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Jun 12, 2012 01:35 PM

Sydney Restaurant Choices - Advice appreciated

My wife and I are planning a week long trip to Sydney in August. We are trying to pick 7-8 restaurants that serve lunch as well as dinner and fit within an average budget of $150/couple for food and drink.

We are from southern California and have no limitations on cuisine type. Our choices so far include Fix St James, Spice I am, District dining, Mamk, Marque (Friday lunch) and Bentley.

Any critique and/or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. There's a wide range of choices if the only limit is the budget.
    Without any further specifications, I could only offer personal favourites.

    Firstly, I'll assume you're going to be in the city. Let's be clear: no one really lives in the city.
    Most people live in the suburbs, some of which are ethnic enclaves (the Vietnamese community in Cabramatta and Canley Vale being the best-known).

    Personally, I like Fix, Spice I am, Marque and Bentley.

    When it comes to Mamak, I personally don't get the hype, but I'm in the minority.
    I've also stated before that I also don't really "get" the hype around Bodega, but their newer restaurant, Porteno, is loved by almost everyone.
    People love queueing up at Mamak, and these places too:


    * Lunch: Cafes
    We like our coffee in Australia. Timeout Sydney magazine has a monthly column about the hot cafes of the moment. Here's the last couple months:

    For my money, I like Campos Coffee. The main branch is at Newtown, but it's stocked in many places (you can download an iPhone app that tells you the closest Campos stockist). I work near a branch of Taste Baguette, and I like their quasi-Vietnamese roll.

    * Lunch: Classics
    A lot of people ignore the foods that you can get everywhere. I like the fish & chips at Fisherman's Wharf at Watson's Bay (just a ferry ride from Circular Quay) or you can also get fish & chips at Milson's Point if you wind up crossing the Harbour Bridge. Both can be eaten in close proximity to classic Sydney views.

    When it comes to meat pies, you could consult the Sydney Morning Herald's recommendations:

    However, i would endorse Mick's Bakehouse, which I believe won "best meat pie" award at this year's Royal Easter Show, they're located centrally in the Westfield shopping mall, which leads me to...

    * Lunch: Food Courts
    Everyone's gone food court crazy lately, with upmarket, high-profile openings at Westfield Sydney, Galeries Victoria and the Star casino. Both Westfield and the Star have a Din Tai Fung now, and the queues are usually much better than the branch at World Square. Also, the Star has a branch of Gelato Messina, which is a great icecream shop.

    Glamorous food courts seem to be du jour, but I would recommend also looking at the cheaper and admittedly grittier food courts in Chinatown. Sussex Centre & Dixon Street are great, but I like the Eating World food court. Popular stalls include Gumshara Ramen (very very thick and fatty tonkotsu) and Singapore Shiok.

    Also, for a food-court-style feed, I really enjoy the noodle soups at Malay-Chinese Takeaway (in Hunter St).

    * Lunch: Surry Hills
    As well as Marque, Assiette and Bentley also do really good value lunches.

    * Lunch: Yum Cha (Dim Sum
    )I would recommend Zilver near Central Station. Best food, off-the-cart.
    If you prefer everything cooked to order, I also rather enjoy East Ocean in Chinatown.


    * Dinner: Chinese, Chinese or Chinese?
    The city has a (pass on it, it's past-it) Spanish quarter, a (nascent and not yet mature) Koreatown, a very good Thaitown (more on that later) and a great Chinatown.

    I like the Xian noodles at Chinese Noodle House (*not* Chinese Noodle Restaurant, don't make this mistake!) on Quay St. It's true that Sea Bay on Pitt St has more queues, but I like this place. My favourite dish is called "Fragrant knife-cut noodle" or the like.

    I really like the Sichuan food at Red Chilli, but there's a few branches. My favourite branch is the one on the corner of Harbour & Goulburn Streets under the Eating World food court.

    My favourite restaurant in Sydney is Cantonese at Golden Century, where it's best to avoid the bulk of the menu and go straight for the live seafood. I like the *very* large oysters in ginger & shallot for $10ea, the pipis in XO sauce (500g for $35 - I personally like ordering fried bred to mop the sauce with) and Mud crab in ginger/shallot on top of e-fu noodles (1kg for $60, give or take - make sure mention the noodles, or you won't get them).

    * Dinner: Drinks
    For pub food, it's got to be Four in Hand at Paddington. This is probably a taxi trip, unless you want to walk from Edgecliff station or from Oxford Street.

    Also, if you want to try our branch of Momofuku (at the Star casino), but you want to stay on budget (and don't want to brave the bookings system that seems to have caused such a commotion in Sydney), you can always rock up early and try for a seat at the bar. They serve some good bar food.

    Sydney has been trying to launch a small bar culture for a little while now (search "sydney small bar" for recommendations - Stitch in the city is good when it's not packed). But my favourite remains Sticky Bar in Surry Hills, across the road from Bentley (but the entrance is from the back of the building down Taggart's Ln). It's also close to...

    * Dinner: Pizza
    ... Pizza Mario, which has a potato pizza that's my favourite pizza around. Also, Lucio Pizzeria in Darlinghurst is good (you can also grab drinks at Universal restaurant across the way from Lucio).

    * Dinner: Thai
    You can also do this as a lunch option. You've mentioned Spice I Am, and the original on Wentworth Ave is still the best. If you find yourself craving more Thai food, the most popular is Chat Thai (on Campbell St, but they also have a more accessible branch at Galeries Victoria and a more upmarket branch at Westfield Sydney). House is North-Eastern Thai, Caysorn is Southern Thai - you might want to look into them. For me, though, I really like the deep-fried morning glory salad at Saap Thai.

    * Dinner: TOYS
    TOYS is a group of young Sydney restaurant people who are trying to do something new over here. Some TOYS restaurants include Duke Bistro and Ms G's, both really nice places to eat.

    Again, these are just my favourites, and probably nothing I haven't posted up here before, but it might help you with consolidating what you want to eat while in Sydney. Enjoy!

    13 Replies
    1. re: anarcist

      Thank you for the extensive advice.
      I have now started to read the links for cafes, meat pies and food courts.
      I had not considered chinese food or pizza, since I have access to so many in LA. I may have to reconsider.
      I also noticed Assiette and Marque both have their value lunch special on Fridays. I currently have a reservation at Marque. Do you have a preference?
      Thank you once again.

      1. re: sgp

        If you only have one Friday lunch, I think you're right to choose Marque.

        If you don't want to look at Chinese and Italian, you've done the right thing in looking at Thai and Malaysian. I would recommend Malay-Chinese Takeaway so you have a laksa in there. Mamak is more Malay-Indian than Malay-Chinese.

        A laksa and a good cafe might be good in rounding out your list.

        1. re: anarcist

          a question regarding Fish & Chips at Watson Bay. Is it Doyle's restaurant that you are recommending?

          1. re: sgp

            Doyles has two outlets (I believe) at Watsons Bay, casual take-away on the wharf to more of a fine diner. The Watsons Bay Hotel (the pub) has a Peter Doyle F&C outlet (he is also n the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay). Peter Doyle and Doyle's are now different companies, the family split the restaurant empire up a few years ago.

          2. re: anarcist

            ok here is the definitive:
            coffee- Alchemy coffee in Marrickville. Campos was good until I found this place, best coffee I have ever had hands down.
            Sweet Belem- Petersham Portuguese patisserrie that specialises in custart tarts. Too good to describe, just order like 6 per person.
            Cow and Moon- Gelato, best gelato I have ever had outside of Italy. This place is near Newtown in Enmore.
            Pizzaa- Lucio`s Pizza, have the speck and fontina and dont argue. Pizza Marios is good but Lucios is best.
            Bourke street bakery and Black Star pastry- both good have the creme brulee tart, and pork and fennel sausage roll at bourke st and at black star have the pies (expensive tho) eclairs and brownies.
            Thai Pothong in Newtown. Chat Thaiis also good but excpect a wait and its super spicy
            Yoshiis at the rocks for Japanese (might be too pricey tho)
            Bodega and Porteno are both good, The latter is very cool place but expensive- think $8aud for a 300ml beer.
            Vietnamese- the best places are in Cabramatta but if you dont want to go so far try Tanh Binh in Newtown. Or there are also good places in Marrickville.
            Marque for Friday lunch, good but they just lost Pasi Petanen their head chef so wont be the same now.
            Bentleys lunch deal is good but you might walk out a little hungry still (I did but Im a big eater)
            Mamak in Chatswood is better than the one in the city.
            I find Gumshara ramen too fatty and porky but Menya ramen shops are better, there are 3 in the city.
            Golden Century is good but not great and can be a bit pricey too.
            Spice Temple is GREAT and so is Billy Kwongs.
            Sepia and Quay are great for a splurge, world class fine dining
            SIxPenny Is a real up and coming fine diner using produce they grow themselves and I believe they do a Sunday lunch for a pretty reasonable price, that would be the first place I`d go for a nice dinner if I went back to Sydney. Their degustation is only $120pp on regular nights anyways.
            Oscillate Wildly in Newtown is very good also, a small fine diner but with top notch food and only $100 for degustation, BYO too.

            1. re: NZJoe

              Thanks for the tip on the Menya ramen shops. They are new to me but rate well on urbanspoon. I will try them later this week

              1. re: NZJoe

                Good list - i had missed SixPenny - need to book in. No mentions of Momofuku Seiobo - any thoughts?

                1. re: PhilD

                  I never went to Momofuku at Star City but heard very mixed things about it. Im sure it would be good but worth the dosh? I don`t know. I thought it was great how much time David Chang was putting in there, unlike so many other big name chefs opening new places and just using their name

                2. re: NZJoe

                  I agree about Gumshara. I also think Menya (Ichiban Boshi, Ryo's...) is better.
                  Thai Pothong, Yoshii, Spice Temple, Billy Kwong and Oscillate are good but not great in my books.
                  I would have suggested Sixpenny if it was within the specified budget.

                  1. re: anarcist

                    I have added Menya Ramen to my list of places to try for a light meal.
                    Sixpenny looks great. I like the idea of a small degustation-only restaurant. However, to keep within budget one of us would have to eat at Menya while the other one enjoys Sixpenny. I hesitate to offer this idea to my wife.

                    1. re: sgp

                      She might enjoy a trip to Stanmore.....

                      1. re: PhilD

                        I did try to think of ways to make Menya sound like a Sydney experience that she should not miss. None of them sounded convincing enough and I don't want to be eating ramen by myself.

              2. The 6 places you've chosen are all well-regarded. I personally found Bentley and Marque to be style over substance, but Spice I Am, District Dining and Mamak are all excellent

                Assuming you're only looking at places close to or in the CBD, I'd also suggest Pendolino
                (though it may exceed your budget


                Cafe Sopra in Danks St Waterloo will fit your budget. I've found it to be pretty much flawless

                Orto Trading Co is also very very good

                4 Replies
                1. re: Onara

                  Thank you for your advice. I looked at your suggestions and they all look great. I had 2 questions.

                  Would you recommend Cafe Pendolino as well as the restaurant?
                  I am also looking for lunch (as the main meal of the day) at Bondi and Manly. Any suggestions?

                  Thank you once again.

                  1. re: sgp

                    Best food in Bondi is at Sean's Panaroma - very casual but don't let looks decive it turns out truly great food. The best sea view is from Icebergs Dining room, which can be great but can also seem expensive for simple well executed Italian. North Bondi Italian is best for people watching it is Icebergs trendi casual Italian - the place attracts the young and beutiful especially on weekends.

                    Near Manly, head up one beach to Pilu at Freshwater, great traditional, but refined Italian - it also has a cafe.

                    1. re: PhilD

                      Thank you for the advice. Pilu looks great and they have a weekday prix fix lunch that'll be within our budget. I have already contacted them for a reservation. It should make for a wonderful day trip from Sydney.

                      Sean's seems to be open for lunch on weekends only which limits our options since I plan to be in Sydney every day before sunset for my other passion besides food - photography. It is also a bit out of our budget. Are their lunch and dinner menus / prices identical?

                    2. re: sgp

                      I havent eaten at the cafe at Pendolino

                      I'd second what was said about Bondi eats by PhilD

                      And Pilu is pretty much the best option now that Manly Pavillion has closed its doors

                  2. A lot of good suggestions above and bar one or two I have tried 95% of the restaurants recommended. so my votes would be:
                    1. For out of towners, Icebergs really is a must, especially for lunch. Perched on the hill parallel with one of the major take off spots for the surfers, the view is stunning and the food above average Italian. Fit out cost apprx $7-8m. Its a must for a lunch rather than a dinner. For me I would skip Seans Panorama, the food is very over rated and the staff completed obnoxious in a "I-am-so-important-because-I-work-at-Seans" kind of way. Bondi also has the best pizza in Sydney at Pompeiis run by a Sardinian.
                    2.Zilver defintiely has the best yum cha in town but get there early, say around 12 or wait up to an hour with the locals.
                    3.Bentley has the most interesting food in town and is well worth the visit. It's my favourite restaurant in Sydney. Do the degustation and you will be blown away. Marque is also overrated. I have eaten here 4 times and had one meal that was good.
                    4.Quay is the top rated restaurant in Australia down at the Passenger Terminal Rated 29 in the Top 50 Best Restaurants, it has a stunning location wiht views of the brdige and opera house. Any foodie in Sydney sort of has to head to the Mecca of the Australian scene. It is worth saving up some extra dollars for.
                    5.If the weather is great try and get a lunch time table at Ottos on W Wharf. It has the Sydney CBD profile as its back drop and is right on the water. The "scene" alone is worth watching.
                    6. For ground breaking Thai it is still hard to go past Sailor Thai in the Rock. Set up 20 odd years ago by David Thompson, his London restaurant got 1 Michelin Star in its first year. The new restaurant in Bangkok was the most talking about event in Thailand last year (they're not mad on an Australian showing them up) If you want a more funky West Hollywood version of thai but still great food try the Longgrain.
                    7. Avoid Dolyes at Watsons Bay at all costs. It is a tourist rip off. The ferry ride however is fantastic and I take my kids up there throughout summer. Better is the fish next door on the patio of the pub. A classic Aussie tradition. As an out of towner the trip up the harbour is well worth the trip.
                    8. Toko on Crown St is great sushi and very modern again in a West Hollywood way.
                    9. Pendolino is ok in the city but avoid the city after dark unless you have no option.
                    10. For great Vietnamese you can't beat Red Latern again on Crown. For more down market but still excellent food try Thanh Binh on King St in Newtown. Newtown is more like Berkley SF. YOu will find other good recommendations for the area in Urbanspoon.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: Kogie

                      I would push back on a few of these. Icebergs is good, but I really do think Sean's has better food. I have had some good meals at Icebergs but also a few fairly average. I wonder how the management split will effect it?

                      Zilver is OK, but I would hesitate to recommend any dim sum in Sydney, FTF is fine and Chefs Gallery can be interesting but overall I see dim sum as pretty weak in Sydney. I have yet to have a good meal at Bentley, others clearly love it but I find places like Sepia or Gastro Park to be better and in a similar vein. Ottos has always been a great Sydney institution, it had a rough patch a few years back, but I understand it is on good form now, but as I said upthread I rarely get past Aki's at the start of the wharf.

                      Got to really disagree about Sailor Thai, it was once really good but David Thompson long since sold it. There is far better Longrain for more upmarket, Spice I am, House, and Chaat Thai for more casual options.

                      I do agree about Doyles, and if you go to Watson Bay F&C in the pub is good - that said it is still a (Peter) Doyle place even though a family disagreement split the empire. So IMO not much between them. Fishface for me is the best for F&C but unfortunately no view (is Mohr Fish still going), and I would love to here reports of Strode's new place The Fish Shop.
                      Red Lantern is good but I think Xage in Surry Hills is better - and heading out to the burbs is even better.

                      Are you advising to avoid the city after dark because its dull or is there something else?

                      1. re: PhilD

                        Given the diners coming from Cal and are not from Sydney I still think Icebergs is a must. It has one of the most spectacular views anywhere let alone Sydney. Stay with the seafood which will be fresh and you can not go wrong.

                        As for Sean's it so pompous it puts me off the food. For the prices they charge, they could at least do up the place. They push through 2 sittings a night at 6.30 and 8.30 and the last time we went there (with one friend who was heavily pregnant) we had to stand in the doorway and wait until 9.30 before our table was ready. If you tell people you are doing two sittings and the table is booked at 8.30 then you ask the early sitting to leave or send them to the bar. You do NOT leave the next party waiting in the doorway like unwelcome guests on a winters night with nothing to eat or drink. At the end of the day it is just well cooked food wtih great produce. There is not particularly good technique. District Dining or Assiette would be a better call, the latter being more upmarket than the former.

                        Had dinner at Xage last week and whilst it great value and good food (we will go back), Red Lantern really is a notch above. I was going to suggest Xage but given time is limited thought better of it. A better down market choice would be Non La around the corner with a better range or Thanh Long opposite Red Latnern. But if you only have one night for Vietnamese in Sydne then my vote would still be Red Lantern

                        Personally I prefer Longrain over Sailors Thai but only because it is closer and has a much more funky atmosphere. Again for anyone new to Sydney, Sailor Thai is still an education but I will admit its been a few years since i was last there.

                        As for the Bentley you really have to do the fully degustation to really get the most from the place. Sepia is nice but again I would not be sending people who were new in town off to Cockle Bay or Darling Harbour for that matter. Its a cultural waste land. Sepia survives because it shares the building with PwC and CBA along with a few other minor players like Rabo and EY.

                        Akis is good though the people watching really gets under way down around Ottos and Manta which is half the fun on a lovely sunny day in Sydney.

                        (and I still don't like Marque :( )

                        1. re: Kogie

                          It is often tempting to recommend (for visitors) based on the view rather than the food in Sydney, and Icebergs at lunchtime is probably the best option as when it is good it can be very good - and the view never lets you down.

                          Are you negative on Sean's because of your last experience? We had to wait for our table on our last visit but it was lunchtime and we simply had a glass of wine. Sean's "USP" is simple and produce driven - reminiscent of the old mod-Oz days. "Doing-up" the place, and adding lots of "technique" would be so wrong on so many levels: it is a beach cafe serving really fresh market driven food, it is quintessentially Australian, and very Sydney. Warren Turnbull's Assiette and District Dining are both good but IMO more French, representative of modern sydney but in a very different place to Seans.

                          I go way back to the Sailors Thai and Darley Street Thai days when Thompson was cooking every night (DST had a killer take-away) but since Longrain and the new wave of Thai with Chaat, and Spice I am I have found Sailors Thai has become quite mainstream (did that coincide with Thompson selling out of the partnership a few years ago?). For me the essence of Sydney Thai is sitting on a little plastic stool on the pavement with a bag of BYO booze at the original Spice I am.

                          I may be spoilt as I have had a few visits to San Sebastian, Bray, and Roses so molecular food is very familiar to me. I have given Bentleys degustation a couple of tries and it never did much for me. Friends loved it, so maybe it depends a bit on previous experience. If new to molecular then give it a go, if familiar there are better (maybe not in Sydney).

                          I think you are very harsh about Sepia, certainly it sits in the towers that house some big corporates, but it is a short walk from the CBD. Martin Benn was head chef at Tetsuya (during its glory days) before he opened Sepia and he has a loyal following from those days. He also develops other great talent with two of his chefs winning "Young Chef of the Year" (Terry Robinson and Mitchell Orr who founded Duke Bistro after Sepia). I do think the location is slightly against hime but it isn't out of the way (better than moving to Westfield then going bust!).

                        2. re: PhilD

                          Fishface sounds great from the reviews. I can't find a web site for it. Do you know if they serve lunch?

                        3. re: Kogie

                          Thank you for your input. I looked at Quay and Sepia but could not justify them based on cost (American $ has plummeted 50% against the AUD). I have reserved at Bentley and Marque since they have great week day lunch deals.

                          I will probably pass on Chinese restaurants in this trip. I live in So Cal San Gabriel valley with many such options.

                          For Italian food (not necessarily the view) would you choose Ottos or Pendolino?

                          1. re: sgp

                            Definitely Ottos. It is a classic Sydney experience on the W wharf down by the harbour. Sydney has a beautiful harbour which is well worth experiencing. As you will have seen from the above exhange, Sydney really has become in recent years a gastro city by anyone's standards. In reality I would be happy to eat at (well almost) any of the restaurants we have been discussing.

                            The cuisine is very fresh food focused and draws from many different cultures though Italian would be the most dominant. In my personal opinion until the 2000 Olympics, Melbourne was very much the food capital of Australia. With the Olympics, however many Melbourne restauranteurs came north, initially, to cash in on a golden opportunity. With the climate and the boom, many decided to stay and Sydney leap-frogged Melbourne together with the team that came out of the legendary Banc.

                            I have spent a bit of time in the US and Cal in particular and one of the really interesting cuisines is the Asian fusion sector that goes on in the Sydney. It is different to the US version. To this end one place that is worth remembering Billy Kwong. Again she may be a little past her peak mainly because she can't seem to stay off tv but it is still a visit.

                            1. re: Kogie

                              If you're looking to go outside of the tourist areas for Italian, I'd recommend Buzo in Woollarha. Mitch Orr (mentioned above) recently moved there from Duke Bistro and is doing a fantastic pasta degustation. It's also right around the corner from the Wine Library (same owners) for after dinner drinks or just down the street from 10 William Street (another wine bar will a well thought out list).

                            2. re: sgp

                              Is the lunch deal at Bentley limited to a certain day of the week? We'll be in Sydney next month on a Saturday, Sunday and Monday and I haven't had any luck finding a prix fixe lunch deal on those days. We're also in the SGV.

                              1. re: PattyC

                                The deal is not limited to specific days on the web site and lunch is served on Saturdays. Perhaps a local can confirm.

                                1. re: sgp

                                  Don't know about Bentley specifically, but in general they are weekdays only - there are exceptions though. And Monday many places are closed at lunch.

                            3. re: Kogie

                              Out of what's been suggested since, I would also say that Pilu is a good option (I'll let others talk about Sean's, Iceberg's, Otto, etc). You'll probably have to take a taxi to get there.

                              Yes, Fish Face has better fish. I thought it would be nice to recommend a place with a view and Watson's Bay is hard to beat. The downmarket takeout shop on the wharf, and the pub are good. Don't waste time with any sit-down Doyle's/Peter Doyle place (that includes Circular Quay).

                              I really have to disagree with Sailor's Thai. It's been a long time since I remember it being good. I'm not a great fan or Toko or Longrain, either, but they're nice if you like cocktails and cocktail-friendly food.

                              I'm not a big fan of inner-city Vietnamese by any measure. And it's a bit of a hike out to Cabramatta or Canley Vale.

                              I wouldn't be dissuaded by the comments here about Marque or Bentley. I think that they're good value for money. I'm not even going to talk about Quay or Sepia or the like, because they're not really in the budget you've outlaid.

                              1. re: Kogie

                                Also wanted to chime in to warn about Sailors Thai. We had an extremely disappointing meal there a couple months ago, and the restaurant was nearly empty on a Friday night. I nearly cried, as we could have had a much better meal somewhere else for $300. We ordered the tasting menu, and I believe we could have had a meal of equal quality for a third of the price at Spice I Am. We have been to the Sailors Thai Canteen in recent months, and that was fine, but I would warn anyone off venturing downstairs.

                                1. Native San Diegan and tho' I haven't been to Sydney in a couple of years, I do love Lord Nelson's Pub in the Rocks..Sailor Thai, Quay even for drinks and apps, Fortune of War on George for drinks.
                                  I loved Tetsuya's and found it far superior than French Laundry...hear its not the same. : (
                                  Sean's Panaroma in Bondi and Rockpool..
                                  Had drinks and apps at Doyle's under the was decent.