For years the waterfront north of Darling Harbour was home to, well, not much. You might exit right at the King Street ferry and plunge into the tourist morass therein. Exit left nowadays and you’ll find yourself in, arguably, Sydney’s best dining district. Midweek, The Streets of Barangaroo hum with the CBD’s lunching masses. At the weekend, Wynyard Station deposits foodies at the doorstep of this hub of outposts from Sydney’s top restaurants. Today, cult eats right on the water’s edge – from Spanish to Vietnamese cuisine, Louisiana-style barbecue to sushi, bakeries, gelaterias, cocktail bars and coffee shops – woo you in. The precinct’s plan to create a place where you can work, eat, shop, live and play all within a few hundred metres along Sydney’s glittering harbour edge has coalesced into buzzing reality. And you have to taste it.
If you haven’t had the chance to nip up to Tokyo and experience the art of the Japanese burger bar, never fear. Visit one on your next lunch break thanks to chef Kerby Craig and Ume Burger at Barangaroo. The namesake Ume Burger ($14.60) is a marvel of Japanese quality and ingeniously paired ingredients – think Wagyu mince sauce, American cheese and a Hokkaido-style milk bun – basically the stuff cheeseburger dreams are made of. Hit up the kawaii vending machine for a suitably quirky drink and definitely order a side of hot chips (coated in umami dust) and Japanese mayo to round it all out Edo style.
Sydney sits by the seashore and sells some of the world’s best seafood. Say that ten times fast. Love.fish does one better and makes sure that rustic marine bounty is as fresh, local, seasonal and sustainable as it gets, meaning you get to stack up all the Aussie oysters, piles of crisp whitebait or persimmon-hued prawns you like with a clear conscience. Same with the organic, biodynamic (and largely Aussie) wine list. A bowl heaped high with plump, steaming South Australian Kinkawooka mussels ($27), harvested live to order, in a pool of savoury, smoky broth (flavoured with apple cider, soft onion, pancetta and black garlic oil) pairs perfectly with a chilled glass of Patrick Sullivan's dry rosé from Gippsland, Victoria.
Unlike in Barcelona’s El Born neighbourhood, you need not eat your tapas standing up while moving from bar to bar until the early morning hours. Instead, grab a waterside table with friends at Bórn by Tapavino and make a full meal out of small plates like melt-in-your-mouth jamón ibérico, Spanish cheeses and boquerones. Manchego churros ($12) turn what’s usually a dessert into four savoury bites that act as the perfect intro to a long, slow (read: Spanish-style) meal. Fried puff pastry is topped with shredded Manchego, crumbled chorizo and a drizzle of spicy mayo. You’ll easily forget you’re sitting a stone’s throw from Sydney’s CBD and not in Catalonia.
Sydney’s Thai food is mostly of the cheap and cheerful variety, heavy on the pad Thai. And while every suburb has its own favourite Thai place, you’d be hard pressed to find the authentic regional fare Barangaroo’s Muum Maam specialises in at your neighbourhood shopping square Thai joint. The northern style crispy egg noodles with slow-cooked beef curry and pickled mustard ($28) is a rare treat. Crisp noodles come heaped on top of a thick, yellow coconut curry that hides the tenderest morsels of beef. Submerge the noodles to really bring out the exotic flavours and for palate-pleasing, contrasting textures: the melt-in-your-mouth beef against the curry-soaked crisp noodles. It’s the perfect, hearty meal-in-a-dish and a far cry from the cliche Thai fare you’re used to.
If you haven’t heard of a vermouth (aromatic fortified wine, infused with botanicals) bar before, that’d be because Banksii is the first of its kind in Sydney. It comes paired with a breezy Mediterranean-inspired bistro, so you can stay for dinner too. The menu is shot through with local flavours and botanicals in a hat tip to Australia’s first botanist Sir Joseph Banks (also the location’s namesake). You’ll find a fun play on traditional dishes, like beef carpaccio. Instead of cow you get fresh-as kangaroo carpaccio ($23) – with a clean taste and tender, wafer-thin slices with not a hint of gaminess. It’s adorned with edible flowers, nasturtium leaves, slices of breakfast radishes, hunks of briny pickled radish and an emulsified citrusy vinaigrette.
At first glance, Devon Café’s corner spot might seem like just a coffee shop, with alluring pastries and cakes (many gluten free) on display and take-away cups stacked high. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find great table service and a menu filled with high-quality yet casual Japanese-Australian comfort food (from jaffles to matcha). The Wagyu steak ($29) regularly sells out before the end of lunch. No wonder. Its slices of perfectly medium meat are smothered in a brown porcini butter sauce with chopped chives and paired with thin, airy tempura onion rings. It’s a satisfying, well executed lunch in one dish that’s quicker than comparable dishes at fancier venues. Then you can grab that flat white on the way out to stave off the post-lunch slump.
Cirrus translates to ‘a thin, wispy cloud that forms high in the sky’, which is an apt metaphor for a restaurant that creates light and delicate dishes, which are subtly superior to their classic origins. The smoked ocean trout parfait, for example, is aerated like a mousse and topped with a thin layer of jelly and crumbed fennel pollen. Its smokiness is mild and the fennel has a gentle perfume that’s paired with a soft herb green paste and salmon roe. The crisp wafers of toast have just enough structural integrity that you can forgo the cutlery and slice straight into the parfait like it’s a dessert.
A zen Japanese aesthetic (lots of wooden tables and clean lines) demarcates this eastern-suburbs-in-the-city sushi joint with a modern twist. It’s all about creative, healthy Japanese dishes for sharing – Izakaya style – including jushed-up rolls that are a far cry from the standard fare, yakitori and serious Japanese sake, whiskey and cocktails. Sashimi tacos ($20) are a wild, inventive dish. A layered stack of tuna, avo and salmon is topped with a scoop of frosty, gently sweet yuzu granita and sprinkled with flying fish roe, all served with a stack of flash-fried wonton wrappers – a Japanese take on tortilla chips.
Lean back into the bamboo chairs at Lotus and you just might feel like you’ve been whisked away to a Chinese hutong (narrow street or alleyway), albeit a high-end one where modern Australian-inspired Chinese cuisine is on the menu, complete with nine different kinds of dumplings. This culinary marriage carries over into the visually stunning dessert menu too. Ma Fleur de Lotus ($16) is a work of abstract art. An orb of pale yellow chrysanthemum cheesecake – concealing a liquid core of yuzu – is bedecked with a tangle of copper-dusted meringue and paired with a scoop of coconut ice cream and delicate shards of smashed coconut meringue. So good.
Anason proves there’s more to Turkish food than just late-night, neon-lit kebabs, with its modern Iznik (blue and white) palette and inspired take on the traditional Turkish meyhane (taverna). The name – a nod to the main flavour in the national spirit – is fitting, as is the stunning floor-to-ceiling bar and menu of sharable dishes. Order the charcoal octopus, witlof and tomato ezme ($23) for a perfectly grilled cephalopod that could just as easily be served seaside in Bodrum as harbourside in Barangaroo, without a rubbery tentacle in sight. Impossibly tender octopus is topped with discs of spicy radish and arranged over bitter witlof (endive) leaves to counter the sweeter notes in the underlying tomato ezme (a traditional relish-like salad of mostly tomatoes and peppers). We’d repeatedly raise a glass of raki to that.