Restaurant News

Luxe for Less: Sydney's best happy hours, lunch specials and bar menus

In 2023, customers are looking to dip in to fine-diners a little more lightly. Here's how to experience the best of Sydney for less.

By Alexandra Carlton
Lana Restaurant at Hinchcliff House
The best restaurateurs in Sydney are excellent at reading the moment; giving people what they want even before they want it. And this point in time belongs to tighter budgets. The reality bites hard as corporate entertainmet spends are capped and cost of living increases.
Of course, classic three-course meals and dégustations will always have their place, but increasingly, diners are looking for more entry points to the establishments they love. They want snacks at the bar, set lunch menus, and generous golden hours.
They want it with finesse, knowing the cash they are parting with is money well spent. As ever, hospitality is about being hospitable and some of Sydney's best industry minds are tailoring their menus to oblige.
As Tristen Rosier, founder of Jane in Sydney explains, it's about finding creative ways to offer great value so that "people want to keep coming back". And at $2 an oyster, surely, we will.
If this is the year of democratic fine dining, book us in for an express table or seat at the bar.
Here are Sydney's best lunch specials, set menus, happy hours, and bar menus.

Best lunch specials and set menus in Sydney

The Charles' club sandwich and Caesar salad at The Charles Bar
Experience an abridged version of Peter Gilmore's famous Quay menu with the special four-course dining experience, Quay to Lunch. Available every weekend until the end of September, $205 will get you a seat at one of the country's best restaurants and those magical harbour views.
Dinner at this Japanese fine-diner is a three-figure affair but on Fridays and Saturdays it throws open its door for lunch, where two courses costs just $45, with choices such as kingfish sashimi with yuzu kosho ponzu as entrée and full-blood wagyu beef with crisp potato for mains.
The Italian-ish restaurant at Hinchcliff House offers an excellent express lunch menu on Thursdays and Fridays for $69, which will buy you three snacks and a choice of four mains, plus a side salad and the restaurant's famous house-made potato focaccia with black garlic butter.
To experience a quick taste of Paul Farag's wood-fired Middle Eastern menu at Aalia, try the express lunch option, where $60 will get you a choice of main - including Kiwami rib cap bastruma or lamb belly adana - served with chips and fattoush, along with a glass of wine.
Dip into some of Sydney's best waterfront views with A'Mare's Pranzo al Volo business lunch ("it means 'lunch on the fly'" says executive chef Alessandro Pavoni), which includes an entrée and main for $79 – including their signature shared antipasto table. Weekdays only.
The Charles Bar
It may not be as grand as its big sister brasserie next door but The Charles Bar serves up chic NYC energy with its all-day bar menu and generous lunch special, which features their signature club sandwich, crisps and a beer for just $25.
From Wednesday to Saturday, Esteban's $65 Almuerzo Pequeño menu (Spanish for "Little Lunch") offers three quick and quality courses: starting with a kingfish ceviche with fried plantain, followed by a prawn taco, before the crescendo of steak with black garlic and chipotle butter, and smoked kipfler potatoes.

Best happy hours in Sydney

Happy hour cocktails at Rockpool Bar & Grill
Currently, Sydney's illustrious steakhouse Bistecca is offering its famed Bistecca alla Fiorentina in an affordable steak sandwich as part of its newly launched Golden Hour. Available only in the candle-lit bar from 6–8pm Monday–Saturday, the Italian-style steak sanga costs $20 and comes filled with sirloin, Tuscan white bean paste, pickled onion and a vibrant salsa verde on a potato bun. The catch? There are only 20 available each night. But the Golden Hour also sees $15 cocktails, $10 amaro Highballs, and 30 per cent off selected wines.
Monopole's Happy Hour has always been one of the best value in the city. Cocktails are all $10 or less, and the $12 chicken liver parfait or even just fries and aïoli play strong accompaniment. But the crowning glory has to be its Champagne offer with a bottle of French fizz landing at just $88. From Wednesday to Friday, 4-5pm.
At Jane in Surry Hills, where founder Tristan Rosier emphasises that his Australiano Hour offers the same dishes you get at regular service, just in a cheaper, more snackable form. "You can get our kangaroo tartare, which is a signature, or $2 oysters, with the exact same oysters we normally use," he says. "Quality for us is paramount, not just cutting the price."
Restaurant Hubert
Cut-price Negronis, Dubonnet highballs and G&Ts are the backbone of the generous daily happy hour at Hubert that runs between 5 and 6pm daily. The croque monsieur is non-negotiable.
The Rover
Surry Hills' The Rover is offering $2 freshly shucked oysters and $10 mini Martinis poured tableside in its elegant upstairs restaurant. These happy hour specials are available Tuesday to Saturday from 5–6pm, making them an ideal pre-dinner deal.
Also in Surry Hills, Lennox Hastie's San Sebastián-inspired wine bar Gildas celebrates after-work occasions with its Gildas Golden Hour. On offer on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5.30–6.30pm, Golden Hour sees $12 cocktails and wines alongside its namesake snack for $5 and $12 off-menu specials.
Ormeggio at The Spit
Watch the sun set with a glass in hand at west-facing Italian restaurant Ormeggio on the north shore. Cocktails are all $15 and can be matched with snacks like oysters, a single pumpkin raviolo or even the house-made gelato.
Rockpool Bar & Grill
Pulling up a seat at Rockpool's bar is always a good idea but there's an even better reason now. RP Hour hits the bar for two hours every weekday between 4pm and 6pm, with $12 cocktails, wines by the glass for $15 and $15 snacks like fish po boys and chorizo dogs.
Maybe Sammy
One of the world's best bars, Maybe Sammy, continues to offer up its teeny Martinis at an approachable price point. From 4.30–5.30pm every Tuesday to Saturday, you can score classic Martinis as well as the Chamomile Martini in miniature form for $7, plus more mini cocktails such as a mini Eucalyptus Gimlet and mini Irish Coffee.
Sydney's contemporary Japanese diner Saké has launched Saké Hour at its three Sydney locations — The Rocks, Double Bay and Manly — running from 4–6pm on weekdays. Available exclusively at the bar, the happy hour sees $7 Highballs and G&Ts, $10 wines and $12 cocktails, plus a stack of value-packed snacks — think $5 edamame and $10 chicken karaage and popcorn shrimp.

Best bar menus in Sydney

The bar at Bentley Restaurant and Bar
Bentley Restaurant and Bar
The bar has never been an afterthought at CBD heavyweight Bentley. Bites include glazed pork buns with ancho chilli and chives, or a melange of Ortiz anchovies, olives and dill on sourdough, or dive into a full-scale main like a barbecue wagyu shortrib. The seafood platter is also one of the best in the city.
Icebergs Dining Room and Bar
"A restaurant like ours can almost be whatever you want it to be," says Alex Prichard, executive chef of Bondi's Icebergs, whose dedicated bar menu has been around since 2002. "We're here for a high-end business lunch or a burger and a beer at the bar for under $40." Our pick for a pocket-friendly taste of Prichard's fresh take on Italian is the spaghetti vongole, goolwa pipis and bottarga and wine by the glass.
Oncore by Clare Smyth
The Seasons menu at Clare Smyth's fine-diner at the top of Crown Sydney won't leave you with much change under $400. But the bar menu offers a way to sample her cooking with a little less commitment, for both your wallet and your time. Snacks include cheese and onion gougères, fried chicken and the dessert that launched a thousand Instagram posts: the lacquer-shiny "Core apple".
Menzies Bar, Shell House
The bar menu on the ground floor of Shell House is always a good time (that lobster roll!) but until the end of August there's another reason to pull up a stool. Their 12-week The Hits pasta menu offers a generous bowl of their best pasta moments like spaghetti alla vongole, or gnocchi with rabbit, pancetta and tarragon for just 25 bucks.