It’s Sydney, too, where you’ll find Japanese chefs breaking new ground with Tasmanian sea urchin and Queensland-grown bamboo shoots, where Cantonese visitors thrill to Australian beef and abalone, and where you’ll find the deepest pho and the freshest som tum outside Vietnam and Thailand, respectively. Long recognized as one of the Anglophone world’s capitals of Asian dining, Sydney also has thriving Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean scenes, which complement a Chinese food culture that supports several sizable Chinatowns. It’s a telling indication of this town’s appetite for ever more interesting Asian eats that Neil Perry’s new blockbuster restaurant, Spice Temple, looks for inspiration not to Canton but to Hunan, Shanxi, Xinjiang, and Yunnan. Try finding the likes of quail relish with steamed egg custard or tea-smoked duck breast with pickled cabbage and Chinese mustard alongside a world-class wine list in another city—even in China.
The unrelenting smarts and sense of fun of Melbourne’s modern masters can’t be denied, but they look like they’re playing it safe when you compare their work to the kind of punch and refinement exhibited by Sydney’s red-haute top players. The pork belly with green-lip abalone, handmade tofu, and chive flowers at Quay comes to mind, as does the almond jelly with crab, almond gazpacho, prune oil, and sweet-corn custard at Marque. At Est., Peter Doyle’s steamed coral trout with shaved abalone, cucumber, and ginger vinaigrette is peerless.
The trend toward white-tablecloth food and interesting wine in less formal surrounds is also in good health here. At Bentley, you can sit at the bar drinking Austrian Pinot Noir while you savor jamón ibérico priced by the sensuous slice or smoked-eel parfait with white soy; nod your head to Royal Crown Revue at Bodega while you hit the small plates of house-made chorizo and chunky toasts topped with raw mackerel and cuttlefish; or squeeze yourself onto the tiny three-legged stools of the hothouse known as Billy Kwong and work your way through celeb chef Kylie Kwong’s neo-Cantonese takes on red braised-beef brisket with shoyu dressing and crisp-skinned chicken with brown-rice vinegar. Yes, we like to party.
If the best of new-world cuisine is about richness and diversity of influence and freedom of invention tempered by an understanding of tradition, this is it. Melbourne likes to draw comparisons with Sydney, but Sydney’s restaurateurs measure themselves against London, New York, and Paris. If only those cities had some beaches worth a damn.
Sydney Address Book
Bentley Restaurant and Bar 320 Crown St., Surry Hills (02-9332-2344; thebentley.com.au)
Berowra Waters Inn Berowra Waters (02-9456-1027; berowrawatersinn.com)
Billy Kwong 3/355 Crown St., Surry Hills (02-9332-3300; kyliekwong.org)
The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay End of Ferry Rd., Glebe (02-9518-9011; boathouse.net.au)
Bodega Tapas Restaurant 216 Commonwealth St., Surry Hills (02-9212-7766; bodegatapas.com)
Est. Level 1, Establishment, 252 George St. (02-9240-3010; merivale.com)
Fish Face 132 Darlinghurst Rd., Darlinghurst (02-9332-4803; fishface.com.au)
Golden Century Seafood Restaurant 393-399 Sussex St., Haymarket (02-9212-3901; goldencentury.com.au)
Guillaume at Bennelong Sydney Opera House (02-9241-1999; guillaumeatbennelong.com.au)
Icebergs Dining Room and Bar 1 Notts Ave., Bondi Beach (02-9365-9000; idrb.com/icebergs)
Marque Restaurant 4/5 355 Crown St., Surry Hills (02-9332-2225; marquerestaurant.com.au)
North Bondi Italian Food 118–120 Ramsgate Ave., North Bondi (02-9300-4400; idrb.com/northbondi)
Pier 594 New South Head Rd., Rose Bay (02-9327-6561; pierrestaurant.com.au)
Pilu at Freshwater End of Moore Rd., Harbord (02-9938-3331; piluatfreshwater.com.au)
Quay Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay West (02-9251-5600; quay.com.au)
Rockpool 107 George St., The Rocks (02-9252-1888; rockpool.com)
Sean’s Panaroma 270 Campbell St., Bondi Beach (02-9365-4924; seanspanarama.com.au)
Spice Temple 10 Bligh St. (02-8078-1888; rockpool.com.au/sydney/spice-temple.html)