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Fred's
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Cheap hacks for dining at fancy restaurants in Sydney

How to access fine dining on a budget in Sydney

Written by
Time Out editors
&
Elizabeth McDonald
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Cheap is a relative term. Some people might not blink at a $25 glass of Coravin-accessed wine (those people probably know how much the bottle goes for), but for others, $25 is food for two (especially if it's an El Jannah chicken). However, fine diners aren't necessarily the exclusive domain of the cashed-up – there are ways in for fewer dollars if you know the terrain.

Bar menus provide access to the talents of the kitchen without having to cough up for the full multi-course experience; lunch is often cheaper than dinner; and many high-end chefs also dabble with easier access exploits like market stalls, pop-up projects and at-home experiences. For those of you who fancy a bit of finery without breaking the bank, this list of money-saving hacks puts the happy back in Happy Hour. Follow these top tips for fine dining on a budget in Sydney, and we’ll have you leaving the most lauded dining rooms in the city with a full belly and change in your pocket.

Working on a shoestring? We've also unearthed the 70 best cheap eats in Sydney.

Cheap hacks for fancy places

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Potts Point
  • price 2 of 4

Hack: Go the banquet menu

At $65 per person, of course this isn't the cheapest meal you could splash out on, but if we're talking bang for buck - you can't go past the Izakaya set menu. Seven courses include expertly sliced kingfish with lightly pickled cucumber, miso eggplant (on a stick, why not?) charcoal-grilled chicken with koji yuzu dressing, sides and dessert.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Barangaroo

Hack: Grab yourself a bento box

If we pocketed a dollar for every person who says Sydney is expensive, we’d be drinking on our very own, private, harbourfront deck. But if you want to dine out without selling your left kidney, we suggest going for one of the three bento boxes on offer, ranging from $45 to $69.50, that are generous enough to feed two comfortably. The ‘Sydney’ box includes a teriyaki salmon or chicken option. But if you want the full Nobu experience in one go, order the ‘classic’. It comes with the black cod miso and the seared tuna sashimi on salad leaves and shavings of radish and beetroot. There’re three little salmon avocado sushi pieces, three jewel-toned nigiri, and a vegetable stirfry on rice, a tumble of baby tiger prawn tempura doused in a creamy spicy dressing.

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  • Restaurants
  • Sydney
  • price 3 of 4

Hack: Pre-theatre menu

Dining at Aria is as opulent as it is expensive but if you plan wisely and score a pre-theatre dinner slot between 5.30-7pm, you can have a seriously luxe and significantly cheaper dining experience than the usual a la carte. With a choice of one, two, or three courses, including wafer-thin slices of kangaroo with macadamia and palm hearts, pasture-raised eye fillet and mango souffle, for under $100 per person, you won't find a finer tasting menu in town with a view to write home about.

  • Restaurants
  • European
  • Paddington
  • price 3 of 4

Hack: Breakfast

Scoring a reservation at Fred’s can be challenging, but for a glimpse at the magic (and a taste of their canelé) head here on Saturday morning between 8-11am. Farm to Fred’s, as the breakfast slot is called, is an opportunity for the pastry chefs to test new creations: perhaps orange and almond cake or caramelised pear galettes.

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  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Paddington

Hack: Fish and chips from the Fish Butchery

Chef Josh Niland once let us in on a little secret: fish and chips is not actually a cheap dish to make. At least, not the way he does it, with beautiful pink ling fillets from the NSW coast, proper potato chips with the skin still on and a yoghurt tartare. But it is undeniably a lot cheaper to get the takeaway version from the Fish Butchery than it is to dine in at the elegant seafood counter of his award-winning restaurant Saint Peter next door. You can also head on down to Charcoal Fish at Rose Bay and grab yourself a rotisserie Murray cod roll, doused in a rich fish gravy and dense with crisp cod crackling.

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Sydney

Hack: Happy Hour

Give yourself an early mark and head to Hubert’s happy hour, where from 5-6pm Monday to Saturday, the $12 Negronis will have you feeling like top dog in no time. There’s also $6 wines, Gin and Tonics and Dubonnet Highball⁠s to help take the edge off. Add some snacks like rillettes, sausage, a burger, parfait, or freshly baked butter cakes and you've had a French fling for fewer francs.

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  • Restaurants
  • Bondi Beach
  • price 3 of 4

Hack: The bar

This famous Sydney beauty is an expensive date, especially when you get a little cavalier with the impressive wine list after a few Spritz. But if you want a bite of the fancy cherry without going all in, try and nab a seat at the bar (overall capacity is 85 people right now so competition for seats is fierce). Here you can order a primer of the very same ziti caccio e pepe that they serve in the dining room, pair it with a drink and then be on your merry way, possibly for under $50 if you play your cards right. 

  • Restaurants
  • Australian
  • Sydney
  • price 3 of 4

Hack: Lunch

If you want to shave a few dollar signs off one of the most consistently creative fine diners in town, head to Belntley for lunch, when two courses is an indulgence, but not outrageous $75. You can wind it back even further by opting for the bar menu, where you can order the very same wagyu short rib that appears on the lunch menu on its own for $60. Then you can spend what you save on excellent wine to match.

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  • Restaurants
  • Sydney

Hack: Sit at the bar, order the burger

There are a whopping 2,682 Riedel Riesling glasses in the Rockpool Bar and Grill chandelier. But we can almost promise that your eyes won’t be on it. Nor will they be on the Deco grandeur of the dining room (and its many designer suits) or the dance of intuitive barstaff stirring Martinis. Why? Because they’ll be on your plate, gazing lovingly at the city's fanciest cheeseburger with bacon and dill pickles.

  • Restaurants
  • Restaurants

Hack: Humble Bakery

Their restaurants are at the top of most people's date night wish lists, but the Porteño crew has opened a bakery on Holt Street called Humble. Expect sourdough, ciabatta, focaccia, baguettes, sandwiches, and salads, plus gelato that they’re making in-house for all their venues. The bakery and café is open daily from 7am.

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Hack: Get Olio quality pasta for way, way less

The mastermind behind Chippendale's Olio, Sicilian-born chef Lino Sauro, has opened up a much more casual but equally delicious offering at Str'eats by Olio. From just 12 bucks, you can grab handmade pasta with peperoncino and olive oil, or con le sardine with pine nuts, wild fennel and saffron for less than a twenty.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Paddington
  • price 2 of 4

Hack: Snacks at Charlie Parkers

It's well known that lunch at Paddington's Fred's can be a bit on the spenno side. Happily though, the snacks at Charlie Parker's downstairs come from the same kitchen and start at just eight dollarydoos. Chicken liver parfait and steak tartare go down real easy with one of Charlie's signature cocktails.

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  • Restaurants
  • Sydney

Hack: Small plates from Little Felix

If you're a bit of a restaurant nerd, you might already know that Felix takes some of its cues from New York brasserie to the stars, Balthazar itself a homage to the classic Parisian bistro. What you might not know, however, is that Felix's little brother, aptly named Little Felix, has fabulous small plates available from the bar from just 12 dollars.

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