La Niña may throw a spanner in the works but when the sun is shining, Rafi is set to become one of the most sought-after summer dining destinations north of the bridge. Alfresco dining is the drawcard here: think abundant outdoor tables lining a greenery-filled wraparound terrace. And when the rain does arrive, there are plenty of alternative spaces inside, including a cocktail bar, private dining room, and the Arbour; a glasshouse-like structure adorning the rooftop.
The sprawling 300-seat venue comes courtesy of Applejack Hospitality - joining The Botanist and SoCal in the neighbouring suburbs of Kirribilli and Neutral Bay - and is set to be the group's biggest venture yet. The promise of a coastal produce-inspired menu is a win for the area, which has traditionally been dominated by pubs and subterranean food courts, rather than light and bright dining destinations.
Rafi will be led by chef Patrick Friesen and Matias Cilloniz, who are looking to seafood to underpin their menu. Cilloniz recently arrived in Sydney from Peru to take on the executive head chef role, while Friesen brings his considerable experience across the Merivale group to the venue as culinary director. On the table this may look like barbecued South Coast octopus with chilli, oregano and lemon (Friesen cites inspiration from his Greek fishmonger who told him Australian chefs overcomplicate it, and to just to do it like the Greeks do at home); grilled Murray cod fillet with rocket pesto; or grilled lobster with a rich cultured butter.
The raw part of the menu will showcase ceviche, oysters and lush seafood platters; while the hearty vegetable offering doesn't relegate them to side dishes, instead jazzing things up with the ripe tomatoes done in the style of Italian tonnato with pine nuts and sumac; crisp eggplant with chilli and organic honey; and roasted cauliflower severed with romesco and parmesan. The carnivore crowd can also get around dry-aged steaks, sticky lamb ribs and a whole roast chook.
Inside, you'll also find interiors courtesy of Luchetti Krelle, the firm behind such beautiful spaces as Momofuku Seiobo and Jane. The dining room features mixed stone and mosaic marble flooring, as well as custom fabrics created by Walmajarri Aboriginal artist Jimmy Pike, which are inspired by Australian flora and fauna.
With a drinks list curated by the group sommelier Amandine Rouviere, expect to find local beers on tap, as well as plenty of Australian wines in a 200-strong list featuring both local and international drops. Meanwhile, RafiI's signature DIY cocktail concept is an ode to sustainability with punters encouraged to choose their own alcohol for the cocktail's base to go with seasonal shrubs, blood orange, ethically-sourced lemon myrtle shrub and upcycled wine.
Whether you're soaking up the sun on the terrace or just stopping by for an after-work tipple, there's certainly a space for everyone at Rafi.
Rafi is now open at 99 Mount Street, North Sydney