WHERE TO EAT NOW
DIVINE INSPIRATION Young chef Jonathan Barthelmess in the dining room of his Potts Point restaurant Apollo.
A confession: having spent most of my life in Melbourne, I tend to wear black a lot, I love cold, dreary weather—really, I do—and whenever there’s talk of a Sydney-Melbourne rivalry, I can’t help but count the reasons why Australia’s second city appeals more than its largest. Food is certainly one of the areas in which Melbourne, with its atmospheric laneways and multicultural enclaves and chefs pushing every boundary imaginable, excels. But having lived in Sydney for the last three years, I’m beginning to see the attraction.
Look past the obvious allures of Sydney’s inner-city beaches and long days of sunshine and you’ll find yourself in a city on the cusp of a dining renaissance. There are restaurants with herb gardens and beehives; there are kitchens that do their own smoking, curing, and pickling on-site; and there are chefs reinventing age-old recipes, giving traditional ethnic dishes a new look. Australia’s Harbor City is finally carving its own culinary destiny—one that becomes more exciting with every bite. Here are the recent highlights.
AUSTRALIAN: MODERN AND HOMELY
“I get such a kick out of beautiful food,” says Grant King, the New Zealand–born chef and owner of Gastro Park. And it shows: King’s dishes are among the prettiest in town. His liquefied butternut squash “gnocchi” is served in a glass sphere with mushroom consommé added tableside, while a fillet of snapper is cooked with the scales lifted and crisped, then plated with drizzles of squid-ink sauce, pureed potato, and a wafer of tapioca and squid ink that resembles a shard of hematite.
Having cut his teeth at Sydney’s Pier restaurant, King opened this pared-back Kings Cross dining room in 2011, causing a stir as much for its name as for its molecular-leaning menu. But you’ll have forgiven the former by the time the amuse-bouche arrives at your table. On my visit, it’s a frond of crispy Parmesan studded with capers and anchovies, tomato and olives, wedged into a smooth river stone like a fan of coral. Yet despite the show, King is remarkably down-to-earth about cooking. Having grown up with “awesome gardeners” for parents, he was surrounded by food from an early age and is still inspired by fresh, seasonal handpicked produce. “I grow at home and forage, and I’m planning set up an urban beehive,” he says. Keep a watch on the menu for honey-inspired desserts, then.
Two chefs who are already combing through honey are Sixpenny owners James Parry and Daniel Puskas, both under 35 and both with shimmering resumes: Parry’s lists stints at Mugaritz in Spain and Copenhagen’s Noma, while Puskas earned his stripes at WD-50 in New York and Alinea in Chicago. The telltale signs? Parry and Puskas bring food to the tables themselves à la Noma; squares of rye bread are smeared with “virgin butter” (freshly churned before it splits and the buttermilk separates), another Noma flourish; and there’s a whimsy in the dishes that can only be attributed to WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne.
Like their mentors, Sixpenny’s chef duo are committed to farm-totable dining; the vast majority of their menu is sourced from a family farm in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. There’s a small
on-site kitchen garden for herbs and honey, not to mention an enviable smoke oven.
The degustation-only menu comes in six or eight courses, with a handful of snacks brought to your table as soon as you sit down. These bites vary but might include a “knuckle sandwich” (a petite brioche toastie of soft ham hock with apple-and-mustard-seed jelly) and a plate jeweled with pickled vegetables: daylily buds, mouse melons, crunchy radish quarters, heirloom carrots. The rest of the menu is also seasonal, though one perennial favorite is the mud crab, its cloudlike meat bound with a macadamia cream and redolent of chamomile.
When he’s not making cameo appearances on TV cookery show Master Chef Australia, Matt Moran can be found in the garden beside his new venture Chiswick. Situated in the eastern suburb of Woollahra, the light-filled, whitewashed dining room—originally the stables of a 19th-century estate—is enveloped by a lush patch of grass, pine, and palm trees known as Chiswick Park; French doors open to the sound of birds and bees in summer.
Absent are the foams and gels that you’ll see at Moran’s flagship restaurant Aria, hugging Circular Quay in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House. Instead, Chiswick focuses on honest, rustic sharing plates. The wood-roasted lamb with chermoula and couscous features meat from the Moran family farm in the Central Tablelands and comes with sides of broccolini, cavolo nero (black-leaf kale), and snow peas pulled from the soil just hours earlier. Even the sodas here use garden herbs such as coriander, Thai basil, kaffir lime, and lemongrass.
Nearby in Surry Hills, Irish-born Colin Fassnidge’s second restaurant, 4Fourteen, continues the snout-to-tail philosophy of its older sister Four in Hand, but with an updated dining room and some very clever flavor combinations. Offal-y ingredients that many other chefs shy away from are all on the menu here: pig’s ears, pig’s tails, pig’s kidneys. Go all out on the whole suckling pig, served with dreamy Calvados and Pedro Ximénez–poached prunes, but leave room for the daily popsicle—the flavor du jour, which might be Nutri-Grain or peanut butter and banana, is served on a wooden slab alongside a wedge of honeycomb from the rooftop apiary.
THE FIVE- AND EIGHT-COURSE DEGUSTATION MENUS AT CLAUDE’S CHANNEL CHEF CHUI LEE LUK’S MALAYSIAN-CHINESE HERITAGE IN DISHES SUCH AS WEST AUSTRALIAN CRAYFISH WITH CONFIT POTATO, SESAME, AND PERILLA LEAVES, OR QUAIL IN RED RICE WINE WITH BEETROOT AND FRESH TOFU
There isn’t space for a full garden at Owl House, a hole-in-the-wall bar-cum-restaurant in the same suburb, although owner and sommelier Amir Halpert hangs herb pots from the townhouse’s balcony and makes monthly treks to regional foodie hubs for inspiration and products. Recently, Halpert and his ex-Rockpool chef Roy Mer ventured to the Southern Highlands where they picked up exotic mushrooms from Bowral, a handful of different potato varieties from Wildes Meadow, and a couple of bottles of pinot noir from 5th Chapter Estate in Avoca, which they highlighted in dishes over the course of a month. (We’re happy to hear that they’re off truffle-hunting soon.)
“I don’t do bad wine, and I don’t do boring food,” says Halpert. He’s right: Mer’s meals might begin with a yolk-like sphere of concentrated
THE SHANGHAI-CHIC DESIGN AT MR. WONG—THINK CHRYSANTHEMUM PRINTS, SLOW-TURNING CEILING FANS, SHELVES OF CHINESE TCHOTCHKES—IS OUTSHONE ONLY BY THE CANTONESE-INSPIRED FARE OF CHEFS DAN HONG AND ERIC KOH
Cosmopolitan cocktail, served in a Chinese spoon, before moving on to earthy dishes such as quail Scotch eggs on smooth potato foam with crispy ham, a smattering of shimeji mushrooms, watercress, and purply potato chips. It’s like New South Wales on a plate.
Local produce also stars at Monopole, the brainchild of Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt, whose pioneering Bentley Bar & Restaurant in Surry Hills will have sadly served its last meal by the time you read this. Melbourne architect Pascal Gomes-McNabb has designed a restrained space of rich dark woods and industrial metals, with little to distract from Savage’s platters of house-cured charcuterie and pickles—wispy slices of smoked duck breast, pork neck, venison sausage—and artfully strewn shaved heirloom vegetables. And while Monopole was conceived as a casual outpost of its now-defunct sister restaurant, some of the dishes are so likeable that it’s hard not to imagine them carrying over to Bentley mark two—Savage and Hildebrandt are on the hunt for a new location.
EUROPEAN: CLASSIC AND CUTTING- EDGE
Young chef Jonathan Barthelmess made a name for himself at Manly Pavilion, on the water in the northern beachside suburb of Manly, before returning to his Greek roots at Apollo in Potts Point. Eating here proves a major challenge to my culinary biases. Melbourne—home to the largest Greek community outside Europe—does Hellenic food such justice that it’s hard to be impressed with it anywhere else (besides
and polished cutlery upstairs, and Turkish superhero posters and mezes on the ground floor, where specials are scrawled on a wall of blackboards and tables spill out to a sun-kissed streetside patio.
My favorite meal here is brunch, when Sivrioglu plates up modernized favorites from Van, a city in eastern Turkey known for its breakfast houses and cheeses. More than 30 small dishes cover everything from muhammara (a hot-pepper dip) and kaymak (clotted cream) with fresh honeycomb to pomegranate humus and tulum börek, a deep-fried pastry parcel stuffed with wild nettle, spinach, and ripe goat’s-milk cheese.
“My recipes are proven taste combinations, like eggplant and lamb, milk and mastic, eggs and spicy sausage,” says Sivrioglu, who sources stellar produce from a roster of local suppliers. “I give traditional dishes a more modern presentation without sacrificing on the authenticity.”
At Barcelona-born Frank Camorra’s new MoVida outpost, transplanted from Melbourne after a decade of success, sharing plates put a fresh spin on classic Spanish dishes. The Surry Hills dining room is a slick space of recycled timber, brick walls, and concrete floors with embutidos (charcuterie), tapas, racións (larger dishes), and grilled meats presented on colorful earthenware dishes.
The menu begins with textural bites like the “artisan” Cantabrian anchovy dolloped with smoked-tomato sorbet before moving on to morcilla blood sausages (made by Camorra’s father) with quince paste and crispy duck leg braised in Moscatel and served with pickled cabbage. It’s simple, playful, and flavorful, and a concept that looks set to thrive here as it has down south in Melbourne.
From one of Sydney’s newest restaurants to one of its oldest: Claude’s first opened in 1974 with chef Chui Lee Luk taking over the
HOMETO THE LARGEST GREEK COMMUNITY OUTSIDE EUROPE, MELBOURNE DOES HELLENIC FOOD SUCH JUSTICE THAT IT’S HARD TO BE IMPRESSED WITH IT ANYWHERE ELSE (BESIDES GREECE, OF COURSE). BUT WITH APOLLO, SYDNEY FINALLY HAS A CULINARY CONTENDER FOR THE NUANCED CUISINE
Greece, of course). But with Apollo, Sydney finally has a culinary contender to take the delicately nuanced cuisine to the next level.
Start with the taramasalata, a traditional dip of yogurt and mullet roe that Barthelmess reinvents in a fermenting jar alongside just-baked pita, pickles, and olives. A deceptively simple Greek salad comes with a slice of housemade feta laid over the top of chunks of cucumber, tomato, red onion and finely chopped oregano, and a big bowl of sticky roast lamb ribs is perfectly paired with a side of lemony roast potatoes. The choicest dessert is a toss-up between ouzo-marinated pineapple served with a dollop of vanilla cream and loukoumades (honey doughnuts) with a zingy pomegranate-pistachio yogurt.
A couple of bays away in Balmain, Somer Sivrioglu helms his recently refreshed Turkish restaurant Efendy. There’s starched linen
HOUSE RULES Glimpses of Sydney’s Opera House and Harbour Bridge from the Royal Botanic Gardens, left. Right: Grilled octopus, on the menu at mod-Greek restaurant Apollo. Opposite, from left: The menu at Apollo is inspired by chef Jonathan Barthelmess’s childhood; the park-side dining room at Chiswick; Grant King, chef-owner of the ill-named but much acclaimed Gastro Park dining room.
ON THE WONG TRACK Clockwise from right: Mr. Wong chef Dan Hong at work in the kitchen; ducks drying at the same Bridge Lane restaurant; Shanghaichic stylings in Mr. Wong’s dining room. Opposite: A seasonal offering of roast scallops and veal sweetbreads with watercress branch, cauliflower leaves, and wild sorrel at Grant King’s Gastro Park.
FARE ENOUGH Clockwise from right: Outside Chiswick; lunchtime at Barcelonaborn Frank Camorra’s new tapas joint, MoVida; a pork slider, pickles, and lemon chicken à la chef Chui Lee Luk at Claude’s. Opposite: MoVida specializes in Catalan and Galician favorites including pan-fried turbot with parsnip puree and wild mushrooms in brown butter.