Sydney’s multicultural society is reflected in its diverse range of cuisines and dining experiences. While the inner-city scene is watched over by hipsters with sleeve tattoos and encyclopedic knowledge of the fermentation process, the western suburbs offer a hotbed of cuisines from, among others, large Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese and Lebanese communities. A strong focus on sustainable practices and support of local farmers has seen a rise in the number of restaurants that offer seasonal menus made up of locally sourced ingredients. And coffee? Be nice to those aforementioned hipsters, they really know how to make a good one...
Our expert lists her favourite restaurants below, while here are our guides dedicated to Sydney's best hotels, bars, nightlife, beaches, shopping, things to see and do, and things to do for free, plus how to spend a weekend in Sydney.
The wood-panelled staircase, lined with cabinets of miniature liquor bottles, spirals deep down into the subterranean throes of Restaurant Hubert. It's a love letter to the Paris of the 1930s. Here, the strains of live jazz mingle with rich French fare, candlelit tables, red velvet drapes and attentive hipster staff – even the sommelier has tattoos and thick-rimmed glasses. The banquet menu is a cost-effective approach and comes with a succulent whole chicken fricassee in bread sauce to share. It does not include the kimchi gratin, but, if you can handle some heat, order it on the side. Magnifique.
Reservations: Walk-ins only at dinner; reservations at dinner taken for groups of six or more. Best table is in front of the stage.
With unparalleled views, service and fine fare, Quay has occupied pride of place in the hearts of Sydney diners for over 15 years. With the backdrop of The Opera House and Sydney Harbour, it's as difficult as you might think to secure a table; book at least three months in advance. But nowhere else in town can give a sense of occasion quite like it. The six or 10-course menu includes dishes such as smoked pig jowl, fan shell razor clam, shiitake and sea cucumber crackling proving that Peter Gilmore's delicate approach to rare ingredients is still as much a drawcard as the famed view.
The Sydney Opera House's premier restaurant is carved out of the inside of one of the famous Utzon sails – you'll feel like you're dining inside the belly of a whale. Pop in for a pre show drink and a dozen oysters at Bennelong Bar or settle in for the night — the three-course fine-dining experience is among Sydney’s best. The pavlova wins the award for cutest dessert. Aside from being a must-taste Australian specialty, it is shaped like a mini Opera House.
Reservations: Essential. Best table is by the window, overlooking Sydney Harbour and The Sydney Harbour Bridge.
This is one of Sydney's most beloved Italian haunts. Frat Pas (as it's affectionately called) is a dimly lit, bustling trattoria with leather booths, a whimsical mural of all things Italian, and metallic mid-century inspired lighting. There are 12 Italian classics on the blackboard, a tight wine list and strong, friendly service. The ragu pasta is as heartwarming as the atmosphere, but, if you prefer something a little lighter, try the spaghetti with a whole, split scampi. Come for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It's wonderful, always.
Oncore by Clare Smyth
Oncore, Clare Smyth’s Antipodean debut, was years in the making. There were bushfires, floods and a global pandemic keeping Smyth from establishing her much-hyped follow-up to Notting Hill’s Core. But here it is: perched up high on the 26th floor of Barangaroo’s Crown Casino complex, Smyth’s signature comfortable-yet-opulent interiors this time backdropped by one of the world’s most audacious views. Most of the menu has been transplanted from London (yes, you can have your potato and roe) but executed with uniquely Australian produce and at the deft hand of Kiwi-born head chef, Alan Stuart.
Gelato Messina has such a devoted following it's become more of a cult than a gelato store. Every week the 'technicians' produce six specials that remain in the cabinet for one week. However, there are signature flavours that are always available. Salted caramel and white chocolate is the biggest seller, but what keeps me coming back for more is the apple pie – house gelato with home-baked apple pie mixed throughout.
Reservations: Walk-ins only
It's impossible to talk about Café Sydney without talking about the view. In terms of taking in Sydney Harbour, the house and the bridge, the sprawling terrace really is the best seat in town. Its famed seafood platter is an exquisitely presented abundance of scampi, prawns, marron, Moreton Bay bugs, crab and oysters for AUD $160 (£88). Dessert is by no means an afterthought, try the milk chocolate cremeux with marscapone mousse, Tia Maria and vanilla ice cream to end an indulgent evening.
Argentinian barbecue share plates, energetic staff immaculately dressed in waistcoats and bow ties, an exclusively South American wine list, black-and-white tiled floors, walk-in wine room, vintage soccer posters and a smouldering fire pit – Porteño is one of Sydney's sexiest establishments. Whole beasts slow-cooked over the asado collapse tenderly on the plate and smoked provoleta arrives with a steaming hiss. Note: while Porteño is mostly about meat there are also excellent seafood and vegetarian options.
Bourke Street Bakery
Don't be put off by the queue that runs out the door; it moves, and the coffee and food are worth the short wait. This tiny bakery is an ideal stop-off for a croissant and coffee in the morning, picnic supplies, a light lunch or a well-deserved afternoon treat. Famous for their dense sourdough bread, other favourites include the brisket pie, the pork and fennel sausage roll, and the chocolate tart. If you're not in Surry Hills, they also have stores in Marrickville, Potts Point, Alexandria, Neutral Bay and North Sydney.
Reservations: Walk-ins only
Great Aunty Three
Aunty Three is the love child of Michael Le and his wife Mai who, after a decade of working in the corporate sector, decided to turn their attention to their first great love, Vietnamese food. Inspired by the street food of their native country, and with Le's grandmother Yi Ba (Vietnamese for Aunty Three) as their culinary spirit guide, the couple produces restorative pho, banh mi and some of Sydney's freshest rice paper rolls – the Peking-style roast duck with mint, lettuce and rice noodles is a crowd-pleaser.
Reservations: Walk-ins only
It's a well-known fact that Jasmins has the best Lebanese food in Sydney. Located in the Western Sydney suburb of Lakemba, it's out of the way, but if creamy hummus, smoky babaganoosh and perfectly crisp falafel balls are your thing, it's worth the travel time. The interiors are gaudy: neon lighting, faux marble and ostentatiously gilded murals, but it's the food people travel for, not the décor. Try one of the mixed plates to sample a few of the dishes: grilled meats, salty and sour pickles, tabouleh and fouleh are best washed down with Jasmins' signature homemade lemonade.
Reservations: Walk-ins only
Bill Granger is famous for food that is clean, bright and fresh so it's a wonder it took him so long to open in Bondi; the locals are basically Bill Granger dishes on legs. The space is beautiful, with marble topped tables, retro light fittings and artworks grouped together in mismatched clusters. Bill made his name by being darn good at breakfast; the ricotta hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter are almost as famous as his creamy scrambled eggs. The Bloody Mary is a perfectly savoury tipple and no one will raise a (perfectly groomed) eyebrow when you order it at breakfast – this is Bondi after all.
Spread over three enormous levels, Coogee Pavilion claims to celebrate all the good things in life – friendship, family, fun and food. And it's big enough to accommodate all of them. The ground floor combines family-friendly food — burgers and fish and chips — with a more sophisticated seafood offering. Why should parents go without? There is a spectacular family zone with table tennis, an oversized magnetic scrabble board and a general 'go nuts' kids' space; if you're not in the mood for chaos, avoid it. Up a level is fine-diner, Mimi’s — where you can sample caviar bumps from the roving cart — and lively tapas bar, Una Mas. The rooftop has four indoor and outdoor bars, Middle Eastern fare from Jimmy’s Chicken, and show-stopping ocean views.
10 William St
Almost everything about 10 William St feels like a wine bar. The dark lighting, the cramped tables, the narrow converted terrace, the speed at which the waitstaff delivers strong negronis. What sets it apart is the menu: the rustic Italian fare is as reliably good as the mostly-Italian wine list is long. The menu is designed to share — if you're in a group, order the whipped 'bottarga' pretzel times two. It’s what put this petite place on the map.
Reservations: Walk-ins only. Best table: Upstairs, if you want more (read, any) elbow room.
A meal at Ursula’s should start with chef and co-owner Phil Wood’s signature White Negroni. He perfected it during Victoria’s interminable lockdown before moving to Sydney to open his first solo restaurant. Wood is one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs, and, at Ursula’s, he turns his classic European cooking techniques to uniquely Australian flavours. Many of the dishes here are steeped in history, including my favourite, the coral trout with warrigal greens. The dish is inspired by what is thought to be one of James Cook’s first meals upon settling in Botany Bay and the European settlers first experience of Australian bush food through Aboriginal contact.
Dining this close to the water makes you want to eat what's in it, so it's lucky that executive chef, Patrick Friesen, decided to go big on live seafood. The menu also pays homage to the old-school Cantonese dishes that Australians love, like special fried rice and honey prawns. The original Queen Chow in Enmore is famous for its dumplings, and devotees will be happy to know they've crossed the bridge and made it to the Manly menu, too.
Reservations: Recommended. Best table is by the window, overlooking the sea.