Can sightseeing and good food go hand in hand? Find out how you can enjoy some of Sydney's best cuisine, without straying away from the tourist trail
One of the most difficult things for a foodie, when travelling to a city for the first time, is the undeniable truth that - generally speaking - tourism and gastronomy are unlikely bedfellows. Too often the laws that be (read capitalism, big bucks, corporate cheese) make overpriced, average food the norm when seeing the big attractions in most popular tourist destinations. This is what we expect to find and so, as tourists, we accept that this as our fate… but is it? Dig a little deeper, and I am sure you will find that locals are just as keen to enjoy the highlights of their hometowns as the average tourist.
I grew up in Sydney and spent a joyous month filling my belly there over the Christmas break. At the same time I was playing tour guide to my English boyfriend who was in Australia for the first time. Suddenly the sights were skyrocketed back up the itinerary to sit, almost, akin with pleasures of the palate.
Day one: Must-see sights - Harbour Bride and Opera House
Tourist appeal: 10/10
Good food possibilities: 10/10
Yep, that’s right. Some of the city’s best restaurants overlook Sydney’s most famous vista. Is that really so hard to believe? Even locals can appreciate a view like that!
Big decisions were at hand. Since it was his first day, I wanted to make sure it was a special lunch. Sadly, my first choice (Quay) was booked out – good tip when dining out in Sydney around Christmas, plan ahead and make a booking – so we headed to Café Sydney instead (5th Floor, Customs House, Alfred St; +61 (0)2 9251 8683; www.cafesydney.com).
Café is a bit of a misnomer - expect white tablecloths, seamless service and an interesting modern menu, which is well executed, if a little overpriced. What you are paying for here is the view, which is arguably one of the best you’ll come across. If you can’t afford to eat, go for an afternoon cocktail on the terrace while the waiters are setting up for dinner. There’s a long list with as many new ideas, as there are classics.
For the record, I managed to get a booking with Quay (Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks; +61 (0)2 9251 5600; www.quay.com.au) in the New Year and can make the following first hand assessment: immaculate service, great view, extensive wine list. The food was also very good, but lacked some of the innovative flair I would expect of a new entry to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. If you go for lunch the prices are extremely reasonable for a restaurant of this calibre (two courses, AU$75; three courses, AU$95).
Where to eat on a budget
I realise that the focus here has been a little swayed towards fine dining, this is a foodie’s guide after all, but there are plenty of options for those who need to watch their pennies. Here are some of my top picks:
The Sailor’s Thai Canteen (106 George St, The Rocks; +61 (0)2 9251 2466; sailorsthai.com.au/canteen.html). Set in a lovely terrace building, adjoining the restaurant of the same name. It aims to provide “Thailand’s best street & alley food at its best … and most relaxed”.
Azuma (Level 1, Chifley Plaza, 2 Chifley Square, cnr of Phillip and Hunter Sts; +61 (0)2 9222 9960; www.azuma.com.au/chifley/home.php). At lunch time, bento boxes in this top Japanese restaurant start from $36, a chance to sample some of Azuma’s signature dishes for a fraction of the price it would cost you at dinner.
Ripples (Olympic Drive, Milsons Point; +61 (0)2 9929 7722; www.aquadining.com.au/aqua_ripples_cafe_restaurant.htm). On the other side of the bridge, a pleasant ferry ride from Circular Quay, Ripples offers a view to rival any of Sydney’s top waterfront restaurants. However, unlike its counterparts, the location is not reflected in the food prices, and it’s bring your own bottle policy brings the bill down even further.
Day two: Must do - buy food for Christmas day
Tourist appeal: amazingly 10/10
Where: Sydney Fish Market
Numerous tourists flock to the Sydney Fish Market (www.sydneyfishmarket.com.au) each year and I think I can safely say that nine out of 10 of them make the following mistakes:
- Eating at Doyle’s Seafood Restaurant; or
- Opting for fish and chips from one of the take away outlets on the pier.
I am sure any self-respecting foodie can work out for themselves that the best way to ‘do’ the fish market is to come armed with wet wipes and a bib and instead buy fresh oysters, sashimi and half a kilo of prawns. You will be just as welcome on the pier, although you may incite jealousy in curious onlookers; “why didn’t I think of that?” they are wondering.
If getting your fingers dirty isn’t your thing, there is a very nice dim sum restaurant on the top floor of the main building, away from all the chaos of the market downstairs (Fisherman’s Wharf Seafood Restaurant; +61 (0)2 9660 9888; www.fishermanswharf.com.au). The various seafood gowgee (dumplings) are among the freshest I’ve tried; go figure, the fish in the tank are for eating, not just looking pretty.
Day three: Bondi beach
Tourist appeal: 10/10
Food possibilities: Endless
Bondi is popular with backpackers, beach bums and the glitterati alike, so it caters for all tastes (and budgets).
At the top-end are Iceberg’s Dining Room and Bar (1 Notts Ave, Bondi Beach; +61 (0)2 9365 9000; www.idrb.com/icebergs/index2.htm) and Sean’s Panorama (270 Campbell Pde, Bondi Beach; +61 (0)2 9365 4924; www.seanspanaroma.com.au).
Iceberg’s is a super trendy, modern Italian joint. It errs on the pretentious side, with prices to match, but as they point out on their website, the “inspired cuisine” and “uninterrupted views of the wonderous Bondi Beach” make it worth splashing a bit of extra cash for a “unique” experience.
Sean’s Panorama is more down to earth, focussing less on glamour and location, and more, in Chef Sean Moran’s own words, on “honest, flavoursome cooking”. Most of the ingredients are sourced from Sean’s own farm in the Blue Mountains, and, as such, the menu always reflects the seasons, changing daily.
Somewhere in the middle (price wise) sits Pompei’s (126-130 Roscoe St, Bondi Beach; +61 (0)2 9365 1233), which in December 2009 was rated among the top 10 gelato bars by Stephanie Clifford Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald. Gelato is certainly a must, but they also do great pizza.
Do you prefer fish and chips? Voted as having produced Sydney’s best chip and with gourmet fish options galore, Mongers is a foodie’s best bet (42 Hal St, Bondi Beach; + 61 (0)2 9365 2205; mongers.com.au/bondi.html). Or try Oporto’s iconic Bondi burger on the beach from which it takes its name (www.oporto.com.au).
After all that food, time for a snooze!
As a local, I cannot claim to be an expert on Sydney’s accommodation, but I can recommend a few places via word of mouth.
Budget - The Sydney Central YHA, as the name suggests, is a good location from which to explore. With a heated pool, sauna and rooftop terrace, this is backpacker accommodation at its best.
Mid-range – A Travelodge is always a safe bet for somewhere clean and comfortable at a reasonable price. Of the three in Sydney, Travelodge Wynyard is the best positioned for exploring the sights.
Top-end – I did a short stint working at the Marriott Hotel Sydney Harbour over a university summer break. Backing onto Circular Quay, this five-star hotel offers all the luxury you’d expect and is popular among celebrities visiting Sydney.
Tourism and gastronomy may make strange bedfellows, but aren’t all the best love affairs the one’s that you least expect?