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Apr 3, 2012 04:56 PM

Great food at a moderate price in Sydney

My husband and I will be in Sydney for 3 nights in July and I've just started researching. Our only previous trip was in 2008 and we dined at Guillaume at Bennelong and Aria on that trip. Unfortunately we don't recall the food being very memorable at either. I thought Sydney was expensive then and it seems to have just gotten worse and I'm suffering from a bit of sticker shock.

1) We would like to spend $50-$60 per person not including wine.

2) Coming from Los Angeles we're not looking for Asian.

3) Other than that we'll eat anything and don't mind sitting at a bar or counter or communal tables, whatever will get us the best food at this price point.

4) We don't need an extensive menu, a few tapas style small plates or a no choice market menu are all good. We just returned from France and some of our favorite meals were at wine bars and in a fish market.

5) I had toyed with the idea of making lunch at a nicer restaurant our main meal of the day (assuming lunch is cheaper than dinner) but we're there on a Saturday, Sunday and Monday and it seems those days don't really work well for that idea.

6) If you think I'm asking for the impossible and I should just have one great splurge meal and eat takeaway the other 2 days, I'm OK with that too but where? I'd prefer it not be on Saturday as I find I don't really appreciate nuances on arrival day when I'm jet lagged.


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  1. I've come up with a few possibilities, let me know what you think. Some of these may be stretching our budget a bit but that's OK as long as the price to quality ratio is there.

    Gastro Park
    Duke Bistro
    District Dining

    How's the bar food at Rockpool B&G?

    Is the weekday lunch special at Pier any good?

    How are the restaurants at the Botanic Garden or Art Gallery of NSW? I love the Botanic Garden and will be spending a day there.

    10 Replies
    1. re: PattyC

      Gastro Park is (I think) out of your price range, and I was disappointed by it. District Dining is great. Havent been to the other two, but have heard good things

      1. re: PattyC

        Of your list, I've only been to District Dining, but we enjoyed it quite a bit. You might also consider Billy Kwong in Surry Hills. (I know you said no Asian, but if you exclude Asian, I think you're missing a huge part of what makes Aussie cuisine special.) You could easily blow your budget there, but if you order somewhat carefully, you can have an exquisite meal that doesn't break the bank. There's no reservations there, so you need to show up just before opening time at 6:00 and put your name in. They'll send you to the pub across the street and call you when there's a table. Note though, it's a tiny space with very close seating, so you are very intimate with other diners. It's not a white tablecloth experience, but the food is extraordinary and exemplifies what is wonderful about Sydney cuisine.

        Porteno in Surry Hills is another option. Argentinian, with lots of spit roasted meats, but extremely well executed in a charming setting. Servings are generous, and two mains with a shared starter should be plenty of food. Like Billy Kwong, there's no reservations, but going early should get you a seat. Both restaurants have menus online.

        This thread might also be helpful:

        Oh, and for the Botanic Gardens, my favourite thing to do is to first stop by the Food Halls in the basement of David Jones department store and pick up the ingredients for a gourmet picnic in the gardens. Having said that, the restaurant at the Art Gallery of NSW is extremely pleasant.

        1. re: gemuse

          Thanks for your suggestions and I'll take a look at that other thread. A picnic sounds pretty good too!

        2. re: PattyC

          Gastro is good but gets slightly expensive, very molecular and so reasonable value for it style. Duke is very very good, small plates so the cst can mount if you don't exercise restraint as it is all yummy plus great cocktails at the bar. District Dining is also very good and worth a short cab ride. Bertha has a very strong reputation but I have not been. Fix and Porteno as others have said at good - but do get their early. The bar at rock pool is great for a burger so may not meet your needs also the wine is very expensive. Felix isn't bad in a faux French bistro way but as you have just been to Paris then Bistro CBD may be better as it is mod Aus meets English. Avoid Darling Harbour and The Rocks as the are quite touristy.

          1. re: PhilD

            Thanks, Phil. Do you mean Bistrode CBD? Enjoy your time in CA and the pastries at Parker Lusseau!

            1. re: PattyC

              Yes - sorry I meant Bistrode. The restaurant at the Intercontinental around the corner from your hotel is good - don't have the name to hand - it isn't a hotel place but a good Sydney chefs second place.

              Art Gallery is OK for lunch, but better to walk a bit further and go to Wooloomooloo Wharf and grab a outside table at Otto. Best restaurant there ia Aki's but it is Indian so may not meet the spec.

              Best thing to do if you have time is head to Bondi (taxi may kill the budget) and eat at Seans's Panaroma - it is to Sysdney what Zuni is to SF with better views.

              Still in Sonoma - Monterray I next week - it is great - good food and great wine.

              1. re: PhilD

                Do you mean Etch, Justin North's place?

                1. re: mr_gimlet

                  Yes, that's the one.
                  Also the Custom's House restaurant is OK and has a nice buzz and view. The food can be good although it is favourite for office celebrations so can get rowdy.

                2. re: PhilD

                  Actually Indian would be the exception. The fact that it's open on Sunday is a plus.

                  1. re: PattyC

                    It is a very good Indian with a lot of subtle flavours. I spend quite a lot of time in India and it stacks up well. Book and ask fr an outside table if the weather is nice. The crab starter I very good.

          2. There are loads of good options in that price range, but it would help to know where you're planning to stay and whether you'll have a car. Here are some non-Asian suggestions close to (but not necessarily in) the CBD...

            1 Reply
            1. re: Onara

              Thanks for your feedback. We'll be staying at the Circular Quay Marriott and won't have a car. I don't mind traveling though.

              I'll check out those recs, thanks!

            2. You're broad problem is that you are staying in one of the most expensive parts of the worlds most expensive cities. Anything withing walking distance has to cover its rent - it either does this by charging a lot of money for its meals, or by going for high turnover of tables (which is why Asian so often pops up in this Board).

              I wouldn't recommend Rockpool B&G given your preferences on price and food.

              I would suggest you don't underestimate the quality of Asian in Australia. Having never eaten in LA I can't comment on their Asian food, but both Thai and regional Chinese food are outstanding in Sydney.

              3 Replies
              1. re: mr_gimlet

                Thanks for your reply. We don't mind long walks or taking public transportation. It's not unusual for us to walk 3 km or so to a restaurant when vacationing in a city (I have to in order to burn off the calories!) and we'll probably cover 10+ km in a day.

                I was specifically thinking about the bar food at Rockpool B&G, not the restaurant. Does that change your opinion?

                It's not that I'm underestimating the quality of Asian in Australia, it's just that I live in the San Gabriel Valley part of LA and Asian food is already over-represented in what we eat at home. I have just about every regional Chinese with a 15 minute drive of our house whereas for anything else, I pretty much live in a culinary wasteland and routinely drive an hour to find good non-Asian food.

                1. re: PattyC

                  No, I meant the bar - it is expensive, and most Sydney eaters will be going there for a quick meal. It gets very expensive very quickly.

              2. Have a look at Fix St James. Good food and plenty of interesting bottles on the wine list. They do 5 or 6 shared plates within your budget. The are open for Saturday dinner or Monday lunch and dinner during your dates -

                7 Replies
                1. re: Camw

                  Thanks for the recommendation!

                  1. re: PattyC

                    Maybe also look at some wine bars which are popping up at an incredible rate. In 2008 there would have been very few around. Some that I've been to and liked are Bar H (although looking at the menu it is more asian influenced than I remember), Love Tilly Devine, 10 William Street and Wine Library.

                      1. re: PattyC

                        I'd highly suggest Fix St James as well. Great accessible wine list and reasonable prices. I think they have the best steaks in the city. Stuart and his team really know their wines and do a great job pairing them with food. They like the off beat wines that you might not come across. The 4 and 5 course meals are great for their prices as well. The 5 plate meal goes for around $55 per person, I believe.

                        1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                          Fix is definitely on the list now, thanks!

                          1. re: PattyC

                            If you can book do book it I small and popular. Or get there very early.

                  1. re: Camw

                    We ended up at Aki's on Sunday and Fix St James on Monday. Both were quite good. Saturday we were both too tired to head out. At Aki's we had the soft shell crab starter (thanks, Phil), sag paneer and goan seafood masala. Very interesting flavors and different from the Indian we have nearby. We opted for the quick fix at FSJ which consisted of 4 shared starters and a main. It was a lot of food and I'm glad we didn't order the larger one. That night it was a fennel salad, codfish fritter, smoked eel souffle, pork rillette and a lamb ragu gnocchi. They guys here are great too. We also had lunch one day at the MCA restaurant downstairs. We were originally just going to eat at the cafe upstairs but it was packed. I'm glad we ended up there cause we really enjoyed it. We had starter portions of the calamari and seared scallops and shared the cassoulet. Your museum restaurants are much better than our museum restaurants. Thanks everyone for helping us eat well on a budget!