The best Sydney restaurants include everything from chef Peter Gilmore’s Quay, undoubtedly Sydney’s most exciting gastronomic experience, and Bennelong in the iconic Sydney Opera House to Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar & Grill in one of Sydney’s most dramatic dining spaces, and Ross Lusted’s The Bridge Room, offering some of Sydney’s most inventive cuisine.
The best Sydney restaurants comprise many of Australia’s best restaurants and offer some of the Australia’s most mouthwatering food experiences. They range from elegant fine dining establishments such as Quay and Tetsuya, and casual fine diners such as Bennelong, The Bridge Room and Automata, all of which serve some of the most creative contemporary Australian cuisine, conceived by some of Australia’s most imaginative culinary risk-takers.
The best Sydney restaurants also include a handful of the best ‘surf and turf’ and barbecue joints (insert wink emojis) that you’ll ever get to salivate over, created from the country’s finest beef and freshest seafood, and conceived by legendary chefs such as Neil Perry, and chefs who learnt from legends, such as Lennox Hastie. I’m referring to Rockpool Bar & Grill and Firedoor.
Reflecting Australia’s rich cultural diversity, the best Sydney restaurants also include eateries that deliver incredibly delicious Greek, Italian and Thai food, as good as you’ll eat anywhere, cooked by chefs with those culinary heritages (Jonathan Barthelmess of The Apollo and Richard Ptacnik of Otto) or with long and strong connections to the cuisine and its country of origin (Bangkok-based David Thompson and Long Chim).
As usual, this is by no means a comprehensive list. There are so many outstanding Sydney restaurants that we’ve left out. We confined this list to our top 10 Sydney restaurants because we often get asked by friends, writer colleagues and readers for a list of Sydney’s very best restaurants, and ten is all visitors typically have time for, but we promise to provide a longer list after our next trip.
Best Sydney Restaurants – The Tables You Need to Book Before Your Trip
Over the years, if we’ve had foodie/restaurant friends who had never been to Sydney, let alone Australia, and were planning an eating trip, Quay has been our number one recommendation. Quay is undoubtedly the best of the best Sydney restaurants. No cuisine earned the description of ‘Contemporary Australian’ more than chef Peter Gilmore’s gastronomy. Following a three month renovation last year, the Dubai hotel lobby look was gone, replaced by a more contemporary no-tablecloth aesthetic with modernist touches that won’t date negatively. With more frequent cruise ships docking and blocking the views to the Opera House, tables are now more oriented to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But little of this matters once the plates start arriving. With a new (much needed) kitchen, came an all new menu – with Gilmore even tossing out the legendary snow egg from the dessert menu. But one item remains in a similar form, his pig jowl. When we last ate it, it was ‘Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, and cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil’, now it’s ‘smoked pig jowl, shaved abalone, Lion’s Mane mushrooms, sea cucumber crackling’. Gilmore’s fascination with finding (and growing) rare varieties of vegetables remains and his inventiveness remains undimmed.
Quay, Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks.
Sister restaurant to Quay, Bennelong is situated just across the water in the Sydney Opera House. The restaurant is named after the point that the Opera House sits on, which in turn was named after Woollarawarre Bennelong, a senior man of the indigenous Eora people of Port Jackson at the time of British occupation in 1788, who acted as interlocutor between the Aboriginals and British. It’s located in a breathtaking space (pictured above) previously occupied by French chef Guillaume Brahimi. As much as we enjoyed his cuisine, it felt at odds with the views of the glistening harbour, and screamed for Australian cuisine. After Brahimi left, it was a surprise when a Melbourne firm snagged the contract to run the main restaurant of Sydney’s most iconic building. When the Melbourne contract fell through I knew creative director John Fink of the Fink Group (which owns Quay) would be waiting for the call. Thankfully, some of the other odd bids fell through. Now, with more tables, more buzz, and a much less staid atmosphere, Bennelong feels right. Whether you’re sitting in the main dining room, making your way through the à la carte menu, or a perched on a seat upstairs at the ‘Cured & Cultured’ bar, which offers drinks and snacks, the space finally feels welcoming. The menu is what I was hoping for too. All Australian ingredients and a good amount of seafood – and while this is mainly on the entrees side of the menu (that’s starters for our USA readers), I was happy to see dishes such as ‘roasted Arkady lamb loin smoked harissa, green olives, barletta onion, herb garden’ as a main. The DNA is still Quay, and in turn Peter Gilmore, but it’s more approachable and more affordable, and easily one of the best Sydney restaurants.
Bennelong, Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Rockpool Bar & Grill
Chef Neil Perry is a restless chef and business partner. Going through his résumé would even make him need a good lie down. But in short, having worked for some of Australia’s best chefs as a youngster, in 1986 Perry opened the Blue Water Grill in Bondi, built his reputation there, and then opened Rockpool in 1989 in The Rocks area in Sydney’s CBD. Rockpool remained one of the best Sydney restaurants for many years, even as Perry opened many other smaller restaurant experiments. Then in 2007, Perry opened Rockpool Bar & Grill in Melbourne and after he eventually found a beautiful 1936 Art Deco-era former bank, he opened Rockpool Bar & Grill Sydney. Still the most dramatic dining room in the city, the restaurant skilfully manages to appeal to both the suits here for a business lunch and couples in for a romantic dinner. While Perry’s long history with seafood translates to some great starters (both cold/raw or hot), it’s the beef sourced directly from Australia’s finest producers and then dry aged on site that you really reserve a table here for. Perry has access to Blackmore’s Wagyu and Cape Grim Grass Fed Beef which is the best in the country, with no growth hormones and no antibiotics used. I can’t go past the Cape Grim dry aged on the bone for 90 days. The side dishes get just as much attention and the wine list is rated as one of the best in the world, all of which make this another of the best Sydney restaurants.
Rockpool Bar & Grill, 66 Hunter Street, Sydney
The main restaurant attached to The Old Clare, one of Sydney’s best boutique hotels, Automata is the brainchild of chef Clayton Wells and it’s easily another of the best Sydney restaurants. The main culinary attraction of The Old Clare was probably meant to be chef Jason Atherton’s Kensington Street Social, but that arrangement ceased probably due to Atherton’s permanent jet-lag having already been spending too much time flying between London and Singapore. In some ways it would have been a shame if the attention moved away from Automata. It’s brilliant. Chef Clayton Wells was sous-chef at Momofuku Seiobo, which initially didn’t bode well for us as we were not fans of anything Momofuku-related that we’d tried in the US. The cuisine at Automata, however, thankfully reminded us more of Ross Lusted’s cuisine at The Bridge Room rather than anything sampled in New York. Given that the decor of the restaurant is in keeping with the semi-industrial, retro style of the hotel, it could be a cold space, but with the fully open kitchen and a slew of guests, the room warms up noticeably. Even more noticeable is the chef’s plating. Its paired-back brilliance belies the flavours that the Wells packs into his dishes. Some are artfully constructed, such as a plate of raw kingfish, desert lime cream, fermented daikon, sea blite, and wasabi oil. Some feel like he’s separated each component so the well-informed staff can point out each ingredient to diners, such as the grilled pork neck, fermented cucumber, garlic and eggplant purée, and mustard oil. The five-course lunch menu is a bargain for Australia at around US$75, but we prefer dinner when the atmosphere heats up, and we can’t go past the seven-course menu for US$92 with a beverage-pairing for US$64. Note that sommelier Tim Watkins is easily one of Sydney’s best.
Automata, 5 Kensington St, Chippendale
“Fire’s the next big thing,” John Fink of the Fink Group told us on our infrequent visits to Sydney, way before it became The Next Big Thing. Little did we know that he had chef Lennox Hastie, fresh from Asador Etxebarri in Spain’s Basque Country, waiting in the wings as they looked for a suitable venue – one where you could get council permission to have a raging furnace inside a building in a residential area of Sydney. At Asador Etxebarri, considered one of the best restaurants in the world, chef Victor Arguinzoniz cooks everything on the menu over a grill. Hastie came to Sydney to find the venue to cook up his vision of this style of grilling using Australian ingredients. Eventually, in 2015, the heat was on in an stylish elongated space in Surry Hills where Hastie has ovens to cook the woods and then transfer them to his grill at the centre of the kitchen. The open kitchen is full of action, with Hastie fine-tuning the distance of his grill from the charcoal. But if you’re thinking it’s just going to be all blackened vegetables and beef, you could not be more wrong. Hastie is a thoughtful chef, and dishes can be subtle, like his pipis, garlic and karkalla (which our mate Capes who runs Wula Guda Nyinda from Monkey Mia calls ‘pigface’) or the smoky goodness like his signature 203-day dry-aged rib of beef. Like Peter Gilmore of Quay, chef Hastie works with farmers to grow bespoke vegetables, some even from his own garden and has live fish and shellfish on site, cooked to order. What could have been a gimmicky one-note idea of a restaurant is now one of Sydney’s best. Apparently cooking with fire’s a pretty big thing. (Insert wink emoji.)
Firedoor, 23-33 Mary St, Surry Hills
It was way back in 1990 when we first dined at Tetsuya Wakuda‘s restaurant in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Rozelle, when the Japanese-Australian chef’s modest restaurant was just starting to make its mark. I do recall that when we called to book we were urged to tell us what wines we planned to bring as it was BYO (bring your own wine). Housed in a classic inner-city Sydney terrace house with a compact kitchen, it was a far-cry from Tetsuya’s current abode. At the time, I could not believe the mix of Japanese, French and Australian influences and ingredients he brought to the plate. It was true fusion, and one dish, where the chef made a ‘confit’ of ocean trout went on to become his signature dish that’s still on the menu today at the very zen location Tetsuya moved to in 2000 in Sydney’s CBD. While the garnishes for the dish have changed with the seasons and the years, the fact that the dish is still on the menu irks restaurant reviewers as much as younger chefs with more to prove. There are new dishes that are just as exciting as your first mouthful of ocean trout, such as the Murray cod with a young-garlic emulsion and confit fennel, but the whole degustation meal is brilliantly executed. The service and wine list is pitch perfect and as you scan the room you can hear the clients oohing and aahing in French, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. Perhaps that’s the point of not trying to compete with the younger generation. Tetsuya has nothing left to prove and if he left the confit of ocean trout off the menu it would be like Bruce Springsteen taking a final curtain after two hours without playing Born in the USA.
Tetsuya’s, 529 Kent Street, Sydney
When The Apollo opened a few years ago in Potts Point (which wasn’t quite as gentrified as it is today when we used to live one block away), we secretly wondered if Sydney was ready for contemporary Greek food. You see, 15 years ago our significant Greek population only went to a Greek restaurant if it was a celebration of more than 12 people. Why? Because yaya (nanna) could make a taramasalata or a simple village salad ten times as good. Pappous (grandfather) could make a lamb shoulder or tender BBQ octopus that ran rings around the dried out lamb and rubbery octopus of the Greek restaurants in Sydney’s CBD and suburbs that we occasionally ate at in the Eighties. So it was with a little scepticism that we dined at The Apollo for the first time soon after it opened. It’s fair to say it blew our minds. Talented Australian-Greek chef Jonathan Barthelmess had joined forces with Longrain’s Sam Christie (who knows how to run a tight ship) and the place was already buzzing just after launch. With each dish, such as the taramasalata mullet roe dip, the BBQ octopus with potato and capsicum, and the oven-baked lamb shoulder with lemon Greek yoghurt (a house speciality), the memories of those old restaurants slipped away. They even surpassed all those months we spent in Greece researching guidebooks and not looking forward to yet another three day old microwaved spanakopita. And the place buzzes with the same atmosphere as an ouzo-fuelled celebration at any one of the old Greek restaurants in Sydney or Athens in the Eighties, just with a better wine list and less plate smashing.
The Apollo, 44 Macleay Street, Potts Point
The sun is shining and it’s sparkling diamonds on Sydney Harbour. That means we’re sending you for a waterfront lunch at an Italian joint rather than one of Sydney’s countless other seafood-focussed restaurants on the water. Located on the historic Cowper Wharf, Woolloomooloo, Otto has been a local favourite for over 17 years, and it will very quickly become apparent why. We recommend you dine alfresco although we’ll understand if you reserve a table inside if the Sydney heat is on that day. But whatever you do, an outside table is a must for an early dinner to take in the sunset over the city skyline as you sip a glass of bubbly. Otto’s is the perfect place for a crisp white wine with a dozen oysters, natural or Sydney rock oysters with salmon roe, cucumber and chardonnay vinegar if you want to push the yacht out. As their supplies are incredibly fresh, I find it hard to go past their salmon tartare, smoked cultured cream and lavosh. When it comes to pasta, a favourite is the spaghetti with eastern rock lobster, cherry tomato, chilli, garlic, and brandy. So decadent. Fish of the day is simply grilled with lemon and extra virgin olive oil; the wood fire grilled Western Australian scampi is served with a Sicilian salsa. There are heavier dishes in the ‘carne’ section of the menu, but I can’t recall having anything heavier than Angus beef carpaccio with truffle dressing, aioli, capers, parmesan, and rocket. Chef Richard Ptacnik has been at the helm for as long as I can remember and he runs a tight ship, insisting all pastas are made fresh daily, including the extruded pastas (gluten free pasta is available). It’s unashamedly uncomplicated food, but prepared with premium ingredients. Add excellent service, a great wine list, and an unbeatable location and it’s obvious why this is one of our best Sydney restaurants.
Otto Ristorante, Area 8, 6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo
Our first interaction with the mercurial chef David Thompson was at his now legendary Darley Street Thai, where his already sophisticated and fiery cuisine was world’s away from a Sunday night Thai take-away fish cakes, pad Thai, green chicken curry, and choo chee prawns. After leaving Australia in 2000, David Thompson earned himself the first Michelin-Star for a Thai restaurant in London, closed it, and returned to his spiritual home of Bangkok. There he opened Nahm, where until 2018 he and his sous-chef Prin, scoured the history books to find more and more dishes that eventually ended up firing up the palates of diners, a mix of intrigued locals and foreign foodies. But before leaving Nahm last year, Thompson and partners were already opening a series of Thai street food eateries under the Long Chim brand (‘long chim’ means ’come and taste’), starting in Singapore, then followed by Perth, Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney’s branch is smack bang in the centre of the CBD and has a glam yet grungy Thai shophouse vibe, but one where you need a secret door knock to get inside. Much has been made of how chilli-hot David’s dishes are, but having lived in Thailand the only dish that should come with a warning is his Chiang Mai chicken larb – which tastes just like the ones in the Northern Lanna capital that will have you breaking out in a sweat, if not crying a little. Many diners find it surprising that a simple dish of fish cakes is so hard to execute properly. The fish cakes were beautifully cooked when we last dined, with just the right amount of chilli in the paste. The chicken skewers were moist and the pork skewers were smoky with an unapologetically generous mix of meat and fat — as they are on the good stalls on Thailand’s streets. The standout dish we tried was the mashed prawn curry, which I can’t see on the online menu at the moment, but having said that, his versions of Chiang Mai curry of pork and Massaman curry of beef are simply amazing, all of which makes this one of the best Sydney restaurants for us. Welcome back, chef!
Long Chim, corner Pitt Street & Angel Place, Sydney
The Bridge Room (Sadly, now closed)
The best little restaurant in Sydney is what I like to call this outstanding restaurant by chef Ross Lusted, operated with his wife Sunny. While it may be petite in size, it’s easily one of the best Sydney restaurants. Ross was head chef for Neil Perry before wanderlust saw he and Sunny leave Australia to see the world like so many long-term expats do (cough, cough), eventually ending up heading the food and beverage development for the exclusive Aman Resorts. Chef’s jobs don’t get much better than that, so that must have been a hell of an itch that saw the Lusteds returning to Australia’s shores and Sydney’s often fickle dining scene. Return they did, finding a brilliant spot for their restaurant in the CBD. Ross used his flair for design and architecture to create what is basically a long wide corridor of a space into something truly special and contemporary yet classic in style. Lusted’s food is something special, too. From his subtle use of his favourite kitchen tool, the Japanese robata grill, to his procuring of brilliant ingredients, there’s a precision, confidence and eclecticism that reflects Lusted’s wanderlust and culinary travels, mainly in Asia. Dishes such as red claw yabbies, tamarind and chilli paste, cashew butter palm hearts, and pomelo can only come from a chef who intimately knows these ingredients and their provenance. The Bridge Room has a la carte lunch and dinner menus, as well as a tasting menu (which we highly recommend) and a pre-theatre menu for those heading down the road to see something at the Opera House. Great wines by the glass, too.
The Bridge Room, Ground Level, 44 Bridge Street
Have you eaten widely in Sydney? What would your list of best Sydney restaurants include?