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Sydney's Best Tapas Bars

Here you can relax with a sangria in one hand and a tasty Spanish snack in the other.
By Concrete Playground
August 29, 2018

Sydney's Best Tapas Bars

Here you can relax with a sangria in one hand and a tasty Spanish snack in the other.
By Concrete Playground
August 29, 2018


Here you can relax with a sangria in one hand and a tasty Spanish snack in the other.

These bite-sized Spanish morsels are a cure-all for many situations. Not quite dinnertime? Eat tapas. Have a later-than-usual restaurant reservation? Hunt down tapas. Trying to avoid entering a full-blown carb coma? Tapas.

They're perfect for staving off hunger and for pairing with a carafe of sangria or a glass of refreshing manzanilla sherry. And, luckily, you don't have to jump on a plane to Europe to find quality tapas, either: Sydney has an impressive ever-growing collection of Spanish restaurants.

You'll find pintxos (skewered bites from northern Spain) in Surry Hills, tapas paired with cava in Bondi and Moorish (and moreish) bites underground in the CBD. Here's a list of our favourite tapas spots around the city.

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    Spanish tapas culture is reimagined with flavours from all over the Mediterranean for Merivale’s vibrant new culinary offering, Bar Topa. Opening in late July on Palings Lane, in the Ivy’s dining precinct, the pint-sized tapas bar has just a handful of seats, with standing room for around 40 diners. Perching with a wine in hand and snacks to share is the way to go here, just like in Spain’s tapas bars.

    In the kitchen, Head Chef Lauren Murdoch is heading up a two-part, snack-heavy food offering. Displayed at the counter, you’ll find small bites like whipped salted cod, or sliced jamón on crisp bread, while the tapas menu features a heftier selection of dishes hot off la plancha — the Spanish-style grill. Expect plates of sautéed chicken livers, cuttlefish cooked with parsley, garlic and olive oil, whole sardines, and of course, that classic patatas bravas.

    Image: Nikki To

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    Darlinghurst’s Sagra is one of the unheralded gems of Sydney’s dining scene — a rustic, unpretentious, unfailingly delicious take on regional Italian with a small, all-killer no-filler menu and staff who provide a lightness of touch. Ortzi, a Surry Hills venture by the same team, essentially replicates that formula but with the distinctive, homespun flavours of Basque cuisine.

    The room doesn’t have the natural warmth of Sagra’s, but staff are friendly and the vibe is agreeably low-key, with small plates made for sharing and a range of pintxos, the bite-sized, flavoursome snack food popular across Basque country. The salt cod croquettes ($5), one of the cuisine’s enduring staples, is a must from the pintxos selection, with all golden coating and pillowy soft texture — as is a simply presented plate of jamón ibérico ($20) packs deep, sweet flavours into tissue-thin strips.

    Image: Alana Dimou

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    The Can Cava team, who’s come straight from Barcelona, is turning out some seriously tasty versions of northern Spanish bar eats — pintxos — in an effort to bring some more authentic small-plate eating to the Aussie palate. The venue is a smooth balance between restaurant and bar and this atmosphere complements the menu well — the dishes can easily act as bar snacks or as a full-on meal. Either way, the staff will happily guide your group in the right direction, and don’t push for over-ordering.

    As is the case with many a tapas restaurant, the bill can add up quickly if you order up big on the pintxos. The menu caters to its Bondi clientele, and is friendly for every dietary requirement, specifically vegetarians. The goat’s cheese croquette ($4 each) is, in our opinion, the best dish on the menu — the cheese is whipped into an impossible melt-in-your-mouth level of creaminess and is topped with that unbeatable salty-sweet combo of honey and rosemary salt.

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    Bodega 1904

    From the award-winning team behind Bodega Tapas Bar (yes, the one mentioned below) in Surry Hills, comes Bodega 1904 — a wine bar and restaurant down at Glebe’s star dining hub Tramsheds. You can choose to sit on one of the aqua studded stools at the bar or to cosy up in one of the booths.

    The wine list is dominated by Australian and Spanish selections, and the food is predominantly Latin American influenced tapas. Think jamón serrano with guindilla peppers ($14), marinated eggplant with fennal ($7) and — for something slightly larger — duck liver pâté on wood-grilled flatbread ($26).

    For dessert, the roasted quince, brown butter and almond tart ($16) is pretty special. Bodega 1904 is open for lunch and dinner, and although you are welcome to walk in any time, making a reservation is a good idea for this one.

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    If you’re in the mood to head to a pub, but you’re not in the mood for a standard steak or schnitty pub meal, head to Subida Pintxos & Tapas Bar, which sits above Woolahra’s Light Brigade. Well-suited to soak up booze (if you’ve had a few at the Light Brigade Bar or rooftop) are the smaller pintxos dishes. Manchego croquettes ($6) and the tortilla de bacalao with salt cod, zucchini flowers and butter sauce ($8) are heavy on cheese, salt, and, of course, butter — exactly what you’re looking for before or after (or while) you drink.

    Subida is unlike other Sydney Spanish restaurants in two ways: it’s located on the first level of an eastern suburbs pub (a 120-year-old eastern suburbs pub, mind you) and its tapas plates are sizeable — you don’t need to order everything on the menu to feel satisfied. The octopus a la plancha, which is served with broad beans, potato and aioli, is one of the fresher and most-flavourful options ($26) on the menu.

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    Mister Percy

    Pyrmont has welcomed a new Euro-leaning wine bar, helmed by acclaimed Sydney chef Justin North (Hotel Centennial, Becasse). Opening within boutique hotel Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour, Mister Percy pulls its inspiration from the Mediterranean — for its menu, wine list and designer fitout.

    The kitchen is pumping out a considered lineup of skewered pintxos and large share dishes, built around classic coastal European flavours and top local produce. You’ll find creations such as the smoky fried potato with bottarga ($6 each), the smashed broad bean and bocconcini on toast ($5) and the grilled baby octopus with chorizo ($7).

    The European vibe is mirrored in the drinks offering, too, with Ovolo Hotel’s Group Wine Curator Shun Eto assembling a 100-strong wine selection that heroes Mediterranean grape varieties and local producers.

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    Back in the Middle Ages, a disparate and diverse group of Muslim peoples migrated widely through northern Africa and western Europe, bringing traditionally Middle Eastern influences (saffron, almonds, spices) with them to the continent. It’s an influence that continues today in the rich world of Moorish cooking, and this cross-cultural approach provides the template for co-owner Nathan Sasi’s seasonal menu at Mercado.

    Previously head chef at the acclaimed Nomad and co-creator of ice creamery Good Times, Sasi’s approach blends fine dining finesse with a love of the rustic and a real hands-on approach. The restaurant does all their pickling, curing and smoking on-site and combines fresh produce with a modern, agreeably loose take on Moorish and Spanish food.

    The tapas menu isn’t expansive, but it’s tasty, with spicy beef empanadas ($8 each), Ortiz anchovies and piquillo peppers on toast ($26) and lots of Spanish-style cold cuts.

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    Bodega boasts an eye grabbing mural of a bull on the far wall and the chefs in the open kitchen are sporting some serious ink. If you nab a seat up at the bar you can see them hard at work making signatures like their take on ‘fish fingers’ ($24).

    At night the vibe at Bodega is hopping and with its hard surfaces, it can border on loud. So unless your Nan has a craving for some seriously good arepas ($24) — stuffed with broccoli, manchego and a fried egg — it might be best to leave her at home. If she comes, or doesn’t, you should make a point of ordering the chargrilled squid ($26) and barbecued dumplings with cavolo nero pesto ($24), too.

    Bodega treads the delicate line between warm staff and a cool space. And like many things that are cool, it’s popular. So come early and come with all your party in tow (they won’t seat you until you’re all there). Or be prepared to spend some time in the adjoining bar nursing a glass of cava or one of the 17 wines by the glass until it’s your turn to join the party.


Top image: Bar Topa, Nikki To

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