GT 2023 NSW Restaurant of the Year
While it’s hardly surprising that Neil Perry’s latest restaurant is very good, it can be surprising just how good Margaret is. Over the course of his groundbreaking career, Perry has become synonymous with a specific type of modern Australian dining that melds a variety of cuisines around brilliant, carefully sourced ingredients. It can be easy to take his presence for granted. But taste a forkful of first-rate King George whiting (grilled, splashed with lemon and olive oil) and experience a heavenly choir moment. Or be wowed by meticulously balanced prawn-and-pork sausages with peanut and cucumber relish, pitch-perfect tuna sashimi or fried coral-trout wings doused in lime and chilli. The casually luxurious earth-toned room and careful yet relaxed service, along with an admirable wine list that gives maximum support to the seafood-heavy menu, only add to the feeling you’re in the presence of a master still at the height of his powers.
It’s all elegance, all the time, from the moment you open those magnificent brass doors, walk through the moody bar (well worth an apéritif stop before your booking) and into the glamorous mezzanine dining room designed by Pascale Gomes-McNabb. Then there’s Brent Savage’s rarefied menu, honed and refined from decades in the business, alongside confident selections from the vast cellar expertly curated by Nick Hildebrandt. Expect perfectly cooked meat and seafood – rich David Blackmore wagyu rib cap speckled with native pepper on a wave of black-bean sauce; or Moreton Bay bug beneath bubbles of freeze-dried mandarin and sea herbs – and know that all of it comes with the best service you’ll get in the city. Sure, this sort of reliable excellence isn’t breaking new ground. But where would any world-class city be without glorious gatekeepers like this that form the foundation of a dining scene?
Accessible only by boat or seaplane, Berowra Waters Inn is as close as you can get to dégustation dining on the water without getting wet. Inside this solid sandstone and corrugated-tin pavilion, chef-owner Brian Geraghty effortlessly combines modern techniques with native flavours. Take, for example, a plate of sliced raw kingfish, which is doused in a punchy banksia vinegar and topped with daikon and “capers” made from sea-fennel flower buds. Or the wagyu beef, which is cooked in its own fat and barbecued until meltingly tender, then finished with a fermented uni butter. The playful “Discovery” pairing of strictly Australian low-intervention wines brings the restaurant bang up to date, as does pastry chef Lauren Eldridge, whose fruit-forward creations strike the perfect balance between sweet and sour. Her showstopping rhubarb and Davidson’s plum dessert alone is worth the trip across the Hawkesbury River.
People tend to smile at Cafe Paci. Maybe it’s the genuinely warm, “everyone’s welcome” atmosphere that’s such a defining part of its allure. Yet it’s just as likely they’re grinning at how much fun the food is. The menu might feel familiar at first glance, but the thrills lie in the idiosyncrasies. Take a snack of fermented carrot slices and ‘nduja on rye – a nod to chef-owner Pasi Petänen’s Finnish heritage – or the fluffy, deeply flavoured bread baked in-house with potato and molasses. And what of another snack, that signature rye taco with ox tongue and sauerkraut, so clever and good it deserves the keys to the city? Cavatelli is groundbreaking, too, made with a sourdough starter and offset by the sweet-sharp combo of pear and pecorino. Giorgio De Maria’s drinks list is equally high-spirited – boutique wines, of course, but also a riot of Calvados, artisan sake and amari. It all just works so well.
Self-taught chef Junda Khoo’s restaurant empire keeps expanding thanks to his riveting, singular spin on Malaysian cuisine. Yet it’s here in a mammoth, multi-level space in the shadow of the Queen Victoria Building that his prowess finds perhaps its most profound expression. Is there a better start to a meal in all of Sydney than a bowl of his salt-and-pepper tofu skins, rendered hypnotically fragrant by lemongrass and makrut lime? Picking at them while you alternate between bites of impeccable wagyu beef satay and the signature laksa bombs is another type of bliss. The staggering selection of 80-odd dishes may induce analysis paralysis, but every order should include barramundi in a Nyonya-style sauce that draws pungent and penetrating depth from galangal, tamarind and ginger flower. Service is every bit as good-humoured as the neon sign that reads, “Save Water, Drink Beer”. With so many booming flavours afoot, it’s advice worth taking.
What was initially billed as a Mediterranean fine-diner has become a far more intriguing proposition under head chef Alex Wong, who incorporates Asian flavours into his seafood-focused menu and fuses them with Italian staples. Think cappelletti inspired by siu mai in a rich dashi, or scampi crudo glazed in white balsamic atop chewy koshihikari rice cakes. The result is some of the city’s most interesting cooking, served in a warm and glamorous dining room that has proven itself the dark horse of Sydney’s new openings. Part of the multi-level dining precinct Hinchcliff House, Lana welcomes impromptu dining with walk-ins invited to sit at the bar and order from the “Play List” – a sharp edit of snackable hits. Like the DJ who sets a lively mood on weekends, slick service keeps things playful while delivering one of the best value menus in town. Cap it off with a nightcap at Apollonia, the excellent cocktail bar in the basement.
It’s almost impossible not to feel the love at Lucky Kwong. The simple yet elegant canteen is a physical manifesto by Kylie Kwong, which embodies how she wants to live her life and feed her customers. It’s the reason LK is only open for weekday lunches and sittings are limited to an hour. The food is simple, honest and made to nourish: steaming bowls of Hokkien noodles, silken dumplings and savoury pancakes piled high with crisp vegetables and fresh, delicate herbs. Each dish is elevated by Kwong’s signature balance of heat, texture and flavour, as well as the quality of the produce. The menu credits every producer, hand-picked for their commitment to sustainability, from Josh Niland’s Fish Butchery to local school children who tend the community garden next door. This is the Lucky Kwong family, and to dine here is to enter their home. Welcome.
For any restaurant to be consistent in this day and age is an achievement. The fact that Mr Wong – a walloping 240-seater offering 70-plus dishes and 40-odd pages worth of wine – continues to fire on all cylinders is a downright masterstroke. Lunch is the move here, when the full spread of meticulously crafted dim sum is up for grabs: flaky, full-flavoured duck spring rolls, say, or peerless, delicate dumplings brimming with wild mushrooms or king crab, prawns, black garlic and trout roe. More substantial dishes, such as firm-fleshed Glacier 51 toothfish fragrant with ginger and spring onion, treat Cantonese tradition with proper respect. There’s whimsy, too, in fluffy “typhoon shelter” fried rice with king crab, dusted in a fluorescent rubble of fried chilli and garlic. Surrender all thoughts of recession, doom and gloom – in this frenetic fantasy of luxury and excess, the party never stops.
Much of what makes the Pellegrino 2000 experience so satisfying – dynamite focaccia, killer fritto misto, cracking lamb ragù – can hardly be considered original. Yet the execution is just so precise that, somehow, it all feels new again. This is Dan Pepperell’s kitchen, so of course there are twists on the seemingly straightforward menu. Bread sauce amplifies the richness of a juicy quail saltimbocca tenfold, while a “crema caramello” arrives with a preposterous spire of whipped banana cream alongside. The playful tone is echoed by the dining room’s retro stylings and cheeky service that’s never anything less than professional. If there’s one place to sit here, it’s downstairs in the transportive, shadowy cellar lined with decades-old bottles of wine. These relics are, in fact, available to drink, but better to stick to somm and co-owner Andy Tyson’s smart and well-pitched list. If this is the next phase of the trattoria, the future looks bright, indeed.
No squealer is safe when it’s in Nik Hill’s sights. In the Porcine kitchen, Hill and his team break down a whole Berkshire or Duroc pig each week, turning it into a gorgeous, French-inspired fare that pulls no punches – like creamy, rillettes-like cretons with a hillock of savoury puy lentils or a croquette stuffed with meat from the head on a vintage skewer. When the crew get hold of a good wild boar, they’ll transform it into ham or pastrami. It’s the extravagant pork chop, however, that’s become the restaurant’s signature, neatly sliced and glistening with oloroso sherry. There’s plenty for the pig-shy, too; layered petals of endive and pears slicked with orange vinaigrette, or whole turbot in a potent vin jaune sauce. It all comes to life on the upper level of a Paddington terrace crammed with Parisian curio, and it all goes delightfully well with a bottle of something wild and wonderful from P&V Merchants, the bottle shop downstairs.
Ten seconds is all that’s required to consume the first course in Quay’s dégustation. It’s a brief moment in time for a dish that takes almost a week to create. But as you savour the caviar-studded smoked-eel cream, you don’t think about the five-day process involved in making the translucent sea-cucumber crackling scattered on top. Instead, you’re wondering if the courses still to come are going to be just as wonderfully balanced and incredibly ingenious. Spoiler alert: they are. Proof is in a bowl of slippery noodles fashioned from bone marrow, flavoured with delicate flecks of mud crab and pinstriped peanuts. Or a square of slow-smoked pig’s jowl swathed in a silken, umami-rich custard made from fermented shiitake mushrooms. The service is warm, the views unbeatable and the overall sense of understated luxury profound. Peter Gilmore’s flagship continues to define fine-dining in Australia.
How easy is it to love Hubert? It all begins the second you step from an ordinary city street into this parallel universe heaving with life and laughter. On dark-wood walls hang all manner of prints and vintage posters, and up on stage against a red velvet curtain, a trio of musicians strum jazz hits. Quirks add excitement to the easy, French-focused menu – a signature gratin made with kimchi, say, or the lively dashi jelly accompanying tuna tartare. The tart shells known as “roe boats” – topped with sea urchin, Avruga caviar and trout roe – are a dive into briny brilliance. Clams à la bourride, meanwhile, slosh nicely in their garlicky, buttery sauce. A rare bavette is a logical follow-up, alongside crunchy pommes Anna and a mesclun salad with walnut dressing. There’s lots to like about the drinks, too, be it timeless cocktails or wines spanning vintage classic to new-age interesting. Simply put, the romance is real.
Sáng’s mission is to present the breadth and depth of traditional Korean cuisine in a contemporary setting. So, while fried chicken and bibimbap are here and well executed, the menu’s rewards run far deeper. Order a lager or soju from the punchy drinks list (amazingly, you can still BYO), then start with some mandu, or moon-eo sookhwe – a tangle of poached octopus, radish and chilli. Larger, share-friendly mains also leave a big impression, especially the gujeolpan, a must-order wheel of nine “delicacies” wreathed around a pile of buckwheat pancakes. Ditto the bo ssäm, which is everything you’d hope for and more. Sporting just 24 seats, Sáng is particularly compact and sitting at a squeezy communal table is likely. But what this brilliant family-run spot lacks in elbow room, it more than makes up for with value and just about everything else that makes restaurant dining a total joy.
It almost doesn’t matter what you eat or drink at Shell House. So spectacular is the transformation of a 1930s Wynyard Park building into a three-storey gustatory pleasure palace that you could simply marvel at its good looks alone. A laneway lift takes you up to the Dining Room and Terrace, where serious cooking with share-plate generosity awaits. Traditional ideas get imaginative turnarounds across the menu, but good taste reigns supreme. So, pickled mussels arrive with salted onions slicked in garlicky mujdei dressing; excellent agnolotti filled with both Taleggio and wild-mushroom cream get a sprucing of Geraldton wax oil; a platter of sliced, aged pork loin cooked over coals pairs marvellously with grilled radicchio, persimmon and wattleseed jus. A pre- or post-dinner cocktail in the Clocktower Bar is strongly recommended for spellbinding Art Deco interiors, or head to Sky Bar for glittering city light views. Consider it – quite literally – a brilliant addition to Sydney city life.
This 1907 corner terrace, with its tastefully modern interiors, seems determinedly future-forward, both in terms of its creativity and its sustainable mindset. Case in point: the “recycled” bread that alone merits a visit, made from unused crumbs, coffee grounds and golden syrup. Here, fine produce meets fascinating ferments: perhaps barley koji, broad bean doubanjiang or any number of creations from the jars lining the corridor. Immaculately presented snacks like a sweet-potato taco with kangaroo tartare and caramel ice-cream, or a seriously fabulous brioche doughnut filled with pecorino custard, lead into small, mostly seafood-based dishes. Think snapper with cucumber and Uruguayan caviar, or Murray cod with greens, macadamia cream and cuttlefish garum. After the climactic dessert of raspberries with mead-vinegar custard, still-warm petits fours might even be taken home for tomorrow’s breakfast. From start to finish, a meal at Sixpenny – complete with beautiful ceramics, smart service and imaginative beverage pairings – is a rare and exciting treat.
Space may not be the strong suit at Una Más, but every inch of this often packed Catalonia-meets-Hamptons room is cleverly designed to ensure there isn’t a dud seat in the house. (Just aim to face the vast arched windows with sweeping beach views.) The menu spotlights Spanish-accented hits from Gildas, patatas bravas and croquetas through to a Basque cheesecake that rules them all. Perhaps the biggest star is a dish of marinated octopus, licked by flames and tender as all get-out, served with a long-fermented habanero sauce. It’s emblematic of the broader experience here – an exercise in simple, breezy and beautiful things done with abundant thought and care. That thinking extends to the wine list, too – a savvy, engaging one-pager of mostly natural drops from our own backyard and around the Med. While Mimi’s, the elegant fine-diner across the hall, is undoubtedly excellent, this is the one that keeps you coming back.
How refreshing to find a new Sydney restaurant that isn’t trying too hard to be sexy or hip. This double-storey heritage terrace has an almost Audrey Hepburn-esque innocence to it; it’s pretty, not pretentious, and comforting rather than challenging. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring. Owner-chef Phil Wood and his partner Lis Davies pull out all sorts of clever tricks. The butter sauce beneath French-style roast Bannockburn chicken, gai lan and mushroom duxelles comes with a twist: the savoury lilt of kombu. Desserts surprise by travelling over the globe, from retro CWA-inspired golden-syrup dumplings to a Southeast Asian pandan custard. The wine list, meanwhile, ranges from edgy to immediately recognisable. In the context of a homely, sunshine-hued dining room with white tablecloths and scalloped crockery, all this may read as disjointed on paper. In reality, it simply feels warm and jolly – not just comfortable, but content in its own skin.