In Sydney, the days are getting longer. And seats at the buzziest restaurants are getting harder to come by, as the city works to reinvigorate its nightlife scene. In 2021, Sydney installed its first 24 Hour Economy Commissioner, with an initial A$50 million ( ₹ 26 crore) annual budget, in a bid to make its nightlife more diverse and vibrant, while prioritizing attracting major events, art installations and live music.
A handful of international events have also enticed tourists to the capital of New South Wales. Earlier this year were the twin global spectacles of World Pride and the FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as the the city’s annual flagship international lights and music festival, Vivid Sydney. And in a few days comes another monumental event: Sydney will host SXSW, the first time Austin’s ideas, music, gaming and film festival is being held outside of North America. The inaugural SXSW event alone is expected to fill venues around town and attract 27,000 people to the state, adding to the flood of visitors discovering the city’s diverse dining scene.
They’ll arrive in the midst of a boom in compelling new dining spots, like Midden by Mark Olive. The restaurant, nestled under the giant white sails of the Sydney Opera House, spotlights Aboriginal cuisine and products, from herbs to poultry to crocodile. Over in the Rocks, Le Foote already feels like a long-time favourite dining spot—with a heavy-hitting menu of satisfying, crowd-pleasing dishes—except it’s only been open a few months. And the New York-styled steakhouse, Clam Bar, also has the feeling of a time-honored classic though it just debuted in May.
But visitors shouldn’t foresake the dynamic Sydney restaurants that have been open for a few years. Exhibit A: Lucky Kwong, by Australia’s unstoppable chef, Kylie Kwong, who offers a riff on Cantonese classics in a white-brick-walled warehouse space. Exhibit B: Ester, a decade-old spot serving wood-fired small plates in the perennially buzzy Chippendale hood.
Whether you’re heading to Sydney for a big event or simply to enjoy some leisure time in the sun while other parts of the globe stare down winter, here are the hottest restaurants in town to book a table right now.
You would feel like you’ve stumbled across one of Sydney’s best kept secrets at the five-month-old Le Foote, on a back alley in The Rocks—if it weren’t already one of the hottest tables in the city. The candlelit dining room, helmed by charismatic waitstaff, boasts an Old World-leaning wine list, but it’s a crisp amaro and tonic that will pair best with silky taramasalata and crudités. Among other notable starters are grilled octopus tossed with macadamia and potatoes (A$30) and a cheese pie that evokes saganaki with honey and native berries. Pork cotaletta is an elevated take on schnitzel, the Aussie pub classic, dusted with parmesan, fried capers and sage. The sugar-crusted orange panna cotta, flecked with fennel seeds, is the star dessert.
One of Australia’s highest-profile chefs, Neil Perry, spent A$5 million to open this cozy neighborhood eatery in the affluent Double Bay suburb in 2021. The menu highlights locally sourced seafood, alongside a comprehensive wine list. Kingfish ceviche (A$34) with fresh pressed coconut milk is simultaneously silky and zesty, while the melt-in-your-mouth woodfired grilled rock flathead (A$52) comes with a gorgeous slow-cooked zucchini, chilli and mint dressing. Crème caramel features Malfroy’s honey, sourced from the Blue Mountains, just outside Sydney.
Elegant and understated, Ursula’s is nestled in one of Sydney’s most beautiful inner suburbs; it feels like you’re at your most stylish friend’s house for dinner. Chilled briny oysters arrive with a Champagne mignonette prepared at the table with a demi—of Pommery brut. The strongest of the punchy starters on the modern Australian menu is the Moreton Bay bug pasta, slicked with a velvety crustacean butter. For mains, the delicate pan-roasted snapper (A$53) has an accompanying ginger broth; grilled lamb sits on a green curry sauce laced with fresh mint, coriander and radish. For dessert, the golden syrup dumplings float like clouds over malt cream with rum and raisins. The service is warm, and the upstairs dining room buzzes on Saturday nights.
Clam Bar might be new, but its inspiration is not: Specifically, it celebrates New York’s classic steakhouses and old school taverns. If you’re not worried about being a graceful eater, start with the delicious, but slightly unwieldy, anchovies on toast. The steak tartare is a tidier, and equally satisfying, starter. Clam pasta, generously sized and seasoned, arrives steaming and swimming in butter and garlic. For showstopping—and possibly heartstopping—effect, order the Barnsley chop (A$54), a double loin of lamb as thick as a Russian novel and wide as a keyboard, with a couple of glasses of Gamay. The restaurant, the younger sibling of the equally popular Pellegrino 2000 (see below), boasts a light-filled, Art Deco interior. It’s a welcome change from the dark interiors of many of Sydney’s fine-dining spots.
At this 22-seat pescetarian joint, located just outside the city on the Oxford Street dining strip, a 12-meter-long marble-topped bar is all that separates the kitchen from diners. Pull up a stool and get a masterclass in oyster shucking. The menu changes daily—you might kick things off with a swordfish empanada or two, followed by southern calamari and yellowfin tuna nduja (A$36), which the restaurant describes as “spaghetti bolognese without the pasta or the bolognese.” One constant on Saint Peter’s menu is the must-have pickled raw fish served with bread and cultured butter. The delicate lemon meringue tart is also a standout. Be sure to book well in advance.
Midden by Mark Olive
Midden sits in the Sydney Opera House on land that used to be a gathering place for the area’s traditional custodians, the Gadigal people. The Indigenous Australian chef and TV host Mark Olive salutes that history with dishes like refreshing salmon cured in lemon myrtle and pepperberry, smoked-kangaroo salad and pavlova covered with deliciously smooth Wattleseed cream. There is, of course, a pre-theater menu but the best show you can see if right here: Watch the sunset light up the sky over Harbour Bridge while snacking on a A$38 Indigenous Australian grazing platter with native thyme hummus, tandoori crocodile and Tasmanian pepper-leaf flatbread.
The tiny kitchen at this buzzing neighborhood trattoria in Surry Hills specializes in a concise menu of Italian specialties. Thin slices of raw trout, scallops and kingfish glisten in olive oil; artichokes alla Romana should be ordered with crusty, salt-flecked focaccia to soak up the sauce. The chili-infused bucatini all’Amatriciana (A$36), studded with crispy cubes of guanciale—one of three pastas on the menu—is terrific; so is the whole trout, butterflied and covered in crunchy herb-packed breadcrumbs. The decadently rich crème caramel, accompanied by a wobbling tower of banana-flavored whipped cream, is enough for two people. You also have the option to dine more intimately in the downstairs, candle-lit wine cellar.
Lankan Filling Station
On the outer reaches of Sydney’s central business district, this eatery delivers a somewhat unlikely blend of cool Scandinavian decor and spicy Sri Lankan food. Starters such as crab varai, a delicious minced seafood concoction on a betel leaf, or the hot-butter cuttlefish, are addictive. The trademark spherical rice crepe hoppers are an ideal delivery vehicle for the assortment of all-purpose condiment sambals. They also complement the range of curries—like ultra-slow-cooked kangaroo (A$46) and a creamy white-cashew version (A$26). As the name suggests, the food is filling, but we still recommend adding some roti. Every Monday until November 6, the restaurant will host biryani interpretations from a rotating series of guest chefs.
An unassuming entrance in the back streets of Chippendale leads to this well-established Sydney eatery. The bar is lively, with bartenders mixing complex cocktails such as the gin-based Honey, Honey and Date Me, made with doughnut-infused rye and date syrup, as well as booze-free citrus spritzes. The a la carte menu runs the gamut. There is fermented potato bread with kefir cream, roasted oysters with horseradish, and king prawns with fermented shrimp. More extravagant offerings include a salt-baked whole mud crab menu that comes with a slew of accompaniments, like chicken fat rice (A$220 per person), and the suckling pig feast (A$190 per person). (Both must be ordered well in advance.) The comprehensive beverage list ranges from beer to sake to orange wines and other unexpected bottles from around the world.
Beloved chef Kylie Kwong is back in action in a former locomotive workshop in South Eveleigh, serving her superior take on Cantonese cooking. The casual eatery has about half a dozen tables, a long bench along the wall for walk-ins and an open kitchen so you can watch the chefs in action. Ordering is done through an app: The menu (prices range from about A$17 to A$28) might include taco-like steamed savory pancakes, with generous servings of fried egg and fresh Asian herbs doused in caramel tamari; deep-fried silken tofu with salted black bean and chili sauce; and Uncle Jimmy’s stir-fried egg noodles sprinkled with garlic chives, Chinese mushrooms, pickled carrot and tamari.