This local guide to eating and drinking in Sydney comes from John Fink, a Sydney restaurateur and director of some of Australia’s best restaurants, including Quay, Bennelong, Otto.
We first encountered Mr Fink on Twitter when we were tweeting about our Melbourne restaurant experiences. He tweeted: “Come to Sydney! Sydney’s milk bars shit all over Melbourne’s restaurants!” Yes, Mr Fink AKA @finkfilm is never short of an opinion, on or off the record.
And John Fink has an opinion worth listening to, being a third-generation restaurateur and managing director of the Fink Group, which owns some of Sydney’s finest restaurants, Quay, Otto, The Bridge Room, Bennelong, and Firedoor, as well as being a filmmaker and self-proclaimed dishwasher. He is also, as you can see, a very snappy dresser.
As John has come to be someone we trust when it comes to opinions one eating out and drinking in Sydney – and someone we’ve also been providing the occasional tip to, we asked him to give us his very personal opinion on sipping and dining in Sydney.
A Local Guide to Eating and Drinking in Sydney by John Fink
Q. What sets Sydney’s food scene apart from other Australian cities?
A. Sydney is the only Australian city to have three restaurants in the San Pelligrino Top 100 restaurants in the world. It is also, I might humbly submit, home of Quay, voted the Best Restaurant in Australasia for the last three years. But it is not just the top end of town that excels and separates Sydney from Melbourne, Brisbane and the other cities.
There are some of the best little bars and eateries in Sydney, as long as you sniff them out – and that is half the fun! Sydney can present a fantastic feed for less than $50 or one of the most recognised international dining experiences for $500. In both cases, you walk away feeling it was value for money. The other Australian cities don’t deliver the scope on this level. There are some regional restaurants that deliver amazing dining experiences, but that is another story.
Q. Does Sydney have a quintessential must-try dish?
A. I am biased, so I would say Peter Gilmore’s Snow Egg. Or his Eight Texture Chocolate Cake. Other than that, it would be a kebab on Cleveland Street at about 4 am, after a hard night on the tiles.
Q. Best eating experiences in Sydney?
A. Aside from my restaurants! I love Harry’s Singapore Chilli Crab with a bucket of beer. Alex Herbert’s Croque Madame at BirdCowFish in Eveleigh Markets at Carriageworks is a religious experience first thing on a Saturday morning while shopping for great produce, and BBQ King in Chinatown makes the best BBQ Duck.
Q. Best Sydney breakfast?
A. My mum makes the best breakfast in Sydney. Perfectly boiled eggs, warm toast. Hand churned butter, home made orange marmalade. Strong coffee. If you are not invited to my mum’s for breakfast, go to the BirdCowFish stall and have one of Alex Herbert’s omelettes. She uses the freshest eggs I think I have ever seen.
Q. Best coffee or cafes?
A. Reuben Hills is the best cafe ever in the known and unknown universe, including but not limited to dimensions and territories known and as yet unknown to the human mind.
Bronte’s Three Blue Ducks is a good local.
Tamarama’s M Deli is another small, neighbourhood joint with heart and soul, and a decent coffee.
Q. Best markets?
A. The Sydney Fish Markets are extremely unattractive, and one of Sydney’s greatest lost opportunities, but if you go to the live tanks, you can get some great seafood. Eveleigh Markets have the best fresh produce around each and every weekend.
Q. What should someone settling into Sydney for a while learn to cook?
A. Learn to cook with fresh produce from the markets. Learn to cook with live seafood. Learn to make summery salads and pastas. If you have a big back yard, light a fire and make a paella. Make sure you have lots of live music, lots of great wines and lots of good friends. The sunshine will invite itself.
Q. Sydney’s best foodie souvenir?
A. A Quay cookbook, signed by Peter Gilmore. Failing that, the best souvenir a visitor should take back with them is a swag of great memories of fun times dining out with loved ones and new friends. You will never lose that one.
Q. Sydney’s best street food?
A. Sydney doesn’t have good street food. Harry’s Cafe de Wheels is iconic, but not a culinary highlight. There is a tapas trailer at the Fox Studios Market that I love – the people who run it are crazy-loco, and the prawns are good. Ms Chu does an ok rice paper roll in Bourke Street and, again, BirdCowFish in Eveleigh is one I always return to for quality. Handy when shopping too.
Q. Sydney’s best bars?
A. Eu de Vie is a cracker, once you learn how to find it. Baxter’s is a winner, once you learn how to find it. Hinky Dinks is popular with rather attractive single young women. Don’t ask me why, it just is. If I was single and male, and a gentleman, I would go to Hinky Dinks to make new friends! (See this Local Guide to Sydney’s Small Bar Scene for the bars recommended.)
Q. Best source of info on where to eat and drink in Sydney?
A. Wherever I travel in the world, I always look for Time Out. It is one of the most reliable sources of on-the-street knowledge on a day to day basis. I do my pre-trip research with Grantourismo. Both have good info on Sydney when it comes to eating and drinking. If I wanted to go real deep, I would grab a guide, like the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, or the Gourmet Traveller restaurant guide, which is national.
Q. Best Sydney food festival?
A. The Crave Sydney International Food Festival is on every October, and is a chance to rub shoulders with some of the hottest and most elite chefs and writers in the world. On a global scale, SIFF is right up there.