Restaurant Reviews

The best Italian restaurants in Sydney

Look no further, a genuinely good plate of fresh pasta is only a booking away.

A Tavola, Darlinghurst (Photo: Facebook)
1. A Tavola, Darlinghurst
A Tavola, "to the table", is the call to eat in Italian homes, and the table in this instance is the marble communal number that dominates the front dining room at this local favourite, basking in the glow of copper lights and the simpatico welcome of the Italian staff. Home-style cooking is the touchstone, house-made pasta the star – pappardelle, say, tossed with beef ragù, its richness balanced by lemon zest, or nubs of octopus teamed with pasta seashells and cherry tomatoes, charged with 'nduja and showered with pangrattato. Antipasti might be burratina on a bed of nutty lentils and sweetcorn. The wine list ranges the length of the boot with plenty of highlights on the way. Cherry panna cotta laced with bay leaf is a not entirely successful departure from the classic, but if pasta is your pleasure, you'll want to join the faithful and get to the table at this popular trattoria, too.
348 Victoria St, Darlinghurst, (02) 9331 7871,
2. Bacco
For all Andrew Cibej's experience with dynamic small venues (this is the man who opened Vini, 121BC, Berta and Ester), Bacco is bigger, more ambitious, more polished. But close your eyes, organic trebbiano in hand, and bite into a torched swordfish bruschetta, or swipe a slab of toasty focaccia through stracciatella criss-crossed with anchovies, and it's all very 121, if only at the snacks end of the menu. For the rest, this is grown-up CBD dining, but there's a rusticity and a warmth to the whole show, whether in the staff cheerily working the business-lunch and pre-theatre crowds, or in the gnocchi (Nonna's recipe), a big bowl of emulsified buttery goodness showered with pistachio and pecorino. Hand-made and seasonal from stuzzichini to dolci (hands up for that dark chocolate torta!), Bacco has the all-day brief down for almost all comers. And that's pretty hard to beat.
1/2-12 Angel Pl, Sydney, (02) 9235 3383,
3. Da Mario
This is the local Italian that you wish was around the corner – buzzy, fast and fun. We're here for the pizza. It's good. Very good. Thin, blistered crust, classic Neapolitan style judiciously topped with quality ingredients. The Diavola, for example, eschews the standard sliced salami for splashes of hot 'nduja floating on tomato and mozzarella, and packs a serious chilli punch. The kitchen does a good job with pasta, with the Moreton Bay bug spaghetti the standout. Italian classics such as Caprese salad, grilled tuna with caponata and a flank steak tagliata aren't spectacular, but they're well handled and will be appreciated by those cautious around carbs. And the number of regulars is testament to the quality and popularity of this unpretentious diner (are we the only ones not being kissed on the cheek like old friends by the maître d'?).
36 Morley Ave, Rosebery, (02) 9669 2242,

4. Da Orazio, Bondi
Orazio has left the building, but the 2.7 tonne wood-fired oven and swift, imported staff in signature XXL aprons still crank out some of the city's best Neapolitan-style pizze. Equal parts stretch, crackle and crunch, the salty, slightly sour crust proves flour, water and 48 hours of rest can work wonders. That yeasty sharpness speaks as loudly beneath sauced up San Marzanos and the avalanche of toppings on a classic capricciosa as it does below a piquant pesto and ricotta number dotted with cherry tomatoes. Porchetta remains unmissable, too, rough cuts of roasted pork in a pool of pan juices with a chilli kick and a lick of orange vinaigrette. There's plenty of natural wine by the glass and textbook tiramisù if you must, but take your cues from the disco tunes, gussied-up glamazons and Amalfigone- industrial digs: grab another Spritz and smile for the selfie.
Shop LG09, 75-79 Hall St, Bondi, (02) 8090 6969,
5. The Dolphin Hotel
There is no shame in popping into The Dolphin Hotel for a postwork snack and a glass of wine at the bar to help you wind down. Pizze champion the toppings without crowding them, and boast a 48-hour ferment on the dough. Or you could sneak into the wine room, which takes influence from Burgundy and the Loire Valley but branches out far and wide. If you insist on a sit-down meal in the dining room, you'll find Italian classics that fly fast from the unflappable floor staff. The Dolphin prides itself on the salumeria, compiled with the help of Anthony Puharich (of Vic's Meat). The kitchen sends out a sharply seasoned pork cotoletta, discerning dolci (a tiramisu never hurt anyone) and an unmissable antipasto of ricotta and herb crochette topped with bresaola, all with commendable depth of flavour.
412 Crown St, Surry Hills, (02) 9331 4800,
WATCH: Inside the refreshed Dolphin Hotel
6. Fratelli Paradiso
Whatever the hour and whatever the pew – café, dark and sexy bar, or dining room proper – Fratelli is a lesson in less is more. Eggs are partnered with the likes of pecorino and pancetta at breakfast. Later on, gratin dishes of still-bubbling beef and veal lasagne are waltzed from the kitchen, along with sliced tomatoes flecked with nothing more than olive crumb and pangratatto. Blackboard menus don't give much away, but all avenues lead to gold on the wine list. While a lack of handholding (not to mention the quick-talking staff) might upset some, it's the food that has locals elbowing for a table all day and night. Cured ocean trout comes with chewy buffalo mozzarella and capers. Skirt steak, fragrant with rosemary, is made all the more memorable with a whip of bagna cauda and glossy peppers. It's noisy. There's no bookings. But just think of the lasagne.
12-16 Challis Ave, Potts Point, (02) 9357 1744,
7. Icebergs Dining Room & Bar
There's no getting around it: this is one of the most beautifully situated dining rooms in the world. Strangely enough, the management has opted not to simply trade on the glory of Bondi Beach spread before you, but instead to conjure a sultry, sassy vibe in an ageless, modern space, and staff it with professionals and a defining hint of attitude. The current take on Italian is broad enough to allow bay-leaf oil on the burrata, prawns and pangrattato in the spicy Amatriciana that sauces orecchiette, and finger lime with the signature grilled steaks; it's executed with enough care that it all hangs together with natural grace. It's the same story with wine, the traditional offerings now complemented by some vinous funk from sister venue The Dolphin Hotel. If the prices frighten you, try the bar for fine snacks with a side of sizzle and a double-helping of the view.
1 Notts Ave, Bondi Beach, (02) 9365 9000,

8. Lucio's
You wonder if Lucio Galletto OAM might tire of praise after 35 years. It's almost mandatory to compare the art on the walls (Charles Blackman, Garry Shead and other heavyweights signing for their supper) and the art on the plate. Lucio's enviable consistency has become a part of the heartbeat of Paddington. Let yourself be steered by the witty waitstaff, who know both menu and wine list intimately. Start with seafood: the acciughe codesa anchovies say, served in their tins with cherry tomatoes and dollops of goat's cheese. Pasta is a must (the tagliolini alla granseola being a menu staple), and ask for the specials – while the carte is strong, the dishes not on it, like pesto made fresh at your table, are just as good. Finish with biscotti and a caffè corretto. Few restaurants transition from old-school to timeless, but Lucio's has retained its freshness and play. Long may it be so.
47 Windsor St, Paddington, (02) 9380 5996,
9. Marta
Sydney lamented the closure of Popolo in 2017. But it wasn't for long. Owner Flavio Carnevale announced he wouldn't be relinquishing the Rushcutters Bay space, just giving it a facelift and moving its cuisine north – from southern Italy to Rome. And Marta has its feet firmly planted in the caput mundi, from the sardine-rich antipasti to the 11 Spritzes and the fluffy schiacciate. Settle down with the trionfale, piled high with thickly sliced mortadella and stracciatella, and the whole fried artichoke. But don't forget the pasta – the cacio e pepe with house-made tonnarelli is a highlight. A dynamic team works the floor, executing service that is both attentive and relaxed. Order a wine made in amphorae – a golden trebbiano d'Abruzzo, perhaps – and it'll arrive in a ceramic decanter, or a clay one for reds. Finish with the ricotta and sour cherry tart and leave happy.
30 McLachlan Ave, Rushcutters Bay, (02) 9361 6641,
10. Matteo
Are the real housewives of Double Bay ready for orange wine? They will be soon. A carafe of Cantina Giardino, made from grapes grown in Campania's volcanic soil, is just the right match for wood-oven fired focaccia lathered with whipped ricotta, and Abruzzese-style lamb skewers with nothing but a spritz of lemon. While chef Orazio D'Elia is best known for his double-proved pizze – perhaps dotted with smoky mozzarella and hunks of spicy sausage mince – a tender golden cotoletta, next to a brightly flavoured salad of blanched peas with salty ricotta dura, is the unexpected star. Breezy all-white interiors are the east's emergency answer to the Med, complete with clubby music. Balloon-like bomboloni, sticky with nutella, are as dangerous to crisp whites as to waistlines. But who cares, says a fast-moving, Italian-accented waiter: you're on holiday.
29 Bay St, Double Bay, (02) 9327 8015,

11. Ormeggio
There's some rigmarole to be endured before the appearance of actual food at Ormeggio – and that's after the eager diner has already had to wander through a boat showroom to find the restaurant,
a small, quietly glam room overlooking the waters of the The Spit from a marina. Four or six courses? Extra canapés? The optional truffle and pecorino tagliatelle? What about that whole other menu of Spanish food? This is a menu with asterisks and bolding. Service is well meaning and well drilled but doesn't manage to make it a smooth ride. A pity, really, when many of the modern Italian dishes (and the Spanish, too, for that matter) are so smart – the buttons of pasta filled with fine parmesan crema and dusted with roasted malt, say, or white asparagus, the tips grilled, the stems cut into an elegant Manchego royale. More focus could go a long way here.
D'Albora Marinas, The Spit, Mosman (02) 9969 4088,
12. Otto
Close to chalking up a second decade, Otto continues its sparkling run. Sunny day or grey, this waterside venue with sleek boats and city backdrop is glossy and inviting, the service warm and assured. Italy feels right at home here in an upmarket menu that covers all bases. Drop-ins fresh from the gym can fuel up on linguine with spanner crab, the chilli heat and garlicky crumbs ramping up the flavour. Diners with a sense of occasion and time to explore the mighty Australian/Italian-leaning wine list may linger over pork with parsnip, prunes and apple, or crisp-skinned barramundi with olive oil and lemon – fine produce simply handled. To finish, the balsamic semifreddo with berries, a peppery strawberry sorbet and a jaunty, wave-like sliver of cranberry jelly is a snapshot of this restaurant's enduring attraction – it's good looking, fun and an excellent tonic.
Area 8, Cowper Wharf Rd, Woolloomooloo, (02) 9368 7488,
13. Pendolino
It could be midnight in Sicily, such is the companionable darkness behind Pendolino's wall of perpetually closed Venetians. The mood is grown-up and foxy, the sense of occasion heightened by the handsome Victorian hauteur of The Strand Arcade. The swift arrival of a prosecco trolley spells celebration from the start. Regardless of the hour, everything looks good in the gloaming: the Italian-speaking waitstaff, the frocked-up diners, the straightforward plating. Australian olive oils enjoy star status, each oil matched to a dish, while regional Italian wines star on a long and strong list. Pasta is made fresh and dressed simply, the likes of pappardelle with sautéed mushrooms and a raw yolk; there's less finesse but plenty of flavour in secondi such as Bolognese milk-braised pork belly with sausage and beans. Finish in the Italian heel with a rich, boozy pasticciotto, the pride of Puglia.
Level 2, The Strand Arcade, 412-414 George St, Sydney, (02) 9231 6117,
14. Pilu at Freshwater
The beach is a knockout. But it's inside Pilu, a heritage-listed house at the southern end, where the forecast is always fine and sunny. Staff speak about the kitchen's produce like an excited neighbour would their garden. Start with an apéritif of bitter Sardinian liqueur and ginger beer, or dive deep into the world-class organic and Italian-leaning wine list (with world-class assistance, to boot). Zucchini flowers stuffed with almond cream arrive on a board that could have washed up on the sand. But the lightness of a panada is the real treasure: cubes of smoked mullet are pressed between shaved kohlrabi, flowers and tart horseradish yoghurt and plated on a vibrant apple and cucumber oil. There's more grunt in spaghettoni with saucy anise-braised duck, and nothing is as Sydney-via-Sardinia as the spaceship-like seada pastry filled with ricotta and sultanas and glistening with local honey.
End of Moore Rd, Freshwater, (02) 9938 3331,

15. Rosetta
Cook fairly classical Italian food. Prepare it with very good Australian produce and a smattering of essential imports from the mother country. Make the room big and bright, and keep the service tight and the wine smart enough that it becomes a home-away-from-home for the Rockpool Bar & Grill power-lunch crowd. Don't try and reinvent the wheel. Focus instead on colouring inside the lines, on making the pasta fresh and supple or gutsy and al dente as necessary, whether it's with broccolini and chilli, pungent with anchovy, or gooey crab, garlic and parsley, Focus on keeping the gremolata crumb light and clean enough to honour superb King George whiting fillets, on selecting buttery-tender Torello veal rump to roast and serve pink and simple with creamy borlotti beans. Focus on these things and wonder why no one thought of it sooner.
Grosvenor Place, 118 Harrington St, Sydney, (02) 8099 7089,
Rosetta (Photo: Will Horner)
16. Sotto Sopra
The younger sibling of fine-diner Ormeggio and the more rustic Via Alta has a spirited personality that well suits its beach locale. The menu is big on flavour, colour and character, the wood-fired eggplant with smoked cheddar, tomato and a minted anchovy sauce delivering on all three. A generous, zesty serve of tagliolini is dotted with tiny mussels and prawns. Puff pastry makes two showy appearances, first in the tortino di baccala (follow waiter's instructions and mash the crisp golden lid into the spinach, onions and salt cod bathing in broth below), and then a balanced caramelised mango tart with lemon sorbet. The airy room leans to the industrial, with sturdy metal-legged tables and white-tiled tops, but any hard edges are softened by the fishbowl curves of floor-to-ceiling windows, the swift and savvy waitstaff and a wine list that meanders happily through Italy.
G04, The Palms, 316-324 Barrenjoey Rd, Newport, (02) 9997 7009,
17. 10 William St
Even Monday nights at 10 William see packed tables teeming with share plates that are as charismatic as they've ever been. Hand-cut spaghetti, rich and velvety with pecorino, lardo and duck egg yolk, lifts the Sydney pasta standard, as does the gnocchetti, intense with a roof-sticking sausage ragù. It's tough to go past the always-satisfying warmed pretzel with whipped bottarga. The scallop 'nduja toast, crisp of bottom and salty-sweet, gives the signature pretzel a run in the snack stakes, though, its pickled daikon garnish an exemplar of the wine bar's line in killer salt-fat-acid combos that gleefully crisscross borders without losing their Italianality. The drinks list follows suit, sake sitting alongside skin-contact pours. Put your night in the hands of the assured, exuberant front-of-house staff for a thrilling pick-me-up equal to that of their tiramisù.
10 William St, Paddington, (02) 9360 3310,

18. Uccello
It takes ambition to plant towering palms on a city rooftop, against a skyline of office towers, let alone add a lavish outdoor pool, bar, cabanas and shaded viewing/dining area awash in sunflower yellow. An impressive 10 years on, we may take Ivy extravagance for granted (and the harlequin-tiled "Changeroom" loos have seen their share of party wear-and-tear). But Uccello's sense of style persists, boosted by a powerful wine list, smart service and a menu that does more than tick off trends. Right from the olives and bread basket placed with your prosecco, it nails the mod-Med motif. An antipasto of wood-roasted octopus is terrific with a punchy parsley sauce, 'nduja tingle and salty sea blite, while tagliolini with spanner crab and lemony zucchini is light and fine. Sneak in a sweet cassata semifreddo or wobbly lemon tart and consider the good fortune that got us here.
Ivy, Level 4, 320 George St, Sydney, (02) 9114 7309,
Uccello (Photo: Supplied)