No matter how you feel about nationalism, there's one thing all Australians can agree on. We make pretty epic food. We thought we’d celebrate our country with some of Sydney’s finest fare. We’ve found the 27 most Australian dishes that Sydney has to offer. From the best pad Thai to our raddest lamington and most delicious native plant stir-fry.
Here is our list, in no particular order, of Sydney's best takes on Australiana:
The recipe is top secret, but we reckon Flour and Stone are soaking homemade sponge in a panna cotta base to create the custard-like cake that makes up their celebrated panna cotta lamington. Regardless, it is the best item in the whole lammington genre, with a jammy centre and wide shards of coconut decorating the chocolatey coating. And what could be more Australian than a lamington?
Think you know schnitty? Get down to Oratnek, where they shove it in a roll and Japanese-it right up. It has been cut up into three – soft white, crustless bread (thanks mum) encasing massive wodges of succulent, crisp-fried pork, crunchy cabbage, sweet American mustard and sweet’n’sour Japanese barbecue sauce. It’s a monster size, the pork significantly thicker than the bread (weighing in at 200g of meat in total). And it’s only $12. Are we still in Sydney?
Australian food encompasses many cultures, and Billy Kwong, with its Chinese-toned food made with Austrlian-native ingredients, might well demonstrate this better than any other restaurant in Sydney. Try the red-braised wallaby tail: a big pile of sticky, nubbly, on-the-bone meat, dressed with a gingery, not-too-sweet black bean and chilli sauce. Chopsticks prove a hindrance for us, so we say pick each little piece up with your hands and nibble away at the tender meat. On the side, order the stir-fry of native greens. When we ordered, it had tender saltbush and bower spinach alongside cooling ice plant and popping succulent, all tossed in a ginger-spiked, shiro shoyu sauce. It’s dishes like this – local-focussed, Asian-inspired and banging with flavour – which tell you what Kylie Kwong is all about.
Is it ours? Is it New Zealand’s? Or shall we just claim it as our own regardless? Ok then. Here at Bennelong, pavlova is the signature dessert, and it’s served only in the restaurant. Hidden beneath a little dome of poached meringue dotted with piped Italian meringue and whipped cream is a teeny compote of fragrant, rose-tinted rhubarb. Thin fragments of classic meringue decorate the top to replicate the House's famous sails. It’s a celebration of delicacy and air, much like the design of the building in which it is served. If we’re talking about locality, and for that matter, Australian cultural icons, in a dish, well… you can’t get much more authentic than this.
What could be more Australian than everyone's favourite ice cream, the Golden Gaytime? And as so many of us our descended from the Scots, it seems only fair to deep-fry it, right? The Lord Gladstone have done just that, drenching it in extra caramel sauce and serving it on the stick, hot and melty and ready to rumble.
Pad Thai might just be our national dish, and Sailor’s Thai do one of the best versions in town. The slim noodles offer a satisfying contrast against big, crunchy bean sprouts, while chewy dried baby shrimp, soft tofu and crisp peanuts add surprise and texture. If you like things spicier, order nam pla prik (a lime, fish sauce and chilli sauce) on the side – it’s not on the menu, but the friendly staff will happily whip some up if you ask.
Now, to quote Momofuku’s David Chang, “You know who fucks up burgers more than anyone else in the world? Australians. Australia has no idea what a burger is. They put a fried egg on their burger. They put canned beetroot on it, like a wedge of it. I am not joking you. This is how they eat their burger.” We think the best example of our apparent foolishness is at Paul’s in Sylvania, where things are done the Aussie way. Hit up the special and get pineapple on that burger along with bacon and a fried egg. Beetroot optional. Suck it Chang – this is living.
What could be more Aussie than the sweet, fresh tang of passionfruit? The buttermilk and passionfruit gelato at Ciccone and Sons is possibly the most refreshing iced treat you could imagine – sweet'n'sour and slightly salty. Co-owner Mark Megahey replaces the usual milk in his base with (Australian-made) Pepe Saya’s tangy, creamy buttermilk, making a gelato that is creamy but not overly rich, and tastes like summer in a cup.
The world has only recently begun to share in Australia's love for the flat white, but let's make it clear: it was ours first (or New Zealand's, see pavlova). The coffee at Single Origin CBD is excellent. An ultra-smooth flat white is of the variety you want late on a Sunday morning – just creamy enough, with a grind that speaks of vanilla beans and fire at the same time. As middle-of-the-work-week indulgences go, it is a total treat.
The best Aussie prawns taste purely of the sea, with none of those muddy undertones that lesser quality specimens can often display. So it is at Ester, where the big ass prawns – almost the size of langoustines – are served à la meunière, in a pool of burnt butter and fried capers. The prawns have been split so they're easy to eat, the brains and all left in for those brave enough to sook them out. The meat is clean and sweet and deeply, beautifully oceanic. Order some bread to mop up that heavenly sauce, and get your hands mucky in the process – this is what eating crustacean is all about.
No matter what you’ve eaten that day already, regardless of the size of your feast, just try telling us that the meaty scent of snags on the barbie when you make the trek into Bunningsdoesn’t make you hungry for more? From the cheap white bread, to the dollop of acidic tomato sauce and the searingly hot wand of porky goodness within, it’s an Australian classic. Who else in the world would demand a side of sausages with their hardware?
By God do we love our barbecued steak in Australia. But have you had the best goddamn steak in Sydney yet? The signature at Firedoor is the 150-day dry-aged beef rib on the bone. Dry ageing beef significantly concentrates the flavour while also making the meat softer; it’s a process that usually lasts about thirty days. The hulk on our plate – which could easily feed up to four people – has spent five whole months in the cooler. You can tell. The meat is cooked medium rare, and its bone-rich flavour is intense. Imagine the best-quality stock cube money could buy, mixed with the carnivorous smell of a butcher shop, add the intense umami of jerky, and you’re halfway there.
Cherries are one of our favourite fruit, but Lixie ups the ante with their dark chocolate cherry liquor truffle. As you bite in, boozy cherry liquor bursts into your mouth first (you may want to bring a bib), and inside, a real dried cherry – farewell maraschino atrocities! – awaits you. It’s sweet and sour and all of the good things, but beware the pip in the middle. The casing is soft enough to allow a nice ratio of chocolate to cherry in one mouthful, and you can nibble the chocolate from the stem like a chipmunk – what’s not to love about that?
The parmi is reimagined by one of our most creative chefs, Mitch Orr of ACME. The carpaccio parmigiana tastes just how is sounds: a parmi, but with raw beef instead of schnitty. It’s layered up on a plate of fresh, tangy tomato sauce, and topped with fragrant basil, tender fried eggplant and a drizzle of mild cheese sauce.
You can’t go to Quay and not try the Snow Egg; it’s probably Sydney’s most celebrated dessert. Poor Mr Gilmore might not ever be able to take this off the menu, given its sparkling reputation. The fruit changes by the Aussie seasons but the night we’re in, jackfruit is the prima donna. The fool, made from the fruit, at the base of the glass (Riedel, no less) is frothy and light; the jackfruit granita, punchy and refreshing; the poached meringue and ice cream interior complements the malted sugar shell so that together they bring back nostalgic reveries of childhood fairy floss. It really is all it’s cracked (sorry) up to be.
What is there not to love about Bourke Street's epic sausage roll? It's got fans all over the world (we once listened as UK chef Yotam Ottolenghi devoured one in front of us, declaring its brilliance). Buttery pastry encases fragrant, fennel-spiked pork sausage. The sausage roll is all Aussie, but the flecks of fennel reference our Italian heritage as well. If you can get it hot, then go for it, but take a few of these along on a picnic and you’ll have friends for life.
This has to be one of the best desserts in the history of Australian cooking. Back when it was perfected by Lorraine Godsmark and Neil Perry in the 90s, this tart helped define what Australian pastry could be. It’s still on the menu at Rockpool as a petit four, but the only way to get the real deal is to go straight to Lorraine, and ask her (very nicely) to make one in advance for you. What is it, you ask? Well, it’s the flakiest, most buttery pastry encasing soft, sweet Californian dates and a thick layer of creamy, unbelievably silky vanilla custard, cooked so a caramelised crust forms on the top. It takes six months to train a chef to make this dessert, so now Lorraine makes them all herself, and only two at a time (see why we said to ask nicely?).
Did you know that marron is endemic to Western Australia? Chefs from all over the world have fallen in love with it – Heston Blumenthal being one of its biggest fans. Here at Sepia it is served shelled and topped with shaved Tasmanian black truffle, on a bed of creamy dashimaki tamago (that rolled omelette you get with your sushi). Served with a caramelly Madeira, it’s an unusual pairing, but as with virtually everything here, it totally works.
Thai food + fish = Australia all over. The night we go in to Longrain, the whole crisp market fish of the day is snapper, and it arrives with sour, mouth-puckering tamarind sauce. The entire thing is deep fried, but they remove the fillets beforehand. So they're cooked to soft, flaky perfection, and the rest of the beast can be picked and prodded at your leisure. Be sure and dig out the cheeks – they’re the best bit.
This wouldn’t be a list of Aussie dishes unless we featured a Vietnamese pork roll, and Marrickville Pork Roll is the Sydney go-to. It’s a hole in the wall sort of place, with a few ladies packing rolls at speed. A crisp-edged, soft baguette is packed with herbs, tender pork, pâté and pickles, and at only $4.50 it’s one of Sydney’s greatest bargain lunches.
This classic Sixpenny dish is a celebration of two of our greatest culinary gifts to the world: crab and macadamia nuts. It’s a little pile of curled, shaved macadamia nuts disguising lightly cooked crab meat and macadamia nut cream beneath, all scented with the barest hint of chamomile. It’s a beautiful, tender dish that shows precision and sympathy for delicate ingredients.
Apparently it's Australia's favourite pizza. In 2006, 15 per cent of all pizzas sold in this country were Hawaiian. Of course, no self-respecting Italian pizza place will make one, it's just an Aussie classic. That combo of meat with tropical fruit pops up all over our culinary history.Forresters do a good one if you’d like to prove your patriotism with a pie.
Lemon myrtle isn’t just endemic to Australia, but to the particular rainforests of central and south-eastern Queensland. Black Star’s lemon myrtle chiffon cake is tinged with the citrusy tang of this fragrant herb, packing a punch in flavour, while remaining tender and light as a cloud.
Avo on toast – Everywhere
Whether you slick some Vegemite on there or top it off with feta, avo on toast is an Australian classic. You can also get it in pretty much every café in the country (not to mention making it at home/work/everywhere where there are toasters) but we like the ones at 212 Blu and Single Origin CBD in particular.
We couldn’t do this list without including this fabled pie. Hunks of meat amongst peppery gravy are enveloped with classic Aussie pastry and topped with mash, mushy pies and more gravy. It’s not the most finessed takeaway pie in Sydney (Black Star Pastry wins that award for their Young Henry's beer and brisket number) but it’s in keeping with the Aussie tradition. And eating one of these by the navy boats down at Woolloomooloo Wharf in the wee small hours is a rite of passage every Sydneysider must experience.
At the Boathouse up at Palm Beach, super-crisp batons of fish come with a plethora of chips underneath. Sitting with a basket of these on the deck out back (see also bucket of prawns), watching the boats roll by, with the sound of seagulls in the air, feels pretty perfect, and beautifully Australian.