December 29, 2023

Your essential guide to Sydney’s best new restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars of 2023

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From sausage rolls to swordfish rib-eyes, it’s been a massive year for Sydney’s food and drink scene, and the Good Food review team has rounded up the very best openings of the past 12 months.

Callan Boys and Good Food Guide reviewers

December 29, 2023

Caterpillar Club’s plush fit-out and extra-long bar.James Brickwood

For a while there, it seemed like the big, swaggering martini-fuelled restaurant was dead. A global pandemic meant we would henceforth all be working from home as much as possible and rediscovering Sydney’s forgotten suburban bistros. “Nothing would ever be the same again”. Uber Eats would continue its world domination.

Indeed, one of the upsides of COVID means many people have spent more time exploring their own neighbourhood and nearby postcodes. Consequently, more fantastic (and modestly priced) restaurants, cafes, noodle shops and sandwich joints have opened outside the inner-city than ever before.

Pizzerias, especially, are having a moment, from Bsp’eria in Penshurst to Avoja in Manly, and Oatley’s Tutto Vero to Dee Why’s Ullo.

On the slice at Bsp’eria.Supplied

But a cost-of-living crisis can’t keep a good expense account down, and the CBD is also booming with hospitality groups which can afford the high rents and wages to run a 100-seat dining room near Circular Quay.

Business-lunchers are stoked to have so many new steak-forward restaurants to crack a Yarra Yering. The rest of us are just happy to be treated to accommodating service and dolled-up takes on old favourites. Don’t call it a schnitzel, call it a cotoletta with caper sauce.

It’s a slight to somewhat considerable concern that as business costs increase in the CBD, it becomes even harder for restaurants to take risks and every menu will be built around the same fancified versions of approachable pub standards. “Chef likes to make the lasagne with goat’s milk.” “Our wagyu cheeseburger features the finest gruyere.”

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But we’re not quite there yet. In fact, the Good Food review team is hard-pressed to remember a better time for eating and drinking in Sydney. Here are our favourite places that opened in 2023.

Clam Bar is a New York-style steakhouse from the Pellegrino 2000 and Bistrot 916 team.Jennifer Soo

For a steak and martini lunch

A Manhattan-inspired steakhouse from the team behind Bistrot 916 and Pellegrino 2000, Clam Bar is gussied up with modest chandeliers, timber booths and vintage Heinz posters. Few other dining rooms are as cosy and slick, and few lamb dishes are more rewarding than Clam’s mixed grill. You’ll also want a few oysters with ginger chipolatas on the side, a murderously cold martini, crab cakes, something red from the cellar, charcoal-grilled rib-eye, the silky corn and gruyere gratin and another martini. A lunch worth taking the day off for.

44 Bridge Street, Sydney; clambarsydney.com

Caterpillar Club’s take on the pina colada.James Brickwood

For (late) late-night dining

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Caterpillar Club is the latest opening from the team at Swillhouse, the hospitality group setting trends since it opened Shady Pines Saloon in Darlinghurst more than a decade ago. It’s a bit glamorous, a bit grungy, and very much anything-can-happen. The plush fit-out is partly inspired by Hollywood martini haunts The Tower Bar and Musso & Grill, and supper clubs from a time when Jimmy Stewart was the hottest thing since beef stroganoff. Chef Isobel Whelan-Little’s snack-forward menu rises to meet the vibe (a crab and avocado cocktail and tuna melt, hello) and the full carte is available until around 3am every night.

92 Pitt Street, Sydney; swillhouse.com

Le Foote’s main 50-seat dining room is lined with an Etruscan mural.Wolter Peeters

For a quick escape to Catania

Speaking of Swillhouse, the team also gave us a reason to visit The Rocks (besides Quay and the Lord Nelson) when Le Foote launched after much anticipation in May. The group has dubbed this free-spirited expression of a steakhouse as a “Mediterranean grill”, lining the walls with spectacular Etruscan-inspired murals and tempting guests with saucy cocktails. Chef Stefano Marano’s menu features crowd-pleasers such as beef tartare and scallop carpaccio, with a striking grilled on the bone swordfish rib-eye sent out awash with gently picante tomato oil. It’s a wonderful mix of the formal (uniformed staff, double-clothed tables) and the freewheeling (courtyard vibe, banana daiquiris) that makes a meal here memorable.

101 George Street, The Rocks; swillhouse.com

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Rigatoni, gin, pomodoro and fermented chilli at Bistro George.Edwina Pickles

For staining white tablecloths with red sauce

So the new-look Jacksons on George is certainly flash then, eh? Big, buzzy bars on the ground floor and rooftop, daubed with art and wrapped in a giant architectural veil. Sandwiched in the middle of the born-again pub, like sweet cream in a bun, is Bistro George, defined by creative director Maurice Terzini as a love letter to Sydney. The white-jacketed waiters and roses on clothed tables come as a surprise compared to the beer-intensive downstairs, but it’s a classic Terzini move to amp up hospitality as well as energy. Chef Steven Sinclair’s European-inspired bistro dishes kick off with salmon gravlax crumpets and clams casino of richly crumbed pipis. Rigatoni in gin-laced, tomato-pink pomodoro sauce is the sort of pasta that becomes a regular order, as might roast chicken with glorious stuffing.

Level 1, 176 George Street, Sydney; jacksonsongeorge.com.au

Bsp’eria has opened beside Penshurst Station. Supplied

For eating pizza on a milk crate

“You can see its glow on approach,” reported Lenny Ann Low in her Bsp’eria review for Good Food. “The door, street window and red cloth awning frame silhouettes of staff and chefs feverishly making pizza in a small industrial kitchen edged by waiting customers and passing cars wondering what all the fuss is about.”

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The fuss, at this hole-in-the-wall with milk crates for seats outside Penshurst Station, is for six or so Naples-style pies with sourdough bases to hit that right balance of crunch and chew. Don’t miss the “Uncle Charlie” with ricotta, honey and super fiery ’nduja.

129 Laycock Road, Penshurst; bsperia.com

Amuro’s spot prawns with pickled wasabi stem.Jennifer Soo

For sake, rice and seafood

Kei Tokiwa runs tiny bar Amuroand loves to recommend which sake to drink with his regional Japanese dishes that can be hard to find in Sydney. Ask about the ochazuke – a humble, toasty rice dish invigorated by pouring green tea over the cooked grains.

Meanwhile, in the north, Gordon is home to our favourite omakase to open this year – the charming Kame House helmed by chef Tomoyuki Matsuya. His tasting menu is served “okonomi” style, meaning you get to choose your own sushi adventure. Everyone wants the signature salmon – a fat-ribboned slice of soy-marinated belly topped with fried leek – not to mention a pudgy white scallop crowned with inky caviar, and buttery engawa (flounder fin) sharpened by pickled wasabi.

2/255 Crown Street, Darlinghurst; amuro.au

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729 Pacific Highway, Gordon; kamehouse.com.au

Grape Garden has been reborn at a humble hole-in-the-wall in Kings Cross.Jennifer Soo

For bring-your-own-booze good times

When we heard that Beijing expats Gao Lun and Jie Zhang had relocated Grape Garden from a food court in Chatswood to a larger site in Potts Point, we grabbed a bottle of pinot and headed east for roast duck and dan-dan noodles immediately.

More recently, young Indian-Irish chef Brendan King openedDerrel’s in Camperdown for late-night curries and chip butties. There isn’t a booze list at Derrel’s, but it’s free to BYO wine or beer from The Lady Hampshire next door (or your home, or Camperdown Cellars across the street). A tangy pork vindaloo is especially intense, and needs the coldest lager you can find to calm it down.

Grape Garden, shop 3, 2-14 Bayswater Road, Potts Point

Derrel’s, 89 Parramatta Road, Camperdown; derrels.com.au

Petermen’s coral trout for two with chimichurri. James Brickwood

For a fish dinner with hidden depths

Josh and Julie Niland want us to eat more fish, so there isn’t a skerrick of meat on the menu of their blond, minimalist St Leonards bistro,Petermen. Instead, fish is treated as if it were meat. Take the Mooloolaba yellowfin tuna chateaubriand with garlicky greens, sauce Bearnaise and shoestring fries. Or the way in which coral trout channels roasted pork belly – Josh Niland’s signature dry-ageing turning the skin into crackling that actually crackles, over flesh that’s pale and tender. Raw fish is a high point, treated with precision in sashimi-style yellowfin tuna, or carpaccio-like slashes of leaping bonito.

66 Chandos Street, St Leonards; petermen.com.au

King Clarence is influenced by the cuisines of Korea, Japan and China.Dominic Lorrimer

For lobster from the tank and tofu

The team from two-hatted Bentley, Monopole and Cirrus opened King Clarence on the corner of, eh, King and Clarence in CBD, at the beginning of December.Khanh Nguyen, former executive chef at Melbourne’s Aru (winner of The Age Good Food Guide 2023 Restaurant of the Year, no less) has relocated north to lead the kitchen, and there are few things we want to eat more this summer than his mapo tofu, and grilled lobster with four colours of Kampot pepper, sweet corn and pecorino. Bentley Group’s Korea, China and Japan-inspired restaurant can also claim “Sydney’s finest do-it-yourself dinner,” says Good Food reviewer Jill Dupleix – a ssam of wood-roasted pork belly with crisp leaves, kimchi and oyster cream.

171 Clarence Street, Sydney; bentleyrestaurantgroup.com.au

Gildas and fino sherry at Vermuteria.Christopher Pearce

For a sherry cobbler in the sun

The Kings Cross Road site, once home to Cafe Hernandez, reopened in February as Vermuteria, a vermouth-focused neighbourhood bar for tinned seafood, charcuterie and a damn fine cobbler. The place looks like it’s straight out of 1970s Barcelona, and there’s no leafier spot for an aperitif than one of the streetside seats.

60 Kings Cross Road, Darlinghurst; vermuteria.com.au

Scallops squared at The Waratah.Jason Loucas

For cocktails and scallops

Scallops (seafood) on scallops (potato) were something of a trend this year, and the most recent version of the form can be found at The Waratah. At the new nostalgia-tinged bar in Darlinghurst, chef Lewin White beer-batters royal blue spud and tops each disc with a dice of raw scallop and bronzed fennel. Just as much of a drawcard are co-owner Evan Stroeve’s refreshing cocktails, such as the “Strawberries and Cream” whisky highball showcasing Daintree-grown vanilla.

308-310 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst; thewaratahsydney.com

Chef Omar Hsu at his Broadway counter.James Brickwood

For food-court snacking

The tableware might be disposable, but Ommi Don’s food shines as brightly as its orange facade inside a just-off-Broadway food court diner. Owner-chef Omar Hsu’s rice-bowl sets, such as teppanyaki pepper sauce lapping pork katsu, draw on French technique and Hsu’s memories of Taiwanese night markets. The menu also showcases golden kimchi and festive specials (including bubble-tea mooncakes) from Ommi Foods, the business Hsu runs with his wife Josie Yuan.

7/185-211 Broadway, Ultimo; ommidon.com.au

Fennel, yoghurt, mandarin cake at Salma’s.Rhett Wyman

For eye-popping salads and sweets

Salma’s Canteen combines the culinary prowess of Kepos Street Kitchen with now-closed Enmore bakery Saga, creating food displays so beautiful you’ll wonder whether they’re real. The on-hand concierge explains some of your options: colourful salads, date-glazed leg ham and crispy-skinned smoked salmon to start; salted honey tarts, passionfruit palmiers and blackberry lime pavs for a sweet finish. It’s available to take away, but best enjoyed with a can of cold-brewed coffee on a sunny outdoor table.

2/797 Botany Road, Rosebery; salmascanteen.com.au

Fresh falafel with hummus at Queen Ester.James Brickwood

For falafel after a morning surf

Queen Ester has been supplying Israeli street food to Newport for the past two years, and in April the crew opened in Mona Vale – directly below a surfboard shop and an eight-minute walk to the beach. People flock to the eatery’s outdoor picnic tables for the quality of the fresh falafels and hummus in particular, says reviewer Lenny Ann Low. “The former come wrapped or in a bowl, and each crunchy, herby, nuggety dark bronze ball is a deep-fried orb of juicy happiness.”

44 Darley Street, Mona Vale; queenester.com.au

Erendira Perez, owner of Mami’s Casa Latina, with her mother Lidia Mercado.Janie Barrett

For labour-of-love tacos

Mother-and-daughter Erendira Perez and Mariana Beverido have always enjoyed cooking for their families, so when their favourite casual restaurant closed on Bondi Road earlier this year, they opened Mami’s Casa Latino in its place. Sitting somewhere between a fast-casual takeaway and restaurant, nothing at Mami’s is over $20, but that doesn’t mean Mexican-born Perez and Beverido are taking shortcuts in the kitchen. Pork for the signature tacos, for instance, is marinated in orange and provided a four-hour confit. “The result is a taco filled with beautifully rich and succulent pork and finished with onion, coriander and a zesty salsa verde,” says head of Good Food, Sarah Norris. Other highlights include spice-heavy birria tacos, and refried black beans slow cooked in butter and onions (plus, you can BYO).

286 Bondi Road, Bondi

Jin’s spicy grilled meat pies.Jennifer Soo

For a party of pies

Technically,Jin’s Grilled Meat Pieopened at the tail end of last year, but it sneaks onto this list because the sesame-spangled signature dish is ridiculously delicious and phenomenal value (five for $12.50!). Inspired by a similar snack from eastern China’s Zhejiang province, each batch of pies is cooked in a tandoor-style oven so the meat is tightly sealed to retain its fresh-minced pork flavour and juices. Meanwhile, the pastry is so thin and crisp, you could drum a beat on the surface. The collective noun pies is surely a party, right?

Shop 7, 1 Glen Street, Eastwood

Native Foodways founder Corey Grech at his bakery in Wintergarden shopping centre.Edwina Pickles

For bloody good bread

“From standout bread to pastries that champion the flavours of this ancient land, Native Foodways is levelling up bakery staples in its own memorable way,” says reviewer Lee Tran Lam. “Months on from my first visit, the memory of a crusty wattleseed and fenugreek loaf still lingers – as sharp and fresh as the moment I bought it … It might be one of the best loaves in Sydney right now.” Gamilaraay, Wonnarua and Wayan (Weilwan) man Corey Grech opened Native Foodways in the CBD’s Wintergarden food court in October, and the bakery also showcases First Nations flavours through wild boar and pepperberry sausage rolls, saltbush-filled puff pastry tarts and kangaroo chilli pies. (It’s a good time to be a pie fan in Sydney.)

Shop F05, Level 3, 1 O’Connell Street, Sydney; nativefoodways.com.au

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2024 is on sale for $14.95 from newsagents, supermarkets and at thestore.com.au.

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More:Best ofHot & newGood Food Guide 2024

Callan Boys is editor of SMH Good Food Guide, restaurant critic for Good Weekend and Good Food writer.

 

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