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1st Visit to Sydney - critique my A$300/11 meals plan

Hi Everybody,

I will be in Sydney for the first time in January, for a little less than a week spread out over two visits (three weeks in Australia overall). I'll be alone, so my food options are going to be aimed toward semi-touristy, a mix of grab-while-sightseeing quick service and a few more leisurely sit-down meals.

My leisurely budget is A$300 excluding alcohol, for 11 meals: 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners, 2 jetlag places at 3AM, and one end-of-vacation blowout meal. My leanings are toward European, Indian, Chinese, and Singaporian, dislike fusion, Japanese, seafood other than shirmp/crab/halibut, and have a moderate peanut allergy (peanuts/peanut butter bad, peanut oil ok) that tends to steer me away from Thai/Vietnamese/Cambodian. I'm staying at Darling Harbour, but will have a train pass.

Based on what I've been reading from a variety of sources, I've got the following list from which to narrow once I get there:

One Blow-out meal: Lunch degustation at Becasse
One Spanish/Tapas: Encasa, Capitan Torres, Raquel's
Two Chinese choices: Billy Kwong, Golden Century
One "I'm tired and it's near the hotel" choice: Chinta Ria, Zaaffran
Two other neighborhood dinners: Doma, Il Baretto, Tandoori Palace
Three cheap and iconic: Harry's, bills Darlinghurst, Pancakes on the Rocks
One pub lunch: Lord Nelson's

Thoughts?

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  1. You've set yourself quite a tight budget at A$300!

    Becasse is as good as any for a blow-out lunch, I guess (I'd have preferred Rockpool, Marque, Quay or est).

    My fave Spanish spot is Capitan Torres!

    Go for Billy Kwong - it's only open for dinner though. Golden Century is really the best seafood spot in Chinatown - but their Tasmanian king crab (cooked 3 ways) can cost A$300 itself!

    Go for Zaaffran instead of Chinta Ria. The latter's cooking is a bit too salty. But you can also try Malaya at King Street Wharf.

    bills Darlinghurst is great for breakfast - don't miss the ricotta hotcakes with bananas & honeycomb butter.

    Love, love, love Lord Nelson's.

    You're gonna love Sydney.

    1 Reply
    1. re: klyeoh

      I know A$300 is tight. It's actually US$300, and unfortunately it doesn't go nearly as far as it did a few years ago... My overall food budget is US$1500 for 23 days, so US$65/day, and that has to include having to grossly overpay for two days' of food at Uluru!

      I'm figuring:
      - A$90 for the blowout meal (that's why it's the lunch degustation)
      - A$130 for the dinners
      - A$40 for the two lunches
      - A$40 for the two breakfast and two late-night meals (how much is a pancake?)

    2. You are going to have an awesome food adventure in Sydney! Meals will be tight on that budget!
      My recommendations are:
      Blow-out: A lunch degustation at Becasse will be wonderful. Quay is also an awesome place with breathtaking views as well. Another place would be Guillame/Bennelong at the Opera House (you have to try the signature "Paris Mash").

      Spanish/ Tapas: Encasa is really good, small and fairly well priced.

      Chinese: Golden Century is a definite for seafood and other dishes. I think Billy Kwong is a little over-rated and not worth the money or the wait (it is also fusion BTW). If you do yum-cha (aka dim sum), I would recommend Zilver on Pitt St. It has just been re-done, the food is excellent and has had good reviews also. Good, really cheap Northern Chinese food (e.g. handmade dumplings/noodles - Seabay Chinese Restaurant on Pitt St.

      Neighbourhood dinners: You should try Sushi Suma, in Surry Hills. It is on Cleveland St, and is a tiny place with excellent Japanese food (not jus Sushi) and reasonable prices. Beware, there is ALWAYS a line outside, so book in advance. Doma and Il Baretto are fairly good options also. An Indian friend of mine rates the food at Darbar on Cleveland St in Surry Hills also. It is really good food, and also reasonable prices.

      Near the hotel options: You'll find that these will blow your budget because Darling Harbour is so touristy and the food is expensive for what you get. Restaurants on King St wharf particularly are expensive (though the food can be pretty good too e.g. Malaya or Kobe Jones).

      Cheap and iconic: Definitely go to Bill's Darlinghurst (all breakfast stuff is good - including the ricotta hotcakes or the corn fritters with a side of bacon and of course, the signature scrambled eggs are a must!)...not so cheap though! Harry's cafe de wheels is good for a pie on the run.

      Pub Lunch: Lord Nelson's has a great atmosphere!

      Happy eating and drinking - hope this helps!

      1. I love the Lord Nelson but wouldn't recommend it for a pub lunch on a summers day.
        Two better ideas:
        First take a ferry to Watsons Bay and have fish and chips from Doyle's in the Watsons Bay Hotel. It may not be the best fish and chips in the world (or in Sydney) but the view is good, beer is cold, and it is an iconic experieince.
        Second, take the ferry to Manly and head for the Manly Wharf Hotel, grab a seat in the outside bar or the restaurant and again enjoy the view.

        1 Reply
        1. re: PhilD

          Thanks! I'm actually heading to Manly my first afternoon and was going to get something light along the waterfront for dinner that night. A drink and a nibble at the hotel sounds like a great idea!

        2. you should check out newtown. it's about a 15 min train ride from town hall (close to darling harbour though there might be a better stop for you). lots of places to eat fairly cheaply & lots of shops. a fair amt of asian (so maybe not what you like) food but i'm pretty sure there's alternatives.

          btw, if u can do sushi (ie rolls), you can get them pretty much everywhere cheaply. i almost lived on them several years ago when i did a trip to sydney.

          1. So far.... the real purchasing power exchange rate is going to be a killer. Based on some common convenience options (a Big Mac or a Subway BMT, a 20oz bottle of Diet Coke from a touristy 7-11, etc.), "par" would be about US$1=A$2.4. So my typical two-course $25 US moderate dinner is going to be tough to recreate here for A$35....

            But so far, I'm doing well:
            - Day 1, I had dinner in Manly. I couldn't justify a A$17 pizza at the Manly Wharf Hotel bar, even though the setting was truly lovely, because I was starting to crash. I picked up a solid quick-service meal at a chain called phuel for A$13.20, with some cold tandoori-styled chicken on a salad, and a very tasty and large ham-and-greek-cheese (I don't think it was feta, maybe kaseri) philo roll.
            - Day 2 (today): Lunch at Lord Nelson's Pub, a very good rendering and portion of fish, mediocre chips, and a great small Victory Bitter (and I'm not much of a beer drinker). A$17 for the food, A$4 for the beer. I was going to try Encasa for a couple of tapas plates tonight, but they are closed for a summer break until the 15th, :( so I'm going to wander around Pyrmont tonight instead.

            3 Replies
            1. re: threadkiller

              your blow out meal at becasse sounds like a good choice. other "iconic location" options include icebergs (at bondi), quay (as mentioned above), aria (in front of the opera house), and a few good options on the finger wharf at woolloomooolloo

              if you are wandering around Pyrmont then you can "kill two birds with one stone" and go to blue eye dragon on harris street for your chinese (taiwanese) meal.

              if you are staying in darling harbour you are only a few steps from pyrmont and china town - I would recommend you head in that direction for your "tired and close" meals. You have some great options like cho's dumpling king, emperor's garden bbq (both on thomas st), kopitiam on harris st (not spicy enough, but flavoursome malaysian (this would satisfy your singaporean liking), hannah's pies (same people as harry's without the icon location).
              Your choices - chinta ria and zaaffran are neither cheap nor good value IMHO.
              for neighbourhood dinners i think you may be a little disappointed with il baretto - it's standards have slipped, but it's definitely a cheap pasta night. a tavola (victoria st, ,darlinghurst) has certainly been getting a good wrap recently - but you may struggle to get in...
              likewise tandoori palace (?) sounds dodgey in first instance - head to cleveland st for a more authentic experience of indian food.
              Bills Darlinghurst is not cheap but definitely iconic. Harry's is both and Pancakes on the rocks is neither.

              For spanish head to liverpool st for the "spanish quarter" not far from DH, alternately Bodega gets great reviews and catalonia in kirribilli also did recently (a great afternoon could be to walk across the harbour bridge from town, have dinner in kirribilli and catch the ferry back (or vice versa on the transport).

              as a final piece of advice, avoid us style chain fast food if you are on a tight budget. you will get a much better deal if you seek out asian food - soups and noodles, nori, etc.; or ethnic foods. a good doner kebab / gyro is also a good value for money option. for best value head for city fringe strips in darlinghurst, surry hills, newtown & glebe (although the quality suffers a little in these).
              enjoy your time here!!!

              1. re: kmh

                Thanks for the recommendations, especially for Cleveland Street.

                Blue Eye Dragon looked good, but sadly both it and Cafe XXII were closed last night. By that point, I wasn't hungry any more, and went and bet on greyhounds at Star City for a few hours instead.

                1. re: threadkiller

                  yes. i'm sorry to say that you have come to Sydney in perhaps its quietest week of the year!