The beauty of fast-growing Sydney is that if you leave it a while between visits, there are hundreds of new places to get fed and watered the next time you set foot there. Here are eight places that filled my stomach and soul with joy on a recent visit.
1 Popular Potts Point upmarket bistro Yellow turned a new leaf in February this year, converting to a fully vegetarian menu, with vegan options too. They offer a tasting menu but as we'd sneakily already pre-loaded with pate and crostini at sister bar Monopole, we reined it in a little and ordered several dishes a la carte. It was still more than enough food because the flavours and textures at play here more than make up for the lack of meat: chef Brent Savage really knows how to work umami magic with vegetables. A favourite was the smoked cabbage - a generous mountain of it, tender, smoky and flavoursome, doused in a creamy sauce and topped with cavalo nero powder. Who said cabbage was boring?
Somer has drawn inspiration from Istanbul's many meyhanes (literally "wine homes": havens of local wine, enjoyed with delicious mezzes and plenty of conversation). Dishes range from things to dip sesame-crusted simit rings into (strained yoghurt with chilli and burnt butter was just perfect) to more meal-like (half lamb shoulder with freekeh). The cleverest thing is to order the Bosphorus feast at $65 and just sit back as the delicious food rolls on: Sivrioglu is a master of making diners feel looked after. The all-Turkish wine-list is a nice touch.
3 Haymarket is already home to Chinatown but now we're seeing diversification in the hood with "Thai Town" thriving in Pitt St. Housed inside Jarern, a Thai grocer's, you'll find the fast, bold flavours of Boon Cafe - Thai-tinged cafe by day with a fully Isaan (north-east Thai) menu in the evenings. Any place that offers 13 takes on som tam (green papaya salad) is a place I have time for.
4 "Right, let's get some pork rolls" was the battle cry heard from one bloke to his friend as the train pulled into Cabramatta station: clearly, many folks on this train had schlepped the hour or so from the city to fulfill a serious Vietnamese food craving. Cabramatta, out west, is home to the largest Vietnamese community in Australia. On a Saturday, dozens of street sellers hawk their fare out of big poly tubs - regulations be damned! - and slightly more permanent carts set up outside shops. Summer rolls, brightly coloured desserts, green mango slices shaken with chilli sugar and of extravagantly stuffed banh mi. Of pho specialists, each have their loyal fans, happy to queue an hour or more at the door. I can vouch especially for the restorative powers of the rich beefy broth Pho Tau Bay.
5 Sydney gets the modern pub right: big spaces, nice-looking but practical fit outs,
long craft beer lists but old-school options for anyone who requires them, interesting food and often, a big effort to keep kids entertained leaving parents free to spend. Marrickville has more than its share of these pubs and this
time around we gave The Henson top marks on the parental sanity dedication scale as we sampled our way through the local brews while the kids merrily went nuts in their own dedicated play room for a
6 Since it opened his year, the hype around Restaurant Hubert in Bligh St, in the city, has not abated. Everybody loves Hubert. Basement level, it's quite post-war - panelled wood walls, bentwood chairs, a grand piano on a stage, red curtains, and a bar that beckons with bow-tied staff working deftly under frosted glow-ball lights. This is the place to wear your glam new dress or snazzy trousers and enjoy a menu that's very French - lots of charcuterie to pick away at or, if having a proper meal, a short, mostly meaty mains list, including a spectacular Wagyu tartare with a huge pile of rake-thin French fries.
7 One of the most memorable dishes I've had in a long time was at Automata on Chippendale's main strip, Kensington St. A kingfish ceviche that, in place of the usual citrus element, featured tart yellow tamarillo, along with a rich wakame oil. It was superb, as was every dish we ate that night on the tasting menu from head chef Clayton Wells. At $AU88 ($NZ94) for five courses, with matching wines at $AU60, I call it a really good deal and the perfect representation of the new wave of Sydney dining - fantastic, creative food in a casual environment with wine advice from a sommelier who engages with personal preferences rather than spouting a recommendation. And - selfish eaters rejoice - there wasn't a shared plate in sight.
8 Also in Chippendale, Brickfields Bakery is one of the cult spots that attract a permanent queue. Go early to make sure you can choose from the line-up of European breads and pastries. Having stayed in Chippendale, we took a leisurely stroll down to grab a breakfast plate of eggplant, tahini and zhoug (an addictive fiery and herby sauce from Israel), but we really want to go back for lunch one day - the salads and sandwiches (anchovy, brisket and mayo - yum) look excellent.
WHERE TO STAY
Newly regenerated city-fringe precinct Chippendale is thronging with great eateries as well as art galleries and markets, and we spent a few nights at perfectly placed The Old Clare Hotel. This small, design-oriented hotel won't break the bank but offers coolness and comfort in spades.
On a romantic getaway, we were slightly surprised when we walked in to find a framed photo of our two kids (Facebook stalking doesn't take much work, right?) gracing the coffee table with a note explaining that they want their guests to feel right at home. It was very sweet and we did feel at home - a best version of home, surrounded by amazing restaurants and with the lively Old Clare pub downstairs the perfect place to sip an aperitif or sink a nightcap.