The It List: the hottest restaurants and more in the East right now
Where will we be dining this year? Elizabeth Meryment casts an eye over 2019’s tastiest tables and comes up with the finest selection
THE IT RESTAURANT(S) — TIED:
Alberto’s Lounge, Surry Hills
If the moody, basement-dwelling Restaurant Hubert was the hottest opening of 2016, then it’s hardly any wonder the opening of Hubert’s Italian cousin, Alberto’s Lounge, has caused considerable delight among Sydneysiders who love to dine. Alberto’s is located in the, er, discreetly positioned (read: difficult to find) former Berta site somewhere near Central Station, and is that rare and special beast — a restaurant that whisks you away from your ordinary life to somewhere better and more fun. In charge is Hubert chef Dan Pepperell, switching here to his natural love of Italian food (before Hubert he was in the miniature kitchen of Paddington’s beloved 10 William St) with a simple but beautiful menu of mostly pasta and classic Italian nibbles done with edge. Go for a gorgeous gnocchi al cachio e pepe or bucatini all’Amatriciana, or maybe swordfish and sardines, and stay for the quirky mostly Italian drinks list, the nostalgic room and the good times.
17-19 Alberta St, Sydney; albertoslounge.com
Another Italian in Bondi? That would be hell yes, thank you very much, especially when the team behind the transformation of Bondi’s once-manky Royal Hotel is as good as this. The Royal, in case you missed the news, was bought last year by Justin Hemmes’ Merivale group, who have renovated it into a courtyard dining space that’s some kind of magical, and installed into the kitchen two of the better-known faces of Sydney food in Khan Danis (one-time head chef of Rockpool) and Mike Eggert (ex-Mr Liquor’s Dirty Italian Disco/ex-Pinbone). As noted in our review on page X, the food mostly comes out of a weighty pizza oven and is deliciously fresh, modern and brilliantly executed.
283 Bondi Rd, Bondi; merivale.com
THE IT BAR
Scout, Surry Hills
We love the relentless drive to innovate at this Crown Street pub, where experimentation and pushing of boundaries are always the order of the day. So it’s not really surprising that a massively cool new bar has entered the building at The Dolphin, with Scout taking up permanent residency for a year or so the pub’s top floor. Scout is next-level sit down bar featuring acclaimed mixologist Matt Whiley direct from his smokin’ London bar of the same name. Scout opens in the last week of February and the drinks list reads gorgeously: house cocktails include the Waxed Apple with waxflower gin, smoked apple, geranium and, yes, wax; and the Cedar Creek with peach, gin, chardonnay versus, peach leaf and fino. The Dolphin’s executive chef Monty Koludrovic has devised a list of nibbles that range from chicken Waldorf finger sandwiches to kibbeh with chilled yoghurt. The site was under wraps at the time of print but the design is said to be exceptional.
The Dolphin Hotel, 412 Crown St, Surry Hills; dolphinhotel.com.au
THE IT CHEF
Josh Niland, Saint Peter, Paddington
There can hardly be a chef in Australia gaining as many accolades as Josh Niland right now. There’s not an awards night or hot restaurant list on which the young gun, owner of Paddington’s tiny Saint Peter, does not appear. The latest praise has come from the newly formed World Restaurant Awards, a rather ostentatious-sounding guide launched in Paris in January, which listed only one Australian restaurant among its plethora of finalists — yes, Saint Peter. The venue scored a nod in the Ethical Thinking category along with some international heavy-hitters including New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Denmark’s famed (and now closed) Noma. What’s the fuss about? Well, Niland is at pains to source only the best and most ethically and sustainably sourced seafood, which he cooks with style and elegance so each dish sings of the waters in which it was caught. It’s a local catch, indeed.
362 Oxford St, Paddington; stpeter.com.au
THE IT CAFE
Shuk, Elizabeth Bay
We loved it in Bondi and now we’re loving Shuk in its sweet new Elizabeth Bay address, down a genteel stretch of Roslyn Gardens. The third incarnation of the Israeli venue opened in January with a roomy balcony space and a sexy menu that includes all the Bondi favourites. Think shakshuka and the legendary Israeli breakfast of eggs, Israeli salad, olives, labne, hummus, butter, jam, avo, tahini and granola with yoghurt. Getting great Israeli food this close to town is what we call winning.
61-67 Roslyn Gardens, Elizabeth Bay; shuk.com.au
THE ONE-LAST-TIME-BEFORE-IT GOES FAVOUR-IT
Billy Kwong, Potts Point
There were audible gasps across the Eastern Suburbs in January when Kylie Kwong announced her much-loved paean to Chinese cookery, Billy Kwong, was to close. Billy Kwong, first on Crown Street in Surry Hills, and more recently on Macleay Street, Potts Point, has been a staple of modern-Australian culinary life for so long (19 years in fact) that it seems almost unthinkable that it will soon be lost. But for Kwong, who says at almost 50 it is time to reevaluate, it is not the end for her culinary career. Rather she plans to open a “bustling, casual eatery with a much smaller dining space” by the end of the year. If you love the current Billy Kwong, or have never been, there’s still time. Go for mod-Chinese classics with an Australian touch, before time is called.
1/28 Macleay St, Surry Hills; billykwong.com.au
THE IT PIZZERIA
Rosso Pomodoro, Bondi Junction
Finally there is no need to trek across to Balmain to eat some of Sydney’s best pizza, with the opening in Bondi Junction of an outpost of Rosso Pomodoro. Pizzaiolo Giancarlo Bazzocchi is a master of the Neapolitan-style pizza, obsessive about dough making and pizza toppings, and a keeper of the traditions of Italian pizza craft. The Bondi Junction venue is open beside Bazzocchi and partner Ketty Laffi’s well-established favourite, Osteria Riva, with a menu identical to that of the Balmain original. Frankly, we’re excited.
94 Bronte Rd, Bondi Junction; rossopomodoro.com.au
THE IT CLASSIC
While we love trying new restaurants, we also love rediscovering established favourites. Our current go-to is Woolloomooloo classic Otto, where chef Richard Ptacnik is kicking some serious goals with an evolving menu of thoughtful Italian dishes and seriously great pastas. Especially strong is his newly introduced mud crab spaghetti, possibly Australia’s most luxurious and possibly most delicious pasta creation, featuring a rich tomato-based sauce replete with huge chunks of that king of crabs, the Queensland muddie. It tastes as awe-inspiring as it looks. Plus there’s the great Otto service, the views, the vibe … what’s not to love?
8/6 Cowper Wharf, Woolloomooloo; ottoristorante.com.au
THE IT HIGH-TEA
High tea at the InterContinental Sydney, Double Bay
One of the many pleasures of great hotels is their dedication to upholding the traditions of great hotels — so it is with Double Bay’s luxurious InterContinental, where that crazy indulgence, the high tea, is alive and thriving. In the plush surrounds of the Stillery room, the InterCon has introduced three takes on the tradition — a signature high tea, an Oriental high tea and a children’s high tea. While the traditional variety is a treat of chicken and watercress sandwiches, miniature quiches, bruschetta with wild mushrooms, a lemon myrtle cheesecake, a lemon-lime bitter macaron and plenty more, the Oriental version — with its karaage chicken bao bun, Peking duck spring roll, pork and prawn siu mai, pork xiao long bao and more besides — has our names written firmly all over it. With the prices starting from $25 for the children’s high tea, and $59 for the traditional ($69 including Champagne, or $79 including three mini Martinis), no wonder this luxury is establishing itself as one of the Eastern Suburbs favourite treats.
The InterContinental Sydney Double Bay, 33 Cross St, Double Bay; ihg.com/doublebay
EMPLOYEES ONLY SYDNEY, CBD
This speakeasy-style bar, open since November, is inspired by its New York big sister, a West Village venue that was named world bar of the year in 2011 and now with spinoffs in Hong Kong, Miami and Singapore. The Sydney version is that luxe temple of cocktails and late-night dining — it serves dinner until 11pm and offers a bar menu until 3am — that the city badly needed. 9a Barrack St, Sydney; employeesonlysyd.com
4PINES, SURRY HILLS
The famed craft beer brand has opened a beer and burger concept venue on Crown Street offering, yep, its much-loved brews and some larger-than-life sized burgers. 557 Crown St, Surry Hills; 4pinesbeer.com.au
SPICE TEMPLE, CBD
We may be about to lose Billy Kwong but Sydney can still celebrate Spice Temple, Neil Perry’s namesake temple to mainland Chinese cuisine. The sizzling basement space turns 10 this year, an achievement worth noting. 10 Bligh St, Sydney; spicetemple.com.au
If you have heard people rave about Newtown’s Continental Deli but can’t bear negotiating King Street traffic to get there, then here’s a solution — the Continental team’s slick new CBD spinoff. Continental CBD is more restaurant than deli but offers a satisfying mix of dishes from next-level baguettes to French-inspired salads. It’s all very sexy and cool. 167 Phillip St, Sydney; continentaldelicatessen.com.au