Sydney - 13 Days
Hi wife and I will be visiting Sydney for 13 days in late May. We are staying at the Swissotel in the CBD and will be her first time in Australia (I lived in Sydney for 3 months). Wanted some feedback on this preliminary itinerary so any thoughts are welcome.
- Sixpenny (degustation)
- Sepia (degustation)
- Longrain - which location?
- Billy Kwong - banquet menu better for two people?
- Ms G's - how crazy do the waits get?
- Lucio Pizza - worthy of a meal considering we're from New York/Brooklyn and have some very good Neopolitan style pizzas?
- Fix St James - need a solo meal while wife is away for a hen's party in Hunter Valley
- Cafe Paci - former cdc of Marque, has anyone been?
- Sagra - good review by Pat Nurse in Gourmetraveller
- Quay - booked but specified request for table by window and was told a tables had a "good view." Tempted to reply specify seating in the Tower?
- Din Tai Fung - know its a chain but IMO one of the better ones especially for their XLB
- Mr Crackles - popular with the bloggers, anyone been?
- NaruOne - strictly for their fried chicken
- Rockpool Bar & Grill - want to try the D Blackmore Wagyu burger vs our Black Label at Minetta Tavern
- Spice I Am - best location?
- Moon Park - ex-Claude's take on Modern Korean looks interesting
- Four in Hand vs 4Fourteen for a solo meal
- Gumshara Ramen - good or nothing special compared to Ippudo?
- Devon Cafe
- Paramount Coffee Project
- Three Williams
- Reuben Hills
- Kepos St Kitchen
- Excesior Jones
- Eau de Vie - $20 cocktails worth it?
Thanks in advance and I appreciate all of your help.
Not really my regular stomping ground, but would back Sepia and Sixpenny. Quay view all depends on whether there is a cruise ship outside your window. Rockpool - stick to the burger in the bar with a glass of burgundy
Spice I Am, Surry Hills. Also lots of other excellent thai in Sydney. Personally, never that impressed by Billy Kwong.
Campos for coffee!
Nice to see you on this board Mr. Gimlet.
- Thanks for the advice regarding Quay, forgot all about the cruise ships making the view rather moot
- I think the main draw for us about Billy Kwong is Kylie's use of Australian products incorporated with Chinese technique. Seeing how my wife is of Chinese (Cantonese) ancestry, we're curious about her food as well as her use of insects as alternative protein sources. However, we do appreciate your feedback and you may well be right about her food not being that great.
I just feel Billy Kwong is a bit past its prime and living off past glories. It's still the kind of place where staff tell you that 'our food is designed for sharing', like you've been living under a rock for the past decade and have never seen a chopstick. Melbourne has its own variants of Asian food for whiteys as well, so I am not picking on Sydney here. Spice Temple is very good regional Chinese cooking (thing Bar Shu etc in London) but there are some pretty average items on the menu as well (yes, Perry, your hot and numbing duck for a start)
Longrain is another past its prime kind of place. It has never been that good a thai - I think jihba is confusing it with Darling Street Thai, which was one of the best thai restaurants outside Thailand - and is more the kind of cocktails + small plates concept places that popped up a few years ago.
If you want to go to Movida, you go to the one in Melbourne. It's a nice evening out, but I didn't recommend as you regularly go to Spain.
Pilu is a really good suggestion
Thanks for the input.
- Re Billy Kwong we aren't looking for authentic Chinese as we eat our fair share in the States and our vacations to Hong Kong but more for the use of Australian ingredients (salt bush, wallaby etc.). Still, I see your point and will adjust expectations.
- We don't regularly visit Spain but recently spent a few weeks travelling Madrid, San Sebastián and Barcelona. I've seen the menus at Movida but haven't been particularly impressed. With no disrespect, I wonder if this is more hype associated from the Porteño boys connection. Btw, I've also been pretty unimpressed with Australia's recent foray into Mexican food (half of which seems more tex-mex inspired) as well as American BBQ/sandwich concepts (corn beef/brisket/pastrami) as we have plenty here.
Overseas Passenger Terminal is the cruise port that would block the view at Quay.
While there are tables on the windows that have "better" views (unobstructed), the tables away from the window are raised so that you're looking over people who are at the window.
A good mix of places overall, I think. Some comments on your choices and a few suggestions below.
Among the high-end places, your choices (Quay and Sepia) are arguably Sydney's two best restaurants now. At Quay, it is true that all tables have a good view (some better, of course, but all good) --- I wouldn't give up a meal at Quay because the view from the table wasn't a bit better. That said, no harm in making it clear that you are from overseas and the view would mean a lot to you.
At these two places, I would go for the degustation menu (although possible not to have it in Sepia, depending on the day you go).
On the mid-range places (mid-range, at least in cost --- in which, as examples, I'm including Sixpenny, Longrain, Porteno, Billy Kwong, Fix St James, Cafe Paci ...), I'm a bit less confident about your choices. Among the ones you mention, I would certainly keep Sixpenny, an excellent restaurant working with local produce and with a real neighbourhood feel. Also Cafe Paci, a highly innovative restaurant, as long as you understand that it is a "pop-up" restaurant with a warehouse space. Including the bar side of Rockpool Bar & Grill in mid-price, seems like a fine idea to compare the burger with the one in Minetta Tavern!
In addition, among mid-range places, I would vote for Spice Temple for (trans-)Chinese --- a very Sydney restaurant, of which I don't know an equal (or even a substitute) in NY. [If you go, you must have the steamed eggplant and also the tea-smoked duck breast as two of the small cold dishes; then maybe beef in fire water or three-shot chicken ...]
Another Chinese restaurant --- Mr Wong --- although not unique to Sydney (Hong Kong has places somewhat like this), is very good and likely to interest you because it is high-quality Cantonese food, less common in NY. [If you go, you must have dim sum to start and then a half portion (enough for two) of the roasted duck (not the Peking duck, just the roasted duck).
I think Longrain, unfortunately, is not what it used to be (the best Thai restaurant in a city outside Bangkok). Sydney's best Thai are now casual places --- like Spice I Am that you mention --- certainly the very informal 90 Wentworth Ave location is the one to go to; Chat Thai, House Thai, Home Thai are some others. Should try some Thai --- the best Thai in Sydney is better than that in NY.
As this is your wife's first trip, I would have chosen a couple of iconic Sydney places with great views. My favourite is Pilu at Freshwater, a superb Sardinian restaurant (go for the 7-course degustation for a long Sunday lunch); Iceberg in Bondi is quite reliable.
I would also recommend Movida, a Spanish tapas place --- reserve well in advance if you want a table, the walk-in bar is good and has the full menu.
If you two are into small bars, an astonishing number has cropped up with a change in licensing laws. Would suggest Love Tilly Divine (very close to Cafe Paci) as a wine bar, but there are many, many others.
Enough for one post!
Hi jihba, thanks for your response.
- Re Quay I'll take your advice and inform the restaurant that we're traveling from NYC and a table with a good view would mean a lot. I should note that we already booked well in advance for lunch and had no intention of dropping it. Gilmore seems to be a master of texture and I'm very interested in his food.
- Have you heard of Sepia offering an extended degustation? We were already planning on requesting the Japanese Stones as an additional dessert. Given his perigee, Chef Benn seems to be pushing the Japanese-French idea he learned at Tetsuya's and made it more modern.
- I'm well aware that Cafe Paci is a pop-up and not a permanent restaurant. This and the fact that Paci is cooking a different type of food intrigues me even more. Being from Brooklyn we were big fans of Frej a new Nordic pop up that later transformed into the Michelin starred restaurant Aska.
Although we are quite set on staying in the bar for the burger, how good is the Blackmore Wagyu steaks? From a raw ingredient standpoint we've travelled to Kobe Japan and have eaten very good beef across Europe. We actually prefer intense dry-aged beef to the fattier Wagyu. On a similar note, how good is Moran's Family Lamb served at Chiswick and Aria? We'd be more inclined to visit Chiswick as it's more casual but was wondering if you had any thoughts.
- As I mentioned above my wife is from a Cantonese family and I'm Korean-American and we live in Brooklyn Chinatown. NYC has three distinct Chinatowns and recently opened a Hakkasan in Midtown. Anyways, no disrespect to Mr. Wong and Dan Hong but we'd be more interested in a place like Spice Temple than fancy Cantonese. Just to be fair we are also visiting Melbourne after and have no plans to visit Flower & Drum or Lau's Family Kitchen.
- I will definitely take your advice re Thai. While several regional Thai restaurants have opened in NYC I have no doubt Sydney offers better options and I will check out the suggestions you provided
- I think Pilu and Icebergs would both be great but we wanted to limit ourselves to three degustations per city (Attica, Vue de Monde and Brae in Melbourne) and I thought I could kill two birds with one stone in Quay.
- I purposely avoided tapas restaurants since we just returned from a two week trip across Spain in Oct and ate our weight in tapas/pintxos
- Do you have other good mid-priced restaurant suggestions? We were thinking about doing the Friday 3-course prix fixe lunch at Marque. Sagra was well received casual Italian
- Will look into Love Tilly Divine, thanks again for the feedback
The view at Quay isn't that fantastic compared to, say, Aria. I think we saw some harbour and the bridge from our table in the tower. You do pay for views in Sydney, so be aware if you are looking for other places.
Pilu, Icebergs etc - just go a la carte. Everywhere in Australia these days offers dego, but very few specialise in it.
I'd also suggest you look at Bistrode and Arras. Both underrated, to me, restaurants.
Sorry, away for a few days ...
Now that I know a bit more about your backgrounds, would change some of my suggestions.
No compelling reason to go to Mr Wong for someone who frequents Fook Lam Moon etc in HK.
I would still go to Spice Temple. In may ways, it is an Australian take on (trans-)Chinese food, by a great chef (Neil Perry) with a deep and encyclopaedic understanding of Asian food. There are touches that are clearly inauthentic (such as Jalapeno peppers) but they generally make sense.
Talking of Neil Perry, you may want to look at his high-end Rockpool, newly relocated. (Haven't been there, can't comment first-hand).
Similarly if you have just been to Spain, no reason to go to Movida.
Every degustation we've had at Sepia has always included the Japanese stones at the end --- not aware of an extended version, but I'm sure any restaurant would be happy to supplement their degustation on request (at a price of course).
I must say burger is not my thing: so, haven't had either the Rockpool or the Minetta burger. But really enjoy comparisons like that --- and assumed you are a burger aficionado; if so, should be fun.
Somewhat of an aside: To the more general point about the quality of Sydney produce in an international comparison (taking off your query about the quality of Wagyu). I think the quality of produce is orders of magnitude better than in NYC. [Spent 4 years in the city's backyard; spend about a month a year now, in West Village, with full cooking facilities and do cook quite a few meals.] The quality of seafood (broadly defined), lamb and beef I think is comparable to France and Italy; but poultry, pork, vegetables and fruits are nowhere near as good as in France or Italy. We --- and others we know who care a lot about food --- go to one butcher for lamb, another for beef, a third for poultry, a fishmonger (our local one is fantastic) or the fish market for fish, a cheesemonger for cheese, a fruit and vegetable shop ...(no, not different ones for different kinds, except for Asian shops for Asian-style vegetables!) I try hard each year in NYC, without success, to find places of comparable quality.
Given your interest in food, I think it may make sense to make a point to visit a few produce places. Since you spent 3 months in Sydney, you no doubt know the fish market (the second largest in the world, after Tsukiji in Tokyo) --- may be of interest to your wife? This may sound strange, but the butcher shop Victor Churchill in Woollahra is well worth a stop, almost like a candy shop! (That's where we buy our Blackmore Wagyu sirlion as well as intense dry-aged beef.) Although you obviously won't want to buy meat to cook, you can perhaps try a little oxtail pie. The (primarily Italian) cheese shop Formaggi Ocello in Surry Hills is excellent and here you can try a selection of cheeses, with wines to match if you like.
As mr gimlet says, you need not have a degustation at any of the places you are going to (except at Sixpenny, and at Sepia on weekends), if that's what you want. I would still go for it at some of these places --- because I like small amounts of many things rather than a large amount of a few things, but that's a matter of preference.
Sagra is a great neighbourhood place; the problem, though, is that the menu is a bit too small, especially, the two secondi! If you are after a good casual Italian, I would recommend Vini. Any day is good, but each Tuesday, they do a 4-course $50 dinner representing a region of Italy that's usually interesting. (Across from it is a wine bar owned by them, called 121 BC (after the great Roman vintage!), that's very good for a glass of wine and a bite.) Another casual place owned by them that I think is very good is Berta (more Mediterranean than purely Italian).
The two best Italian restaurants (we are talking mid-range+) in Sydney now in my opinion are Pilu at Freshwater (that I've mentioned) and Ormeggio at the Spit. The two old guards of Italian food in Sydney, somewhat old-fashioned but still very good, are Buon Ricordo and Lucio's (the space at Lucio's a showcase of superb Australian art, as great artists had adopted it).
I have done dinner at Marque many times but never the lunch. I imagine it will be in the same style. For the price, worthwhile.
At mid-price range, I think the Japanese places are well worth exploring. Unlike NYC, where by law all raw fish must have been previously frozen, almost all sashimi and sushi you will get in Sydney is totally fresh. Would recommend Ume in Surry Hills, Hana-Jurin in Crows Nest; if you don't mind a place that's bound to come across as weird (the locals have deserted it for reasons I don't understand; so, any fellow diner will likely be businessmen from Japan), the very best is Yoshii.
I'm almost as interested in wine as I'm in food. If you are into wine at all, it is useful to know vintages to look for and to avoid. 2010 and (especially) 2012 have been superb vintages, almost uniformly; 2011 has been one of the worst in living memory (except in Margaret River). On many restaurant wine lists now, you will find 2012 Rieslings from Clare Valley; they are superb. (These are dry Rieslings.)
Darley (not Darling) Street Thai, under David Thomson, I believe was the best Thai *restaurant* anywhere, including Bangkok. This is before Thomson was poached by the King of Thailand! I regard Thomson's Nahm as the best restaurant in Bangkok. (This is *not* to say that's the best food in Bangkok, which is in little street shacks, where most of the locals eat.)
IMO, Longrain, in its first couple of years, still with quite a few staff trained by Thomson, *was* the best restaurant outside Bangkok.
Wow, thanks for the detailed reply, very appreciated.
- We will probably book a meal at Spice Temple. Melbourne hounds were a bit down on Dainty Sichuan and we were looking for something to complement our meal at Billy Kwong. Aside from what's already been recommended, any other ST suggestions?
- I've been very interested in Rockpool but will probably pass as we are limiting the amount of high end meals this trip. But Phil Wood's food does look fantastic and the new menu format is very intriguing.
- Will skip Movida, as we can visit the Melbourne location if we absolutely crave tapas.
- Planning on degustations at Quay, Sixpenny and Sepia as well as the prix fixe menus at Cafe Paci and Marque for the Friday Lunch. Have done multiple extended or supplemented degustations at similar restaurants, especially if we are very interested in a chef's cuisine.
- We're by no means burger aficionados but are interested in one with so much hype. Between Minetta's and Shake Shake we like all types but ultimately (like all food) it comes down to subjective taste and preference.
- Regarding AUS produce I would totally agree that you have superior product (hope I don't infer otherwise). I've also spent half a year living/working in Japan and felt similarly. That said a few specific questions re AUS product:
I know Blackmore Wagyu is all the well known but Australian's want grass fed and/or dry aged beef?
I plead total ignorance but I thought NZ lamb was more popular, at least it is on our menus (though I was served Colorado lamb at Otto e Mezzo in HK). That's why I asked about Moran's lamb as it was featured on Bourdain.
Does AUS have a poultry equivalent to France's poulet Bressé?
Does AUS have a breed similar Mangolista, or is Kurabuto/Iberico the best I can hope for?
How is Biota? Is it analogous to Blue Hill Stone Barns? That is one of our favorite restaurants as are other ingredient-driven places.
I visited SYD fish market once but aside from cheap oysters I was largely unimpressed as much of the seafood (prepared) was pre-fried or covered in thick Mornay sauce. I marvel at your oysters and was wondering if I should look out for other AUS specific seafood such as NZ scampi, WA maron, Morton Bay Bugs, etc. I suppose Flying Fish is SYD's best seafood restaurant? We prefer our seafood simply prepared but the best quality like Elkano in Spain over say Le Bernardin in New York.
- I've read AUS cannot import unpasteurized cheese. If this is correct then it will never compare to Europe, no offense, we have the same problem here! That said, are there any special AUS cheeses I should know about?
- I might pass on Italian as we plan on visiting Lucio here and DOC/Cafe di Stasio in MEL. But I'll still look at Vini and Berta.
- Will also probably skip Japanese in AUS. Haven't seen/read anything that's very convincing. I'm not sure what you've read but NYC has some excellent Japanese food. Between multiple sushi places (Masa), kaiseki (Kyo Ya), yakitori (Tori Shin) and even shojin (Kajitsu) cuisine, outside of Japan we have plenty. On a similar note, why does Australia love salmon? Especially in Japanese food it's not a highly regarded fish. I know it's not Europe but what fish types should I seek out in the same vein as wild Turbot or Sole? Whiting, Travola, Blue Eye seem to be popular discounting ocean trout, barramundi and kingfish?
- We hope to learn and taste plenty of AUS wine on this trip. Outside of Shiraz and some Rieslings most restaurants don't feature that much if your wines. Also, we tend to stick to old world wines (need to change) so any additional wine info is welcome.
Australia loves salmon, and salmon trout, because we farm really good stuff in Tasmania and that means it is inexpensive and really good. Blue eye is my favourite firm white fish.
Cheese - ah, my passion - lots of good stuff, I am a big fan of Bruny Island, and La Luna for goat. Maybe try and fit in a meal somewhere with a good cheeseboard? Or in Melbourne go to Richmond Hill or Spring Street Grocer.
Oysters - Cumulus when you are in Melbourne.
There is also a Spice Temple in Melbourne and it is open 7/7, so don't know which city would best fit your schedule.
Meat - we are still maturing in terms of sourcing a lot of produce. Provenance is the big trend over the past few years, and really top restaurants have their own gardens (Brae, Quay). Lamb has traditionally been merino, local not NZ, but now we are seeing a lot of eating breeds like Dorper. In general, we are resurrecting old English breeds like tamworth and berkshire pigs rather than having local equivalents. We tend to prefer grass fed to grain fed, as we like texture and flavour; but tastes are adjusting to the stronger flavoured meats that result from pasture grown. Grain fed often equals mass production, though, again, there are exceptions.
Spice Temple looks good, if not a bit pricey, but is expected from a Neil Perry restaurant. Looks like we will visit the SYD location as we have more meals to play with there.
Any idea if Cumulus or other restaurants regularly carry angasi oysters which are similar to the Belon from France? Not a huge deal as both my wife and I enjoy oysters in general but thought I'd ask as they aren't commonly found in the USA.
I love your list, and I'm jealous you can manage this many meals during your trip. I don't have a lot to add over what others have already shared. Was recently at Ms. G's with a group and we all had the banquet, and I thought it was just OK. Not a good rhythm, and timing was a bit off, staff kind of throwing dishes onto the table in a hurry. Not much wait on the weeknight we were there. Given your details about living in NYC and frequenting the various chinatowns, I'm not sure this would have much to offer you. I love Billy Kwong, but I admit it's been a while since I've been there, and I've always gone with the daily specials as opposed to degustation. What I love about it is the simplicity of the dishes and respect for ingredients. The kind of cooking that appears effortless, but comes from knowing how to handle each element.
Porteno is solid. Spice I Am original location on Wentworth St is the best, though you are on stools and it can feel rushed with a long queue of people waiting for your table. The Darlo location is more refined and comfortable.
Fix is lovely, and would suit a solo diner fine, as the tables are small and close together and the staff friendly and talkative.
Mr. Crackles is the bomb, though I've only ever ordered the classic roll. Be warned that there is very minimal seating. It's really just a takeout joint. You may wish to walk back up Oxford to Hyde Park and eat there if the weather is nice.
Haven't been to Eau de Vie, but if you're looking for fabulously concocted drinks, you might also consider Bulletin Place, a hidden bar (no sign, next to TapaVino) upstairs at Bulletin Place near Circular Quay.
I'll add a few experiences to some others now that I have time.
Porteno - Worth it, for sure. But you'll need to go early (a bit before opening to be sure you're in for the first seating). I've been stuck at the second seating and some of the dishes were gone by then. My preference is also for the lamb over the pork.
Cafe Paci - Had lunch there on Friday for the first time. They do a short lunch menu, but also said you could order the fully dinner menu as well. I liked it, something different in the area. I'm still looking to get back for dinner to see what they do there.
Lucio Pizza - My favourite here is the Lucio. Half calzone/half pizza.
Rockpool Bar & Grill - The burger is only available in the bar area (you can get the fully restaurant menu in the bar). Personally, it's not my favourite burger. I've always felt like it's been on the sweet side.
Moon Park - Definitely go.
Gumshara - Excellent. Makes Ippudo taste like thinned out broth. The noodles at Gumshara are a bit thicker, more texture too them.
DTF - Go to the World Square location. Larger menu than the spot in Westfield and the Star.
Bourke St Bakery - Looks like a few on your list are in the area. You should definitely stop off here for a Pork & Fennel Sausage roll.
The average price for a cocktail in Sydney now (at least the small bars), is around the $16-$18 dollar mark. Not a huge jump up to $20 and Eau de Vie won't be the only place you see charging $20.
BTG what is your favorite burger? I chose and think we'll try the burger at Rockpool B&G to compare to the black label at Minetta which is my favorite expensive burger in NYC. Despite the stereotype of Americans eating burgers I also wanted to try Chur Burger in SYD (although the one at Mary's in Newtown looks good) as well as Huxtaburger in Melbourne.
I'm thinking about swapping Longrain for Spice I Am and perhaps Chat Thai since it specializes in Issan food.
I also think we might bump Moon Park to dinner since I'm continuing to read/hear good things about them and want full disposal of the menu.
Was also thinking about trying Marque for the Friday lunch special.
Had Bourke St Bakery and Black Star Pastry on the list but failed to mention them. Both seem good and popular.
Despite being recommended Mr. Wong by multiple hounds we've been reluctant simply because it seems high quality Canto which we eat plenty of during our visits to Hong Kong. This combined with the fact that my wife is from a Cantonese family who owns a restaurant and the difficulty of eating a cuisine that encourages family style dining with only two people makes it something we don't routinely seek out. However, in your opinion is Mr. Wong's food up to the levels as the best Canto restaurants in HK a la Fook Lam Moon, Man Wah, etc? If it is we'll consider it, otherwise we'll probably leave it off our list.
In terms of pizza, do people like Lucio or Pizza Mario better?
Assuming you've been to both, is 4Fourteen better for a solo meal or Four in Hand's bar?
For the burger, I would say that you're here, go for it. I prefer the griddle style patties, so Mary's and Huxtaburger are my go to spots when I want a burger. I haven't tried Chur yet, but I believe the one on Manly Warf just opened. Will likely stop this weekend if the weather's nice.
The bar menu at Four in Hand is different than the more fine dining restaurant. You're probably better off at 4fourteen for a solo lunch. The menu will have a bit more to choose from.
I prefer Lucio's over Pizza Mario. Primarily for the half/half pizza.
Also thoughts on Bentley, especially since moving into their current location. Highly considering for a solo meal over say a Gastro Park.