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Nov 13, 2010 11:46 AM

Notes on a few places in Sydney

I have been trying a few places over the last weeks that are OK but that didn’t generate the enthusiasm to write up. However, I thought is useful to share some thoughts:

Cafe Sydney: this sits on top of the customs house building near Circular Quay, it has fantastic views and is quite a tourist favourite. I had eaten quite a few dinners here, but these were usually team dinners from work which were OK but nothing special. However this was my fist lunch, it was more relaxed, less noisy, and the food was pretty good. I was impressed. It is quite expensive for classic mod oz food, but that said it is a good central spot for lunch as the view is outstanding. Perfect for visitors.

Number One: not far from Cafe Sydney buried under Goldfield House in possibly the least promising location for a restaurant is Tony Bilson’s French wine bar. Tony is the doyen of Sydney chefs and this is is 2nd tier restaurant. I didn’t expect much , maybe because of the location, but was very surprised. We had a very strong French bistro meal, fairly priced and very well served. I have tried lots of the “new wave” of Sydney French bistros and this is the best so far: classic French cooking by a talented kitchen.

Cafe Sopra (Walsh Bay): this is the third Cafe Sopra which is are Italian cafes within Fratelli Fresh grocery shops. The SMG GFG rates them as 15/20 and they get a hat. Now this disturbs me: how can three different restaurants all be the same quality and standard? How can they all earn a star?

We arrive just after the pre-theatre crowd depart, orders take an age to be taken as the staff are clearing up. Our entrees arrive, stuffed zucchini flowers, these are very very good and I could eat a bucket load, unfortunately our mains arrive at the same time, and then our drinks arrive a few minutes later. Very bad timing and we sent the mains away: they re-arrive the instant we finish our entrees. They had been kept warm, thus the pasta was slightly congealed, really not excusable at these prices. We sat at the bar and so the whole meal was accompanied by the cacophony of a waiter vigorously cleaning cutlery and throwing them into their trays. I know this needs to be done but why directly in front of customers and why with such disregard for the ambiance of the place? I was going to complain but there wasn’t anyone who was obviously in charge (Note: this is our third visit and we won’t rush back).

Bentley Bar & Grill: this is my second visit and the second time where I find myself wondering why it doesn’t wow me. I have eaten in lots of similar restaurants around the world and I know I like this style of food. I think the problem is the overall experience, food this serious shouldn’t be served in this space, it needs the right ambiance and attention in order to do it justice.

It is a loud busy crowded bar/restaurant, and there are no tablecloths or other such frippery. I love buzzy places like this, great to catch up with friends and enjoy a few drinks, they tend to suit simple robust foods like Tapas. But here I think Brent’s food gets lost. I enjoy the first couple of dishes but the rest gets lost in the melee of the night. I leave with a considerably lighter wallet, we chat about the evening and what our friends are up to, but don’t really talk about the food.

Wine Library: a new bar/restaurant (from the Buzo crowd) in Woollahra, one of Sydney’s more refined suburbs. It is pretty good with the focus on wine and a good selection of that (we drink a wonderful Jean Foillard, Cotes de Puy Morgon). Food is presentable, reminiscent of a good tapas bar, unfortunately it isn’t priced like a good taps bar so the cost can mount up. However, it is a great spot for a drink and nibble post Oxford Street shopping.

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  1. Hi Phil,

    I've eaten at Cafe Spora in Walsh Bay a few times. Really enjoy it. Not sure about the stars, but it's well cooked good value Italian. I'd love one in my neighbourhood, but clearly the service needs a bit of work.

    I'm also a little mystified by Bentleys. It comes across as clever cooking for the sake of it. I've most recently had the tapas menu and a couple of dishes were just wrong. Parmesan custard was texturally weird and plasticky. Fried chicken was all batter with the mere hint of meat. Nothing I'd rush back for.

    1. Hi PhilD,

      Agree with all of your reviews completely, but as a Sydneysider I just can't figure out why you go to all of the most hackneyed, tourist-soaked venues (in the ROCKS of all places; somewhere NO normal Sydneysider would ever eat) and expect better than average? Do I judge SF on eats at Fisherman's Wharf? NY on Times Square?? Paris on food at the Place St Michel???

      To everyone visiting Sydney: Don't expect my sympathies for wasting your time in one of the great food cities if you go to tourist traps like Tetsuyas (that man has some marketing budget... not so much $$$ for staff or decor unfortunately..) Aria (unless you want to dine with the over 60's crowd eating foams) or Rockpool (why do you think dude has been losing money on this joint for 20 years LOL) fer Chrissakes!! Bentley Bar?? Jesus, that isn't even a restaurant! Just some hipster bar charging $$$ for rubbish "tapas" (a food plague in Sydney right now..)

      Why don't you try some places that REAL Sydney people love: Bourke St Bakery for the best pies, sausage rolls and breads, Onde for fun, buzzy and informal French with brilliant service. Fun, easy but brilliant Italian at Cafe Sopra in Potts Point (NOT in the Rocks for Gods sake..) or slightly more fancy at Fratelli Paradiso, or how about some genuine Pakistani for about $15 at Faheems Fast Food in Enmore, or a simple but awesome steak better than most for $25 at The Sheaf in Double Bay? Indian Thalis or Dosai better than anywhere in India (according to myself who travelled all around this beautiful country - as well as all the Indians I know) at Maya on Cleveland St, Robatayaki as good as (better than??) anywhere in Tokyo (i have spent MONTHS there) at Toko in Surry Hills... Fun, buzzy hipster dining and the best pizza anywhere at the Corner House in Bondi or Pizza e Birra in Surry Hills... Fine but unpretentious dining that will have you licking your plate? Glebe Point Diner! And Sean's at Bondi is seriously the greatest!!

      Sydney has the greatest produce and some of the best food in the world (and I travel a LOT!!). It just bums me out when people judge us in our worst, most lame, touristy restaurants...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Cosy Cool

        “I just can't figure out why you go to all of the most hackneyed, tourist-soaked venues (in the ROCKS of all places; somewhere NO normal Sydneysider would ever eat) and expect better than average?” - well I suppose it is because it is where I live....!

        Yes, I actually live in the Rocks and have done so since 2003 (albeit with time spent in Paris and the UK) and before that I lived in Darlinghurst, and before that a few other suburbs. Obviously because it is where I live it is an area I will try most of the restaurants - although I do draw the line at some. I agree it isn’t the best food area in Sydney, but I live in hope of finding some more gems in the locality.

        That said I think I is a little unfair to call me out for focussing on the Rocks, thinking back over he last year I have visited and often written about these restaurants:

        Aki’s, Al Aseel, Assiette, Baroque, Bentley, Bird Cow Fish, Bistrode, Bistro Moncur, Bodega, Cafe Sopra, Cafe Sydney, Chaat Thai, Chairman Mao, Crocodile Senior Thai, The Clock, Curry at the Rocks, Din Tai Fung, The Dolphin, Efendy, Etch, Faheem’s, Firefly, Fishface, Four in Hand, Hugo’s Manly, House, Icebergs, L’Etoile, Lolli Redini, Longrain, Lotus, Mahjong Rooms, Majors Lane, Malabar, Makoto, Mamak, Mille Vini, New Shanghai, North Bondi Italian, Number One, Onde, Pearls on the Beach, Petersham Charcoal Chicken, Pilu, Porteno, Racine at La Colline, Red Chili, Restaurant Arras, The River Moruya, Rockpool Bar, Rockpool B&G, Rockpool Oyster Bar, Saap Thai, Sailor Thai Canteen, Sake, Sean’s Panaroma, Selah, Sepia, Shanghai Tang, Shanghai Nights, Spice I Am, Spice Temple, Subsolo, Summit, Sushi Yashiko, Sweet Belem, Taste of Shanghai, Tastevin, Thanh Binh, Union Bank, Ventuno, The Winery, The Wine Library, Xage, Zilver plus numerous cafe’s and other little places in the outer burbs.

        Hopefully you will agree it is quite a broad group, but lots of good places still to try.....Flinders Inn next.

      2. I agree with what you've said about Bentley, and have always found the food at the Cafe Sopra in Danks St to be fine (havent tried the other two Sopras)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Onara

          I agree the food at Sopra is fine, it was the service that frustrated and in effect ruined our main courses. Possibly forgivable in a cheap café, much less so at these prices.

        2. Hi PhilD,
          My post was a little hasty, and I didn't mean any offense. I guess I'm just allergic to certain kinds of places (ones that overpromise and underdeliver) and find it hard to enjoy myself in certain fine dining situations. Anyway I didn't mean to hijack your thread. Happy dining and apologies!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Cosy Cool

            No worries, and no need to apologise - I much prefer robust debate.

            Much better to have a good debate about a restaurant rather than everyone going with the flow. My biggest gripe about the Sydney food scene is how PR driven the popular blogs are: no constructive criticism just self indulgent PR fluff.

            I now have Robatayaki on my list and am planning a long overdue revisit to Maya.

          2. Enjoyable thread, especially for an ex-pat Sydneyite (now living in LA) -- I am headed "home for the holidays" and have been scoping out this board for places to eat.

            I've noticed there's not a lot of movement in the top restos via the SMH GFGuide -- Quay, Marque, Rockpool, Longrain etc etc - yawn - these always seem to be top of the heap year in year out. I've tried them all (except Berowra -- too spendy!) and I have had excellent and memorable experiences (Longrain not so much...) - but I need to move on (and so does the Syd food scene, methinks...)

            Anyway, I kinda love that Cosy Cool called you out on a few points, but something wasn't right -- the Rocks isn't simply a tourist trap a la Times Square -- as you, PhilD, so rightly responded. Disclosing that you are a Rocks resident (and an inner city denizen, as I once was - Darlo, Kings Cross, later Rozell...) it was great to hear you defend your 'hood.

            SO -- all I can say is that I have several splendid recs right here in this thread.

            Sean's Panorama is top on my list as it has been many moons since I dined there (I even think they relocated since I went there? not sure...)

            I'm def gonna give Toko a try.

            I may have already been to Cafe Sopra in Potts Point... Italian is a tough one for me as my Mum lives in Haberfield and there are so many great places there as well.

            My only complaint, PhilD, is that your original post is a little too "insider" for me -- left me with questions, especially your lack of actual detail in assessing Bentley Bar & Grill. Then again, don't think I'm anxious to try it anyway... Far too many other great places in Sydney vying for my palate and wallet!

            Excited to return to Sydney after two years away and check out the dining scene!

            Thanks to everyone here for the recs.