The iconic Opera House and majestic Harbour Bridge, miles of sandy beaches, swish suburbs and crisp, clear light: Sydney is one of the world’s great cities. And one of its most foodie. The locals love eating out so there are great restaurants, bars and cafés to choose from whatever your appetite, with Asian cuisine a staple and a definite Middle Eastern culinary scene emerging. Australia is also the land of brunch, kicking Italian coffee into touch with a stellar home-grown coffee culture and introducing the world to avocado on toast.
Best brunch spots in Sydney
A1 Canteen – best for global flavours
East meets West on the menu at this industrial café, home to some of the most interesting brunches in town. Za’atar eggs come with tangy braised rainbow chard, while a lip-smackingly good XO crab omelette has salty undertones from a touch of finely chopped dried fish, as well as a light hum from fresh red chilli.
Concrete Jungle – best for Insta appeal
Become the envy of your Instagram followers at this feed-friendly café. It serves pretty plates of food that, thankfully, also taste rocking. There are a lot of plant-based dishes, including smoothie bowls and a dish of incredible beetroot hummus with sumac tomatoes. Brunch is brilliant, with an all-day selection of eggs and the obligatory smashed avocado.
Reuben Hills – best for coffee
Coffee roaster, ethical sourcer and incredible café all wrapped up in one gorgeous location on a sleepy street in Surry Hills. The coffee is the best in Sydney (fact!) and the menu knockout. Fried tortilla chilaquiles are drenched in yogurt, salty feta and sumac, and the café’s take on the infamous breakfast bun (a Sydney staple found in different guises on every brunch menu worth its salt) comes with bacon jam, chipotle aioli and a smashed omelette.
Best Middle Eastern restaurants in Sydney
Nomad – best for seafood
Located in sizzling Surry Hills, this epic Lebanese-inspired restaurant has a modern menu and a buzzy open-plan dining room. Everything is cooked over wood-fired grills, giving the food a sensational smoky taste. Standout dishes include charred octopus with salty chorizo, kingfish ceviche served in a tart lime dressing, and spiced cauliflower on a slick of creamy labna.
Tayim – best for a date-night dinner
The Rocks neighbourhood would not be the first choice for a date-night dinner; it’s tourist-tastic. But Tayim breaks the mould. Hidden down a quiet alleyway, in a beautiful stone building, this intimate restaurant serves up a decent meze board to start, with lovely creamy hummus, thick labna and crisp falafel. Mains are equally exciting and the chermoula rainbow trout is face-plant food – tender, juicy fish encrusted with spices and made luxurious with decadent hazelnut butter.
Nour – best for new wave Middle Eastern dining
This casual neighbourhood restaurant in Surry Hills has a serious menu that really showcases the best of Middle Eastern cuisine. Kifta nayyeh, a sensational raw lamb tartare, comes beautifully spiced and covered in melted butter. Prawn dumplings are plump and juicy, enriched with chilli yogurt. For the main event, try a classic Lebanese dish called samke harra (a juicy baby snapper served with an intense tahini sauce).
Best Asian dining in Sydney
Chin Chin – best for southeast-Asian cooking
This riotous Asian restaurant is the fun, naughty cousin to the Melbourne restaurant of the same name. In a huge exposed-brick dining room, lit neon pink, you can feast on shared plates of silky-soft kingfish sashimi with coconut and Thai basil, huge shell-on scallops swimming in a fiery chilli sambal and Chin Chin’s signature dish, beef brisket massaman curry, full of fragrant spices and enrobed in a wickedly claggy peanut sauce. Come for the food and stay for the cocktails. It’s a blast.
Chinese Dumpling Master – best for Beijing dumplings
With several sites across the capital, all with the same not-so-chic plastic tables and school dinner chairs, these little restaurants don’t look like much on first appearance. But boy do they pack a serious punch. It’s here that you’ll find the best Beijing dumplings in Sydney, all of them plump and juicy, and a steal at just under $13 for 12. Or try the mighty hand-pulled Xinjiang noodles, beautifully textured and flavoured with light soy and garlic, for an authentic taste of northern Chinese food. In fact, order both and roll home afterwards.
Queen Chow – best for a night out
With a cute cocktail bar and bright, breezy, first-floor dining room, this lively Asian restaurant is perfect for a fun Friday night. Fill the table with bowls of deliciousness. How does peppery squid, lightly steamed dim sum, unctuous honey-glazed pork char siu and black bean Wagyu beef sound? To be frank, there’s little on the menu that’s not worth ordering. It’s slap-bang in the middle of Newtown, a hip neighbourhood that’s packed with cool bars, so hang around for an after-dinner nightcap.
Spice Alley – best for Asian street food
Just off Kensington Street (a foodie find in itself, with a great selection of restaurants and bars), Spice Alley is a collection of hawker stalls selling fast and furious Asian dishes, all brilliantly priced. Take your pick from Malaysian, Chinese, Indonesian or Japanese cuisine – sink into an authentic laksa flecked with chillies and lime, nutty nasi lemak or kecap manis squid. Everything is made to order and you can grab a cold beer while you wait.
Best bars in Sydney
Willie the Boatman – best for craft beers
Kick back in the tasting room of one of Sydney’s hottest independent breweries, where you can take a seat and choose from one of 20 beers (all made using Australian hops) or grab a tasting flight of four fabulous brews. Try the Old Salty, a German-inspired Gosê beer made with coriander. It has a salty, mineral taste that is utterly addictive.
Earl’s Juke Joint – best Sydney speakeasy
Hidden behind a butcher’s shop facade in Newtown this swinging speakeasy is heaps of fun. It serves a wide selection of well-crafted cocktails, plus very quaffable ready-mixed drinks on tap. Try a refreshing Jazzy Jeff Spritz, made with Aperol, tequila and melon.
The Barber Shop – best for gin
Another speakeasy, this time hidden behind a barbers’ shop, this Dickensian spot in central Sydney puts the focus on gin. Slouch into a sofa and sip a Spice Trade, a decadent cocktail made with gin, dry sherry and orange sugar syrup. Or order a Desert Bazaar, a cool concoction of absinthe, gin, star anise and lemon curd.
Mojo Record Bar – best for beer and beats
Basement bars don’t get much better than Mojo Record Bar, a subterranean vinyl store and beer bar. It’s dark and dingy in all the right ways – a rock ‘n’ roller’s paradise, where you can fall into a red leather booth and put the world to rights over a few well-produced Ozzie tinnies.
Best out of town restaurants near Sydney
Barrenjoey House – best for all-day dining
Set on the glistening Northern Beaches coastline, this all-day brasserie and boutique hotel is ideal if you need time out from the city. It’s swanky enough to warrant frocking up but also relaxed enough to settle in for a decadent meal. The food is beautifully prepared and the menu casual. Think coral-pink tuna spaghetti, juicy steak tartare or battered cod. Make sure you save room for the peanut butter parfait with chocolate ice cream, a hot mess that gets better and better as it melts. Sheer heaven.
The Boat House – best for tables with a view
On Palm Beach, of Home and Away fame, this roaring beach restaurant is the perfect spot to put your feet up after a hike in the surrounding area. Think Hamptons-style chic, with whitewashed tables on a terrace that extends right out over the sea. Order champagne and oysters and admire the coastline (some of the finest in the region).
Coogee Pavilion – best for long, lazy lunches
This huge restaurant and bar has three floors, all heaving with brilliant booze, wood-fired pizzas and mouth-watering Mediterranean cuisine. The best place to hang out is on the roof, a plush haven with panoramic views of Coogee Beach. Indulge in a bucket-load of ice-cold rosé and enjoy plates of charred octopus with chilli and capers, ’nduja-flecked Kinawooka mussels and whole baby snapper. It’s an ideal spot for a long, lazy lunch.
Watsons Bay Boutique – best for sunset dining
With an enviable location right by the sea, this banging beach restaurant is the perfect destination for a day trip. There are several terraces to choose from and a modern menu of sensational seafood, comforting classics and salads. The sunset is truly magical here – watch the whole of downtown Sydney twinkle, as the sky fades into another epic evening.
Return flights from Heathrow or Manchester to Sydney, via Abu Dhabi, cost from £697 (etihad.com)
Words and photographs by John Gregory-Smith