Savoring Sydney's Diverse Dining Scene

From Asian delicacies and Middle Eastern favorites to Italian classics, Sydney offers the flavors of the world.

WORDS John Gregory-Smith
January / February 2020

Barbecue baby octopus with chorizo at Nomad. / Photography by Petrina Tinslay

One of the world’s most exciting culinary destinations, Sydney enjoys a vibrant dining scene inspired by its diverse population. Asian cuisine, for one, is practically ingrained into the city’s psyche. Food lovers savor steaming bowls of laksa, a rich Malaysian coconut soup, find transcendent Thai food everywhere, and frequent restaurants such as Chin Chin, where the braised beef brisket massaman curry is a thing of sheer beauty. Dumpling restaurants are as common as burger joints, and in Newtown, a trendy suburb in the Inner West, Susanna Chen makes pillowy-soft, Northern Chinese dumplings served with plenty of tart vinegar and chili sauce at her restaurant Chinese Dumpling Master. She also offers hand-pulled Xinjiang noodles, which have a chewy texture that soaks up all the rich flavor of the accompanying soy-braised beef.

Sydney’s many Middle Eastern restaurants showcase innovative menus designed by world-class chefs. Tucked away in Surry Hills, a smart neighborhood that’s full of beautiful boutiques, is Nomad. The restaurant features an industrial-chic dining room, high ceilings and an open kitchen where head chef Jacqui Challinor, one of the country’s finest chefs, cooks everything over a wood-fired grill, lacing her Lebanese dishes with divine smoky notes. Challinor says diversity makes the Sydney restaurant scene what it is today, with many different cultures that have brought their cuisines with them. She tells me that Australia saw a large influx of Lebanese people after World War II, and then again after the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. Traditional fare had always been cooked in the home, but it wasn’t until chefs such as Australia-born Greg Malouf—who occasionally guests at Nomad—came along that the food entered the mainstream.

Nour in Surry Hills. / Courtesy of Nour

Continuing the Middle Eastern vibe, Nour, another restaurant in Surry Hills, serves a creative selection of meze plates, while across town in The Rocks, Tayim has been gaining a reputation for making the best Turkish cuisine in the city. For traditional Syrian fare, diners flock to sisters Carol and Sharon Salloum’s Almond Bar in Darlinghurst.

Sydney has always been at the forefront when it comes to healthy eating: Juice bars, vegan food and plant-based cuisines are everyday easy here. Walk down the trendy wharf at Woolloomooloo and you can’t miss Alibi, a cavernous warehouse with a knockout cocktail bar and restaurant. Plant-based expert Matthew Kenney has designed the menu, producing a sophisticated selection of dishes like spicy udon noodles in a rich cashew, hoisin and miso broth.

Kensington Street in Chippendale is a top food destination, offering everything from Thai noodles cooked in a smoky wok in Spice Alley—a collection of stalls selling authentic street food—to an exquisite tasting menu at fine-dining establishment Automata. Concrete Jungle is another plant-based restaurant that packs a punch, with every dish designed for utmost visual impact.

Cheese platter at Alibi. / Photography by Adrian Mueller

Italian food is also having a revival, with a glut of fabulous trattorias opening their doors. Samantha Jones, editor of the food site Delicious, says everyone has always loved Italian, but with so many other cuisines emerging it was becoming overshadowed. Now, classic dishes are being updated, presentations refined and venues made newly atmospheric. Don Peppino’s, one of the city’s acclaimed run through April. Located in a storied nightclub that has been gloriously preserved, it seduces diners with creations such as a mouthwatering crab spaghetti.

At Alberto’s Lounge, another Surry Hills stalwart, head chef Dan Pepperell, who first introduced the city to his brand of hybrid Australian-Italian cuisine at the restaurant 10 William Street, has gone back to the basics, preparing zesty pastas and classic Roman recipes. The buzzy restaurant is packed every night, and it’s worth booking well in advance to secure a coveted table. But rest assured, when you do, you’ll be there till closing asking for an encore to every perfect plate.


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