Sydney Restaurants


Sydney has become a vibrant restaurant city over the last ten or so years.  Overall, food in Sydney is now some of the best in the world, with inventive cooking and generally very high standards across the places we visited, though prices are quite high.  Sydney seems to have a slew of places that are 5/10 or 6/10 in Good Food Guide terms, but nothing really at the 8/10 or higher level, with the possible exception of Tetsuya at its best.   


To see: the wonderful harbour the Opera House, Balmoral beach (quiet) and Manly beach (spectacular), the Botanical Gardens, the Rocks (some “old” Victorian buildings), the Maritime Museum for those who like such things, the Aquarium where you walk through a glass tank of sharks and the cliff walk near Bondi.     



Food rating: 4/10

Monday 3rd Feb 1997

73 McLeay Street, Potts Point

Phone (00 61 2) 9358 1652

Open dinner only, daily


Pricey at around GBP 65 a head all in.  Nice atmosphere - trendy but relaxed.  Service was excellent.  The main problem is that they are trying to introduce too many flavours e.g. a passion fruit dessert with a passion fruit sauce did not need some strawberries as well.  The best dish was very tender veal wrapped in bacon. The sommelier was brilliant, with an excellent wine waiter, knowledgeable and glasses perfectly topped up without prompting.  Stella had tuna cooked rare with a very peppery crust, served with rocket salad and aioli - the fish was well timed but there was too much pepper, which dominated the rest of the dish.  Mashed potatoes were decent.  Stella had coconut mousse topped with dark cherries in cherry jelly with a cherry sauce.   2/5 overall, an expensive but enjoyable experience.   Last visited February 1997.



Food rating: 8/10

Saturday 1/2/97

529 Kent St


Rated the one world-class Australian restaurant, with a fusion of French and Japanese cooking.  It is a 20 minute cab ride from Circular Quay along Darling street in an odd, almost residential location; but the small dining room is smart enough inside.  Weekend evening meals are booked up as much as two months ahead.  It is a fixed, no-choice menu.  The same menu was on offer as the last time I ate here five months earlier.  The first dish had many facets: cold vichyssoise poured over some aubergine (very good), scallop served in its shell with a black bean sauce (5/5), cooked eel sushi style on perfect rice with slivers of cucumber (4/5) and raw John Dory (3/5), and finally a single prawn served in its shell (4/5).  Stella had tuna while I had the duck, served very rare with a tomato sauce and tapenade (3/5).  Best dish of the evening was stunning duck slices in a fan and an intense jus (5/5), and preceding this a little fillet of veal with wasabe mustard sauce (5/5).  Yet prawns with angel hair pasta was really only fair, the pasta a little undercooked though the prawns were good (1/5).  Similarly desserts were around 2/5 only: chocolate sponge served with chocolate ice cream and passion fruit sorbet, floating islands, a raspberry tart (best dish) with vanilla cream, and a creme brulee, and a chunk of mango, some lychees and some cherries (all in good condition).  2/5 for desserts overall.   There was also the vile blue cheese and vanilla bavarois, an idea that should have stayed locked away in the kitchen if ever there was one.   A mixed meal with real touches of brilliance on show.  There is a great wine list, with even Krug by the glass, but the matching wines were rather disappointing - stick to a bottle you like.  Also, don’t forget that you are allowed to bring your own wine at no corkage, an opportunity to drink something serious.


Coffee was good with rich chocolate truffles and squares of chocolate with nuts (3/5), bread rather ordinary (bought in, really only 1/5).  Service was very good.  The menu here was identical to the last visit, and dishes off this menu were noticeably less good, so I wonder how wide his abilities stretch - cooking the same dish for lunch and dinner every day for two years gives you plenty of chance to practice.  Still probably the best restaurant in town - certainly with the most original cooking. . Last visited February 1997.




Food rating: 5/10 

Friday 31st Jan 1997

107 George Street, The Rocks

Phone (00 61 2) 9252 1888

Open lunch: Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat


Flash atmosphere - very fashionable clientele.   Starter of harbour prawn lasagne with asparagus and marsala had layers of natural lasagne pasta topped with black pasta containing whole tender prawns and sauce reminiscent of the tian of crab at The Canteen (3/5).  Starter of tiger prawns in goat cheese ravioli featured burnt butter - again tender prawns with fresh goat cheese taste, slightly rich (2*/5 despite the butter). 


Stella had John Dory with Indian bread (paratha) and tomato sauce laced with coriander - a decent 2/5.  Roast duck was pleasant.  Chocolate orange mousse cake was odd in that the majority of the dessert was chocolate mousse, in which there were pockets of raw egg white.  This sat on a base of thin chocolate sponge with thick slices of orange peel (2/5).


Overall a better meal tonight than my last one here.  Best dish was a passion fruit soufflé with passion fruit ice cream - (3/5).  Main problem is the high price - over GBP 70 per head, and though service was good it is all a bit precious.  Last visited January 1997.



Quay (used to be Bilsons)

Food rating: 6/10 

Tuesday 4/2/97

Circular Quay West

Phone (00 61 2) 9251 5600

Open, lunch Sun-Fri, dinner daily


On Circular Quay itself, with a marvellous view over the harbour.  Starter nibble of cream cheese with chives on a tiny round of toast (4/5).  Ex Robuchon trained chef.  A starter of tuna was very finely judged, served with a sauce of oriental spices and Chinese cabbage - excellent.  Ravioli of prawn and truffle was excellent, with a fine prawn sauce - 4/5 for this dish.  Good service - easily the most consistent of the trip.


Starter of marinated salmon with a delicious salad of "mache" leaves in a "how do they do that?" French dressing (3*/5).  Main course of beautifully cooked John Dory with a smooth but slightly bland pea puree and crispy allumette (match-stick) potatoes 4/5.  With wonderful mashed potatoes a la Robuchon 4/5. 


For dessert, peach mousse with peach sauce had good texture with pieces of peach, but was a little bland (3/5).  We drank Craig Avon Chardonnay (unoaked)  One of the best three meals of the trip, along with Cicada and Tetsuya.  Last visited February 1997.



Bathers Pavilion

Food rating: 1/10

Wednesday 5/2/1997

4 the Esplanade, Balmoral

Phone (00 61 2) 9968 1133

Open lunch and dinner daily (also breakfast at weekends from 9:00 a.m.)


Lovely view over Balmoral beach, though the building itself is rather faded and weather beaten.  1/5 overall which given a price tag of GBP 60 per head for lunch is pretty excessive.  You are paying for the great view.


Garlic bruschetta was full of garlic but a bit too olive-oily.  Prawn and coriander roll was adequate but with an overcooked outer skin, served with excellent cucumber relish marinated in French dressing with dill.  A blue cheese tart was good, with light pastry and creamy very cheesy filling, served with a rather ordinary onion and fig chutney.  A barramundi was served as a Thai style curry, and this was pretty good, offered with "flatbread", a sort of popadom effect served with chutney. 


Grey snapper was served with green mango slivers and bean sprouts, with a sweet potato cake (too stodgy and bland) and an excellent sweet chilli sauce, with plenty of bite (3/5).  Accompanying button mushrooms were pleasant.


Hazelnut waffles were served with poached apricots and praline ice cream, -pleasant rather than inspiring.  We drank Mount Mary Chardonnay.  Last visited February 1997.




Food Rating: 3/10

Thursday 6/2/97

Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point

Phone (00 61 2) 9250 7548 and 9250 7578

Open  dinner only, Mon-Sat


In the Opera House itself.  Starter nibbles of small choux puffs with cheese sauce (2/5).  A difficult menu, with a tricky set of ingredients.  There is a wonderful view over the harbour, with pleasant but very slow service.  On the night we went the air conditioning was unable to cope and condensation was dripping down the windows.  It has a rather eccentric menu that is trying to be bold but is just unappealing.


For starter I had a reasonable quail ballotine.  Stella was unable to find a starter she wanted to eat.  Plain French bread 2/5.  Mahi mahi with a peppercorn and soumek crust, on a bed of sliced carrots, served with puree of yet more carrots, curried.  This was very good, nearly 3/5.  For dessert, Stella had a summer padding served with a syllabub steeped in alcohol (2/5).  I had a passion fruit Bavarian cream (= cake) with passion fruit sauce, which was OK 2/5.  Coffee was fair 2/5, served with dry meringues containing peanuts (not very appetising).   Piper Brook Pinot Gris and Wilton Estate Semillon were the wines tried.  Last visited February 1997.



Bel Mondo, the Rocks 

Friday 7/2//97

Food Rating: 1/10  


Very pretentious up market Italian with ever-so-precious service that could have been transported direct from Florence.  Bread was dull, lacking salt and with little taste, though it came with quite decent olives.  The service experience started with the offer of "a glass of champagne or .....”  and the implication that to drink anything else would be too awful to contemplate.  A starter of tagliatelle with artichokes was the best dish, nice pasta with good artichokes 2/5.  The other starter of prawn cutlet was three large prawns flattened, coated in breadcrumbs, deep-fried and served with rocket and garlic mayonnaise, all competent but altogether too greasy 2/5.  Main course barramundi upon a bed of lentils and tomato was not correctly cooked, barely 1/5.  John Dory was pan-fried correctly, served with large green olive slices and green beans, and fresh chopped tomatoes 1/5.  Roast potatoes were served cold, and sent back once but still poor (minus marks here).   A "sculpture of chocolate" had decent enough bits of chocolate, but a vile noodle arrangement in the middle - like a well known Jewish dessert lokschen pudding, but much less satisfactory (round-up standard overall).  A peach tart was much better with a poached peach in vanilla custard in a thin short-crust pastry (3*/5 so far) spoilt by being served with a slab of ricotta with burnt caramelised sugar (presumably not intended to be burnt) on top (overall 2/5).  Coffee was OK, served with chunks if panforte and what looked like deep fried wontons dusted with icing sugar (1/5), and the wine list was excellent.


Guigal Chateau Neuf du Pape and de Bortoli Noble One were the wines we tried.  Last visited February 1997.



The Pier

Food Rating: 2/10 

Saturday 8/2/1997

594 New South Head Road, Rose Bay

Phone (00 61 2) 9327 6561

Open lunch and dinner daily


Nice setting on a pier in Rose bay, a 15 dollar cab ride from the centre.  The dining room is long and narrow, and is rather noisy due to the uncovered wooden floor.  Starters were mixed: a salmon mousse had a stringy texture and hardly any flavour behind the salmon itself, on a bed of rocket and deep fried capers, this was really only a round-up.  Yet slices of salmon "pastrami", were very lightly smoked, with peppercorns at the edge, and utterly delicious, easily 3/5.  Both were served with lightly toasted "rye" (wholemeal) bread - the first decent bread of the trip.  For main course, my yellowfin tuna was rare, pleasant enough, with some rather dull boiled potatoes - a sauce was needed.   Stella had fried fish in insipid batter with chips, which were decent but no more than that.  Home made tartare sauce was excellent though (3/5).  Again, barely 1/5 for these main dishes overall. 


Just one dessert was tried, and this was very fine, a perfect passion fruit soufflé with passion fruit sorbet, again 3/5 and at least as good as that at the Rockpool a few days earlier.  Wine list was good, a good sommelier recommended 1991 Seppelt pinot noir, which as quite Burgundian and delicious - buy some if you ever see it.  This place was very hard to mark, but around 1*/5 may be correct, veering between round up and 3/5.  Service was OK but a little inattentive, other than the excellent sommelier/wine waiter.  Coffee and English breakfast tea was served with a small almond biscuit.  Last visited February 1997.



The Wockpool

Food Rating: 3/10

Sunday 9/2/1997

155 Victoria Street, Potts Point

Phone (00 61 2) 9368 1771

Open dinner only, daily


A pleasant room in modern style in Potts Point, delivering a meal of unfulfilled promise.  Starters were "larb of cod", a Thai-style dish of small pieces of cod mixed in with green vegetables, leaves, peanuts and lemon grass in a spicy sweet chilli sauce.  This was a stunning dish, the chilli sauce avoiding any sense of cloyingness, the tastes distinct (3/5).  King prawns were very delicately cooked, served with delicate snow peas (mange tout) and sweetcorn, in a fine soy-based sauce (2*/5).  Sadly the meal could not keep up the momentum.  A main course of chicken with chilli sauce suffered from overcooked chicken (barely 1/5) while a whole steamed snapper, served with garlic and spring onions in a soy sauce, was pleasant enough but lacked any real impact (1*/5). 


Desserts tried were honey and cinnamon cake (1*/5) with pieces of fruit (melon, pineapple, blueberries, blackberries) in a raspberry coulis.  The other was ginger creme brulee with sesame biscuit, served with the same fruit garnish (2/5), the biscuit pushing 3/5.  Coffee was decent but unremarkable, while boiled rice was competent enough.  We drank Gerwurtztraminer from Moorilla Estate, which was a very good Tasmanian wine.  Service was quite good (2/5).  Overall 2/5.  Tim Adams botrytis-affected Semillon was the dessert wine. Last visited February 1997.




Level 41

Food Rating: 5/10

Level 41, The Chifley Tower, 2 Chifley Square

Phone (00 61 2) 9221 2500

Open lunch: Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat


Despite (or perhaps because) its featuring in the movie The Matrix, the food is getting more erratic on recent visits.  Unlike a previous meal 5 months previously, the service was poor - slow and forgetful.  Bread was ordinary (1/5).  The starter (we both had the same) was the best dish: tagliatelle in a champagne sauce with shreds of black truffle and good Parmesan.  The pasta was excellent, the truffle lending a lovely aroma - 4/5 would not be too high a mark for this.


Sadly everything went down from here.  Beef fillet was decent enough, on a bed of mash but with some rather overcooked mushrooms and a jus that lacked intensity (2/5 only).  Prawns with "potato waistcoats" were prawns wrapped in a thin sheet of potato and deep fried.  The prawns were tender enough, but the stir-fried beansprouts onions and cabbage accompanying them were burnt (1/5).  Preceding this was a little cup of chicken soup with lemongrass (2/5).  A dessert of truffle cake with raspberries and a raspberry coulis had good texture and flavour (3/5), while fruit sorbets (strawberry, kiwi fruit and mango) were in a millefeuille arrangement where the sesame biscuit layer was too hard, and surrounded by fresh fruit (mango, strawberry, blackberries, blueberries, kiwi fruit) and passion fruit sauce (2/5 at best).  Coffee was good, with a large espresso for once meaning that (coffee 3/5).  Petit fours comprised a tasteless Madeleine, a square of chocolate-coloured sponge which was also tasteless, and a biscuit containing raisins, which was good (1/5).  Service was 1/5 only, the wine list very fine but with no sommelier.  Penfolds Magill Estate 1986 was very good, followed by Noble One de Bortoli (good as ever). Very expensive at GBP 85/head, as to an extent you are paying for the fine view from the top floor of the skyscraper over Sydney.  It seems to be popular for power lunches for the affluent business community.  Last visited February 1997.




None of the culinary dynamism of Sydney seems to have caught on in Melbourne, which is still dominated by old-fashioned French cooking and generally disappointing ethnic food.  There is great rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, and Melbourne residents have the amusing habit of claiming that restaurants in Melbourne are better than those in Sydney.  Fortunately we know that Australians have a good sense of humour, so I just put it down to one of their little jokes.  Generally Melbourne has a good range of cheap, unpretentious places, around the 1/10 level, but virtually nothing higher.  Decent and unpretentious is Stella’s (2/10) a simple modern Australian place.  Vietnamese food can be found in two districts, but avoid the mainstream ones, which cater for ignorant westerners rather than for Vietnamese.  The best Vietnamese I tried is the Gate, 545 Church Street, Richmond (a suburb of Melbourne ten minutes cab ride from the centre) phone 00 61 3 9428 5127.  Jacques Raymonds and Stephanies were supposedly the top-notch places, but both went to the home of pretentious restaurants in the sky.  They were respectively hopelessly pretentious and just ordinary.  The Chinese restaurant the Flower Drum was rated highest in 1999, and it is decent enough – maybe 2/10 in Good Food Guide terms; fairly posh/expensive by Melbourne standards.  Mask of China is harmless (1/10).



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