Sydney is as big a tourist drawcard as Paris and San Francisco. And like those other cities it’s easy to seek a meal near the city’s highlights only to find every other diner is a visitor to the city, too. So where do the locals go?
This is not a matter merely of price. Some of the most expensive restaurants in Sydney are good value for money and some of the cheapest are just that for a reason.
There are also some restaurants, bars and gelataria that are “flavour of the month/day/week/hour” where the queues never end – certainly not to dine when you want to eat. Here, the WYZA team have asked foodie friends and come up with a range of restaurants in places visitors are likely to go – or should visit.
If you are serious about Sydney as a food destination (and that’s reasonable as a travel quest) the best place to start is the Fairfax 2017 Good Food Guide. It has been extended to include bars, cheap eats and cafes. And you’ll probably already have your own favourite foodie website such as Sydney-based Lorraine Elliott’s Not Quite Nigella.
Adriano Zumbo's famous macarons are a must-try for visitors to the Star (Photo: Adriano Zumbo)
The first recommendation from locals was a surprise but it shouldn’t have been. If you are up around the Australian Museum or Hyde Park, consider heading to Sydney institution Beppi’s. Although Beppi Polese is no longer with us, his family-run trattoria in Darlinghurst maintains his standards – as it has since he opened it in 1956. It’s the only restaurant that appeared in both the first and 30th edition of the Good Food Guide. It’s not cheap, but it reflects Sydney’s historical and contemporary Italian dining heritage.
At the other end of the timeline, it’s worth wandering past Central Railway down Broadway towards the World Square development then turn left into Kensington Street and the newly opened Spice Alley. Suddenly you feel like you’re in the back streets of Singapore with a wide range of Asia foods available very cheaply from the tiny vendor windows. You might have to battle for a seat but you won’t be waiting long for a very fresh meal.
The Royal Botanical Gardens are not only the oldest scientific institution in Australia, but they may be the most beautiful, and the setting on the waterfront of Sydney Harbour is hard to beat. On a sunny day, a walk through the gardens for lunch at the indoor/outdoor Botanic Gardens Restaurant is a great Sydney experience. The food is seriously good (although not cheap) and the surrounds are superb.
In Sydney to board a cruise ship? If the ship is too large to fit under the bridge (and most are) you’ll be at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. You’ll also be next door to Sydney’s best restaurant: Peter Gilmore’s Quay. The chef is a genius and you’ll have to reserve well in advance unless you’re lucky enough to score a cancellation. The restaurant also has unsurpassed views of the Opera House but you may never discover this as your ship is likely to block them out.
On the other hand, you may be departing from the new White Bay Terminal across the water in Balmain. If you feel like taking a walk into the suburb from the ship you won’t have far to go to reach Rosso Pomodoro, which serves some of Sydney’s best pizza.
If you are visiting the Harbour City, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up at Bondi Beach at some time. The iconic Sydney landmark has a lot of food options but one that’s recommended by several locals is the vast China Diner that has offerings from across Asia, not just its namesake.
Joining the commuters for the obligatory trip on the ferry to Manly? Make sure you walk down the Corso to the surf at the ocean beach. Try Chica Bonita a self-described hole-in-the-wall on the Corso for an affordable meal. Burritos, soft tacos and margaritas are the order of the day.
The Opera House's Bennelong Restaurant offers an unparalleled dining experience, with gorgeous harbour views to boot (Photo: Brett Stevens)
The once working-class terraces of Paddington have been gentrified to the max so you’ll now find galleries and designer fashion aplenty in the area. Highly recommended at Five Ways is Mr T Vietnamese an offshoot of the Waterloo Restaurant of the same name.
Kings Cross is more mellow than its raunchy past but it’s still a drawcard for both locals and travellers. If you want to watch the remarkable passing parade, head to the perennial Tropicana Caffe on Victoria St where the day begins with a healthy recovery breakfast (served from 5am) with good coffee and juice.
Chinatown has so many food options that you can be numbed into indecision. My recommendation is BBQ King – and ignore your Sydney friends who say it’s closed. Yes, in 2015 the Chau family did close the restaurant that had adorned Goulburn St with formica tables and great Peking duck dishes since 1983. But it rose again (can a duck rise like a phoenix?) in 2016 around the corner at 76-78 Liverpool St. The duck and suckling pig are as good as ever.
If you’re in the middle of the city when you need to eat, venture into Indu, a very attractive Indian basement restaurant at 350 George St, if you can find it. The virtually unmarked entrance is off Angel Place. It’s not as expensive as the décor would suggest and the creative menu is inspired and good value.
Over at The Star you’ll find David Chang’s two-hatted Momofuku Seiōbo where the New York chef reveals how good Asian fusion can be. Before you leave you need to venture down to Adriano Zumbo at The Star for takeaway to challenge your tastebuds with his remarkable macarons. If you don’t make it to The Star you’ll find he has a store in the Queen Victoria Building (and another in Balmain), too.
David Chang's Momofuku Seiōbo in Pyrmont shows how real Asian fusion style dining is done (Photo: Nick Scott)
Who knows when you’ll next be in Sydney so why not splurge for the ultimate Sydney dining experience? You don’t have to move far from Circular Quay. Quay’s Peter Gilmore is also the chef for Bennelong Restaurant in the Opera House. It’s an iconic venue matched by wonderful food. Not far away, Matt Moran’s newly refurbished Aria Restaurant presents elegant Australian cuisine overlooking the harbour.
Finally, what about a meal with a bird’s eye view of Sydney? When I really want to show visitors what’s special about my city I take them to the Shangri-la Hotel’s Altitude Restaurant. The trick is to arrive early enough for a drink in the adjoining Blu Bar before moving on to your table. From 36 floors above The Rocks – and with floor-to-ceiling windows – the views of the bridge, the Opera House and the harbour are sublime. The food is very good with service to match so it all combines into a great dining experience in the Emerald City.
Have you got a special place to eat in Sydney? Share your recommendations here.