Italian food is the unofficial second cuisine of Sydney (the first being Thai). Many of the city's best fine dining and casual eateries have heavily Italian influenced menus, and while good pizzerias and dirt-cheap red sauces places are harder to find than the poshest stuff, there are still spades of options to choose from. We've picked our favourites from every style, so no matter what mood you're in, there's something here for you.
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The best Italian restaurants in Sydney
This Potts Point restaurant boasts a full house rain, hail or shine, excellent service and a super-interesting wine list. Risotto all’Ametriciana sees pearly, round little grains of rice cooked al dente with a chilli, fresh marjoram, fine shavings of Parmesan and thin stubs of pancetta, spread out in a thin layer over a shallow dish. They serve it, you eat it everybody’s happy. (Try it with a glass of nero d‘avola from star Sicilian natural wine makers Occhipinti, or a weird-arse organic spelt beer).
You probably just popped your head in for a cheeky glass of vino on your way home. But, once the aroma of shellfish, garlic, and chilli in the tangled thicket of spaghettini hits you, you may as well relinquish your evening plans – and your budget for that matter. The only way out of a night of incredible wines and Italianish food at 10 William Street is through it.
Dining fashions may come and go, but drinking Spritzes with ocean views and a corps of Sydney’s most beautiful people at neighbouring tables will never go out of style. The appeal of classic Italian food is transeasonal, as is dining by the water, and both are best undertaken in this storied dining room.
It feels very good to be eating pasta once again in the laneway hideaway that used to be Berta, right behind the AFP headquarters on the CBD fringe. Inside, it’s a highly condensed version of the Hubert interiors with vintage posters and prints in giant frames taking up any wall space not devoted to pigeonholes packed with wine. It’s tight, and it needs to be because the early adopters are already out in force. The cacio e pepe gnocchi is reason enough to visit – meltingly soft potato dumplings in a silky pecorino butter emulsion spiked with lots of black pepper.
Bondi’s latest scene is an Italian restaurant tucked inside an old pub like some sort of dining hermit crab. You can bypass the red felt pool tables and airy public bar of the Hotel Bondi entirely thanks to a direct side entrance. Out here in the sunny, white courtyard, beneath the skinny branches of two olive trees, Bondi’s most stylish gather for long lunches (oh look, it’s the Preatures).
You can definitely tell that Don Peppino’s used to be a nightclub. As you head up those impressive theatre steps off Oxford Street and turn gently up the wide, white marble stairwell the sound of animated chatter builds till it sounds like a full blown party. Given we are not here for dancing, we are not disappointed to find ourselves in an large, airy dining room shaped like an awkward slice of cake.
You don’t come to Sagra to show off. It’s not about pomp or prestige, any more than fiddly garnishes or fancy plating. But taking someone there will impress them, because this is one of Sydney’s most beloved modern Italians. It’s the simplicity of things that is Sagra’s drawcard. The space reflects this – it feels like you’re stepping into someone’s home as you walk into the little terrace building.
You’re rolling the dice when it comes to Tinder dates, so it should come as sweet relief to learn there’s a dashing chap in Double Bay who is guaranteed to wine and dine you and never, ever send unsolicited nudes. Sadly, you can’t take Matteo home to meet your mum, because it’s a breezy Italian restaurant making Adriatic chic your new aspirational dress code. However, you can take your mum here, and you should.
When a classic Italian restaurant in Rushcutters Bay decides to change things up, they go and transform themselves into... a classic Italian restaurant, but this time with a sharp focus on all things Roman. Farewell Popolo, and hello Marta. This is where you can take a dining chair tour of Rome, with a greatest hits menu inspired by the ten years Carnevale spent there as a young man.
This basement restaurant is devoted to Florence’s famous T-bone steaks. They recommend 600g as the minimum cut to achieve the full bistecca Fiorentina experience (anything less is getting to minute steak territory), but 800g is optimal, which means they’re slicing up well over 250kg of grass-fed beef from the Riverina in South Western NSW every week. This restaurant is also so deeply ensconced under a block of the Northern CBD that The War of the Worlds could be happening outside and you’d be none the wiser.
Bondi, in all its glamour and glitz, exists in a microcosm inside an old pub on Crown Street. It was always going to be this way. The Dolphin Hotel is owned by Maurice Terzini, the man behind Icebergs and Da Orazio, and he’s brought everything but the sand with him. And the food is beautiful classic Italian, as you'd expect.
For vegetarians, scanning an Italian menu can feel like a game of chance. Spot the right words (stracciatella! brown butter!) and you’re in for a good time, see a bland risotto and the night could be ruined. But at Kindred, Matt Pollock’s homey 40 seater in Darlington, plant-based options dominate the menu, so the odds are ever in your favour. In the 18 months since the neighbourhood Italian opened, the former A Tavola chef has shifted towards a bigger line-up of vego dishes that aren’t just cheaper, but more popular.
Newport has a certain look, which involves whitest whites, honey timbers and gentle blues (ideally stripes) to remind you that the sea is never far away. And while the glassed-in dining room on thundering Barrenjoey Road adheres to this strict dress code, underneath the coastal minimalism beats the heart of a rustic trattoria where spaghetti vongole is only ever taken off the list when the little clams need more maturation time.
Like an oasis in the desert, a charming Italian trattoria is the last thing you expect to find in the quiet backstreets of residential Alexandria. Seek out Pino’s Vino e Cucina, however, and you will discover that the combination of dark timber, warm candlelight, soft leather banquettes, excellent wine and one of Sydney’s most tender steaks results in the only place you want to eat at for the foreseeable future.
Head to this Paddo white table cloth mainstay and order a glass of fresh, crisp Friulano pinot grigio to go with thin green strands of pasta interlaced with blue swimmer crab, bound with tomato. Roast duck with pickled cherries, chicory and poached fennel brings out the musk and stone fruit in a glass of Chianti. It's a big, exxy night out here, but well worth it for the art alone – let alone that crab pasta.
All your Pizza Mario favourites are available at Da Mario, which you'll find on a corner of the Cannery, the Rosebery complex that also houses Koskela and Kitchen By Mike. There's the Margherita 'extra' (the extra is buffalo mozzarella), as well as their wonderfully simple patate (potato, rosemary, sea salt). And Cowdrill – one of the first people in Sydney to hold a membership to Italy's tradition-enforcing Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana – is still closed-minded on variations.
There’s only one place you need to be right now, and that’s face-first in a focaccia con porchetta. The outrageous sandwich is a hot, fatty, rich and juicy pile of chopped-up roast pork straight from the rotisserie, laid with crisp cos lettuce leaves and grilled eggplant, all smooshed between pieces of pizza bread in a happy delicious mess. And that’s what happens when you put Popolo’s Orazio D’Elia in the kitchen and catch Maurice Terzini at full power.
In a city where you can get pizza by the metre and deep-dish versions impersonating a Mary’s burger, is it still possible to stand out with slices of pie? Yes and Madre in Marrickville is doing just that. This tiny corner pizzeria is the latest venue for Piero Pignatti Morano and Kim Douglas, the A-team behind the ever-popular Two Chaps café, located only blocks away. And they’ve tuned out all the gospel about what makes a classic Italian pizza to create something thoroughly local – and unlike anything else around.
Outside on the street parts of Pyrmont feel like a bit of a No Man’s Land for a fancy dinner out. But that was until LuMi Bar and Dining came along, the restaurant from ex-head chef of Ormeggio at the Spit, Federico Zanellato. It’s situated on the wharf opposite the casino, in the old Ripples site. Because of its positioning and extensive glass walls, it feels as if you’re almost floating on the harbour, surrounded as you are by water.
There's not many better places for bitter Italian Aperitif cocktails, wood-fired pizzas, classic lasagne and banter than this jovial Italian dining room in the gusty complex at the base of the St Margarets apartment building on Bourke Street.
At Bacco Osteria, they’re playing the long game. Classic, three-ingredient Italian fare and ace wine might not be the hot new thing, but importantly it’s what people actually want to eat most nights of the week. This venue is from the masters of understated Italian in Sydney, Andrew Cibej and Scott Williams, who have cast off from the good ships 121 BC, Berta and Vini for a glass-fronted wedge of restaurant along the Angel Place warren in the CBD.
The first thing that hits you when you visit Pilu is the view. This Sardinian restaurant (the only one in Sydney, mind) is built in a huge old weatherboard house looking out over the beach at Freshwater. In winter, catch the whales migrating. In summer, watch as locals take to the sea. Chef Giovanni Pilu is all about celebrating classic Sardinian fare. Make sure to order ahead for the incredible platter of golden, crisp-skinned suckling pig and rosemary potatoes.
Here at Time Out, the most common request we get is for a seafood restaurant that won’t break the bank, allows you to bring your own wine and has water views. You can check off two of those four requirements with little difficulty, but all four was asking too much… until now. Turns out Ormeggio at the Spit’s casual offshoot is Sydney's dining unicorn. Head into the d’Albora Marina, past the display model speed boats worth $50,000 a pop and out towards the water. On your right is the refined, Italian fine diner with Alessandro Pavoni at the helm.
A cheap as chips red sauce joint in Darlinghurst that's popular with the after school crowds from Sydney Grammar up the road, and later on caters to the pre-party crowds with cheap pizzas and BYO.
You can eat here for under $15, there's excellent gelati for dessert, and if you've taken a punt on a date you're not sure about, it's loud enough to hide the awkward silences. Bar Italia is one of the busiest places to eat in Leichhardt, with lines out the door and a room full of hungry punters squished together on benches and tables.