"Sydneysiders," a.k.a. Sydney locals, are spoiled when it comes to food and drink, but in all the good ways.
By Jenny Miller
"Sydneysiders," a.k.a. Sydney locals, are spoiled when it comes to food and drink, but in all the best ways. They expect—and get—quality raw ingredients, from dreamy produce (try not to swoon over the avocados) to top-notch meats and seafood, most of it produced or harvested domestically. Australia's proximity to Asia makes the cuisines of that continent ubiquitous, and often they're incorporated seamlessly into everyday eating, adding welcome acidity and spice that elevate dishes to new levels.
A sunny, California-like climate means dining al fresco is usually an option, and it's almost unbelievable how high the standards are for coffee here. Only surprisingly high prices might stop an enthusiastic eater, but if it's any consolation, there's no need to tip much—10 percent is optional in nicer establishments. Read on to discover what makes this a dreamy destination for discerning palates.
On any weekday in Sydney, it's striking how many people are eating breakfast. Simple, sure, but sitting down for a morning meal is noticeably more popular here than in the U.S. Here, breakfast is a normal way to take a business meeting, and the leisurely pace underscores the city's overall laid-back vibe. The city's many lovely cafés also let the sheer quality of the produce shine. At most of them, it's possible to order fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices and a side of perfectly ripe avocado with everything.
With its base of local creatives, Surry Hills may be ground zero for Sydney's café culture. To see where it all began, head to the original Bill's, which opened almost 20 years ago on Crown Street (though the spare, light-filled dining room seems straight out of Brooklyn 2014) and now has other locations around town and even internationally. The place is famous for its rich and fluffy scrambled eggs, and thick ricotta hotcakes smothered in bananas and honey butter.
Sydneysiders take their coffee very seriously, and one place that does it right is bootsdarling in Darlinghurst, also a great bet for the quintessential Aussie breakfast of avocado toast. (Beware the full portion of two hulking slices of crusty bread slathered in ripe green fruit—a half portion is enough.) Pair it with a flat white, which is like a cappuccino with less foam, and grab a seat in the cozy dining area built from reclaimed wood. If you're still hungry after breakfast, head to Bourke Street Bakery (multiple locations), where an older Aussie classic, the sausage roll, has been given a revamp. Try the pork and fennel option, a filling bundle of golden pastry dough wrapped around the fragrant meat.
Over in the surfer paradise of Bondi Beach (that's "Bond-Eye"), something about the seaside light makes lingering over lunch even more appealing. Skip the tourist traps and head to Jed's Food Store, a local favorite with plenty of outdoor seating where you'll want the Kurasawa egg bowl, scrambled eggs with brown rice, nori, teriyaki tofu, wasabi, and a generous helping of avocado, served with chopsticks. It sounds weird but works, and it illustrates the fluid way Asian and other flavors are integrated into day-to-day Sydney fare.
Speaking of Asian food, it's everywhere, from cheap bowls of Malaysian laksa to truly excellent high-end Chinese. If you only eat with chopsticks once in Sydney, do it at Billy Kwong, the sustainable, seasonal Chinese restaurant run by Aussie TV personality Kylie Kwong. On the menu and her lengthy list of daily specials, Kwong emphasizes native Australian ingredients, like warrigal greens (similar to spinach) stuffed into dumplings, or mealworms (an aboriginal staple) stirred into fried rice. If you're not in the mood for unusual foods, stick with the excellent crispy duck or the pork belly.
Another celeb chef, Neil Perry, has an excellent, high-end Chinese restaurant called Spice Temple underneath his flagship Rockpool Bar & Grill. Here, Perry mines the regional cuisines of outlying provinces like Sichuan, Yunnan, and Xinjiang (anything but the Cantonese food that's ubiquitous in Sydney). You can't go wrong with this menu, but for something surprising and different, try the yellow noodles—these house-made wheat strands are laced with turmeric (a Xinjiang touch) and topped with Wagyu beef, chili, and Sichuan peppercorn.
When sticker-shock fatigue eventually sets in, Chinatown Night Market is the salve. The small area near the city's Central Business District centers on Dixon Street, where there's a festive night market on Friday evenings. Here and on parallel Sussex Street, you'll find multi-story shopping malls housing food courts that offer some of the best meal bargains, like the offal-laden No.1 soup at Happy Chef inside Sussex Centre (401 Sussex Street), or the ramen at Gumshara in Harbour Plaza Food Court (252 Sussex Street). Also affordable: reliable Thai at Chat Thai and line-inspiring Malaysian at Mamak, which is famous for its freshly made roti.
Drinkers aren't neglected in this town, either, particularly since a change in laws in 2008 made it possible to secure permits for so-called "small bars" (drinking establishments with a capacity of less than 120 people). Sydney's cocktail scene has exploded since then, and there's a bar to suit every taste, especially for those who like hidden ones. For example, Asian-themed The Grasshopper is tucked down a dark alleyway, and so is the nearly-impossible-to-locate yet insanely popular The Baxter Inn, Drinks International's 7th best bar of 2014. Voodoo enthusiasts can head to Papa Gede's Bar, Rockabilly lovers should hit up Mojo Record Bar, and anyone who likes fizzy cocktails in a diner setting should visit Hinky Dinks. The daily menu at Bulletin Place is crafted around farmers' market ingredients, and if that doesn't please, ask the barman for something special. Just be sure to practice moderation: Your bar tabs adds up fast when drinks average $20 Australian ($17.50) a pop.
Jenny Miller is a freelance writer based in New York, and a former editor at New York Magazine's Grub Street. Her work has appeared in Departures, Bon Appetit, New York Magazine, and many others. She loves NYC eating excursions, Southeast Asia, and hanging out with other people's dogs. Follow Jenny on Twitter and Instagram: @jennyhighlife. You can find more of her work on her website.
Cover photo credit: Nicki Mannix
Photo Credit: Top to Bottom: Shutterstock / Leah-Anne Thompson, Courtesy of Bourke Street Bakery, Jenny Miller, Courtesy of Billy Kwong Restaurant, Courtesy of Spice Temple, Courtesy of Mojo Record Bar