Being in Sydney for 3 weeks gave us ample opportunity to seek out Sydney restaurants. Although we tried to find a cross section of types of foods, the city’s large Asian population demands and delivers some excellent Asian fare. And since we like Asian cuisine anyway, many of our favorite Sydney restaurants were either explicitly Asian, or had significant Asian influences. This blog summarizes our Sydney eating adventures by category. You will find these restaurants also listed in the appropriate Sydney neighborhood blog.
Sydney Modern Australian Restaurants
- est. is a high-end business restaurant where we had a business lunch. We started with very nice preparation of Moreton Bay bug tails with fermented pumpkin, black garlic and pumpkin seeds. This was followed with another delicious dish: steamed Murray cod topped with shaved abalone and snow peas, with black fungi ginger, shallots and a vinaigrette that literally made the dish. Joyce wasn’t as lucky with her John Dory with squid, confit fennel, zucchini, romesco and grapefruit emulsion. The dish arrived at room temperature and when replaced, the grapefruit overwhelmed the taste of the fish. The wine was another high point. We asked the sommelier for recommendations and then told him what we were looking for in the varietal (a chardonnay) that he recommended. The kickers, we were looking for a half bottle at about $60-$70. He recommended a full bottle and said he would charge us for whatever we drank. The wine; a 2015 Bindi Kostas Rind chardonnay from Victoria’s Macedon Ranges perfectly matched the dishes and our tastes. Although we know that he over poured the half bottle, he charged exactly half the bottle price. Amazing!
- Bentley’s is one of the city’s premier restaurants. We had three dishes, beginning with a tasty steamed Western Australian marron (a crustacean between the size of a crayfish and a lobster) with lemon aspic, wakame and pine oil. For our mains, Joyce had a delicious, tender sous vide Holmbrae chicken with carrot, parsnip and chamomile; Tom had nice, also very tender Kurbuta pork loin with macadamia nut puree and cabbage. Our sommelier recommended a 2014 Bindi Dixon pinot noir that was perfectly suited to Joyce’s tastes but with a bit too much bright red fruit for Tom. The dishes came with an amuse of smoked chicken parfait topped with dehydrated raspberry dust on rye crisp; and finished with pieces of cherry licorice nougat.
Sydney Asian-Influence Restaurants
- Spice Temple was our favorite Sydney dining experience, although we had only two dishes: the hot and fragrant prawns, with garlic and chili sauce was very good. Meanwhile, the stir-fry quail with peanuts, steamed duck egg custard and chili was extraordinary; fully integrated, subtle flavors, a texture that ranged from crunchy to creamy and just enough chili to add enough of a tang for Tom (although Tom would have preferred a bit more), but not too much for Joyce. We finished off with a mandarin chocolate filled with almond cream. Our wine was a Riesling—2016 Grosett from Clare Valley.
- Spice Temple No, this is not a mistake We enjoyed the restaurant so much the first time that we returned for our last Sydney restaurant dinner. And since the previous “spicy” dishes even passed Joyce’s heat test, we decided to dial it up a notch. We began with a Yunnan dish: hot pot of braised mushrooms (shitake, oyster, enoki and wild Chinese). Then two Sichuan-based mains that contained far more chilies and peppers than food: Kung Pao Prawns (with chilis, peppers and cashews) and Sichuan style leatherfish (mild, flaky white fish) in broth that was smothered in so many heaven-facing chilies and Sichuan peppercorns that the server had to strain them out before Tom could even reach the fish. Although none of the dishes were particularly hot, all (especially the prawns) were full-flavored and tasty. We were less impressed with the wine, another 2015 Clare Valley Riesling, this from Ministry of Clouds winery (in which we found tart green apples).
- Sake We had four dishes at this modern Japanese restaurant. We were least impressed by the dish most highly recommended by our less than impressive server as a house specialty—popcorn shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce. Not bad, but not especially impressive. We were, however, much more impressed by our other dishes. While the lamb chops with wasabi chimichurri were quite good, we were most impressed with a crudo dish: white snapper with sesame seeds, chives, yuzu and white soy dressing. Better yet was the miso-cream seared scallops with baby corn, asparagus, shitake mushrooms and a wonderfully smoky yuzo miso cream. And since all Japanese food goes better with sake, we had it with a medium dry, rice-flavored Kirineach junmai.
- Golden Century. This is a very good, very popular, and from our experience, incredibly professionally run Chinatown Chinese restaurant that specializes in seafood. This specialization is evidenced by the dozen or so large fish tanks that are stuffed with many species of fish and some of the largest lobsters, king crabs and abalone we have ever seen. We were somewhat disappointed by the crabmeat and sweet corn soup which had too much corn starch and too little taste. Our initial disappointment was more than compensated by our two main courses. The salt and pepper fried squid was very good and the braised abalone with Chinese mushrooms, with its super-tender abalone and tasty sauce was downright delicious. And amazingly, after eating these dishes, even the soup tasted better. We had dinner with one of the wines we brought back from McLaren Vale—a 2016 Corriole Chenin Blanc. We returned for a take-out meal of an expensive, but quite good Peking duck.
- Old Town Hong Kong, a popular Barangaroo dim sum and lunch place that we enjoyed so much that we returned for a New Year’s Peking duck takeout (in conjunction with our king crab legs, Moreton Bay bugs and tiger prawns). Our dim sum lunch consisted of: pan-fried pork dumplings in birds-nest crust, BBQ pork bun, seafood lettuce wrap (with prawn, scallop, calamari and white fish) and a huge, especially good fried oyster. Drinks were a 2015 Wilson Watervale Riesling (Clare Valley) and a Tsing Tao. We were less impressed with the whole Peking duck we ordered from the restaurant for our at-home New Year’s dining. Although it had little fat and was indeed quite good, there was far less of it than we had from the Christmas duck we took home from Golden Century restaurant for a similar price.
- Mamak, a Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown where we met some Sydney-based travel acquaintances for dinner. After a short wait in what appears to be a perpetual evening line (even on Monday, when we were there), we shared six dishes: There were two rotis (one plain egg and the other with egg, onions, cabbage and spiced lamb and chicken)—both served with curry and spicy sambal dips. Then a combo of chicken and beef satays with spicy peanut sauce and two main courses: chicken curry with potatoes and spices and stir-fried prawns with a toned down (less spicy than normal for Joyce) sambal sauce. We ended with a dessert roti—richer and sweeter than the others, with an apple filling, Although almost all dishes were good, the rotis and prawns were our favorites. The only real disappointment was the beef satay, which was tough and had little taste—even this, however, was somewhat compensated for by the tasty peanut sauce. This very filling, inexpensive meal ($55 per couple), along with a bottle of one of our favorite Eden Valley Rieslings, was a nice way of catching up with a very nice couple we once met in Bloise, France.
- Jah’s Thai (Surry Hills) where we made a very nice lunch of four entrees. Two of the dishes (grilled prawn with fried coconut, Thai herbs and crushed cashews on a Betel leaf with lime; and roast duck pancake with hoisin sauce) were excellent: the other two (fried prawn spring rolls with sweet plum sauce; and steamed chicken and prawn dumplings with chili and black vinegar dipping sauce) were “merely” quite good. All went with our glasses of 2015 Rothbury Estate Semillon sauvignon blanc. Overall, a very good lunch at a very reasonable price.
- New Shanghai is a popular Sydney restaurant that focuses especially on dumplings and noodles. We had two types of soup dumpling (steamed crab and pork; and pan-fried pork) and a clam dish (stir fried with XO sauce), with glasses of 2015 Ad Hoc “Wallflower” riesling. Each of the dishes were quite good (although we would have liked more soup in the dumpling), without being among our most memorable.
We decided to end our Sydney stay with one more dim sum lunch. After checking menus of a number of Chinatown restaurants, we decided to return to New Shanghai where we had four dishes. Crab meat and sweet corn soup was disappointing. Although it had the anticipated consistency and some corn taste, the few crab pieces that were large enough to actually taste were old, and on the verge of turning. We were, however, very pleased with the three types of dumplings: Prawn wontons with chili sauce and peanut and sesame sauce; steamed pork soup dumplings; and lamb and leek dumplings. We washed this meal down with jasmine tea.
- Chat Thai, is a popular Thai restaurant where we had two dishes, with mixed results. The Pad Thai (with prawns, calamari and mussels) was quite good. That is more than could be said for the yellow curry with mud crab and betel leaf with rice noodles. The dish did have two things going for it. It had quite a bit of mud crab, which was itself, quite good. Second, the rice noodles made for an interesting alternative to rice. The curry, however, had more heat than a typical yellow curry (which Tom had no problem with), but the heat primarily served to mask the curry’s lack of taste—it was totally one-dimensional. Worse yet, it overwhelmed the delicate sweetness of the crab. We had two drinks with these: Joyce had a rather nondescript 2015 Eden Valley riesling from Domaine Barossa. Tom had a very good coconut milk with “pandan dumplings, which turned out to be mildly sweet, texturous gelatin-like strands that tasted of fruits.
- Mr. Wong, a popular high-end Chinese dim sum restaurant at which we were only marginally satisfied. The wild mushroom dumpling had little taste and a doughy shell that stuck to the chopsticks, resulting in the filling falling to the plate. King crab crystal dumpling in golden soup sounded much grander than it tasted. Things got somewhat better with sweet and sticky ribs and hit a high note with the very good prawn toast stuffed with foie gras and coated with almonds. We had a couple glasses of pleasant German riesling (2014 Prinz Trocken) with our meal.
- Sky Phoenix. Another Chinese disappointment. The prawn and chive dumplings were fine, as was one of two Peking duck pancakes (the other had more fat than meat). Also okay was the duck lettuce wrap that came with the Peking duck (although it had too much filler for our tastes). The bad news came in the form of sesame prawn toast, which was dry and had so little prawn that we could barely taste it. Just as disappointing (or much more given the price of the dish) was the Szechuan prawns with green peppers, the taste of which was one-dimensional and lacking in integration or complexity. And this does not even take into consideration the service (not to speak of our ability to understand the heavily Chinese-inflected Australian in a crowded and noisy room). More importantly, the staff was so obsessed with speed that no one could take time to answer questions, and those that made cursory attempts did not have sufficient knowledge. All this, however, doesn’t seem to bother other people since the restaurant was packed, with a long line. In fact, the table next to us had just seated the third turn since we arrived. Overall, probably the least satisfying dining experience in the 45 days we have been in Australia to date.
- BBQ King, where we got a dinner’s worth of take-out food consisting of BBQ spare ribs and Peking Duck, supplemented with vegetables and wine that we had at home. The take-out/eat-in restaurant does big business quickly, with an incredibly efficient system for fulfilling orders. We were less impressed by the food. The duck meat was good, but the skin was fatty and we ended up giving up trying crisp it at home. The pork dishes were better, although the ribs had little meat on them.
Sydney Seafood Restaurants
- Fish at the Rocks, a local Rocks-neighborhood seafood restaurant where we had two nice dishes: Black mussels steamed in white wine with garlic, spring onions, tarragon and tomato; and broiled swordfish steak dusted in cumin, coriander and paprika with grilled potato, lentils and fenugreek, and passion fruit and mango chutney. The restaurant also provided us with the opportunity to taste a 2015 Giant Steps pinot noir, which we were unable to taste at the temporarily closed Yarra Valley winery (light, but complex with bright red cherry).
- Nick’s, a casual but good seafood restaurant on Cockles Wharf, where we had two simply prepared, but very good dishes: black mussels with white wine and cream sauce and grilled Moreton Bay bugs with garlic butter and orange fennel salad. We were not so lucky with wines by the glass. Although the list was long, we tried four wines before settling for a less than inspired 2015 Adelaide Hills, Nepenthe pinot gris.
- Manta, on Woloomooloo Wharf, was another case of good food and wine, and mediocre service. Our dishes were varies, but all quite good. These were Hiramasa kingfish carpaccio with green apple, spring onion and black pepper vinaigrette; baby octopus with smoked tomato, goat milk feta, chili, garlic, fregola and Pedro Jimenex sauce; roasted Swiss brown mushrooms with hazelnuts, butter and time and a particularly unusual, particularly noteworthy blue crab lasagna with pasta, Moreton Bay Bug and crab bisque with béchamel sauce on top. We also had a taste of a friend’s nice baby snapper with strawberry clams, fregolone, seafood broth and herbs. The wine was a house-specified lightly oaked 2015 chardonnay from Geelong’s By Farr vineyards.
- Flying Fish, a highly regarded restaurant where we generally enjoyed the generously priced food, but were not at all impressed by the service. We enjoyed, but were less than excited by the vanilla-poached Patuna ocean trout with fennel crème and caperberries. The softshell crab handroll with avocado and tobiko was also nice, other than for the paltry amount of crab. The whole Golden trout with ginger, chili sauce and coconut rice, by contrast, was cooked perfectly and tasted very good, as long as we limited the somewhat overpowering sauce we had the dish. As for the service, it took at least 15 minutes before we were even acknowledged (and that was before the restaurant got busy) and the sommelier was terrible—guiding us, despite our prompting, to a varietal that we couldn’t imagine going with our dishes and then totally mischaracterizing the wine that he ended up serving. We, however, returned it and ended up playing it safe with a 2013 Chablis from Albert Bichot (Domaine Long-Depaguit). We also had to twice request water. Although the service did get somewhat better as the evening wore on, we had to rush to get out in two hours (to catch some 9:00 fireworks). And, at over $200, it was the most expensive meal we had in the city to date.
- Love, Fish, in Barangaroo, is a seafood restaurant at which we had, what else, but a chilled seafood platter for two. The dish included oysters, king prawns, Moreton Bay bugs, black mussels, snapper ceviche with tapioca pearls and sea urchin with egg yolk on rye honey bread with radicchio. Although we were leaning toward a semillion-chenin blanc, our server recommended a gruner veltliner (2015 Adelaide Hills from Main & Cherry) , which we found very dry sand minerally, but with no fruit.
- Waterman’s Lobster Company, where we tried to relive our New England heritage with two lobster rolls (one Connecticut style with butter; the other Maine style with mayo and celery) and lobster croquettes with mayo and Korean fermented chili) along with two glasses of Chablis (Moreau-Neujet, 2015). While credible, neither New England lobster rolls in general, nor Red’s of Wiscasset Maine (about which we have written previous posts) in particular, have much to fear from their Australian competitors.
- Cirrus, a seafood restaurant in Barangaroo with Asian influences at which we had three dishes, each of which we enjoyed. Tom’s favorite was Moreton Bay bugs with house-made XO sauce; Joyce’s was grilled South Australian marron (a large crayfish) with lemonade fruit and sea lettuce. We shared a main of hapuka (groper) which we enjoyed, even though the delicate taste of the fish was somewhat masked by the sauce. The sommelier suggested a wine that we would not have otherwise considered: a 2016 Harkham “Azizza’s” semillion from the Hunter Valley. (Although we generally find new vintage semillions a bit crisp and tart for our tastes, this was moderated by a few months in old oak.)
- Harry’s Café du Wheels is in a category of its own among the places at which we ate. It is a permanently located food truck that is particularly known for its savory pies, a reliable, go-to Australian snack food. While most savory pies are filled with type of meat, we took a chance on a seafood pie (loaded with scallops, prawns and white fish in cream sauce). We were glad we which was very good. And for some reason, Harry gave us (although not other people we saw being served), a bottle of Pilsner for the holidays. Nice
Other Sydney Restaurants
- William Blue is not really upscale nor New Australian. It is the restaurant of a Hospitality Management College in which students cook and serve a range of contemporary dishes. We had three dishes: confit spatchcock leg and poached breast with couscous, dates and jus; and miso-glazed smoked bonito with daikon, yuzo and mayo; followed by dessert of honeycomb chocolate ice cream with praline, raspberry and meringue. Our wines were 2013 Pressing Matters “RO” Riesling from Tasmania’s Coal Valley and 2014 Aligrini Valpolocella from outside of Venice. While the service is very much a work in process, the food was mixed. The dessert was certainly the most interesting and the chicken was tasty, if not especially complex. In contrast, the bonito, which was ordered rare, was overcooked and lacking in taste.
Suburban Sydney Restaurants
- Doyle’s On The Beach in Watsons Bay, is the parent of Sydney’s oldest seafood restaurant groups. Founded in 1885 at the Watsons Bay location, it has expanded continuously, adding rooms and a takeout stand to accommodate the throngs of patrons. We were lucky to have arrived when we did (about 1:00 on the Thursday between Christmas and New Year), having a choice of seats inside, on the outside deck or on the upstairs balcony, We chose the balcony with its sweeping view of the tranquil boat harbor, the very active ferry wharf and over the sailboats and the bay to the city skyline. Our food was at least as good as the view. Tom had a large, perfectly cooked and very reasonably priced grilled seafood with pineapple, chili and mango salsa on a bed of perfectly cooked green vegetables (green beans, English peas and brocolini). Joyce had the house specialty of fish and chips with chili plum sauce. Doyles, however, offers a choice of four premium fishes for this. Joyce chose the whiting fillet, which was also very good. We both had a glass of Doyle’s 2015 unoaked chardonnay (made by Tyrell in the Hunter Valley.) Although we were amazed at how quickly the food came in such as busy restaurant, we were less impressed by the follow-up service. And, as mentioned above, we are glad we got there when we did since, when we left, there was a line of perhaps 40 people waiting for our table.
- The Pantry Manly (in the town of Manly), overlooking Manly beach, where we had lunch and a birds-eye view of the beach and its sunbathers, swimmers and surfers. We shared two dishes, both of which were very good. The first was a prawn salad with avocado, crisp prosciutto, asparagus, goat cheese, walnuts and citrus dressing. Then seared salmon with a salad of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, walnuts and balsamic dressing. We had a glass of Adelaide Hills’ 2015 Bleeding Heart chardonnay to accompany our food.
- The View (Toranga Zoo) overlooks the city and the harbor. And we got the best possible view from a table on the terrace. We split three dishes, beginning with spicy Spanner crabcakes with tomato salsa and paprika aioli; and chicken liver parfait with brioche toast and grape chutney. All were quite good. Although the main course menu was limited, our cod and chips (with tarter sauce and leaf salad) was good, if not especially impressive. And then there was the view and the surroundings of the wonderful zoo.
- Icebergs Terrace (Bondi Beach). On a previous visit to Bondi, we ate in Iceberg’s formal restaurant. This time, we chose a somewhat lighter, much more casual option on their outside terrace, where we shared two quite good sandwiches—a fried hake sandwich and double cheeseburger—along with a glass of house pinot grigio and a Moretti beer. All while watching the bathers at the pool and the beach below.
- London Hotel (Balmain), on the Monday (December 26), was filled with both diners and drinkers. We had two decent casual meals: Hummus with paprika-charred Turkish bread was good, although the Nasi Goreng, an Indonesian fried rice dish with prawns and pork, was overcooked. Drinks were a Cascade Pale Ale and a 2015 Kingston Estate (Adelaide Hills) chard.
Overall, some very good restaurants and an especially good collection of Asian restaurants. Overall, however, we preferred the restaurant culture and the experimentation we found in Melbourne to the generally more traditional preparations we found in Sydney.