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The best bars in Sydney

All the bars you should be drinking in this year

Photograph: Anna Kucera

We scoured the city to find the best drinks, greatest chat, most perfectly crafted playlists, tastiest snacks and top vibes to be had in Sydney. We put our livers and our sleep patterns on the line to bring you, dear reader, a comprehensive guide to the best bars in town.

Time Out Sydney Bar Awards: Winners

All the best cocktail bars, wine merchants, neighbourhood boltholes, party palaces and snack suppliers that took out the top gongs at this year's Time Out Sydney Bar Awards.   

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By: Emily Lloyd-Tait

121 BC

If you want a seat, get there early. From around 7pm onwards, 121 BC gets an absolute workout and once it's full, it's full - there's a certain amount of settling in that goes on here. And you want to know why? Value: most of the wines keep it under $10 a glass.

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Surry Hills

Button Bar

From the guys that brought you Pocket and Stitch comes Button (hang on – is that… a theme?). You’ll find Christophe Lehoux and Karl Schlothauer’s nautical-themed bar on Foveaux Street, just a short hop from Central.

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Surry Hills

Dead Ringer

What we are loving about this place is that it’s pitch perfect for midweek drinking. The line between restaurant and bar here isn’t so much blurry as it is indistinguishable, which is a smart way to play things in the lockout zone. A T’Angelo Spritz is the kind of persuasive primer that takes a quick drink and turns it into dinner and nightcap before you realise where your night went.

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Surry Hills

Golden Age Bar

You know what happiness is? It's sitting down to a Gruyère, pastrami, sauerkraut and pickle toastie, with a maple pecan Old Fashioned on the side in the Golden Age Cinema’s subterranean bar.

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Surry Hills

Goros

It was a mammoth job transforming the old Tailors on Central into a Japanese booze and snack palace. But they've successfully banished the last vestiges of that dreary tavern and now Goros stands as a low-lit bar decked out in splashes of rainbow neon, figurines, lanterns, bamboo and three kickass-looking karaoke booths.

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Surry Hills

Rosie Campbell's

Dreaming of rum cocktails and jerk chicken but can’t quite muster the scratch for a Jamaican getaway? The latest bar and restaurant to call Crown Street home is bringing island vibes to Surry Hills to save you a trip.

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Surry Hills

Surly's

Yes, there’s another American-ish bar bathed in the glow of red neon at the old Sticky Bar site. But what’s good about this bar isn’t the vintage booze advertising, hobby paraphernalia and charity shop art that cover the exposed brick walls, or the fact that they’ve got Coors and PBRs to accompany your barbecue platter and chilli cheese fries. It’s that there's Clamato juice in the fridge – Bloody Caesars for all.

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Darlinghurst

Tio's

What do you get when you cross a couple of Shady Pines barkeeps with a metric eff load of tequila and a whole lot of owls? You get Tio’s – Sydney’s only Northwest Guatemalan owl bar.

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Surry Hills

Tokyo Bird

Some of the best booze action in Surry Hills is the hardest to find. The Wild Rover keeps a very low profile and 121 BC blends in amongst the neighbouring garages like some sort of urban chameleon. And the new Japanese whisky bar tucked off Commonwealth Street on Belmore Lane is certainly not going out of its way to draw attention to itself.

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Surry Hills

Vasco

Star Sydney bartender Max Greco (Eau de Vie) ripped off the shirt-stays and suspenders and traded them in for cut-off denim, trucker hats and a hefty fistful of rock’n’roll. The only tie you’ll see at Vasco is on Ringo Starr. And on closer inspection, we’re pretty sure that’s a cravat.

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Surry Hills

The Wild Rover

Wild Rover is the bar from the Grandma’s crew (that tiny tiki bar on Clarence Street in the CBD) and you’ll find it just across from Bar H and a few doors down from Tio’s. Foster Street’s become a real fun pocket.

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Surry Hills

Assembly

When Assembly first opened in Regent Place there wasn’t much else in the complex, but now it’s a real city hotspot where Thai restaurants and izakayas sit side by side. Below decks there’s a Vietnamese canteen, and this secret city bar. To tell you the truth, we’re kind of tempted to keep it on the DL – the drinks are bloody good and they fry the hell out of a chicken thigh.

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Sydney

The Barber Shop

A hidden bar of forest green walls, glossy white tiles and smooth wood surfaces is the place to decompress after a long week. They've got all the gins behind the bar, plus big game drinkers can also busy themselves with the impressive single malt collection, or a few nips of calvados.

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Sydney

The Baxter Inn

That queue of people rolling out of a dark, nondescript laneway on Clarence Street is for Baxter Inn. This basement-level hooch sanctuary is brought to you by Anton Forte and Jason Scott – the two bartenders best known for opening Shady Pines Saloon.

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Sydney

Bennelong

It’s not a cheap exercise to drink here, but when you’ve frocked up for a little high culture, you want an experience that matches the majesty of your surrounds. Claim one of the four seats at the gleaming brass bar and you’ll feel like a monarch of the arts. In the midst of all this finery we also receive some of the warmest service in town. We’re sure pre-theatre hours will be manic, but in between there’s great chat to be had with the genial team manning the shakers and super-chilling your glass with liquid nitrogen. Forget the Concert Hall – you can get drinks and a show right here at the bar. 

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Sydney

Bentley Restaurant and Bar

You might not expect a seriously schmick wine bar and restaurant housed in the original Fairfax building in the heart of the CBD to be all about inclusivity, but the Bentley Restaurant and Bar by sommelier Nick Hildebrandt and chef Brent Savage wants everyone to have a good time. If you’re not here for the full sit-down dining experience that’s A-OK. Grab a table down on the bar level, vanish some exceptional wines by the glass and let the view into the buzzy, open kitchen tempt you to order up some bar snacks.

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Sydney

Bulletin Place

There are two things, straight off the bat, that make this pocket-sized CBD bar the standard setter it is. That’s the drinks and the service. No matter who is shaking up their short, sharp and perfectly executed menu, scrawled on brown paper with a sharpie at the beginning of each service, you're in for a win.

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Circular Quay

Frankie's Pizza by the Slice

The newest member of the Swillhouse family, Frankie’s Pizza is a cross between a sleazy ’70s pizza parlour and the late, legendary New York music dive, CBGB. Sure, the plastic glasses are a shame, but a stack of tinnies in the fridges makes up for it.

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Sydney

Grandma's Bar

Grandma's is to be found underneath a guitar shop, in a psace that might have once been a store room, or a bunker. Pass an enormous deer head mounted on the wall, take the AstroTurfed stairs down to the basement, and hit the bar for rum cocktails in nan-chic surrounds.

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Sydney

Lobo Plantation

A drink in this subterranean rum bar is as good as a holiday. All that’s ever needed to reset a shitty day, or keep a good one rolling is rum cocktails, some jangly tunes and good chat, and you can get it all at Lobo Plantation.

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Sydney

Mojo Record Bar

Music, if you haven’t guessed it, is the name of the game here. They have a 700-record-strong back catalogue of juicy tunes and fine sounds to do your drinking to.

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Sydney

Palmer and Co

Palmer and Co, the speakeasy-style bar hidden behind Establishment, sports a 3am license. So while it’s totally respectable to head earlier in the evening this bar really hits its straps late.

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Sydney

Papa Gede's

Take a stumble down Kent Street and you'll find simple little room lit by candlelight and decorated with skulls, beads and a drinks list that errs on the bitter, brown-spirits and boozy end of the spectrum, and very often combines all the things in one glass.

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Sydney

Ramblin' Rascal Tavern

A CBD basement bar where the beers are ordered from light (Marilyn) to dark (Bettie) and the cocktails are primarily dark, bitter and boozy. Want a shit tinnie? They have a case of those too for $6 a pop, and snacks areMary's burgers orderd from their new city outlet.

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Sydney

Rockpool Bar & Grill

The bar at Rockpool is like something out of another time altogether, with beautiful Art Deco architecture, plush leather seats, dark corners and a bar filled with housemade tonics, syrups and sodas.

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Sydney

The Rook

Rooftop bars are all about the big reveal. You go into a plain foyer, like so many other uninspiring entranceways to the city’s workspaces; you press the ‘R’ button in the lift, bypassing the private business college and a community college. You’ve got something way more fun in store than learning. Then the doors open and you step out into a timber-lined bar cranking the Dixieland jazz and ’60s pop. It’s basically the 18+ version of entering Willie Wonka’s factory after a long journey through industrial London. 

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Sydney

The Swinging Cat

The worst part about discovering a great new bar? Once the cat is out of the bag, everyone wants in. Luckily the New Orleans-inspired cocktail den that has set up shop on King Street in the city is not exactly easy to find. The Swinging Cat hides underneath a Subway sandwich shop and boasts almost no signage. Of course, such is the CBD’s after-work thirst that the place pumps after knock off regardless – Sydney booze hounds can sniff out good drinks at a thousand paces.

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Sydney

Zeta Bar

The great thing about a cocktail bar in a famously upmarket hotel is that drinks come with a hint of holiday. Get acquainted with the Lady of Guadalupe, a reworked Margarita that tames a lug of Ilegal mezcal with a sweet and nutty macadamia liqueur, before ramping things back up with lime juice and a gentle jalapeño agave. It’s a less punchy and more intriguing take on the spring break special. 

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Sydney

Eau de Vie

Eau de Vie is hidden in the back of the Kirketon Hotel. The cocktail bar is staffed by a team who are as much about having a good time as they are making you the best damned cocktails in Sydney. The range of booze is mind blowing, and owner Sven Almenning is also in possession of the greatest collection of antique cocktail accessories in the country.

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Darlinghurst

The Hazy Rose

You’ll want to make sure to try the Fernet Julep. It’s a punch in the kisser of bourbon mint and Fernet Branca – everyone’s favourite Italian bitter-and-herbaceous liqueur – served in a pewter tankard. It’ll put hairs on your chest whether you want them or not.

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Darlinghurst

Henrietta Supper Club

When your bartender describes the End of the Boulevard as a ‘Negroni that went out, bought a gun and went wild west on your Friday night’, that’s a drink worth investigating more closely. The lovechild of a Boulvardier (rye or bourbon, Campari and vermouth) and an End of the Road (Laphroaig, Campari, Green Charteuse) is a boozy little monster that will charm you with Laphroaig, Campari, green Chartreuse and vermouth, and then take your knees out from under you just as quickly.

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Darlinghurst

Shady Pines Saloon

Start with a set-up - that's a whiskey with a beer back. You can have a can of the sessionable Coopers Malt with some bottom-shelf basics on one hand, but you can also trade up with a Rosita, a crisp, artisan-made Spanish blond beer, and on the other, something along the lines of a measure of Eagle Rare, just one of the fine bourbons and ryes on pour.

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Darlinghurst

This Must Be the Place

This Must Be the Place is the bar that Darlinghurst’s portion of Oxford Street has been crying out for. This excellent new establishment is brought to you by veterans Charlie Ainsbury and Luke Ashton, so that’s a whole lot of talent packed behind one little polished timber counter. Prepare to fall in love with spritzers. We’re not talking the white wine variety – here the bar team are broadening the definition of the drink with delicious results. 

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Darlinghurst

Earl's Juke Joint

Bartending is in many ways the study of party alchemy – mixing drinks to lift you up, cool you out and caress your soul if it’s in need of a little TLC. A well made Singapore Sling can send your tongue on a exotic getaway, even if the rest of you has to stay right here and pay the bills; a daiquiri has the power to convince your hips you’ve got the rhythm in you; and an Old Pal can be your best friend after a long day in the salt mines. And there’s nowhere we prefer to pull up a stool and bend the elbow than at the long, sturdy, timber bar at Earl’s Juke Joint. 

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Newtown

The Gretz

It’s like the Wild West of the high seas inside this new neighbourhood bar on Enmore Road, which comes from the same team that brought you Hartsyard and Andy Bowdy’s famous soft-serve creations. The space was once occupied by an unassuming cocktail bar called the Waterhorse, and from the outside, not much has changed. The raw brick and louvered opaque glass panes are still in place – you need to venture inside to find the fun. The Gretz isn’t so buzzy that queues snake down the street, but there’s always a solid crew in attendance downing cocktails and big mugs of beer. 

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Enmore

Mary's

It’s entirely likely that Mary’s is more famous as a burger place than as a bar. People queue for up to an hour just to get in the front door of this slightly scuzzy boozer with a penchant for Slaytanic font (yes, there is a font inspired by the 1980s thrash metal band). But those who look beyond the burger buns are rewarded with a kickass bar you’ll want to linger in. 

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Newtown

The Midnight Special

The Midnight Special’s D.I.Y, rock-basement dive bar look has been properly worn in by now. With any neighbourhood boozer it takes a while to really get that authentic, hard-loved finish. The black paint needs to lose its fresh sheen; the old playbills lining the wall need to peel a little and it takes time to build up a collection of creepy dolls, hula girl ornaments and old soda syphons to tuck in amongst the liquor bottles. Yep, Enmore’s blues and booze den is sitting pretty and she doesn’t lack for devoted company most nights of the week. 

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Newtown

The Anchor

You can’t exactly spy the waterline from this nautical cocktail den in South Bondi, but you can taste it on the breeze and were it not for an inconveniently placed apartment building the full splendour of Bondi Beach would be visible from the outdoor tables at the Anchor Bar. No matter, because you’ve probably already been in the drink, and are now ready to have the drink be in you. Specifically, you’ll want a gin and fresh watermelon juice to cool you down in Snoop-approved style. 

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Bondi Beach

Neighbourhood

We have an unashamed love of carb-on-carb bar snacks here at Time Out. Chips inside your gyros? Bring it on. Potato soup inside a bread bowl? Come at us. Pasta inside a jaffle? We’re in. Which is why when the afternoon chill pushes us off the shoreline at Bondi we’ll be making tracks to Curlewis Street where there’s a neighbourhood bar stuffing their jaffles with mac and cheese. It’s pretty serious party fuel – two golden brown slices packed with creamy pasta laced with truffle oil and given a savoury kick from mustard and more cheese. 

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Bondi Beach

Monopole

The line between restaurant and bar has gone from a little fuzzy to indistinct, and nowhere is this more so than at Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt’s Potts Point wine bar and restaurant, Monopole. You could pop in for a cheeky drink and end up eating the full tasting menu. You could opt for a quick supper that turns into rolling home heavy with biodynamic wines and light on cash. It all depends on what you’re in the mood for. 

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Potts Point

The Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in office from 1933-1945, was the 32nd. The Roosevelt in Potts Point has never been commander in chief, but in its arsenal is a seriously good liquid-nitrogen Martini, called the Continental. They take the hard decisions out of the equation by using vodka and gin, Cocchi Americano in place of vermouth and a little Chartreuse to add more herbal complexity to your drink. The serving suggestion recommends an oyster on the side, and it’s solid advice –hell, why not make it two of the plump and briny little bivalves. 

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Potts Point

Arcadia Liquors

One of Redfern’s original small bars is still as loud, fairy-lit and friendly as ever. And cheap. Where else can you get a eminently drinkable semillon sauvignon for six bucks and a grilled ham cheese and tomato sandwich for a fiver, other than student housing? There is a wonderful reliability to any visit to Arcadia. It’s always full but somehow you can manage to rustle up a bar stool or one of those vintage metal chairs, or find a spot out in the brick courtyard featuring many hanging plants and all the nautical paintings available at Vinnies. 

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Redfern

The Bearded Tit

If you want to see Sydney at her absolute best, go for a drink at Redfern’s neighbourhood art bar, the Bearded Tit. Inside this cosy establishment you get a glimpse of what it could be like if we all just got along. The weird and wonderful are welcomed here; there is a mix of punters that properly reflects the Sydney rainbow, and nobody gives it a second thought. We’re all too busy having a brilliant time. 

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Redfern

Freda's

All rounder is not an insult, especially when it’s describing a neighbourhood party bar that knows how to keep things cruisey in the early part of the week and ramp it up for a blow out at the pointy end. And that is a particular skill of Freda’s, the Chippendale bar tucked out of sight off Regent Street just down from the White Rabbit Gallery. Head here on a school night and gentle disco and house mixes are kept at comfortable chatting volume – put this on your first-date bar list – and they’re projecting a wood fire behind the decks to give the industrial space a cosy vibe. Thursdays through Saturdays it’s a whole other story. You could find yourself at a night of Italo pop, or maybe some psychedelic synth pop. You might catch a Madonna-themed rager, or a line-up of ’90s R’n’B anthems that will see you shake out that desk-bound hump. It’s a licensed lucky dip. 

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Chippendale

The Old Clare Hotel

The Old Clare Hotel is full of ghosts – not the Stephen King kind, but the ghosts of parties past. If you listen closely you can probably hear echoes of Brit pop reverb and dropped bass lines ricocheting off the mottled yellow tiles that still line the room. Thank God for heritage listings. We’re betting there are also trace elements of Jager bombs in the grout. But a whole new era has begun at the old Carlton Brewery site: where once was a temple to sticky carpeted uni shenanigans, now stands a vintage-styled cocktail bar beneath a slick boutique hotel, complete with rooftop pool. About time too. 

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Chippendale

Glebe - The Little Guy

Every suburb needs a little guy – a tiny bar wodged in on the main street between a Student Flights and a pasta joint, one that serves the drinks you wish you could have at home, in surrounds just as comfortable. Feeling like some quiet time? Head upstairs and stretch out on one of the lounges like a territorial house cat with a generous pour of the easy-drinking house pinot. Brought your tribe with you? Lay claim to the back room packed with foot stools and vintage chairs. 

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Glebe

Freshwater - JB & Sons

Until recently there was just one small bar calling the area-formerly-known-as-Harbord home. But while Stowaway was keeping landlubbers happy with mulled cider and churros, a second after-hours venue quietly popped up in the little arcade off Moore Street. JB & Sons is the latest venture from the team that opened Hemingway’s. But this new venue narrows the focus to American fare, a snappy drinks list and the relaxed vibes essential for coastal boozing. 

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Freshwater

Pyrmont - Sokyo Lounge

It may be a bar and restaurant in the foyer of a hotel, beneath a casino, but you can feel miles away from anywhere drinking at Sokyo Lounge. Kicking back in a silver and gold velvet armchair with a little bowl of spiced nuts and a cocktail on the way is a sure-fire cure to the workday blues, and the promise of bar snacks from a crazy good Japanese kitchen only sweetens the deal. This is a bar you can trust with the good stuff. 

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Darling Harbour

Summer Hill - The Temperance Society

You can’t lob a decanter in Surry Hills without hitting a wine bar, and Glebe and Enmore cater generously to oenophiles. But head further west and it can start to become a long time between drinks. So imagine the joy a thirsty traveller feels when they stumble upon the gentle, golden glow of the Temperance Society, a new wine bar in Summer Hill. You’ll find it set in an ancient row of Smith Street shopfronts boasting original leadlight window panes and auburn tiles, and on a Monday night you can hardly find an indoor perch.

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Summer Hill

Balmain - Wilhelmina's

It takes serious bar chops to wrest people from the beer gardens of this pub-loving suburb and into a casual nightspot featuring great wine, but Wilhelmina’s has its bar game on lock. It’s a bar in two parts, with two high-ceiling rooms split across the street-front shops that straddle the entrance to the beautiful Victorian building that began its life as the home of the Working Men’s Institute – a vestige of Balmain’s proud working class roots, but it’s a bloody great spot to knock back a cocktail.

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Balmain

Woollahra - The Wine Library

You can always opt for a crowd-pleasing drop at the Wine Library, but that needn’t mean it’ll be run of the mill. There’s a cool, textural vermentino from La Sorga in southern France that spends only a week on skins – it’s a gateway to freakier skin-contact wines further down the track. There are plenty of familiar varieties for the pinot noir devotees, but this is a safe space – get outside your comfort zone and you’ll discover something dynamite. In fact your bartender here is packing a whole cache of awesome recommendations; he’s just waiting for the ‘go’ order from you. 

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Woollahra

And now for the city's best eats...

The ultimate Sydney restaurant hit list

Unless you have the metabolism of a nine-year-old and the finances of a Kardashian, you never stand a chance against Sydney's ferocious dining machine. The openings just don't stop – and ain't nobody got time to keep on top of what's what. Except us, of course. Behold: our definitive eat-and-destroy list.

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By: Freya Herring

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