Cheap is a relative term, we hear you. One $16 glass of orange wine is par the course for some, while the same might equal an entire roll-up-your-sleeves banquet to another. But for those of you who wouldn’t mind the harbour views, an excuse to dress up, or a taste of an award-winning wine list before their next pay-cheque, this list puts the happy back in happy hour. Follow these cheap hacks for fine dining on a budget in Sydney, and we’ll have you leaving the finest diners in the city with a full belly and change in your pocket for a night-cap (or avo on toast the next morning).
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Cheap hacks for fancy places
Scoring a reservation at Fred’s can be challenging, but for a glimpse at the magic (and a taste of their canelé) head here 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, destined for a spoonful of crème fraîche come dessert. There’s also seasonal and organic Sift Produce boxes you can pre-order and collect on the day – some of the very same produce they use in the restaurant – and other Fred’s-approved staples to take home like Taluca Park free-range eggs.
Hack: The chef’s tasting menu, at the Cured & Cultured counter
An approachable $75 can have you enjoying seven delicious plates under the very same sails as the high-flyers. Red claw yabby pikelets with lemon jam and cream; Sydney rock oysters with lemon and pepper granita; a parmesan and pine nut hotcake with cured and smoked ham. Yep, the gang’s all here at the Cured & Cultured counter. But the less we tell you the better. Book ahead, dress up, and be prepared to be dazzled by some smart and truly modern Australian fare.
Hack: The daily apéritif
Just because you’re skint this month, doesn’t mean you can’t hit the town. Give yourself an early mark and head to Hubert’s Apéritif, where from 4-6pm Monday to Saturday, the $10 Negronis will have you feeling like a baller in no time (they’re normally $22). There’s also wines and G&Ts for a fiver, and an unbeatable bar snack menu that includes $5 pâté, the $10 Normandy burger, and $3 devilled eggs. Take that, savings account.
Hack: Sit at the bar, order the burger
There’s 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 waitstaff stirring Martinis. Why? Because they’ll be on your lunch: a juicy cheeseburger with bacon and dill pickles and a Sydney Beer Co beer for just $22 bones.
Hack: Sit at the bar
The tasting menu at Momofuku Seiobo costs a pretty penny (read: $185). But you can also get a real sense of chef Paul Carmichael’s Barbados upbringing by snacking at Momo’s no-bookings, five-seater bar. Starters like lamb tartare with mango hot sauce and black eye peas ($18) and a Caesar salad beefed up with jerk chicken skin ($15), playfully remix Caribbean home-cooking and Australian produce. Or, for those of us not here to muck around, go straight to the will-immediately-need-a-nap fried chicken sandwich ($18).
Hack: The $15 lunch special, at the bar
This slick China diner might’ve been around a decade, but a menu seamlessly bouncing between the regional flavours of Sichuan, Yunnan, Jiangxi and beyond, never gets old. Hit the bar for lunch. There you’ll find five fragrant noodle bowls to choose from (yes, one for every working day of the week). Belt noodles with pork and fermented chilli, or Shanghai noodles with braised lamb? At $15 a bowl, order both. Or for an extra ten clams, match it with one of 12 cocktails based on the Chinese zodiac.
Hack: Sunday brunch
While one hand is busy Instagramming the Icebergs pool in its best light, the other can dig into passionfruit and poppyseed crullers, Fontina gougères, and wild quince and raspberry focaccia. And that’s just the welcome snacks. At the Icebergs Sunday brunch, $55 buys you a selection of pastries to start, plus two courses: a very pretty yoghurt semifreddo with maple and caramelised oats, perhaps, followed by Harris Smokehouse salmon with pickled red cabbage on Iggy’s bread. Part with an extra $25 and bottomless prosecco is all yours.