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July Sydney Trip from USA

Hello to the OZ/NZ board.

A couple of USA residents, heading to Sydney for our first visit.

We are beginning to plan my birthday trip to Sydney in July. Since I took my wife to the Burgundy Region of FR last month, she is trying to best me for this trip. This will be our first trip to Australia, as we had a trip, two years ago, cancel at the last moment. Fortunately, we were able to cancel ALL reservations, in time, but hated to have to scrap that trip.

We are deeply into fine-dining, and wines (hence Burgundy), and will be staying downtown at the Hilton Sydney for about 7 days. The costs are not an issue, but great food and wine are.

I am looking for input on evening dining, during this trip. Here is what we have tentatively planned:

Thursday July 18th – Spa Day & Glass Brasserie @ Hilton Sydney
Friday 19th – Tetsuya’s
Saturday 20th – Hunter Valley Wine Tour & Flying Fish
Sunday 21st – Quay
Monday 22nd – Otto Ristorante
Tuesday 23rd – Est
Wednesday 24th – Glass Brasserie @ Hilton Sydney w/ early flight the next AM back to the USA

We have chosen Glass Brassierie for both our arrival evening, and then on our night before departure, as it is in the Hilton Sydney, and will keep thing “close to home.” Looking at their menu, it appears that there will be enough diversification to allow for two night of dining, with no duplication.

We are planning one day to the Hunter Valley, for wine tastings. The rest of the trip will be very laid back, with a lot of great walking.

I would love a critique of these dining experiences, from those in the know.

Thank you,

Hunt

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  1. I would scrap Tetsuya's and go for Sepia. While it's been about 2 years since I last went to Tets, I was shocked by how bad it was (service and food) that I don't have any desire to go again. It seems like he's putting most of his creative energy into Singapore and just letting Sydney be.

    I would also look into Sixpenny for a meal. Sydney is not that big where eating out on the last night would warrant staying close to home. You'll need a cab to get there (only about 3-4 miles from the CBD), but I think you'd get a better view of Sydney/Australian dining here than a second meal at the Hilton.

    Since you enjoy wine, it would be a shame to miss some great wine bars. My favorites that off a great variety of Aussie wines would be Wine Library and Love Tilly Devine. Both offer great lists (couple hundred bottles a piece), but are great small places with fantastic staff to walk you through whatever you would like. Wine Library even has a local approach through July (I believe) that is focusing on the wines of New South Wales by the glass. If you ask for their guidance, my guess is you'll be surprised by the quality of Aussie wines these days (nothing like how they're represented with the selection in the US). Two other great wine bars that lean Italian are 10 William Street and 121BC.

    If you want a wine focused lunch, you should definitely head to Fix St James in the CBD. They know their wines and you can get by on a few small plates and still have room for a large dinner. Again, ask questions and these guys will lead you down the right wine path.

    8 Replies
    1. re: BeanTownGolfer

      Actually, Sepia was in the mix, but fell by the wayside. Maybe time to revisit that? Maybe for our last night's meal? A cab is certainly not an issue, for this trip.

      As for the winebars, could that be a good afternoon foray? We normally have wines, while on holiday, sometimes just after breakfast, and do not mind drinking during the day, so long as we do not over-do it, for later.

      Just wondering, and thank you,

      Hunt

      PS - As for Tetsuya’s, I was a bit surprised, as they required a full contract, for a reservation for two. I have not seen that since the Russians took over Galvin at Windows at the London Hilton Park Lane, where we had dined (and hosted board dinners up to 40), in the past. Sort of odd, IMHO. Must be something new?

      1. re: Bill Hunt

        The contract might be because you're from overseas. When I went, I was able to get a table for 4 on a Thursday at 8pm that day. Granted it was upstairs in what felt like a big conference room (projector included). That didn't help the take away from the rest of the meal.

        I'd definitely recommend Wine Library for a nice easy lunch if you have a large dinner coming up. Plenty to walk around in that area and get out of the CBD to see the side streets.

      2. re: BeanTownGolfer

        +1 on Fix St James. (I'm from Vancouver, Canada) It's a 10 minute walk from your hotel. I had ONE dinner in Sydney, enroute from Melbourne to YVR, and thought it worth every minute.

        1. re: BeanTownGolfer

          Yeah, I'd drop Tetsuya as well. I'd take Sepia or Marque any day. For a lunch with a bit of wine, maybe Bentley could go in the mix?

          Is Quay booked - they are terribly difficult to get into.

          1. re: mr_gimlet

            Thanks for that info.

            As of now, I have requested to drop Glass for our last night (flight is out at a reasonable hour the next day), for Sepia.

            Quay was added for Sunday, at 9:00PM. That should not be an issue, other than we dine long, and not too quickly, so even when we are in Europe, with an early seating, and a grand Chef's Tasting, we have been known to close the place down, with wines leftover. Most restaurants in the US, London, Rome, Paris and much of Europe know us, and expect us to arrive early, stay late, and eat everything in the house, plus drain the wine cellar! Sydney does not know us, but they soon will. I have requested slightly larger tables, beyond a tiny two-top, as we often have dozens of wine glasses.

            Early this month, we were dining at a beautiful Michelin 1-star restaurant for many nights. After the first night, we were then seated at a 4-top, to help the staff with our wine glasses. By the end of the week, we were seated at an 8-top, at the behest of the staff - they tired of juggling our wine glasses, and the chef created a special menu, just for us. Talk about service - I'd give them 3 stars, if I was contacted by Michelin.

            Let's hope that all goes well in OZ.

            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Bill - I will bite. Why would you have dozens of wine glasses on a table at the same time (assuming your a couple). Even if you are doing a vertical flight your not really going to have that many are you? I am intrigued.

              1. re: PhilD

                We very often do a Chef's Tasting Menu, plus the Sommelier's Pairing Menu (plus we might have a half-bottle of a "starter wine"), and retain portions (smaller with each dish), of earlier wines, to taste with later courses. It is not that we want to contradict the sommelier, but only that we like to compare different wines, with different dishes, even if atypical pairings.

                Two weeks ago, in Burgundy, we had a 14-course tasting menu, and had about 12 wine glasses each, on the table. This was our third night at the restaurant at the inn, and they quickly learned to put us at a 4-top - minimum.

                At three restaurants in San Francisco, our dossier instructs the host/hostess to seat us at special tables, like one 6-top at Farallon. They know that we are likely to have many, many glasses in front of us.

                Also, as I often do a Cheese Course, late in the meal, I often want many different wines available to me - lot's of glasses.

                Hunt

            2. re: mr_gimlet

              When does Bentley close - I understood its been sold to the Claude's team with the Bentley team focussed on their new place (Monopole) and a soon to open new Surry Hills site.

          2. Bill, Please report back. I have used your advice from the NOLA board. We will be traveling to Sydney in September and have most of the places you listed in mind.

            5 Replies
            1. re: scfinson

              I would book Quay now for September. It can sometimes be a 3 month lead time, especially if you want a weekend. Weekdays aren't quite as bad, but still need hefty lead time.

              1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                Currently three months for non-weekends, and six months for weekends

                1. re: mr_gimlet

                  And boom goes the dynamite. Looks like I should probably book my Christmas meal then.

                2. re: BeanTownGolfer

                  I agree with that. We secured a Sunday at Quay, but it was not until 9:00PM (did not look to American Express Platinum Concierge, as 9:00PM works for us). This was a bit more than a month out. Not sure if they have a cutoff date, like some restaurants have. Somehow, I am a bit adverse to queuing up at a precise time (regardless of the TimeZone), to try and get a table 90 days, or similar, out. It is akin to getting a good boarding number on Southwest Airlines - I have been 3 sec. late, only to get a B boarding spot. That is why I buy their upper-level tickets, or at least my wife does. I get her A-1 almost all of the time.

                  Still, getting to Quay early IS a good practice.

                  Good luck,

                  Hunt

                3. re: scfinson

                  I will do just that, and hope that I am able to help you.

                  Travel safely,

                  Hunt

                4. Aloha Bill.

                  You and Linda are going to have a blast in Sydney!
                  I loved Tet's but it has been many years when Tet's was at the top of his game but knowing how you roll, I would keep it on the list.
                  Their wine list alone is fab.

                  Quay is outstanding...book now!
                  Sean's Panaroma at Bondi Beach for lunch.
                  Heard fab things about Marque and Sepia..

                  Casual, I really like and been going every time I am in town is Lord Nelson's Brewery in the Rocks for a pint and some pub fare.

                  Fortune of War Pub in the Rocks for a pint.
                  Rockpool and Sailor Thai are solid choices.
                  Drinks at the Four Seasons bar.

                  Have a great time and hopefully, you'll get those pods things in first class.

                  AUS board is one of the best!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Beach Chick

                    Aloha BC,

                    Quay IS in the mix, and we moved some stuff around, and hope that Sepia will be too.

                    All of the dinners are accounted for, but we have plenty of days of lunches (and maybe some breakfasts) off-site, so will look into those breweries for lunches.

                    We hope to have plenty of time to just hang out, explore and see what shakes out. Our previous trip to Sydney was cancelled at the last moment, due to issues at my wife's biggest hospital. This is a "makeup trip," but also her present for my birthday - trying to outdo me with HER Burgundy trip, earlier this month. She hates to be outdone! I hope that she's successful.

                    Mahalo for those recs., and we hope to try most.

                    Hunt

                    PS - soon, you might have some e-mails, regarding Hawai`i.

                  2. Here is the revised itinerary, and thank you to the respondents on this board:

                    Evening Meals:

                    Thursday July 18th – Spa Day & Glass Brasserie @ Hilton Sydney
                    Friday 19th – Tetsuya’s
                    Saturday 20th – Hunter Valley Wine Tour & Flying Fish
                    Sunday 21st – Quay
                    Monday 22nd – Otto Ristorante
                    Tuesday 23rd – Est
                    Wednesday 24th – Sepia w/ early flight the next AM back to the USA

                    Breakfasts will probably be light, and grabbed near the hotel. Lunches will be similar, as we dine early (by Euro-standards) most nights. Light, quick and near-by.

                    I did notice that there were three restaurants, that required the "contract," and, as several have commented, that is likely due to my being from the US.

                    I am used to providing a credit card for restaurant reservations, but the contract seems to be a fairly new development. I first encountered it at Galvin@Windows at the Park Lane Hilton in London. We had dined there a half-dozen times, even hosting a 20 person, and 40 person board dinner there. We stay at the hotel, and almost always dine at Galvin 2 - 4x per year. A year ago, they required a signed contract for a party of 6, though the other 4 were also staying at the Park Lane. That was new to me, but it appears that OZ is adopting similar.

                    I also noticed that one restaurant exacts a $250/person charge, if the reservations are not honored. I mean heck, $500 is a pretty nice meal w/ some very good wines. Maybe it is a sad commentary on how diners abuse reservations?

                    Two years ago, we had our Sydney trip all planned, but as we were about to board the 747 at LAX, my wife got a call from her main hospital - major problems! We canceled the trip, and as we waited for our flight back to PHX, I called every restaurant, plus the hotel, and personally canceled each reservation. I spent about US$60 in international telephone connection charges, but felt that I needed to do that - no contracts involved. I have always felt that cancellations, where required, were my responsibility, and even if it's London, Paris, Rome or Sydney, I make the calls, and eat the costs.

                    OK, nothing but thanks to all, who responded. I greatly appreciate your time, and will report.

                    Thank you all,

                    Hunt

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      Bill - I think you will fail to get the best from Sydney with your current itinerary. I would tend to follow Bean Town Golfers advice and substitute some of the big hitters with the up and comers - Sixpenny for example. Glass Brasserie was good years ago but I feel it has lost its edge, I also feel the same for Otto (although there are rumours its recovered).

                      You are right in the middle of Sydney so can easily walk to many many restaurants so don't feel constrained. Whilst the top restaurants will have good wine lists BTG's suggestions of the wine bars may get you into far more interesting territory.

                      And if you are really really into wine then Rockpool Bar & Grill has an outstanding list (its on-line) and is based around David Doyle's collection (I think he still owns 50% of the Rockpool Group). However its a steak house so the food may not resonate with a US visitor.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        I have made note of these recs.. As we have the evening meals set now, I will look to some for lunches, or for our next trip down under.

                        Thank you,

                        Hunt

                    2. Well, this is a "quickie" on our dining in Sydney. I hope to have more detailed reports done soon.

                      All were great, and the list was pretty much as first posted, with Glass being replaced at the end, by Sepia.

                      First, as we were in Australia, we wanted to experience Australian, Tasmanian and New Zealand wines, that we do not get in the USA. In Phoenix, I can often get the very upper-end wines, but then, the selection drops off horribly, with export-only wines, that one would never drink in Australia. We charged each sommelier with the task of keeping their tastings "close to home." All but one took up that challenge, and did a fabulous job, with some innovative pairings with the various Chef's Tasting Menus. They had as much fun, as we did, and even kept adding pourings, "just in case." All were great sports, and just fell into the concept.

                      The food was very good, to great. The venues were good to great. Some could use a redo on their seating, and especially at their price-points, but that was a minor quibble.

                      Yes, some dishes were better than others, but even the least were good. In a few cases, the chefs came out, and welcomed the challenge of going beyond, along with their sommeliers. I could not have asked for more.

                      Obviously, and as per the initial request, we were looking for fine-dining, all the way around, and got that. While we might have missed some gems, those will have to wait until the next trip.

                      The weakest points were Flying Fish, and Sepia. While the sushi courses at Flying Fish were excellent, some others were lacking, as was the beginning of the service - just flat frenetic. Next, Sepia was just "so-so," and could well have been better. That tasting menu was better on paper, than in person, but still good. Sepia was the one restaurant, where the sommelier would not accommodate the Aussie wine list. As we had just returned from 10 days in Burgundy, we were not looking for some lesser French wines. Others "got it," and pulled out all of the stops.

                      All meals were worth the $, though none was inexpensive, by anyone's standards. [Sydney was just rated at the # 10 most expensive cities in the world, by many standards.] Still, I would do each on my next trip.

                      I think that Otto was the biggest surprise (the only non-tasting menu of the bunch), and Sepia was at the bottom, along with Flying Fish. Still, quite good, and worth the experience.

                      Last, the folk in Sydney were just great, and we felt like "regulars." I do not find that mind set, all that often, but Sydney managed it nicely.

                      We hope to return for a few days, and then head to South Australia for more "serious" wine tastings.

                      Thanks to everyone, for your suggestions, and recommendations.

                      More to come,

                      Hunt