian Snapper is the most wonderful tasting fish, unlike anything you've had before.

    Rockpool in the Rocks is also fantastic dining. Definitely get the passionfruit curd tart!

    A MUST is the Shangri-La Hotel Horizons Cocktail Lounge for a sunset drink and possibly the most spectacular view of Sydney Harbour.

    Day Trips --
    One morning take a taxi from the City to --
    Finger/Cowper Wharf, in Woolloomooloo (now famous bc Russel Crowe has a penhouse there). There's the Woolloomooloo Bay Hotel -- upstairs is a grill, which is very nice for lunch while the newly refurbished Tilbury Hotel on Nicholson Road (nearby) is brilliant for dinner.

    From Finger/Cowper Wharf, walk through the Botanic Gardens, past Mrs MacQ's Chair, past Opera House and Circular Quay back to the City The Rocks/Wynard Station area). Approx 2 hours (?)

    Another nice idea for a day trip is to take a Ferry to Manly from Circular Quay.
    Walk along the Corso to the beach. Have Lunch at Manly - try one of the pubs -- they have great food there, or there is a really good Fish and Chip shop for take out (to eat by the beach) at the end of the Corso, called Ocean Breeze --- or something like that.Then take a Ferry ride/or Express (Jet Cat?) back to Circular Quay.

    Another great ferry trip is to Watsons Bay, then walk up to the Gap -- a famous rocky outcrop where a lot of people have committed suicide and a gal was recently murdered there (!) So, gorey history aside, it's really beautiful there and you have a marvellous distant view of the city. Just don't bother eating at the pub or at Doyles by the ferry. Pricey and sub-average. Instead, get a sandwich from one of the small shops near the bus stop up the hill.

    A great place for drinks is at Cadmus Restaurant's Bridge Bar, Level 9 or 10, Opera Quay's East, opposite the Dendy Cinema (it's the end of Circular Quay that is closest to the Opera House).
    I even ate lunch at Cadmus. It was pricey but really nice Lebanese/Middle Eastern food with French flair. It's located inside a building commonly referred to as "The Toaster" = a big building at 1-3 Macquarie St

    Directly opposite that, way at the *other* end of Circular Quay, in the Rocks district, is a fabulous restaurant called Quay. Haute cuisine.

    An absolutely wonderful place for breakfast (or lunch, but the menu before 12 noon is outstanding) is the Balmoral Bathers Pavillion. It's a little way out of town, on Sydney's North Shore, but well worth it. The beach is adorable. You will not be disappointed.
    You have to take a taxi over the Harbor Bridge for that one. Or train plus bus, which could be a bit of a pain...

    Breakfast --
    bills -- or bills 2 -- in Darlinghurst -- a fantastic and legendary place. Tom and Nicole used to go there all the time. Great coffee shops around there, too.

    Thai restaurants --
    Sailor Thai is in the Rocks -- on George Street.

    Also Longrain in Darlinghurst -- wonderful food. Again, take a taxi there. Slightly seedy part of town... Maybe get the restaurant to book you a taxi for your return.

    I urge you to try some Malaysian food while you are there.

    ***Ask your concierge if you can look at their copy of the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food Guide. It's a foodie bible.

    Have a wonderful trip! I miss my hometown soooooo much!!

    Oh - I just re-read your post. Obviously I've recommended more than you can possibly do in two days, but it should be a useful guide.

    20 Replies
    1. re: Maxmillion

      ARGHHHH i have tried to edit and ended up with 2 posts.

      Quay only does a set menu typo in my original)

      link for kirketon:
      http://www.kirketon.com.au/

      1. re: kmh

        Not sure your first post made it up here... Kirketon and Quay, though? I'll put those on my list. Thank you!

        1. re: chloevu

          no it didn't. at one stage there were 2xsame post! how annoying.

          credit to Maxmillion for an excellent post, I had a couple of comments to add.
          my points were:
          if you like 5* hotels w/ no budget restrictions and want to be in town stay at Blue at woolloomoolloo (finger/cowper wharf area) or westin (old GPO in center of town) or park hyatt (on circular quay).

          if you prefer to mix it with the locals, then stay in potts point/kings cross/ darlinghurst - vibrant, lively, but with some dodgey bits too. lots of cafes, shopping, short walk from oxford street (australian designer clothes retailing plus some of the chains you will recognise), the botanical gardens (through the back of potts point) and to woolloomoollo (the wharves mentioned in maxMillion post) (these suburbs are so small they are along a strip)
          the kirketon is a little hotel there - great use of limited space, but get the largest room you can afford. my husbands work colleagues often stay at the holiday inn in potts point.

          breakfast: i do NOT recommend bills. once a great place and a sydney icon (I loved it as much as anyone), bill now spends his time being a "celebrity chef" and advertising anything from appliances to toothpaste. My last meal at Bills 2 would not qualify as airline food, and Bills is too expensive for what it offers - "the best scrambled eggs in Sydney", which they no longer are. buy his cookbooks instead (they don't change)

          I would suggest danks street depot (and then a walk along danks street to some up and coming galleries and "lifestyle" stores), or Bird Cow Fish on crown street surry hills (there is another post on this reccently). Surry Hills is a great, vibrant and fashionable part of town, and a short walk from darlinghurst. also if you stay in potts point/kings x/darlinghurst ) you can walk to both the botanical gardens and finger/cowper wharves.

          if you have great thai in seattle, try something different. david thompson is no longer on location at sailor's thai - off earning michelin stars in london and consulting to the thai tourism board, and longrain standards have slipped (once my favourite place) whilst they have been establishing themselves in Melbourne as well as Sydney (two restaurants 1000km apart!).

          for harbour view dining Quay is sublime, and aria is a close second. quay only does set menu now, and their lunch menu looks like really good value. http://www.quay.com.au/index.html. I have not eaten at est. as i don't particularly like the atmosphere nor proprietors of the establishment hotel. if the cocaine set is your thing, then i'm sure the food's fab, but be prepared to deal with some attitude.

          the aforementioned snapper pie at blackwattle bay is sublime, and being winter, entirely appropriate for lunch, but if you want to go out for dinner as well, i suggest you share it and order appetiser & salad to go with it.

          Malaysian: To's Shop 3/181 Miller Street, North Sydney - you could walk across the harbour bridge on the way there (or back). To's do the best laksa in sydney, good beef rendang, cha hor fun. bring your appetite and eat early so you will be hungry again for dinner. for a review: http://www.smh.com.au/news/restaurant... (still relevant despite date) not open on Sundays.

          agree with FF on Billy Kwong - the food is sensational, but it's not a relaxing experience for 2 as they don't take bookings, and although you can go to the pub and they'll call you on cell phone when table is ready, they do rush you through the meal a bit. it's better with a group. also the servings are large so you will struggle to try many dishes here, which really won't do it justice.
          Blue Eye Dragon (you would need to check if open on your nights) is now on the scene doing taiwanese food, and this reminds me of the chinese food my mum cooks after doing classes when we lived in that part of the world. this is down in harris street pyrmont which is an area currently being revived (once a wharf/industry area) and is quite interesting, not far from darling harbour and casino (if you're into that

          )

          (FYI monday is probably the quietest night in this town in terms of eating out)

          so for this very short post with only a few comments, i have now raved on and probably posted a screenful.

          have a great trip and remember to pack for the tropics and for sydney winter.
          sydney winter may not intimidate you with its temperatures, but we don't cater for it like in the US either (we give this advice to our mid-west visitors, and they never pack warm clothes for our winter, and rue it when they get here).

          1. re: kmh

            kmh - You're amazing! I don't know if I've ever received so much information from a message board post! You addressed everything I asked about and in such detail. I can't believe this was your second (or third?) attempt at putting the information up here. I really, really appreciate the time you spent writing this down for me.

            I was starting to learn toward staying in Darlinghurst since everything I read about it appeals to me. (Food, shopping, location...) I had read that there are dodgy parts, but that doesn't bother us since we live in a dodgy neighborhood anyway. We had found a good deal on a nicer hotel (nicer than we normally stay at) in the city centre, but haven't settled yet, so we will definitely consider The Kirketon. I appreciate the recommendation!

            Hopefully Danks Street Depot or Bird Cow Fish are open on Sunday or Monday. I'm disappointed to hear that Monday is a slow night for food. I hadn't considered that even though we just went to France in May and confronted lots of businesses closed on Sundays! Est is also closed Sundays and Mondays. Maybe we'll get our fancy food fix with Quay or Aria? We like to think we can blend in with whatever kind of crowd if it means we'll get to eat something delicious, but it's for the best that Est is closed because my husband in particular doesn't have much patience for attitude.

            We will probably skip Sailor's Thai and Longrain based on your information and will try To's Shop on Monday, I think. We have some Malaysian in Seattle, but I'm not sure how authentic or representative it is. Surely not as authentic as you've got in Oz.

            I like to travel very light, so I'm not happy about having to pack for two very different climates, but I really have no choice. Layers it is. I checked the temperature last night after going on a late night walk. Our lows are currently only a bit cooler than Sydney's daytime highs. Incidentally, that's perfect walking weather for me. I much prefer being a little cold to too hot. :)

            1. re: chloevu

              Maxmillion did the hard work.
              To's is the real deal; in the post that went AWOL i mentioned that Mon-Fri it's largely suits at lunchtime and then on Saturdays malaysian families travel there for their weekly fix. during the week there will be food in bain maries, and whilst this is okay go for the laksa, rendang, char hor fun end of the menu for a truly authentic experience. if you eat pork definitely have a loh bak (spelling) - char siu pork wrapped in beancurd and deep fried, and their spring rolls (egg rolls/lumpia) are the best i've had in Sydney.

              it's just occurred to me however that if you're spending time in darwin you are bound to have your fill of asian food their. the night markets are touted as fantastic, and darwin is closer to asia than it is to the rest of australia.... see how you go.

              info on birdcowfish.com.au is a bit confusing. they are definitely open for breakfast on Sundays (as I have done that) and pretty sure mondays too.

              danks street depot hours:
              Monday 7:30am-4:00pm
              Sunday 9:00am-4:00pm
              (Please note kitchen hours are 7:30am - 3:00pm, 6:00pm - 10:00pm)
              http://www.danksstreetdepot.com.au/in...
              (speaking of dodgey areas waterloo is under transformation, but neighbouring area to the west ( of elizabeth street south of cleveland - which you don't pass through on route) is dodgey so watch for street urchins!

              Quay is open for dinner both nights you are here (but not lunch
              )aria open for dinner both nights and lunch on monday
              http://www.ariarestaurant.com/

              where were you thinking of staying?

              1. re: kmh

                just posted on Sydney Morning Herald:
                Medusa Hotel, 267 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst, (02) 9331 1000, www.contemporaryhotels.com.au.

            2. re: kmh

              I went to Danks today and it was very good. Even picked up a cookbook. I was going to go to Bird Cow Fish too, but I just wasn't into the food they were serving. Nothing against them, I just wanted something lighter this afternoon. I ended up at umi in Chinatown for conveyor-belt sushi and the best bowl of udon I've ever had.:)

              1. re: eternalX

                Jared Ingersoll appears to be the man of the moment!

                1. re: kmh

                  Indeed.

                  Last night I tried to go to the Shangri-la for a drink with a view but was rejected because my new pumas were too sporty. They have a strict 'dress-shoe only' policy after 7pm. d'oh! That's fine, just take note. Oh yea, I was thinking about staying there for my last two nights but now I think I won't. I get revenge!

                  Later on I went to Toko (490 Crown St) for dinner, which I saw when I passed by Bird Cow Fish. It was absolutely delicious. Everything I had was perfectly cooked and seasoned and I went all out.

                  I started with the toro nigirii. The pieces were a bit small, but the price was only $8, a pretty good deal for toro. Following this, I had some grilled asparagus in a yuzu butter sauce. Perfectly cooked and sweetened ever so slightly by the yuzu butter.

                  Next, I had the fried soft-shell crab with wasabi mayo. This was good, but a lot of crab for one person! I love crab but soft-shell is still a bit new to me. It was very crispy and tasty but leaves a bit of a weird feeling in the back of my throat.

                  After the crab, I had what might be the BEST chicken I've ever had. Young chicken in miso. It was so sweet and tender on the inside with a nice crisp glaze on the outside. I will try and make this at home. I don't think it is too hard. What is a young chicken? is that a cornish hen?

                  I ended the mains with pork belly skewers. This was probably a bit much food and a very heavy ending, but so good. I had a bit of shuzu (sp?) sherbet, red bean ice cream, and miso vanilla ice cream to finish with a glass of muscat.

                  If you haven't figured this out yet, I really like this place. :)

                  1. re: eternalX

                    funnily enough in my first post (the one wandering about cyberspace and not viewed here) I did mention the dress code at Horizons Bar (Shangrila)

                    Your dinner at toko sounds fantastic.

                    I would imagine young chicken a chicken that's culled before it becomes v. big - often gets called spatch cock here in Sydney (whether its spatch cocked or not).

                    good on you for getting off the beaten track.

                    1. re: kmh

                      Funny.

                      on my last few days I went to Hunter Valley for some wine tasting and had a great meal at Cialis, tried a tiger pie from Hannah's on Harris, had a very good Indian meal at Aki's on the wharf (where we were the only diners...monday IS slow - don't know why they bother opening), went to a show at the Vanguard on King St (co-worker was playing), did some shopping on Oxford and walked down Victoria into Kings Cross, took the ferry over the Manly and ate a few kabobs, walked through the rocks and over the bridge.

                      I think I got a good view of Sydney and look forward to returning. Thanks for all the recommendations.

                      1. re: eternalX

                        I feel like I've had a holiday just reading your posts!

              2. re: kmh

                TOTALLY disagree with your comment about Bills - its still an quintessentially Australian place to have breakfast. I DO recommend. I also would recommend est - its my favourite place in Sydney (After Tetsuya's) for a special meal - yes, the bar downstairs is full of wankers (especially on a friday night) but the contrast with est couldn't be greater - it is beautifully refined and the food is exceptional. Boathouse at Blackwattle Bay IS very good, but I would definately get a taxi as that area after dark can be a little dodgy

                1. re: arsyd

                  bills is a quintessentially DARLINGHURST place to have breakfast. i am not sure about the rest of australia.

                  1. re: kmh

                    so you've not noticed the proliferation of corn fritters and ricotta pancakes at just about EVERY breakfast place in town in the last few years? All started at Bills!

                    1. re: arsyd

                      every breakfast place? you need to get out more
                      in town? sydney? does that define quintessentially australian? NO

                      like i said "once a great place and a sydney icon (I loved it as much as anyone), bill now spends his time being a "celebrity chef" and advertising anything from appliances to toothpaste"

                      and bill is to be thanked for improving the "scene" as he did at the time, but I wouldn't recommend it now.

                      1. re: kmh

                        whatever. I would recommend it, and do.

                        1. re: arsyd

                          Oh - I love this debate over Bills! For my 2 cents, the food is still good, but my sister now cooks the recipes from his book better than the current chefs. 3 eggs in North Bondi is much better

                          1. re: katea

                            Went to bills last month on our trip home after two years away. As former Darlinghurst residents we had been regulars at bills for many years and were keen to go back.

                            However, I have to agree with kmh it isn't the place it used to be. The famed scrambled eggs were pretty average, and the coffee was quite poor especially compared to other old haunts in Macleay St, Challis Ave, and Victoria St.

                            However, the biggest shock was that the communal table has gone...! Obviously you can now get more punters in per square inch without it.

                            OK it is is still far better than many places - in Aus and elsewhere (esp UK) but it is sad to see the standards drop and such an icon fade and we won't detour to visit again.

          2. re: Maxmillion

            Thank you for taking the time to put together this "food travel guide"! You really know your town! I look forward to using this list to help dictate our trip. It is definitely a long list, so I guess we'll just have to come back some other time. :)

          3. Try to get a booking at Tetsuyas, there's a form on the website (see below).I t's often booked out a month in advance, but there might be a last minute cancellation. It's not open Monday or Sunday.
            http://www.tetsuyas.com/page/reservat...

            I think est in George st Sydney is even better than Tetsuyas. Peter Doyle is sometimes referred to as the father of mod oz cuisine. You will need advanced booking for this restaurant also.

            Billy Kwong in Crown St Surry Hills (no bookings taken) does excellent modern Chinese cuisine.

            Another vote for Bills for lunch or breakfast either in Liverpool st Darlinghurst, or Crown St Surry Hills. And another vote for Sailors Thai, I don't rate Longrain very highly, but many seem to.

            Lunch with great views, either the restaurant at the Art Gallery of NSW or the cafe at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

            1 Reply
            1. re: filterfeeder

              Oh! I'm so sad to hear Tetsuya's isn't open on Sunday or Monday! Naturally, those are the only two days we are in Sydney. We leave Tuesday morning. And my husband and I had already started looking forward to going to Tetsuya's.

              But your recommendation of Est is much appreciated, especially if it's better than Tetsuya's! I'll look them up for a booking.

              We have lots of Thai food in Seattle, but I'm sure it's different in Sydney, so perhaps we'll have lunch at Sailors Thai one afternoon. I certainly am seeing that name a lot on the boards here.

              Thanks for all your recs!

            2. I am a foodwriter who has visited Sydney many times to write about restaurants. Now I have moved here - the food is very, very good... There is plenty of good advice in these posts, but one thing might be missing, which is lunch in a spectacular beachside setting - which surely is quintessential Sydney dining. At Bondi beach you could try Icebergs, in a spectacular clifftop spot overlooking a sea pool, surfers and gorgeous sapphire water (www.idrb.com). The food, sometimes outstandingly good, is simple Italian in a restaurant-y way, and service can sometimes be as chilly as the name suggests, but it is a glamorous Sydney spot. At the other end of the beach is Sean's Panaroma; casual, with excellent food, but hard to get into as they only do lunch on Sat and Sun (www.seanspanaroma.com.au). You could try for a late cancellation? My favourite watery spot is Pilu, in a beachside bungalow with sublime Sardinian food, but it is a long way from town on the North Shore (http://www.piluatfreshwater.com.au). If you feel intrepid you could ferry to Manly then take a 5 min taxi ride from there to Harbord.
              For breakfast near Darlinghurst, walk down through King's Cross and on down Macleay St or Victoria St to Challis Ave, where you can have a typical Sydney cafe breakfast at Spring, or stunning pastries across the road at Fratelli Fresh. Fratelli do great weekend brunch too.
              If you are too tired to go far from D'hurst and still want decent dinner, Onde ( 7 nights, (02) 9331 8749; 346 Liverpool St opposite Bills, Darlinghurst) is a good, basic French bistro and doesn't take bookings.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ljb

                all good advice.

                icebergs isn't open on Mondays, Sean's panorama is only open lunch on sunday - no dinner either night and no lunch on Monday.
                pilu is only open sunday lunch during the time you are here.

                the limited availability of beachside dining on monday (and sunday night) is an issue, but harbourside dining is equally "sydney"

                the pastries referred to above are actually fratelli paradiso (fratelli fresh is in danks st waterloo.

              2. Funny. I'm from Seattle and in Sydney now for about a week on business. Thank you all for the information. I've already had Malaysian (a place on King in the Grace building) for lunch (before reading this...i just love Malaysian) and coffee at Mecca which was also very good. Last night being my first night here, I just stayed local and had some decent fish and chips at a place right next to the Sheraton (which is one of the nicer Sheratons I've stayed in).

                So what is the area to go to if you're solo and looking for a fun drinkers scene?

                1 Reply
                1. re: eternalX

                  Darlo Bar on Victoria Street heading down to Kings Cross is a good place to drinks solo, the comfy chairs mean you do end up chatting to the people next to you.