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Jun 26, 2013 01:15 PM

Sydney and Queenstown advice

My wife and I will be visiting Sydney and Queenstown later this year. We'll have 3 nights in Sydney and 4 nights in Queenstown. I've read the recent board threads on Sydney and Queenstown (though there doesn't seem to be much recent or detailed comments on Queenstown) and looked at the SMH Good Food Guide. I think I'm fairly settled in Queenstown as food won't be the priority, but would welcome any comments or recent good experiences.

For Sydney, I think I've determined our primary meals, but have a few questions.

To provide some context and comparison points for what kind of restaurants we like using London as a reference (I recognize several frequent posters from the UK board), we love The Ledbury, Harwood Arms, Texture and Terroirs. For the U.S. we prefer the style of places like Manresa to that of Alinea (though both are excellent).

Here's the preliminary itinerary:

Friday Lunch on arrival day- Quay
Friday dinner- open (may be too tired for a meal)
Saturday Dinner- Sixpenny
Thursday Dinner- A Tavola (last night on trip)

Considering dinner at Chiswick or Fix St. James on our arrival night. I have Love Tilly Devine, Wine Library, and 10 William St on the list for wine bars and mid-day or early evening snacks.

What great coffee or breakfast options are in The Rocks area (staying at Four Seasons so would like options within 15-20 minutes of walking or short taxi ride for a full breakfast place)?

Sixpenny appeals due to it being out of the main part of Sydney and the more stripped down vibe/style of the restaurant. Does the dining experience warrant making the trip to Stanmore versus the closer and more heralded options (Sepia, Rockpool)? Do restaurants in Sydney mind calling a taxi for guests at the end of the night?

Are there any mid-level restaurants that one would recommend for dinner over Chiswick or A Tavola (thinking $225-$250 total including wine)?

What casual places would one suggest for a light meal following lunch at Quay (within walking/short taxi from our hotel as we'll likely be exhausted by this time)?

Thank you in advance for any comments and advice and I'll be sure to report on our experience upon return.

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  1. The only place I remember from Queenstown was Amisfield Winery which is about 20 minutes or so from downtown Queenstown. That was probably my favorite meal from the South Island. You could probably get a cab there and have the restaurant call for one on the way back. Or you can do what I did and use that as a break on your way to Central Otago to visit a few more wineries.

    Back in Sydney, if you're looking for places close to the Rocks for smaller meals I'd throw out there Mr. Wong. The food is very good and have a great wine lists, particularly if you enjoy Riesling. If you haven't had a recent Aussie Riesling, have one. That's pretty close to the hotel.

    The food at 10 William St has really upped it's game recently to match the wines. Could be a good option for a lighter dinner meal. If you're fine taking a cab, you can head to Bloodwood in Newtown. More laid back that Chiswick or A Tavola and bit lesser known to out of towners.

    As far as cabs, if you have a smart phone just get the Uber app. They've been in Sydney for a few months now and have taxis on the app as well. That will make it easier to get a cab if you go out to Sixpenny. If you want a more formal experience, go with Sepia (similar to Quay atmosphere). If you want to see where Sydney fine dining is heading, go to Sixpenny.

    8 Replies
    1. re: BeanTownGolfer

      Thanks for the suggestions. Your comments regarding Sixpenny are exactly the kind of insight I was looking for and make me feel like Sixpenny is the right choice.

      I'll add Bloodtown and Mr. Wong to my list as I do love Riesing though the wine prices in Australia are a bit steep relative to Europe and the USA. We don't generally enjoy New World wines, Australia and NZ in particular, but have decided to try and see if we can change that opinion on this trip.

      1. re: michaelstl

        Just be ready because Australia is generally more expensive than just about everywhere. Though the AUD/USD rate is starting to favor the USD now which should help (increased your buying power by about 10% over the last month). NZ is more reasonable because of the rate.

        When it comes to wines down here, ask for suggestions (and stay local - you are down here after all). The Aussie/NZ wine that's represented in the states at least, doesn't do justice to what the producers are doing down here now. The Aussie Shiraz are not the same, the Chardonnay's aren't butter bombs. The Riesling's are fantastic. I never want to drink another SavBlanc again after having Rieslings down here. They are not the sweet numbers you might usually associate with Riesling.

        The places you're going all have very knowledgeable and passionate wine staff. Tell them what you typically like and tell them to keep it in Aus and my guess is you'll be surprised what they give you.

        1. re: BeanTownGolfer

          It didn't take long going through the various online wine lists of some of the better Sydney restaurants to prepare me for the high wine prices. I'm finding Sydney wine lists to be similar to Vancouver restaurants where a combination of an expensive overall city and high alcohol taxes lead to high overall wine prices. I'm definitely hoping the recent trend in the currency markets continues

          Your comments regarding Aussie wines have made me more optimistic about the wine we'll find on our trip. We really enjoy both northern/southern Rhone wines so hopefully we can find good examples of Australia's take on those grapes (that aren't overwhelmingly fruit forward). How do the better Aussie Riesling's compare to German Rieslings as we really enjoy both the dry and off dry Rieslings from that region?

          Thanks again for your comments.

          1. re: michaelstl

            By no means stick to this point, but the heart of Aussie Rieslings is in South Australia around the Eden Vale, Clare Valley and Watervale. But you can find great ones from elsewhere. Tasmania has a Great ones, they are also coming out of victoria around the Grampians. Love Tilly Devine and Fix St James have great selections (as does Mr Wong). At least a full page in their lists.

            They can range from dry to off dry, but the thing that I find appealing is the acidity. Some of these are made for the cellar. They have great aromatics that will vary based on region/producer and finish extremely clean.

            If you have any preconceived opinions on Aussie Chardonnays, you'll need to keep an open mind as well they're no longer those big oaky butter bombs. I've been down on the Mornington Peninsula for the past few days and its reaffirmed my love of Chardonnays. Great forward fruit, crisp acidity and oak is used for texture, not flavour.

            When you get to a restaurant or wine bar, tell them the wines you like (northern / southern Rhone), characteristics you like and then ask them to keep it in Australia.

            And if you enjoy the wines on your trip, the Australian Wine Centre down in circular quay is a great shop to pick up a dozen to take home. They'll pack it in polystyrene container to check on the flight. I've brought 5 cases back to the US on different trips and never had a problem. And, if you spend over $350in one reciept, you can reclaim the GST (10%) back at the airport.

            1. re: BeanTownGolfer

              I really second the rec to visit Australian Wine Centre in Circular Quay. I avoided it for a while assuming it was a tourist trap (situated next to shops selling fake Uggs and a Starbucks), but they know their stuff and will talk through with you. Just let them know what you like and are a bit serious, because they do get a lot of people coming in asking for "you know something white from New Zealand, do you have anything?" And as for getting the tourist refund scheme, there are a couple corrections. I think the amount is $300 from one store and you actually get back more than just the 10% on wine. You get back that 10% GST but also a 14.5% WET tax, so nearly a quarter of your bottle price gets refunded. At least that was my experience in June 2013. You do need to stop by customs before checking your bag so they can "sight' the goods and confirm they are leaving the country.

              1. re: selectiveomnivore

                The TRS comments are correct, they do change from time to time. Obviously wine needs to be checked in, so allow enough time to visit the pre-checkin side of Customs (most TRS refunds are processed gateside because they are carryon) and don't expect them to be open outside normal hours - eg if you have a late night flight

            2. re: michaelstl

              Some Australian Rieslings age well, developing wonderful flavours, good ones get the characteristic petrol overtone - look for old "Leonay" from Leo Buring.

              Much of Australian wine is still single varietal so tricky to get close to Rhone styles, and the Shiraz in Australia can get really big in flavour compared to rhones softer versions. Look for cooler region Shiraz - maybe from Margaret River. Grenache can get closer to southern Rhone styles especially some of the GSM blends that are quite common. Again the Aussie style has been for bigger fruit driven styles but that is changing a bit.

              Australia has some really good Pinot and especially good Cabernet Sauvignon - some from Western Australia are now being made in a Bordeaux like style, which offers an interesting contrast to the big fruit driven wines.

              As BTG says Chardonnay has changed with far less oak being used. It's now tricky to find the big gutsy wines of the past (some were great) and now much is lighter and more austere. It's too hot to get Chablis like mineral favours although some of the cooler climate Chardonnays from Victoria are heading that way.

              Wine production in Audtralia is vast and most of the good stuff doesn't get out of the country - so very good to get advice at the good wine bars.

              1. re: PhilD

                This is very helpful and I really appreciate the insight on the Aussie wine from both PhilD and BeanTownGolfer. I'll keep those tips in mind on our trip.

      2. Marlowe's Way is a little hole in the wall that does fantastic coffee ....its right next to Mr Wongs that has already been mentioned here.

        1 Reply
        1. re: grapsta

          Marlowe's Way looks like exactly the kind of spot I was hoping to find near the hotel. I know they are great coffee places all over Sydney, but had hoped to find a good non-chain, quality place near our hotel as my wife wound't be happy trekking all over Sydney just for a coffee. Thanks for the suggestion.

        2. Your welcome ...I'm a bus driver who is often parked up down near the Quay ....there's a lot of great coffee in the city CBD but not many really good places down the Quay end of town. Mecca in King st is another one if your up for a bit of a walk. Probably a 20 min walk from your hotel.

          1. Great list - well researched - i would happily follow it - and agree about Manresa vs Alinea

            Restaurants out of the city will call cabs for you, shouldn't be an issue, and Stanmore isn't far.

            For your last night I would head to the "Four in Hand Dining Room" it positions well against the Harwood and gives an interesting comparison it's also a good pub in a nice area so an interesting trip out (10 mins in a cab).

            I agree about coffee in and around circular quay - much of it is touristy and not good. Best coffee is generally in the business district (always look for a long take away queue) so head up towards Chifley or Governor Philip Tower and check out the busy places around there (the little cart with all the courier cyclists around there was good). Or head up towards the QVB and find a little place on the opposite side of the road called "Workshop" - beware lots of pretty average coffee in QVB. The more hip places are out in the inner city burbs which probably aren't worth the trip given the quality in the city.

            6 Replies
            1. re: PhilD

              I really like the look of Four in Hand and I'm planning on that being our stop for last meal of the trip. Thanks again for the advice.

              1. re: michaelstl

                As expected things are moving around a bit on our itinerary and now it looks like we're going to the Opera House on our first night. I realize that quality may take a step down as convenience and quality rarely go together for food, but what places near the opera house are good options? I've noted Aria and Guillaume at Bennelong Restaurant within the opera house as options. Is one much better than the other? In this case, I'd be looking for a classy, polished experience, not necessarily exciting.

                I don't want to rush through a fixed tasting menu so many of the top-tier places seem to be out and want to keep the logistic worries to a minimum.

                Due to the early dinner now, the lunch at Quay is off. Somewhat disappointing from a pure gaining the experience of trying somewhere that acclaimed, but feel like the Sixpenny, Four in Hand and some wine bar visits will make the trip reawrding enough on that end.

                1. re: michaelstl

                  I prefer Guillaume over Aria, but both high end, definatley not a compromise of convienience over quality.

                  1. re: PhilD

                    And get your Guillaume fix before it closes :-(

                  2. re: michaelstl

                    Agree with Guillaume over Aira. You might also want to look at the Bridge Room. It won't have the view of those two, but it's by the same group as Quay. Had lunch there a few months ago and was nice.

                    1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                      This is helpful, I'll lean towards Guillaume with Bridge Room as a solid backup (especially if getting a reservation at Guillaume becomes difficult due to its impending closure).

              2. I lived in Queenstown in 2008 so hopefully my suggestions are still somewhat up to date...

                If you are interested in a very very relaxed, "fish and chups" experience in, I strongly recommend Aggys Shack. Its seafood straight off Aggys boat I believe?? But all I can remember is it being delicious. It is literally a shack but try not to let that put you off!

                Fergburger is as good as you may have heard and definitely a must for another casual lunch in Queenstown.

                When I visited, the food at the Queenstown Skyline Restaurant was mediocre but the view was great. I would still recommend it for the experience alone.

                I didn't eat at any but there are a number of nice looking, higher end restaurants on the Pier which might be worth a look if you are in the area. I believe they are somewhat overprice, but as you may have gathered, a lot of Queenstown is!