It’s been a year of mixed blessings and change in Sydney, as some great, long-running restaurants closed, but in their place, another 100 culinary flowers bloomed. The city was spoiled for choice, with an incredible diversity of offerings emerging, from Icebergs Dining Room & Bar maestro Maurice Terzini breathing new life into The Dolphin in Surry Hills, to bar baron Justin Hemmes giving the Newport a major makeover, to former Nomad chef Nathan Sasi’s Spanish sojourn at Mercado in the CBD.
Meanwhile, the Three Blue Ducks team took over the old Kitchen by Mike site in Rosebery’s Koskela homewares warehouse, former Quay sous chef Analiese Gregory opened the brilliant, petite and truly scrumptious Bar Brose in Darlinghurst, Morgan McGlone’s Belles Hot Chicken began to roll out across the city like KFC for hipsters, and Barangaroo and Tramsheds became dining hotspots.
With so many great new places to eat, it’s been a challenge to narrow them down, but here’s Business Insider’s top 10 for 2016.
Expatriate Sydney chef David Thompson makes a triumphant return to his birthplace 16 years on with this spectacularly authentic homage to Thai Street food, following on from Perth and Singapore. From cured pork fritters to a green beef curry, salt-crusted silver perch and fried rice with roast duck, it's packed with feisty flavours this zip and hum in the mouth and take you into the back streets of Bangkok.
Entrance via Angel Place, Sydney. Tel: 9223 7999
Lunch Mon-Fri; dinner nightly
The restored former Glebe Tramsheds at Mirvac's Harold Park apartment development became an immediate foodie destination when it opened in September. While the excellent fresh pasta at A Tavola offshoot Flour Eggs Water is a joy, this branch of the decade-old Surry Hills tapas bar, Bodega, has a great vibe, where you can sit at the bar counter, designed like a railway station station diner counter, for wine and cocktails, or take a booth for grilled queso fresco, pickled mussels, blood cake, and smoked pig’s-head sausage with plum sauce. Joe Valore's wine store is also worth exploring to take home something interesting.
1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge. Tel: 8624 3133
Lunch & dinner daily
Chef Joshua Niland developed a loyal following at Fish Face in Double Bay, then Cafe Nice at Circular Quay. Now he has his own seafood-focused venture with a focus on sustainability and the clever use of fish offal and native flavours that reveals just how clever and thoughtful his cooking is. There's grilled calamari with saltbush, salt & pepperberry school prawns, wild kingfish that's been aged for 9 days with celeriac and broad beans, grilled broccolini with flathead roe yoghurt as a side, then an elegant lemon tart for dessert. And how about a sea urchin crumpet or spanner crab omelette for weekend brunch?
362 Oxford Street, Paddington. Tel: 8937 2530
Brunch Sat-Sun; lunch Fri-Sun; dinner Weds-Sun
In 1821, the Greeks began a 12-year war to break away from the Ottoman Empire. Chef David Tsirekas, of Perama in Petersham (then Xanthi at Westfield Sydney), has faced a similarly extended ordeal, finally opening his modern Greek restaurant in Martin Place last week, a year later than planned. Yes, there's BBQ octopus alongside Ouzo-cured salmon and pork belly baklava, moussaka, seafood saganaki and slow-roasted lamb shoulder and then white chocolate feta cheesecake and caramel baklava ice-cream for dessert.
122 Pitt Street, Sydney. Tel: 8080 7070
Open daily for lunch and dinner
It's win some, lose some for Guillaume Brahimi, who announced last week he's closing his Paddington fine diner, but rolled out a smart, third version of his likable bistro of French classics in Sydney's CBD. Expect onion soup, twice-baked cheese soufflé with Roquefort sauce, roasted Barossa chicken with tarragon and Paris mash, and steak frites with béarnaise, in smart surrounds, not to mention a dessert trolley you'll lose it over choosing between lemon tart, millefeuille, Paris-Brest and chocolate mousse.
Suncorp Building, 259 George Street, Sydney. Tel: 8622 9555
Breakfast & lunch Mon-Fri; dinner Mon-Sat
Justin Hemmes' Merivale empire made more magic in August with this long-awaited 60-seat bar and bistro by former California girl Danielle Alvarez, a stalwart of Alice Waters' famed Chez Panisse as well as Thomas Keller's three-star French Laundry. That natural philosophy continues in a predominance of heirloom vegetables along with a wood-fired oven for dishes such as beetroot cooked in coals with anchovy, radicchio and basil; coral trout, with mussels, leeks, and herb broth; beef with pommes anna; and macadamia meringue with yoghurt & strawberry sorbet. The basement hosts a small bar, Charlie Parker’s.
380 Oxford St, Paddington. Tel: 9240 3000
Lunch: Fri-Sun; dinner Tues-Sun
After Rene Redzepi's Noma cleared out of Barangaroo, two of Australia's best restaurateurs Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt of Bentley fame, took over the 100-seat harbourside site in September with a seafood-focused menu for what many consider the best opening of 2016. There's a caesar salad with whipped mullet roe and Ortiz anchovies, Moreton Bay bugs with XO, and even a seafood platter of oysters, prawns, cobia and honey bugs, as well as whole flathead and chips. And of course Hildebrandt wine list delights the geeks keen to explore.
10/23 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo. Tel: 9220 0111
Lunch & dinner daily
Former Rockpool chef Mike McEnearney, more recently of Kitchen by Mike fame, opened this crisp, low-key bistro space just around the corner from Neil Perry's flagship earlier this year, creating the perfect business lunch spot that won't make the expenses a problem with accounts. There's awesome housemade bread, a twice-cooked goats cheese soufflé, grilled cuttlefish with baby peas, mandarin and nduja (spicy salami), grilled lamb chops with kidney and roast chicken, while the chef's English heritage is clear in rice pudding with rhubarb jam, and Eton mess for dessert. Lots of fun, without too much fuss, McEnearney hits just the right notes here.
No. 1 Bent Street
1 Bent St, Sydney. Tel: 9252 555
Lunch Mon-Fri; dinner Mon-Sat
Is vermouth the new Aperol? Chef Hamish Ingham and his sommelier wife, Rebecca Lines, of Bar H in Surry Hills fame are banking on it at their bistro and vermouth bar amid the impressive lineup around the Streets of Barangaroo. Ingham plays with native flavours amid a light touch to the menu, from oysters with dry vermouth and lantana flowers to mussels cooked in white vermouth; roast duck with native plums; beef short ribs with smoked carrot and pickled onion; and a vermouth-soaked trifle with banksia syrup, rosella jelly and burnt vanilla custard.
33 Barangaroo Ave, Barangaroo. Tel: 8072 7037
Lunch & dinner daily
When Hubert opened in April, Sydney was so seduced by this retro French basement space from the team behind the Baxter Inn and Shady Pines Saloon, it nearly lost its mind. Hubert is like a night out with Serge Gainsbourg amid the red velvet drapes and brasserie sensibility amid old-world class and dishes such as mushroom au poivre, asparagus vinaigrette, foie gras pâté en croûte, chicken fricasee,cassoulet and tarte Tatin. Add a killer wine list, jazz, and a bar where you want to debrief with the bartenders and you can't help falling under the spell too.
15 Bligh St, Sydney. Tel: 9232 0881