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FOOD & DRINK

Sydney's Best New Restaurants of 2019

These are the places that you need to try — or revisit — as soon as you can.
By Concrete Playground
January 08, 2020
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Sydney's Best New Restaurants of 2019

These are the places that you need to try — or revisit — as soon as you can.
By Concrete Playground
January 08, 2020
  shares

SYDNEY'S BEST NEW RESTAURANTS OF 2019

These are the places that you need to try — or revisit — as soon as you can.

It feels like it whipped past quicker than you can pick up a pair of chopsticks, but 2019 is done and dusted. Thankfully, while it was here, it brought with it a huge collection of worthy new restaurants and culinary hot-spots. Opening their doors in the year that was, we saw everything from an Australiana burger joint to an all-vegan pasta restaurant and an underground French bistro and live jazz spot from the Mary's crew.

Here's our wrap-up of all the best new Sydney restaurants that impressed us in 2019 — make sure you tick them off before 2020's list starts shaping up.

  • 10

    The folks behind Restaurant HubertFrankie’s and Shady Pines Saloon did the time warp again with its 2019 restaurant: a 70s-inspired enoteca in Surry Hills. Called Alberto Lounge, the retro eatery has teak shelving, chocolate-coloured carpet and buff stucco walls hung with framed poster art. While the decor may be unashamedly old school, don’t expect to find foil-wrapped garlic bread on the menu or curly parsley garnishes on your spag bol. Gran maestro himself Dan Pepperell (Restaurant Hubert, 10 William StreetAttica) has created an Italo-Australian menu that focuses on Roman cuisine, with the lineup including barbecued veal tonguespaghetti loaded with crispy guanciale lardons and a creamy cheese and pepper gnocchi. The spiced Roman-style tripe — yes, tripe — is also a highlight and definitely worth trying (at least once). Alberto also takes its vino seriously, as you can probably guess from the wine menu-slash-manuscript, which has been painstakingly arranged by colour and weight. The list also includes a bright yellow section in the middle for nebbiolo, simply because “nebbiolo is awesome” explains our waiter. He’s not wrong, Alberto’s nebbiolo is awesome. As is its food, hell, even its decor. Alberto is certainly one hip joint.

    Image: Kitti Gould.

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  • 9

    A burger joint? Yep. But it’s not any old burger joint. Run by Grant Lawn, this Redfern hole-in-the-wall is using its food to bring the Australian bush back to the forefront of Sydney’s dining landscape. The menu is small (really small), but there isn’t an item that isn’t appealing. Cheeseburgers, chips, curried kangaroo party pies and fairy bread and butter pudding — it’s as if the menu from your sixth birthday party got a revamp. The American-style cheeseburger at Bush is also very good. It’s certainly not Australian, but Lawn said they had to put it on the menu because “that’s what Aussies want”. For the meat-free folk, there’s also a mean mushroom burger. Lawn, who briefly studied landscape architecture before turning his focus to cooking, has combined his two talents by landscaping a restaurant to resemble the Australian bush he grew up in. The space is filled with roughly cut stools and long wooden tables, native Australian plants adorn the tables and you’ll spot stuffed toy versions of native Australian fauna hidden around, too.

    Image: Kitti Gould.

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  • 8

    Bondi Road welcomed a small but exciting newcomer to its ranks when tiny restaurant Peppe’s opened its doors in 2019. The 40-square-metre Italian joint is slinging a simple pasta menu and natural wines by the glass. Oh, and it’s all vegan. Owners Joe Pagliaro and Grace Watson (of Waterloo’s vegan fine diner Paperbark) have created a venue that’s regularly full, thanks to its community feel, laid-back vibe and consistently great fare. That food, created by Joel Bennetts, is mostly pasta, made in-house daily, of course, with a special focus on the gnocchi. To complement the pasta, there are rotating salads and sides on offer. The house tiramisu is, thankfully, a permanent fixture on the menu. On the drinks side, the wine menu focuses on local and sustainable drops, as well as Italian labels courtesy of Fun Wines — an Aussie wine importer run by the highly lauded Giorgio de Maria (of the now-closed 121BC and Vini). As far as Italian restaurants go, Peppe’s is trying to keep the price point down, too, with a pasta dish, side and glass of wine adding up to around $40.

    Image: Kitti Gould

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  • 7

    Chica Bonita CBD is the sister venue to Manly’s much-loved neighbourhood eatery, which has been serving up Mexican street food since 2012. It’s a distinct change in scenery. With 100 seats inside a high-ceilinged heritage-listed building on Clarence Street, Chica Bonita CBD is twice the size of — and worlds away from — the original diner on The Corso. What’s not different is Chica Bonita’s laidback feel. Or its fish tacos. Or its margaritas. Different from the usual Mexican-inspired decor of bright colours, skulls and flowers, the space has an earthy colour that is subtle and calming, with pot plants adding pops of greenery.  Heading the kitchen is Mexican chef Alejandro Huerta, who trained under Enrique Olbera at Pujol in Mexico City, which was last year ranked the number 13 restaurant in the World’s 50 Best. You can still tuck into fish tacos with baja sauce, cabbage, coriander and lime but, there’s also baby corn with fermented chilli mayo, an oaxaca cheese and saltbush tamale and a mole pork belly with fermented kale and charcoal king prawns. Drinks wise, grab Chica Bonita’s legendary jalapeño margarita, a mezcal sour or choose from a next level international wine list.

    Image: Kitti Gould

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  • 6

    When long-running live jazz spot The Basement announced it was closing, a wave of sadness rippled through the Sydney live music community. But then hospo duo Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham stepped in and opened Mary’s Underground. It’s probably not what you expected from the Mary’s crew: there are no burgers on the menu (though you can find them upstairs at Mary’s CQ) and it’s more of an eat-with-cutlery situation. Here, you can do dinner and a show as well as just a drop-in drink on a rowdy night out. The venue keeps The Basement’s commitment to live music going, with gigs running every night except Sunday (when the bar is closed) and the menu has a distinct French vibe. Unlike at Mary’s, you won’t be able to get a meal for less than 20 bucks here. But if money is no object, try a serve of the Tasmanian sea urchin, duck live parfait on Cherry Moon sourdough or rotisserie duck with cherries. On the wine side of things, award-winning sommelier Caitlyn Rees — whose accolades include the 2018 Gourmet Traveller Sommelier of the Year — has designed an extensive eight-page wine booklet (which includes a whopping 37 bottles of chardonnay) and every bit of it is organic or biodynamic.

    Image: James Adams

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  • 5

    Pyrmont’s atmospheric new addition, Chuuka, is the brainchild of two of Australia’s top chefs: Sydney’s chef Chase Kojima (SokyoGojima) and Victor Liong (Melbourne’s Lee Ho Fook). The name means “Chinese” in Japanese, so expect an amalgamation of flavours and traditional cooking techniques. Don’t be mistaken though, this menu goes well beyond your standard Asian fusion. Feast on ebi chilli, which is a Japanese version of a Szechuan dish that is very popular in Japan, with stir-fried prawns dosed in chilli miso butter and served with a Japanese milk buns for dipping, tempura yuzu chiken, wagyu short rib or garlicky smashed cucumbers. Whatever, you order you’ll get playful and innovative dishes that are unlike much else in Sydney. Drinkswise, there are seasonal cocktails and a lengthy wine list. Despite being an upscale restaurant, the vibe is fun and casual — so expect a buzzing atmosphere and plenty of nooks to dine in. Downstairs, the 60-seat dining room, wine room and outdoor bar all boast million-dollar views of the harbour. You’ll also find a 70-seat dining room upstairs, which overlooks the main restaurant.

    Image: Steven Woodburn

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  • 4

    The duo behind Love, Tilly Devine and Dear Sainte Éloise, Matthew Swieboda and Nathanial Hatwell, has teamed up with chef Scott Williams (Bacco Osteria e Espresso, MoVida) and front-of-house star Felix Colman (Dear Sainte Éloise) to open Angel Place’s new pasta joint and minimal-intervention wine bar: Ragazzi. The 38-seat wine bar features textured concrete walls, leather banquette seating and a ten-seat, wraparound brass bar. It serves up daily-changing wines by the glass, along with a whopping 300 by the bottle — so there really is a heap to choose from. To round it all out (or kick-start it all), there are also 20 different amari and aperitifs. Alongside the natural wines is a succinct food menu that changes regularly and showcases regional Italian pasta dishes. Expect the likes of agnolotti dal plin served in a broth with white asparagus, maltagliati with cuttlefish and broad beans, and cavatelli with pipis and sausage. The sausage is made in-house using whichever meat is available on the day. This focus on no-waste and nose-to-tail eating is present throughout the menu, with Williams sourcing whole cuts of meat and breaking them down to create a range of dishes.

    Images: Nikki To for Buffet

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  • 3

    Chefs Mike Eggert (Mr Liquor’s Dirty Italian Disco, Pinbone) and Khan Danis (who worked at Rockpool for 20 years) are heading up the kitchen of the Totti’s, a casual Mediterranean-style eatery serving up pasta aplenty, woodfired breads and classic Italian cocktails. Opening inside the new-look Royal, the long-running Bondi pub acquired by Merivale in 2017, it’s plating up a more mature version of the food served at Dirty Disco — the six-month pop-up at The Tennyson Hotel, and the first collab between Eggert and Merivale. Cooked-to-order Italian flatbreads come straight from the woodfired oven to the table, to rip and tear alongside small plates of house-made charcuterie and Italian cheeses. Pasta, a focus at Dirty Disco, is also central to the food offering here, with dishes like rigatoni with milk-braised pork belly and lamb ragu. A josper oven (part grill, part oven) fires most of the proteins, including fish, Bannockburn chicken and schnitzels charred to perfection. Another aspect of the eatery similar to Dirty Disco is the drinks. The pub’s in-house bottle shop allows the eatery to have an extensive wine list, with house wines, naturals, biodynamics and higher-end varieties, all available by the carafe.

    Image: Nikki To

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  • 2

    Dimitri’s Pizzeria and its eye-catching red-and-white sign had been a permanent fixture on Crown Street since the 70s; while it moved once (around 20 years ago), it had never left the strip — until last year. The Surry Hills pizza stalwart uprooted its tables (literally) and relocated to Oxford Street, setting up shop in the building previously home to Hunky Dory Social Club. Right now, it’s just operating on the ground floor, but it plans to occupy all three levels — meaning the pizzeria will eventually grow six times in size. On the ground floor, it’s the pretty much the same old Dimitri’s, but bigger and better. Owners Ken Williams and Drew Huston have finally gotten their hands on a woodfired pizza oven and are making the type of pizza they’ve been wanting to do for a long time. The dough is similar to that of Neapolitan-style pizzas, but toppings are proudly untraditional. You’ll find brussels sprouts, honey (from Williams’ mum’s beehive), radicchio, rainbow chard and even corn atop the pies. To drink, you’ll find Grifter beer on tap and all-natural wines — including the likes of Das Juice, Gut Oggau and Delinquente. You eat and drink all of this on the old Dimitri’s tables — which have been repurposed by Williams’ brother Lex, a furniture builder and designer — surrounded by exposed brick walls, art, fairy lights and the restaurant’s namesake: a striking red neon Dimitri.

    Image: Kimberley Low

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  • 1

    Cafe Paci, the highly lauded Darlinghurst pop-up circa 2013, has made its grand return. Award-winning Finnish chef Pasi Petänen (QuayFour In Hand, Marque) has opened a permanent restaurant along one of Sydney’s busiest strips — Newtown’s King Street. While the original pop-up was set-menu only, the new Cafe Paci is instead a la carte, which means you can stop in for a quick bar snack and cocktail combo, or enjoy oysters with your glass of wine. But, for the full experience, nab a seat in the dining room. A few of the original fan-favourite menu items have returned — like the house potato and molasses bread and the liquorice cake with carrot sorbet and yoghurt mousse — but expect most of the dishes to be brand new. A few standouts include potato dumplings with trout XO sauce, pickled kingfish with potatoes and pan-fried flounder florentine sauce. The paris-brest (a French dessert) that’s been given a savoury twist with chicken liver and onion jam is already an Instagram star in its own right, too. For drinks, renowned sommelier Giorgio De Maria (Vini, 121BC) has created the wine list, which focuses on small producers. Topping it off, bartender Angus Burton (Spirit People, ex-Canvas) has consulted on the cocktail list. The interior has been designed by George Livissianis and pulls inspiration from Paris, Berlin and Helsinki.

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Top image: Totti’s by Nikki To

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