Restaurant Reviews

The best restaurants in NSW right now

A restaurant where it's near-impossible to score a booking, thanks to Netflix; an agrarian fantasy in the Southern Tablelands; and a family-run eatery reimagining Korean flavours. These are the best restaurants across the state, as reviewed for our 2022 Restaurant Guide.

Traditional and reimagines Malaysian dishes at Ho Jiak Town Hall, Sydney. Photo: Ellyna Tjohnardi
SAINT PETER
GT 2022 NSW Restaurant of the Year
Every seasoned diner knows the best seat in the house is at the counter. So, it was perhaps logical for Josh Niland to reconfigure his petite Paddington restaurant to feature a single, marble counter stretching the length of the room. The fact it meant halving the number of diners in a sitting made it a little more radical. But fortune favours the bold and, a year on, Saint Peter is setting the bar for how diners want to eat in 2021 and beyond. As an experience, it's intimate and informative; engaging and entertaining. Most importantly, it's delicious. You don't need to particularly like seafood to enjoy Niland's cooking, such is his ability to transform all manner of fish bits into delicate, flavoursome bites. From 'nduja and mapo tofu to meaty slabs of dry-aged rib eye, there is almost nothing Niland and his team can't wizard out of a fish. His unwavering commitment to sustainability and minimising waste drives endless innovation, while his mission to educate and engage diners sees the chef take time to speak to every guest. Questions are encouraged and enthusiastically answered. With dinner now a set tasting menu, those less confident can always test the waters with lunch, which offers plenty of approachable options. It won't take long before you return, ready to dive deeper.
362 Oxford St, Paddington, NSW, saintpeter.com.au
Brought to us by Italian power couple Alessandro and Anna Pavoni (Ormeggio at The Spit), a'Mare is the shining jewel in Crown Sydney's dining portfolio. Despite being set inside a hotel and casino, the new Italian fine diner promises a polished night out without the pretence. You'd think the uninterrupted views of Barangaroo's shimmering bay and the restaurant's glamorous, palazzo-inspired interiors would detract from what's happening on the plate. But the refined dishes are just as demanding as their surroundings. Take the squid-ink risotto for example, which is dark and daring and topped with a buttermilk emulsion and bright pops of roe. Or the signature cotoletta – an impressive 1kg grissini-crusted veal cutlet made to share. There's no shortage of theatrics either. A memorable basil pesto is made tableside in a large Carrara marble mortar; while gelato is scooped and topped in front of your eyes. It's a sleek experience that justifies the high price tag.
Crown Sydney, Level 1/1 Barangaroo Ave, Barangaroo, NSW, crownsydney.com.au/indulge/amare
If Cafe Paci were a piece of clothing, it would be a navy suit or little black dress – perfect for any occasion. Whether it be for an apéritif and snack at the bar, a romantic night out or a long overdue catch up with friends, this high-energy European bistro slash wine bar never fails to deliver. The à la carte menu, which runs from small starters to large-format dishes, takes inspiration from chef and owner Pasi Petänen's Finnish roots, but also makes forays to Italy and France. Whatever the motivation, this is the kind of food people want to eat right now. Plump prawn and tarragon ravioli is pimped up with fermented chilli butter; potato dumplings are tossed in a rich and slightly funky smoked-trout XO; and a tender whole chicken comes glazed in black garlic then dressed in chicken fat vinaigrette. When it comes to wine, trust your waiter – everything on the list by Giorgio De Maria is fun and food-friendly.
131 King St, Newtown, NSW, cafepaci.com.au
Inside Cafe Paci.
To have the complete Chaco Bar experience one must surrender all inhibitions at the fabric-draped door. Because inside this elongated and moody Japanese den, "nose-to-tail" is more than just a buzzword. Specialising in yakitori and taking inspiration from yatai – a traditional laneway izakaya or food cart, originating in owner Keita Abe's hometown of Fukuoka – nothing at this city-fringe restaurant goes to waste. Take the chickens for example, which are deboned by hand; their different bits (wings, heart, tail) are skewered, basted and charred to perfection over a robata grill, while their bones and feet are simmered into a rich broth for sister restaurant Chaco Ramen. The cartilage is even studded through the tsukune meatballs. While the flame-licked skewers may be the star of the show, there are plenty of delicious things on plates. It might be warayaki (hay-smoked sashimi), miso-marinated toothfish with cumquat jam, or a just-set chawanmushi. The drinks menu is compact but strong, with sake and highball cocktails a must.
186-188 Victoria St, Potts Point, NSW, chacobar.com.au
FIREDOOR
Netflix might have made it all but impossible to get a booking at Firedoor, but those lucky enough to nab a table – or better yet, a seat at the counter – will find chef Lennox Hastie and his team firing on all cylinders and continuing to experiment with all things flame-kissed. No longer offering an à la carte menu, diners are now taken on a five-course journey – with the option to add signature specials – built around locally sourced seasonal produce. Along the way, you might be treated to Goolwa pipis with XO sauce and warrigal greens, or delicate skewers of grilled kangaroo served on a bed of smoking juniper. Every course is presented with a theatrical flourish, creating a sense of occasion without the formality of more traditional fine-diners. And while Hastie's signature dry-aged steak has rightfully earned a cult following, there's a lot more to Firedoor than just meat. Ignore the hype, trust the chef and enjoy the show.
23-33 Mary St, Surry Hills, NSW, firedoor.com.au
The open kitchen at Sydney's Firedoor. Photo: Nikki To
Securing a seat at Fleet is like winning the lottery. And, like winning the lottery, dining at this Brunswick Heads restaurant is a life-changing experience not to be forgotten. With space for only 14 diners per service, each guest is given the VIP treatment. Affable front of house staff set a cool and calm vibe in the dining room, while in the incredibly compact kitchen – just a few steps away – chef-owner Josh Lewis executes memorable dishes that feel familiar yet wonderfully original, using whatever produce is flourishing in the Northern Rivers region, from both the land and sea. The tasting menu kicks off with a flurry of small plates, including a fanciful chip and dip made from mullet that has been cooked over pine cones. The smoky, salty snack has been on the menu since the restaurant's inception, and for good reason. A slew of well-portioned, expertly balanced courses – and matching low-intervention wines, sake and beer – follow at a steady but leisurely pace. Currently operating as pop-up Roco Ramen, Fleet is set to return to regular programming in January.
2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads, NSW, fleet-restaurant.com.au
With travel limited to our own backyards, escapist daydreams have turned inward; to historic country inns warmed by roaring fireplaces, to local wines and to plates filled with produce pulled from nearby patches. This elusive, agrarian fantasy is manifested in the diminutive town of Gundaroo, where chef Kurt Neumann dispenses comforting dishes constructed with neighbourhood ingredients under the historic tin roof of the 1865 Royal Hotel. Like the character-filled building that once protected travellers from bushrangers, Neumann's fare is warm and homely, yet hints at something thrilling. Lightly grilled oysters topped with miso caramel and beurre noisette; a prawn cavorting in a buttery sauce with peas and clams; or beef cheeks sweetened in Pedro Ximénez then fried until crisp. With a tight list celebrating local Canberra-region winemakers and service suggestive of a family meal, your Grazing experience will leave you thankful for the opportunity to explore the lands a little closer to home.
Corner of Cork and Harp Streets, Gundaroo, NSW, grazing.com.au
What happens when you combine fiery Malaysian street food with Australia's best ingredients? The answer is hidden inside a Cuban bar turned hawker hall on Sydney's York Street. Ho Jiak's Town Hall outpost has been dubbed chef and co-owner Junda Khoo's playground, where he puts bold twists on traditional dishes and family favourites. Take, for example, Khoo's laksa bombs. Served in the classic spicy yet creamy soup, the delicate prawn and chicken dumplings are a fine example that tradition can, and should, be messed with. Same goes for a not-so-humble char koay teow, which sees wok-fried rice noodles crowned with plump marron or crab meat; and an Indomie goreng, which, at the right time of year, can be hidden under a blanket of shaved truffle. Paired with a buzzy atmosphere, friendly service and a banging cocktail list, good times are guaranteed.
125 York St, Sydney, NSW, hojiak.com.au/townhall
It's the aromatic wave of fried curry leaf, mustard seed and cardamom that will lure you to this narrow shopfront on Riley Street. Since 2018, chef-owner O Tama Carey has been bringing a slice of Sri Lanka to East Sydney. But beware: Carey's casual eatery is for true flavour enthusiasts only – for those unafraid to crumble nose-clearing dried white chilli over a black lamb curry, or spoon pol sambol (a fiery mix of coconut and dried Maldive fish) into a lacey hopper. Pro tip? One hopper is never enough. The delicate bowl-shaped pancakes made from rice flour and coconut milk are the perfect vessel for transporting any of the spice-fuelled dishes, such as melt-in-your-mouth eggplant soured with tamarind, or a creamy curry where cashews are king. There are good things happening in the drinks section, too, where local drops sit alongside popular Sri Lankan refreshments like faluda – a rose-syrup milkshake – and tamarind iced tea.
58 Riley St, East Sydney, NSW, lankanfillingstation.com.au
A selection of fragrant sambols at Lankan Filling Station. Photo: Nikki To
A perfectly plump gunkan topped with sea urchin and caviar might be the last snack you'd expect to be served at an Italian restaurant. But it's the exact reason why LuMi stands out from the crowd. By fusing Japanese techniques with Italian hospitality, chef Federico Zanellato has created a dining experience that's unlike anything else in Sydney. Set in an ultra contemporary yet cosy glass "box" on Pyrmont Bay, each course of the fresh new dégustation menu is delivered by composed waitstaff who never miss a beat. It might be a crisp wafer of chicken skin crowned with diced raw scallop and nasturtium flowers to start, or a refreshing spiral of coral trout sashimi with honeydew melon and cucumber. The pasta course is where Zanellato really shines – ingredients such as bush tomato, paprika and white sesame take wonderfully al dente tagliolini or agnolotti in a whole new direction, but find balance with classic yet considered wine pairings from around the globe.
56 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont, NSW, lumidining.com
The idea that bigger is better most definitely applies to Mr Wong: Merivale's answer to Cantonese cuisine. Spread over two levels – with up to 80 dishes, a dedicated Peking duck kitchen and a grand, glassed-in staircase that doubles as a wine cellar – the cavernous establishment is still a favourite CBD eatery even after nine years. Yes, it may play to the Western palate, but that doesn't mean it's any less delicious. Kick off a luxe lunch with a selection of technically faultless dim sum – a serve of sophisticated lobster and scallop dumplings, or prawn toast pimped with foie gras, perhaps? – before progressing to more classic, crowd-pleasing plates of kung pao chicken and pipis doused in XO. If you're looking to go bigger still, proficient waitstaff will happily steer you towards the pointier end of the menu, which features Glacier 51 toothfish, whole roast duck and grade-9 wagyu. Just don't forget to leave some room for deep-fried ice-cream.
3 Bridge Lane, Sydney, NSW, merivale.com/mrwong
A fire in 2019 saw Nomad wander up the road before returning to its original home on Foster Street in late 2020, complete with a bigger kitchen and new wood-fired oven. With it came a renewed vigour and vitality – best viewed from the expanded kitchen counter seating – that permeates the vast, industrial space. Nomad has never been an intimate venue, but the food is deeply familiar and personal. Executive chef Jacqui Challinor fuses her Maltese heritage with the Middle Eastern-meets-Mediterranean menu, which is at its best when shared with a large group. (Though you may be left squabbling over who gets the last smoked mussel or mouthful of date glazed wagyu tongue.) Fortunately, the portions are generous and the flavours vibrant and assured. The wine list is equally robust, including an exclusive range by Nick Farr, which set the gold standard for house wines in Australia. With a Melbourne outpost set to open in late 2021, the Nomad journey continues, promising plenty of bold flavours and good times ahead.
16 Foster St, Surry Hills, NSW, nomad.sydney
Porcine is so much more than a French bistro above a bottle shop. It's an altar to the humble swine; a place where pork enthusiasts can pay their respects and double down on plates of snout-to-tail deliciousness. Combining French classics with laidback British pub vibes, Porcine is a welcome addition to Paddington's dining scene. While the changing menu may seem slightly intimidating on paper (or chalkboard) – chopped tongue, whole pig's head terrine, black pudding – it's the exact opposite on the palate. In addition to breaking down one Berkshire pig carcass per week from Dubbo's Extraordinary Pork, the efficient kitchen pumps out dry-aged duck, whole roast fish and, if it's your lucky day, a scallop vol-au-vent that will change your mind about vol-au-vents. Brought to you by an all-star cast – Nik Hill (The Old Fitz), Harry Levy (Don Peppino's) and Matt Fitzgerald (Solotel Group) – you'll want to go the whole hog at this neighbourhood newcomer.
268 Oxford St, Paddington, NSW, porcine.com.au
Matt Fitzgerald, Nik Hill and Harry Levy of Sydney bistro Porcine. Photo: Will Horner
If there is one menu that will never translate to an at-home offering, it's Quay's. Fortunately, Peter Gilmore was smart enough not to try. Instead, he left us to relish sweet memories of Quay's delicately balanced flavours; the theatre of eating hand-harvested seafood with tweezers. And of course, those spectacular harbour views. When Quay reopened its doors in mid-2020, joy flooded the room, making the light-filled dining space even brighter. Gilmore spent his time out of the kitchen cultivating new ideas for both Quay and its equally elegant sibling Bennelong. A new signature tasting menu was unveiled, featuring all the ingenious, puckish hallmarks of Gilmore's cooking. A walnut, truffle and purple corn flour dumpling made to look like a whole walnut was just one playful new arrival. Signature favourites, such as the white coral, were given fresh, seasonal updates. Months on, and a long lockdown later, Quay's menu will be different again but one thing is certain, it doesn't taste like this at home.
Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, NSW, quay.com.au
With its picture postcard views, white Mediterranean-via-Hollywood Hills façade and impeccably curated interiors, Raes is very much a scene. But it's what happens on the plate here that you'll remember beyond any aesthetics. Parfait choux buns and granita-topped oysters set the tone for the meal to come: indulgent but clever (and available to enjoy at the more casual Cellar Bar downstairs if Raes is booked out). To follow, you might find sweet lobster meat dressed in garum butter and served in its shell, alongside a tangle of tagliolini. Or just-seared coral prawns with 'nduja crumb served atop a thick garlic emulsion. It would be easy for this Byron mainstay to rely purely on its good looks, but chef Jason Saxby brings genuine substance to the table; balancing bold and unique flavours that are presented as beautifully as the room which surrounds them.
6-8 Marine Pde, Byron Bay, NSW, raes.com.au
Restaurant Hubert has always been a good time, but in a post-lockdown world the underground bistro positively fizzes with excitement, sparked by diners desperate for a little escapism. The mahogany-panelled staircase acts as a Tardis, transporting you to another time and place. Downstairs, the jazz-soaked dining room crackles with electricity as highly enthused diners settle in for martinis, oysters and more martinis. Take a breath and settle yourself long enough to order escargots with XO butter and wagyu tartare, perhaps followed by the Murray cod or chateaubriand. Don't forget the frites! And wine! Never mind a glass, bring the bottle… Did you remember the frites?! French bistros are having a moment in Sydney but none will leave you quite as invigorated as Hubert. Is it the best French food to be found in Sydney? Perhaps. Is it the most fun you can have dining out? Unequivocally yes.
15 Bligh St, Sydney, NSW, restauranthubert.com
Sáng by Mabasa proves that the best things come in small packages. This petite 24-seat restaurant in Surry Hills may seem inconspicuous, but its food most certainly isn't. Led by self-taught chefs and husband and wife duo Seung-kee Son and Jin-sun Son, with their son Kenny Yong-soo Son and his wife Youmee Jeon running the front of house, Sáng is a celebration of Korean cuisine – specifically the Korean notion of "son-mat", which translates to "hand taste". Striking the perfect balance between comforting and cool, each dish honours tradition but is firmly rooted in the here and now. There's yassam – refreshingly delicate wraps made with pickled white radish, cucumber and nashi pear; nokdu jeon – a golden mung bean pancake; and yangnyeom KFC – audibly crisp Korean fried chicken. Not to mention standard-setting bibimbap and jjigae, alongside playful lunch specials that change daily. Spicy, sweet and fermented flavours combine with truckloads of texture and a refined touch in a bid to expand the definition of Korean dining in Australia.
98 Fitzroy St, Surry Hills, NSW, sangbymabasa.com.au
At Sáng By Mabasa, each dish honours tradition but is firmly rooted in the here and now. Photo: Youmee Jeon
With no views to be gazed upon or open kitchen to observe, there's a laser focus on the food in front of you at this suburban fine-diner, discreetly housed in a quiet corner terrace in Stanmore. The night's menu is revealed course by course, opening with a round of snacks (a pecorino doughnut if you're lucky) before progressing through five savoury acts, then ending with two desserts and a final encore of petit fours. Highlights might include delicate, silken petals of Spencer Gulf squid, or the fragrant combination of red pepper and poorman's orange served with crisp-skinned coral trout. It's an intense experience and not one to waste on those who can't or won't appreciate the meticulous skill it takes to deliver food of this calibre. Enter Daniel Puskas, the chef-owner quietly yet masterfully driving this high-performance kitchen, which will mark its 10th anniversary in 2022. No doubt celebrations will be elegant, understated and exceptional, as is the Sixpenny way.
83 Percival Rd, Stanmore, NSW, sixpenny.com.au
The elegant dining room at Sydney's Sixpenny.
There are several reasons why not everyone knows about The Gidley, which opened just weeks before Covid shuttered the world in 2020 and sits hidden beneath street level in Sydney's CBD. And one very good reason why you should: the spinalis. As you take your seat at the subterranean steakhouse, you will be asked politely but firmly to relinquish your phone – to be sealed in a sleek leather pouch and returned at the end of the night. The result is two-fold: diners are focused on the experience in front of them, and The Gidley and its luxe Manhattan cocktail lounge is not plastered all over social media. Still, word has spread: The Gidley is serving the best steak in Sydney. That's not a claim we make lightly – but once you've tried that signature spinalis, you'll find yourself coming back for it again and again. Slick service and killer cocktails complete the package.
Basement, 161 King St, Sydney, NSW, thegidley.com.au
What was intended to be the smaller, more casual little sister to Merivale's grandest dining room, inadvertently stole the show when they opened in tandem in early 2020. Together with cocktail bar Will's, Una Más shares the same entrance and amenities as Mimi's (including Sydney's most glamorous bathrooms). But where Mimi's mirrors the successful template of Merivale fine-diners (Fred's, Bert's, Hotel Centennial), Una Más has a personality and atmosphere all of her own. Polished yet natural, Una Más captures the breezy spirit of its beachfront locale, complemented by a selection of equally breezy Mediterranean small plates. A succinct menu is bolstered by daily specials, ensuring there's always something new to explore, alongside familiar favourites (the octopus with fermented habanero is essential ordering). Add to that natural-leaning wines and spectacular beachfront views and Una Más easily takes the crown for cool, casual dining in the harbour city.
Coogee Pavillion, 130a Beach St, Coogee, NSW, merivale.com/unamas