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Sydney & Melbourne suggestions

My husband and I are going to be in Australia from Dec12-Dec28 with our 2 year old. We'll be in Sydney for close to a week (7 nights) , Melbourne for 3 nights, and the Blue Mountains (staying in Blackheath) 2 nights. Should bother going to the places I have picked (largely based on previous chowhound postings - some outdated?). We would like to have one or two stunner places - excellent food with views and excellent service that won't be put off by our daughter (who is well behaved and has been to many top restaurants). It seems we can also find great food that isn't over the top expensive - holes in the wall are fine, as long as they are good! Do most places not take reservations? It seems as if many of the "ordinary" places don't. We love Asian fusion, Indian cuisine, spicy food and fish - we love food and are always eager to have new dining experiences.
Any places we should go for the views and drinks/snacks rather than dinner (ie Seans, Rockpool or Icebergs) Any places recommended for breakfast? Thanks!

Please let me know if we should avoid any of the places we've selected and if we should add any others.
When in Sydney we'll be staying largely near Darling Harbor and in Melbourne near Flinders Lane - (for what it's worth)

Chat Thai
Spice I am
Bodega (this is just if we are dying for tapas - I recognize that Australia on the whole isn't known for it's Spanish influence)
Kushiyaki Azuma
Sean's Panorama
Rockpool (I thought we should go to the one in Sydney since we have so few nights in Melbourne)
drinks: Gin Club


Sichuan House
drinks at Rooftop Cinema bar
Half Moon

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  1. I'll get the ball rolling. Casual ('ordinary') eating out is a major Australian pastime and is usually done spontaneously at the last minute without reservations eg 'I don't fancy cooking tonight, lets go out for thai' - but many places will take reservations if you give them a call. The more popular, the more reservations are needed.

    Rockpool - there are a couple of styles, the Melbourne one is Rockpool Bar and Grill and has a Sydney twin

    I'm from Melbourne, so I'll comment on your Melbourne mini-list. Movida and its spin-offs are very mod-Spanish tapas if you are after top notch and tapas; Anada is less well known, less flashy and more Spanish.

    There are a couple of restaurants in Melbourne called Half Moon, which did you mean? I think you probably mean the Brighton pub but I wouldn't trek out from the city for it.

    What would I add to your list? Probably Gills Diner if you're in the city, casual but excellent, or Cumulus (same reasons). I'd make a tram ride out to Brunswick to have dinner at Hellenic Republic, Colombaris' taverna rather than Rumi but the flavours at Rumi are great and they do a nice brekky.

    I'll probably get thrown out of some club or other for this, but I reckon the latest hot spot of Coda is well overrated (it may settle). And the izakaya binge is still playing out, probably not worth the risk.

    What dates will you be in Melbourne, as this probably affects the choices.... I have a friend over from Perth the week before Christmas, and finding somewhere pleasant that isn't either full of drunk suits shouting at each other, or running a special christmas (read: group) menu is proving a challenge. And what do you like to eat?

    4 Replies
    1. re: mr_gimlet

      Oh, and thanks for flattering me by picking Sichuan House! It is a personal favourite, but only if you really, really like chilli and very busy chinese restaurants! Subtle and finessed it ain't.

      There are better non-sichuan chinese but nothing as brazen in its take it or leave it cooking style.

      1. re: mr_gimlet

        My two pence worth, although it was a long time ago I wwas in Melbourne, we loved The SUpper Club, although as they didn't open until 6pm I am not sure how child friendly they are, personally I have never found a better bar, awesome wine list, and living outside of London I have never found anything like it again. am sure there are more 'hot' places right now but....
        Also really enjoyed Ablas, middle eastern cooking done by the housewife of the restaurant, fantastic. On a similar vain Gigibaba is the new (ish) venture from a chef in Perth (Ex Eminem) which was the best food we ate in Australia, although I think getting more mixed reviews following his move.
        Be interested to hear on Sydney report as venturing out there in August 2010.

        1. re: stanleyk

          Supper Club is still going, though perceived as a more of a late night venue. Definitely not child friendly, I suspect they wouldn't even allow anyone under 18 in. Downstairs is the City Wine Bar which has a popular following and shares the same kitchen I think.

          Gigibaba - was trying to keep quiet on this but since it got mentioned.... to me this is the epitome of trendy, overpriced Collingwood - queues around the block, anmdpretentious, hostile waitstaff who feel as if they are doing you a favour by letting you eat there. The food is pleasant, but not as good as Eminem - without the food it would have closed in days.

      2. re: mr_gimlet

        Melbourne - especially if you are into Asian Fusion - please PLEASE, go to Coda - right off Flinders lane. Is amazing Vietnamese and French fusion - fabulous wine list. Touch base with them about kids, it might be a night for a babysitter - was the highlight of my recent trip to Melbourne - I can't rave about it enough.
        Do take up the suggestion below for Din Tai Fung in Sydney - they have been called the best dumplings in the world - and not lightly - the silkiest and thinest wrappers you would ever find - and it is just the same as the one in Taiwan.

      3. I will try Sydney:

        Chat Thai, Spice I am, and Mamak are all great choices. No booking and quite inexpensive, queues can be approx 30 mins if you hit peak time so best to go early. Spice I am now has an upmarket restaurant as well (in Darlinghurst) no BYO and higher prices, mixed reviews so far, but does seem to be getting better.

        Zilver, I have not been, but I am off Australian Yum Cha (Dim Sum) as I don't think it stacks up against other countries. I assume this is best for lunch. Shanghai Tang on George Street is pretty good and cheap and cooks to order which is a start. Another to try is "Din Thai Fung" upstairs in World Square. This is a Taiwanese chain that really only does steamed dumplings, they are more expensive than "holes in the wall", but all are freshly made and superb, the cognoscenti often pan them because they are expensive but it isn't really that bad.

        I haven't tried Bodega so can't comment, it has a good reputation, but as Mr.G says Movida in Melbourne is the one to beat for Tapas.

        I also can't comment on Kushiyaki Azuma but it is a well rated Japanese restaurant in a city with very good Japanese restaurants. You could also try Sashimi/Sushi at "Yoshii" which is reputedly the best in Sydney according to a number of my friends and the GFG. I recommend reservations here.

        Mongers is a good fish and chip shop in Bondi, there are lots of great F&C places around Sydney. You may find it a trek to get to Bondi for F&C though. I prefer the F&C shop on Balmoral Beach (also a trek) because it is more tranquil. Another good hole in the wall F&C place is "Fishface" in Darlinghurst, this isn't cheap, has no view, but the quality of the fish is amazing, you pay to eat the best! No reservation needed.

        Icebergs and Seans: Icebergs has the view and is very funky, sexy and glamorous; and that is the decor, the people are even better. Food is OK, maybe a notch below the setting, but nothing wrong. Sean's, is more down at earth, less of a view, and is really a locals favourite, a good local with a view of the sea. Both need reservations in some time advance

        Rockpool, is a classic, it serves really good modern Australian food i.e. it takes influences from a whole raft of cuisines that make up our multi-cultural country and throws them back at the diner with style and panache. It doesn't have a view, and is high end fine dining, but to me it is quintessentially Australian. Other options are Quay, Aria and Bennelong, and the food and views probably follow that order with Quay best. Bennelong is in the Opera House and is classic French. All need reservation some time in advance.

        Gin club, I haven't heard of, but lots of good bars around town (although Melbourne is better for classy places). It may be good to try the "Ivy" or the Establishment" for big glamorous bars, or head to "The London" in Balmain for a traditional pub. However, lots of choice for pubs and bars, best to simply choose one you pass and pop in. Just don't miss the traditional in favour of the modern ones.

        In Blackheath you may also consider "Vulcans" which is very established and is very good. Most food is cooked in a big wood fired oven . It is probably more rustic than Ashcroft's (which is also well rated). I would recommend reservations, as they can get full especially at weekends.

        Overall a good selection, there are lots and lots of other places but this is a pretty well balanced list. The only thing that may be missing is a good inner suburbs bistro like, Bistrode, Bird Cow Fish or Bronte Road Bistro.

        1. Sailor Thai and Lord Nelson's in the rocks..its been years so maybe things have changed.
          There is a great old house in the rocks that serves a great breakfast out in the back patio..hopefully PhilD will chime in.
          Everyone has given you great places to eat!

          1. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback and all of the additional restaurant suggestions! I'll check out Vulcan's in Blackheath - although I was told they were closed until March for Summer. (?)
            Melbourne Dec 19 - 22. Sounds like we're gonna see plenty of drunk suits.
            I'm very much looking forward to the Sichuan house (dainty) in Melbourne. As much as we love the upscale restaurants, we're equally big fans of the cheap and cheerful restaurants to, so I'm sure we'll be grand and love it. We'll feed our daughter before we go so as not to blow her away w/ the chili.
            By the sounds of it Icebergs is a drink/snack spot and either/or Sean's and Rockpool should be added to the "not to be missed!" list.
            We'll also definitely check out the dumplings at Din Tai Fun and we'll add Coda to the list. Yum!
            Of course we'll "happen" into places, but it's good to have something to start with!
            Feedback after we return home... in late Dec!

            3 Replies
            1. re: weezy1074

              Note that Coda is primarily a bar and so will not be happy with children. If you're going to get a babysitter and go out, there are plenty more options. katea must have been there on a better night than I did - I found it OK (but with potential) and jaw droppingly expensive. I'd much rather go a few doors down to Cumulus.

              Back at the cheap end... Hutong on Market Lane is Melbourne's answer to Din Tai Fung. Eat thai in Sydney because Melbourne thai is pretty poor. If its warm, go to Pelligrini on Bourke Street and have a granita (and some cake, I love their plum and chocolate). Coffee dire though.

              1. re: weezy1074

                By the way, if you just want the Icebergs view, you can just have a beer at the Icebergs club bar - I think 1 floor above or below at a more cost effective price. Have been underwhelmed on occasions at Icebergs as well as North Bondi Italian. I would also add Bilson's to the not to be missed list - trad French by a Sydney stalwart.

                1. re: mikey8811

                  Icebergs Dining Room has a very swish cocktail bar next to the restaurant, it is super cool and super trendy (and super expensive). That is on the top floor. On the next level down there is the "Icebergs Swimming Club" which has a casual bistro and bar, it is a members swimming club, but they are happy to sign-in guests who want to visit. The prices here are a lot lower, and the view is the same, but the food comes a very long way behind the view and cheap beer. http://www.icebergs.com.au/index.php?... I don't think Paris Hilton is a regular!

                  There is an interesting history here. The swimming club occupied this prime bit of real estate and was pretty run down. A couple of wealthy Sydney businessmen made the club the offer of rebuilding the club if they could have the top floor for a fine dining restaurant, the result was a slick new club, and a destination restaurant.

                  I agree about the patchy food at Icebergs and NBI, but NBI is a great place for the "beautiful people". I also agree about Bilson's, fantastic food, but a pity it is in such an average location.

              2. For great views of Melbourne, drinks and snacks the Atrium bar on level 35 of the Hotel Sofitel comes to mind. Very opulent surroundings. Not sure how they would treat children. It opens at 5pm so maybe arrive around that time for daytime views before the cocktail set arrives. If nothing else, take the elevator up to level 35 and admire the free views from the ladies room! There are also a cafe and restaurant on this level. Not cheap but good food. The Sofitel is at 25 Collins St, Melbourne.

                1. In Sydney you can go for lunch on Magistic Cruises on Sydney Harbour. You will have the most beautiful cruise experience with fabulous food which include thai red fish currey, cured meat, steamed chicken and much more. You can enjoy the sydney harbour sights while you have buffet lunch onboard.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MelanieGordon

                    Mmmmh I have not been on Majestic but have been on lots of other harbour cruises (the curse of corporate hospitality) and IMO I found all the food to be of a similar poor quality.

                    It also isn't cheap $88 for lunch (+$20 for a beverage package and $20 for a window seat) isn't a bargain. Dinner starts at $125 plus $45 is you want slightly better drinks and then the $20 supplement for a view, again no bargain. A good lunch at Aqua Dining followed by a return trip on the Manly ferry will be better.

                    Someone once said never trust a restaurant that floats, moves or rotates......

                  2. Avoid Half Moon at all costs!!!!

                    It is not what you saw on "No Reservations". It is nothing but bad pub food, they lost their chef And owner and the menu reads like a TGI Fridays, except less imaginative.

                    Made that mistake a week ago. It was god awful, undercooked Chicken Parm was the star of the menu. No joke.

                    1. First, thanks to everyone who posted comments to my inquiry!

                      We had a lovely trip to Australia and have returned home to realize that our fine city (SF) is lacking in really good Asian restaurants, but that being the case, we are really spoiled with great food and dining here is generally great value. Quick note before I describe our dining adventures: our daughter who is 2 years and 2 months, a typical active toddler. I'm including her in my comments where appropriate for any others who are traveling with little tots. Most places we visited were very accommodating, a few were less so, and one tried to gauge us. Favorite places hands down, Mamek, Chat Thai and Spice I am.

                      I discovered Max Brenner's on my first day. I love chocolate and the warm pot of chocolate was a lovely welcome to Sydney! From there we ventured to Mamak. The wait wasn't too long, perhaps 15 minutes, the line moved quickly. We started with the roti with egg and onions and teh tarik (l'd liken it to an indian chai) and a teh hala (same but with ginger added). We ordered a mee goreng - wok tossed noodles (good) but the chicken (ayam goreng) was absolutely gorgeous! Fried chicken malaysian style with a variety of spices that may have included 5 spice, cinnamon, cardamon, clove and perhaps tamarind. It was a lovely sweet and spicy blend. Nasi lemak- very unusual but very tasty and a wonderful blend of textures in this rice, sambal, peanut, hard boiled egg dish. If anyone can direct me to a recipe that would be similar to Mamek's Ayem Goreng I would be forever indebted to you! (we came full circle and went to Mamak on our last night in Sydney too)
                      Next, strolling through Kings Cross we had a bite at Wagamama which we thought was pretty good for a relatively large chain style restaurant. Great for kids and great value too,the kids meal (incl drink) was free with an adult (this we later found to be somewhat of an anomaly). They even brought crayons for our daughter.

                      Chat Thai - Haymarket - started with lamb with sticky rice and sausage and garlic (I reeked the next day but it was worth every moment of it!). Quite tasty. This was the first time I ate a Massaman Curry - this pork curry nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes. It was sweet and spicy, cinnamon-y,coconut-ty and simply sublime. Basil chicken - also very good, not very spicy - once I had the Massaman curry though I was done for and I tried to convince my husband to trade dishes with me. Upon our return to SF I found a close approximation of this dish in the Spirit House cookbook. What luck!

                      Manly - the rain sent us into the Bower Cafe - where we just had coffee and dessert. Just being an understatement, the dark sticky date pudding was as large as my head and it was everything it should be, sticky and gooey. Yum! The restaurant was appealing, but here is where we began to realize that dining in Australia can be quite expensive, more on that below.

                      Spice I Am - This was fantastic! Sadly I can't recall what we had, some sort of spicy starter, and something even hotter for dinner. I've never had food that made my entire scalp tingle and perspire. This was amazing and I wish I could remember what I ate.

                      Zaafron - good Indian food, overpriced (we assumed this would be the case, given it's location). We had 2 delightful entrees, wilted spinach battered with chickpea flower and corn fritters which were perfectly spicy. Mains- reef fish curry and an eggplant with okra and chickpeas. Also very good. The waiter asked if we'd like some chicken kabob for our daughter - perfect!. It was lovely but they charged us $15 for 3 small pieces of chicken on 1 skewer. After we received the check I told the waiter it was very unfair to ask if we'd like something for our daughter and to charge so much for it. He removed the charge but I was (and still am) amazed that they get away with this. I expect to pay for my daughter's meal, but $15 for a tiny side of chicken?

                      Zilver- Amazing yum cha. We have dim sum here, but it just isn't as good. I can't recall what I ate, that morning was a bit of a blur, many people passing steamed baskets around, lots of good dumplings, mini steamed pork buns. There was a very short wait to get in. We ate so much our bellies hurt but it was all worth it, afterall it was our last full day in Sydney.

                      1 Alfred - we had a good meal here, can't recall much about it...it was good but not extraordinary. I think we both had fish, salmon and spatchcock.

                      Icebergs- what a lovely setting! We sat in the bar, had cocktails, oysters and fried polenta, and found it very tasty!
                      We also discovered a little japanese noodle shop near the pedestrian bridge from Darling Harbour. According to the newspaper clippings in the restaurant it was one of the top 3 noodle restaurants in Sydney. Can't for the life of me remember what it was called it was really tasty - great bowls of noodles. (almost too big but aren't noodle shops supposed to be like that?!)

                      Blackheath - In the end we opted out of Ashcroft's b/c of the expense and instead ate at The Rooster, in Leura (I think). We were very disappointed. It seemed to cater to tourists, capitalizing on their view. French dining (of sorts) it was overpriced and not very good, they also charged us $12 for a bowl of pasta for our daughter. We'd have been better off to have grabbed a picnic and watched the sunset at an overlook.

                      Disappointed in the Victoria Market. It's a huge sprawling market that didn't appear to be much more than a flea market. The food stalls were ok - perhaps we just went to the wrong part of the market.
                      Movida - delicious and compact tapas. Very well done. This is not tapas in Seville, and it's much more expensive too. We had an exquisite manchego custard in an egg cup with black truffle. Exquisite! I just wish there would have been a little more. Their croquetta (leek and ?cheese) was lovely. We had to have another order! Had another tapa - shrimp pincho with a romanesco salsa. Quite good, again v. small.
                      Looking for al fresco dining we ended up at Pop. Looked quite touristy but we were pretty happy with our dinner. Entrees: Parsnip soup with bacon and a hazlenut sour cream. Scallops and blood sausage over some kind of green sauce. Yummmy! Kangaroo with a beer berry sauce and a very tasty butternut squash gnocchi with spinach and pesto.

                      Sichuan House - I'd not rush back here, glad we tried it. Had something with chicken parts with loads of red chilis. I wish I'd read the menu more closely to see that it was chicken parts, the bones were a drag, we should have gotten the "premium chicken". Don't get me wrong, I liked it, and it was hot - but not as hot/flavorful as Spice I am.

                      Marios for lunch then a late lunch at Little Critters in Fitzroy. Wish we had a place like Little Critters in SF. Gorgeous casual dining. Pizza with feta, chorizo and rocket. The lamb parcels were very very tasty, essentially lamb and a filling wrapped in a spring roll wrapper. mmmmm!
                      I wish we'd have been able to make it to Coda. Sorry we didn't.

                      Perhaps it's due in part because the exchange rate (to the US$) is so bad (for US) but we found dining in Australia to be very expensive. For this reason we decided not to have a fine dining experience. Its not that we don't eat out much, because we do. It's just not as dear to eat out, even when we dine at places that source locally, seasonally, etc. For instance, if we ate at Babbo (NYC), prix fix is $70. We found the "fine dining" to be too dear. Rockpool's prix fix was $200. Again, perhaps it's largely due to the weak US $. But I do wonder if Australian's find it expensive to eat out.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: weezy1074

                        Thanks for the feedback on your trip. By Little Critters, I assume you mean Little Creatures in Fitzroy?

                        When Australians eat out, we predominantly go cheap and cheerful. And we eat out in our suburbs, not the CBD, unless its a special occasion - so you've probably seen the top end. So places like Spice I Am, Rockpool, Movida are more expensive for the relevant cuisines. Overheads are quite high here as well because of minimum wage regulations - remember we don't tip, so there's 10-15% difference before you start.

                        Sichuan House is unrestrained sichuan cooking, but at least you can say you tried it! I don't like the bony chicken either, but its huge with our Asian poupulation. I always order beans with pork, pork spare ribs with cumin and either a beef hotpot or toothpick beef.

                        1. re: weezy1074

                          Glad you found some good spots and enjoyed yourselves.

                          Re: the noodle bar, it could be "Menya Noodle Bar" which is in the time Out Top 5 in Sydney: http://www.timeoutsydney.com.au/venue... or http://www.menya.com.au/jp/index.html

                          I agree Australian food has become really expensive over the last few years, and the US/AUD exchange rate won't have helped. IMO the best value is at the mid-market level, as MrG says lots of this is in the suburbs where competition is higher and prices are keener.

                          That said I do believe you get good quality and consistency for your money here, there is lots of competition so chefs need be on their game. In the UK I had a 50/50 hit rate but here I usually get a 90/10 hit rate in terms of overall satisfaction at a similar price point.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            Well spotted, the noodle place in Sydney was Menya Noodle Bar! A lovely gem we stumbled upon.
                            Er, sorry, Little Creatures in Fitzroy not Little Critters. What a great concept of a restaurant.

                            Thanks for the feedback, we presumed it was the exchange rate and that we were largely in/around CBD. I'm sorry to hear that Australian food has become v.expensive recently, but I'm glad to see it wasn't just our observation. Certainly we weren't expecting prices to super cheap, but didn't expect them to be so much more than we experience here. I can see why cheap and cheerful is popular, as it should be.

                        2. We're going to Melbourne for 3 nights - can't wait. My current list:


                          sichuan house - love this cuisine and we are staying on Exploration Lane, so I think we will be very close. def. ordering cumin pork ribs, can't wait for the spice hit

                          gills diner
                          Little Creatures

                          any other suggestions? will keep researching. Are there still mangosteens in any stores?
                          nothing too flash since we haven't made any bookings. will be searching for great espresso - maybe St Ali?

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: debbieann

                            Good choices. Drop me an email with your dates if you're open to company somewhere :-)

                            Coffee - best coffee in Melbourne atm is Seven Seeds, and you will be staying just around the corner

                            1. re: mr_gimlet

                              would love company!! arriving this fri leaving Monday evening, will figure out how to send email. thanks for mentioning Seven Seeds.

                          2. First, thanks to everyone on this thread.

                            Sydney. We were there only two days in mid-Feb. 2010, but had a great time while there.
                            We stayed in Potts Point and there are plenty of great little cafes and delis in the area.

                            We had a breakfast at 77 Mackay one morning and La Buvette the next - both good and friendly.

                            Dinner Friday night was at Spice I Am. Recommended. As advertised, pretty spicy. We had duck curry, chinese broccoli and something else. All really good and portions are pretty large. Wish we'd have had more than two people to sample more. Spice I Am is very lively and at times was very loud almost to the point of distraction. Service was good. We had a glass of wine each and I think the total was about AUD 100.

                            Even though it's in or near The Rocks the Australian Heritage House (Australia Hotel?) seemed to be mostly locals or at least Australians from somewhere. This is a pricier pub but the beers are good and the pizzas really nice.

                            Longrain is a hip and happening Thai restaurant in Surry Hills just a couple blocks directly south of Hyde Park. I don't think they take reservations and we were lucky to know a couple expat locals who got bar area seats around 6pm where we hung out for well over an hour while the line for drinks extended 10 deep. Anyway, the food was excellent and it's fairly expensive. Community seating adds to a festive atmosphere and service was good. We really liked each dish. We had...
                            The Eggnet
                            Braised Beef Shin
                            Stir Fried Greens
                            A Green Curry
                            A Kingfish Curry
                            Some other beef dish in broth
                            Note: We were a party of six and it came out to AUD 100 each, but that included an outsized tip (at someone else's insistence) and several bottles of wine.

                            1. [ See postings for Melbourne and surroundings at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/685479 ]