Announcing Concrete Playground's Best of 2017 Sydney Award Winners
The very best new Sydney bars, restaurants, cafes, pubs, events and spaces of the year.
December 14, 2017
It has been a tumultuous year for Sydney's hospitality scene. We've said farewell to some short-lived favourites — Bar Brosé, Eleven Bridge and The Antipodean to name a few — we've lamented the changes to the 457 visa and the hospitality sector's staff shortage and we continue to fight the lockout laws. But where there have been closures, innovative new ventures have risen from the ashes. We've seen the opening of a slew of new bars, restaurants, cafes, pubs, spaces and events — and they're not all from the big players, independent ventures are flourishing.
At Concrete Playground we encourage exploration and showcase innovation in our city every day, so we thought it fitting to reward those most talented vanguards pushing Sydney to be a better, braver city. And so, we are very pleased to announce Concrete Playground's Best of 2017 Awards.
As we continue to attempt to define Australian cuisine, chefs continue to push the boundaries. We've seen (and tasted) black pudding curry in a Thai restaurant located in a renovated tea building, eaten delicate Japanese fare served behind a police station and downed hash browns and kimchi toasties at a Korean cafe. Bars continue to offer immersive, imaginative experiences that take you beyond their drinks lists — you can drink beer out of horns in viking dens, sip tiki cocktails at a Twin Peaks-themed bar and pair natural wine with Roe Boats.
The cafe culture is stronger than ever, too, with new cafes not only guaranteeing a stellar cup of Joe, but also innovative lunch snacks and sleek interiors that'll really make you reconsider that desk sandwich.
Pubs have defied the strangling lockout laws, kickstarting old favourites and coming together to raise up the city's ailing live music scene. They've hosted yes voting parties and sported controversial art, with the community rallying behind them. The bringing together of the art and food scene has expanded beyond pubs, with venues spending more time on their appearances, collaborating with local designers, architects and street artists to create stunning spaces. This prompted the creation of our new category, Best New Space. We've searched far and wide to find our favourite, visually stunning, innovative and sustainable spaces that are accessible to you — including shops, hotels, co-working hubs and public spaces.
Event organisers have created smart and clever new events, celebrating the city's cultural ecosystem and bringing people together to eat cheese, look at innovative art and to support each other in times of hardship.
This year, we will be awarding both a reader voted People's Choice and Overall award in each of the following six categories:
- Best New Restaurant
- Best New Bar
- Best New Cafe
- Best New Pub
- Best New Event
- Best New Space
These 36 outstanding Sydney ventures have been handpicked by Concrete Playground for their combination of originality, innovation, creativity, approachability and sustainability. We straight-up love them. And the winners are....
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
OVERALL WINNER: SASAKI
This tiny, unassuming space in Sydney's CBD opened in April — but you'll need to make a reservation (a week in advance) if you plan on heading here for dinner. It's still busy, which is a testament to its consistently great food, warm service and attention to detail. Owner and head chef, Yu Sasaki (Cre Asion) pays homage to his hometown of Shimane, with dishes reflecting his fragmented memories of the Japanese countryside. The pint-sized, minimalist restaurant boasts a daily changing menu using the freshest Australian produce. The menu is completely driven by season and Sasaki only uses ingredients that have been harvested by his local suppliers and farmers, with whom he maintains a close personal relationship. Service is warm and attentive from the moment you're sat to the moment you're handed a sleek leaflet explaining the restaurant's ethos on your way out. Sasaki may not be making the noise other newcomers have been, but its consistency and and fast rise to a local favourite make it more than deserving of Overall Best New Restaurant.
PEOPLE'S CHOICE: MJOLNER
Named for Thor's hammer, the self-described 'Viking luxe' space is part-drinking den, part-fine dining restaurant. It may sound gimmicky, but it works — rather than going too hard on the schtick, Mjølner uses the Viking theme as tasteful inspiration. This is consistent throughout the whole venue; the animal-clad waitstaff and impressive fit-out contrast well with the R&B soundtrack and a modern Nordic menu. The leather-bound cocktail menu is extensive, but drinking is by no means the only reason to visit, with the open kitchen turning out a seriously impressive food menu. As expected, the menu is focused around meat, with bone marrow and spiced pig's head terrine making appearances. Both of these are expertly executed, with the bone marrow melting in your mouth and the terrine surprisingly light. It's fine dining in a pretty chill setting, which is hard to achieve and particularly well done at Mjølner.
BEST NEW BAR
OVERALL WINNER: DEAR SAINTE ÉLOISE
Most of Lankelly Place is closed or empty on a Tuesday night, but it's another story altogether inside Dear Sainte Éloise. The warmly-lit wine bar is aglow with patrons and bustling staff — it's already a well-oiled machine. It's clear the Love, Tilly Devine crew — namely owner Matt Swieboda, head sommelier Nate Hatwell (Mercado), manager Jasmin Natterer and head chef Ben Abiad (co-founder Brickfields Bakery, ex-Sean's Panaroma and Mecca) — know what they're doing. The long, copper bar is adorned with racks upon racks of wine that showcase the bar's huge selection — all up, there's 350 plus bottles, which have been plucked from all over the world, from Austria to Portugal, South Africa and Georgia. While this is a wine bar above all else, the succinct selection of dishes serve well as wine nibbles or a full meal. The menu is printed daily and features wine bar staples like fresh oysters and burrata, and more — inventive little roe boats, bright orange fish roe sitting atop a little potato hash 'boat', fragrant and hearty stewed snake beans and delicate celery hearts with goat's curd and burnt onions.
PEOPLE'S CHOICE: MONKEY'S CORNER
Having already seduced us with their magnificent sugary creations, everyone's favourite culinary brothers (Reynold, Ronald, and Arnold Poernomo) have moved on to the next vice: alcohol. The trio is shaking up the Sydney cocktail scene with a cheeky Japanese bar called Monkey's Corner, right next to its dessert bar KOI in Chippendale — and it has already become a firm favourite. In the spirit of all things Japanese, the heritage-listed terrace venue is teeny tiny, with just ten seats inside and ten seats outside. Due to heritage restrictions, the trio are not allowed to actually cook in the kitchen. Food can only be steamed or served raw as no frying or grilling is permitted. But thanks to a trusty blowtorch and some clever culinary technique, you won't even notice — it's just another reason to be impressed by the trio.
BEST NEW CAFE
OVERALL WINNER AND PEOPLE'S CHOICE: BABY COFFEE CO
Strong branding with personality, an industrial design with splashes of neon and pastel and luxe junk food that's ready for its close-up. Baby Coffee Co, is really capitalising on current trends — and it's working. The cafe has been open for just over a month and it's already a strong local favourite. A hybrid venue, it's licensed and has a tight wine list, bottomless mimosas for brunch and a cheeky cocktail list with the likes of a 'Flick The Bean' made with rum, espresso, Falernum and lemonade. While a 'bacon' and egg roll gets a redo with pork belly, two fried eggs, capsicum jam and aioli. We're pretty keen on its espresso panna cotta for breakfast and cacio e pepe fries. If you still can't get enough Baby in your day, it's open for dinner — head in again for a healthy dose of pastel pink and Italian food.
BEST NEW PUB
OVERALL WINNER: THE LANSDOWNE
The Lansdowne is back and it's safe to say it's sticking to its roots — with a mantra of "seedy nights, live music and cheap food" proudly sung by the legendary men behind the resurrection, Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham (Mary's Newtown and The Unicorn Hotel). The grungy feel of the space is definitely still in tact, with the old concrete floors and paint-peeling walls still peeping through. But the downstairs area is now home to a shiny new pool table and dart board, while the pokies room has been swapped for rock 'n' roll pinball machines, complete with a disco ball. Local artist Jessica Cochrane has given the space her own touch, complete with two Playboy wall collages, a candlelit shrine to the live music greats and pin-up girl covered bathrooms ceilings, aka "pisstine chapels". Live music is the hero here, and the entire top floor is dedicated to getting some of the best bands in the business. And that's one of the reasons why we've awarded The Lansdowne the Overall Best New Pub — it's dedication to live music is paramount in a city where it is, due to strangling legislation, ailing.
PEOPLE'S CHOICE: THE FERNERY
As you might expect, the venue is far from any old rooftop. Located above Mosman Club, it offers extraordinary views of, well, everything: the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the heads and the city skyline. And you'll be gazing at them all while immersed in greenery. It's from the team behind North Sydney's The Greens and Camperdown's Acre. Interior designers Pony Design Co has transformed the main space into a greenhouse-inspired oasis. If you're up for a more intimate chinwag, head into the sleek gin room overlooking North Head. Also on the rooftop is a kitchen garden, cultivated by Adrian Baiada, the man responsible for Acre's urban farm. In addition to the gin room, where the focus is on Australian distillers, there's a bar devoted to rosé. And yes, it's very much pink. A handpicked selection of wines, served straight from the barrel, is on the drinks list, as is a collection of signature cocktails flavoured with just-picked herbs.
BEST NEW EVENT
OVERALL WINNER AND PEOPLE'S CHOICE: FESTIVAL FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY
After the success of the Yes Rally, Sydney's activist collective Reclaim the Streets organised the a huge collective 'yes' voting event, with thousands rocking up at Prince Alfred Park on Saturday, September 23, to vote together. They knew people were going to put off voting 'til the last minute (and risk missing the deadline) and they wanted to prevent it. So they encouraged as many people as possible to put in their vote, en masse. Across from the Strawberry Hills Post Office they hosted a colourful nine-stage music festival. There were lots of rainbows, lots of signs, lots of music and a lot of yes votes. And they — along thousands of other tireless volunteers who called, knocked and handed out leaflets, everyone who marched and talked to their friends and family, and every Australian that voted yes — helped push through a yes vote. And now, it's cemented in law.
BEST NEW SPACE
OVERALL WINNER: UNYOKED
There's getting away. And then there's disappearing to your own private, tiny house in the wilderness — miles from any sign of human interference. Meet Unyoked, a new Australian independent accommodation option that lets you do just that. Importantly, this is not a hotel. Founded and run by twins Cam and Chris Grant, the off-the-grid experience brings you the convenience and comforts of four solid walls, alongside the adventure, spontaneity and closeness-to-nature of camping. Here's how. With the help of designer and builder Alice Nivison and eco-consultant Richie Northcott from Sydney design studio Fresh Prince, the brothers have designed and built four tiny houses throughout New South Wales — both sustainable and solar-powered. They've been placed in secret patches of wilderness on private properties, in the middle of nowhere. Anytime you want to flee the city, disconnect and recharge, all you have to do is book one and jump in your car. And all houses are no more than three hours' drive from Sydney.
PEOPLE'S CHOICE: MR LIQUOR'S DIRTY ITALIAN DISCO
Merivale's newest venue Mr Liquor's Dirty Italian Disco combines elements of taste and aesthetic to create a venue that's immersive in its narrative without forsaking the essentials: good food and great drinks. With disco tunes and Italian grub in a repurposed bottle shop, the venue is exactly what it says on the packet — and that's something to get excited about. This time round Merivale's got the crew from Pinbone on-board to take over the kitchen (read: drive-through bottle shop) at Mascot's Tennyson Hotel. Like the menu, the venue's design is pretty heavy on the Italian influences, with red and white checkered floors paying tribute to the homely vibe of Italian-American pasta restaurants, while the exposed ceiling beams, roller doors and massive disco ball complete the look. Behind the lively design is Kelvin Ho of Akin Creative, who worked closely with Sydney tattooist Rick Vaughn, aka Four Eyes, to bring the previously bare walls to life with a series of bespoke illustrations.
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