Found in the middle of the suits and skyscrapers of North Sydney is Rafi, a 300-seat restaurant and bar and a recent offering from Applejack Hospitality (also the Taphouse, Bopp and Tone, Forrester's). Orange umbrellas line the foliage-filled outdoor terrace, and an exquisite semi-alfresco glasshouse overflows with lush plants and patterned window frames. It’s a feast for the eyes, a rare sanctuary sprung from the beige urban surroundings.
The interiors, designed by Luchetti Krelle, echo Applejack's mantra to "look bar, act restaurant", exuding youthful energy. And while the acoustics make it hard to hear your guests during busy times, it certainly adds to the buzz.
The menu is as inventive and vibrant as the interiors. Puffed pillows of their signature sourdough wholemeal pita are served to the tables around us. We’re eager to order and get in on the yeasty joy but we feel overwhelmed by choice. Our waitress is dutiful but a little ambivalent, so we refrain from asking for recommendations.
The menu is rooted in New South Wales’s coastal influences, co-designed by Applejack’s head of culinary Patrick Friesen (ex-Queen Chow Enmore and Ms G's) and Rafi executive chef Matias Cilloniz, who came recently from one of the World's 50 Best Restaurants – Central in Peru.
The raw platter for two is a popular choice to start, but we go for the oysters with leche de tigre granita, the bright spicy citrus-flavoured marinade for Peruvian ceviche. We are served Sydney rock oysters from Merimbula Lake and Coffin Bay Pacific oysters. It’s exhilarating, and the icy crystals of the granita dissolve in a tangy swirl of lime and ginger with the creamy saltwater-kissed oysters.
The South Coast tuna bursts with freshness and flavours of tomato, tahini, crisp chilli oil and textural sunflower seeds. It’s our favourite dish, and we think we’ll be dreaming about it for days (and months) to come.
The cocktail list is innovative and creative, and includes a “make it your way” cocktail with seasonal shrubs. There is a well-constructed list of local beers and wines, but we are feeling celebratory, so we order a glass of Taittinger Champagne. It arrives with the Calabrian anchovies and the highly anticipated puffed pita. Thankfully, it does not disappoint, and we use it to mop up leftover sauces that would be a tragedy to waste.
The extensive vegetable menu feels like a celebrated star, with a whopping nine plates to choose from. We can’t go past the radicchio with anchovy and garlic. The crimson leaves are bright and perfectly formed, and the tangy dressing hugs the bitter leaves generously. We love it – and it has us dipping our finger on the plate searching for more.
The crisp potatoes arrive crunchy, dusted with dehydrated chives and sitting upon a bed of sour cream. They’re as good as a potato can be, but somewhat predictable and could do with extra oomph.
We really like the sound of every single dish on the sustainably sourced seafood menu, and we go for the king prawns with chilli miso butter. They arrive lacquered and juicy, each as large as the dinner plate, and stained with the scarlet gloss of melted butter and chilli. Our first bite is a revelation – we can’t remember having eaten a better prawn than this.
There are four meat options, all dazzling in their descriptions, but we opt for the pork neck with pickled gooseberries and cider. It’s excellent, but perhaps less “wow” than the others.
We order the coconut mousse with sago, pineapple and mezcal for dessert. The dessert servings are very generous, and we reckon this could be shared by three to four people. The creamy mousse is soft as a cloud, housing layers of pineapple sorbet and a mezcal-infused sago beneath it. We can only manage two mouthfuls however, because by this stage we’re in a food coma, and we’re sad we don’t have room for more.
We’re leaving with a lighter wallet and a full tummy. And while we would have appreciated a bit more guidance through the menu – including how much to order – we’re also leaving happy.
Rafi stands out amongst the concrete jungle of North Sydney, filled with glorious flavours and dreamy aesthetics – and we say go for the seafood and vegetables. It’s well suited for all kinds of occasions, from date nights, leisurely lunches and corporate bookings for the kind of feast that will have you and your friends talking about for weeks after and returning time and time again.