Combining international flavours with exceptionally fresh local ingredients, Sydney is blessed with a vibrant modern dining scene. From the city to the suburbs, the upscale to the affordable, read on for our pick of the top 10 contemporary Australian restaurants in the Harbour City.
Restaurant, Contemporary, Australian, $$$
Matt Moran at Aria
It’s hard to find a better view from a Sydney restaurant than the one diners enjoy at Aria, perched on the edge of the Harbour at Circular Quay. Aria received a multi-million-dollar revamp in 2016 but still takes advantage of its stunning location with floor-to-ceiling windows – which are almost as much of an attraction as the refined dishes dreamed up by celebrity chef Matt Moran, who’s been the mastermind behind this elegant dining experience since 1999.
We said it’s hard to find a better view than Aria, not impossible — and Quay just pips it. The upper level of the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay boasts panoramic views of both the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and executive chef Peter Gilmore’s envelope-pushing menu more than matches the glittering vistas. It’s not hard to see why Quay is Australia’s most decorated restaurant, with Gilmore’s sophisticated dishes rivalling the best cuisine in the world. Don’t miss the legendary Snow Egg desert.
Expect only the finest home-made and ethically sourced ingredients at Mercado
The classy yet unpretentious basement dining room suits Mercado’s ‘do everything from scratch’ philosophy, which aims to revive the forgotten kitchen skills of animal butchery, meat curing, cheese making, bread baking and preserving. Chef and co-owner Nathan Sasi has designed a contemporary Australian menu inspired by Spanish and Moorish cuisine and full of simple, delicious flavours — the smoked meats and house-made cheeses are particular highlights.
Get in quick to experience Sepia in Sydney before it’s too late — the restaurant’s Sussex St lease expires in 2018 and the owners are looking to take their cutting-edge cuisine to Melbourne. The creative collaboration of renowned Sydney chef Martin Benn and seafood kingpin George Costi has been offering Japanese-inspired five- and nine-course tasting menus since 2009 that have attracted rave reviews; Sydney Morning Herald food critic Terry Durack summed up the experience as, “smoky, sweet, crunchy, creamy, soft, gentle, toasty, scented, clear, brothy, earthy, floral.”
Names in Australian food don’t get much bigger than Neil Perry, and Sydney restaurants don’t get much better than Rockpool Bar & Grill. The beautiful green-marbled dining room in the inner city American-style art deco skyscraper is the setting for a dining experience that’s big on meat and seafood sourced from Australia’s top producers and accompanied by a formidable wine list. The menu is huge but you’ve got to order a steak, which is sourced directly then dry-aged in house and wood-fire grilled to perfection.
Another stylish Circular Quay eatery with million-dollar views — this one purchased on the rooftop of the historic Customs House — and another mouth-watering menu loaded with locally sourced seafood. Make a reservation to sit on the outdoor balcony, the best vantage point for watching the ferries glide in and out of the Harbour as you’re feasting on Pacific oysters, Morton Bay Bugs, Coffin Bay octopus and Humpty Doo Barramundi.
It would be easy for Bennelong’s surroundings — the extraordinary architecture of the Sydney Opera House — to overshadow the food on the table, but there’s no risk of that with executive chef Peter Gilmore at the helm. The sister restaurant of Gilmore’s other offering, Quay, just across the water opened its doors in 2015 and has wowed diners ever since with its innovative use of Australian produce, which is meticulously sourced from local farmers, fishermen, breeders and providores.
This Balmain restaurant is as homely as its name suggests, featuring comfy vintage furniture and a warm courtyard area that matches the modern Australian share plates that are its speciality. The Cottage celebrated its fifth birthday in 2017 by welcoming new head chef Adam McCaughey — formerly of Rockpool and Noma Australia — to the team, bringing with him a trendy new menu that’s excellent value for money.
This inner-city establishment is renowned for a few things. One is its classical dinning room, with towering white columns and huge arched windows. Another is its award-winning service, and its acclaimed wine list. But the real star of the show at Est. is executive head chef Peter Doyle’s fusion of French precision and contemporary Australian cuisine that results in one of the Harbour City’s most luxurious fine fining experiences. Make sure to order Doyle’s signature steamed murray cod in the two-, three- or four-course chefs dinner menu.
If you catch the ferry to Manly and hop into the first restaurant you see at the wharf, you’ve just walked into one of the Northern Beaches best dining experiences. Grab a table on the deck overlooking the sun setting over the water, order a fruity cocktail, then peruse the fresh, modern menu curated by executive chef Colm Kennedy — the dishes have a strong Italian streak, including plenty of pizzas to choose from as well as several seafood mains.