The best places to eat in Newtown
Opened by two of the greatest restaurateurs Sydney has seen in recent times, Elvis Abrahanowicz and Joe Valore of Porteño, Gardel’s Bar and Bodega (which they co-own with Ben Milgate), and LP’s Quality Meats (which they co-own with Luke Powell), this is more than just a restaurant. At Continental in Newtown a downstairs deli opens at 11am and becomes a casual bar/restaurant as the later hours creep in, while upstairs there's a bistro for those fancier nights out.
Everyone knows the rock-star fine dining restaurants in Sydney: Quay, Sepia, Momofuku Seiōbo and Bennelong. But there are a couple of neighbourhood fine diners you need to pop on your bucket list, too. Sixpenny in Stanmore is one. And so is Oscillate Wildly, Newtown’s teeny-tiny restaurant that sits just next to Black Star Pastry and down the road from the Courthouse. Wandering into Oscillate across the road, it feels like a friendly neighbourhood restaurant. And that’s what it is, except it’s actually a bit posh.
It’s entirely likely that Mary’s is more famous as a burger place than as a bar. People queue for up to an hour just to get in the front door of this slightly scuzzy boozer with a penchant for Slaytanic font. Of course only the uninitiated don’t know that there’s often a secondary queue up the stairs for a table on the mezzanine. People really love Mary’s burgers. Those five star American-style burgers turned Sydney’s bar scene on its head – now you can’t lob a brick without hitting someone melting cheese over beef patties and packing them in sweet, soft buns – people still devote their evenings to locking down rounds of cheeseburgers, baskets of fried chicken and super silky mash with gravy.
Mud crabs are the new dining status symbol. Forget lobster – either you can afford to shell out on the fleshy crustaceans (that usually go for $140-odd dollars a kilo) or you can’t. And when a restaurant is boasting hefty little pinchers that weigh in north of three kegs your cash will disappear faster than a dirty dog on bath day. Happily, all the bright orange, heavy-clawed beauties at Queens Chow, the restaurant inside Merivale’s latest glamour pub, only just tip the one kilo mark, which makes ordering one exxy, but not unspeakably pricey.
The larder is very well stocked here and it needs to be, given the fanfare that has followed their opening. They source their 'nduja, smoked pancetta and salamis from up near Byron Bay; their smoked wagyu and ham from the Barossa; and they make their own rich, crumbly black pudding in house. But it’s the cheeses that are responsible for the queues of turophiles pressing their noses against the glass here. It’s $20 for two, $29 for three or $36 for four cheeses and you get to choose each and every one.
Don't expect a fine diner here – it's not that kind of place. Instead, you'll find a neighbourhood restaurant bashing out share plates like salty, savoury Provencal-style pancakes covered thickly in Persian fetta and toasted pumpkin seeds. There's plenty of veggo gear here, including lightly pickled mushrooms with broad beans and golden, super crunchy polenta chips with a gutsy gorgonzola dipping sauce – a mainstay on the menu since they swung open in 2010.
This Italian eatery may be sleek and shiny, what with the polished concrete floors, big glass windows onto Enmore Road and open kitchen, but the menu is old school. There's usually two pastas on the menu – a gnocchi and a fettuccini with meatballs – but their main love is piping hot pizze that they fling into the wood-fired oven on big, decorative peels (like a shovel, or a giant spatula). The Margherita is a straight shooter with a puffy blistered crust and a soft centre draped in fior di latte cheese, tomato and basil. If you like truffle the tartufo is for you, but we are all about the Cicoria, that puts the metallic salty tang of anchovies and black olives with chards of bitter chicory leaves and cheese.
Turns out pizza without cheese is still bloody excellent. Sure, there were a lot of naysayers on the internet when Gigi on South King Street changed to a plant-based menu, but they were wrong, because a chewy, wood-fired pizza base covered in a layer of sweet golden tomato puree and tender ribbons of capsicum gets all the umami depth it needs from a liberal dose of olive tapenade, capers, chilli, oregano and olive oil. The salty, savoury and spice trifecta hits all the right flavour zones on your tongue – we swear you won’t even miss the mozzarella.
Despite being located on one of the Inner West's most hectic main drags, inside the vibe transports you to a world far removed from the noise outside. The team, led by former Bistro Moncur executive chef Darrien Potaka (a Kiwi himself), is killing it. Order the mushroom papardelle that you stir a just-set egg through for a DIY sauce situation. It;s a cracker. That’s the thing about Bach: this is seriously sophisticated cooking, prepared in an environment that allows you to relax.
What is it about the Porteño team? They have yet to open up a restaurant that isn’t just a delightful experience to be in. Maybe it’s because refining your cooking under Elvis Abrahanowicz always elicits excellent results. Or perhaps it’s because wine selected by Joe Valore, for whom the grapey drops have brought about a dynastical career, is consistently delicious. Or it could be Sarah Doyle’s lovingly curated interiors – be it the vintage furnishings or the cinnamon-scented loos.
While this half motorcycle workshop and half eatery lured us in for breakfast ramen (a beautiful big bowl of rich, fatty broth made from an infusion of buttered toast, topped with a just-set onsen egg, shards of crisp bacon and a charred tomato), dinner time here is worth a look in too. Order up sizzling gyozas; tiny kingfish ceviche tostadas with guacachile and pickled radish; or the secret ever-changing ramen.
Look for the neon yellow sign that marks the doorway to Luyu and Yum Yum. Head up the stairs and you emerge into an elegant dining room that has a sexy birdcage vibe thanks to all the black lattice panels that divide up the room. In case the wall of wine wasn’t tipoff enough, this isn’t a hurried-service BYO kind of place. And the prices reflect that. The ‘Kiss Me’ soup dumplings have tiny red lips on top, but check the temperature before puckering up – the soup inside these fragrant and gingery dumplings is deceptively hot.
You might find that a jaunt down Enmore Road has smelt a little different of late. Has somebody lit a bonfire? Nope, but the guys at Bovine and Swine Barbecue Company are smoking meats low and slow all day long, and that smoky, caramelly scent is all part of the service, baby. It’s a super casual sort of joint, with two long share tables and an order at the till, find yourself a seat sort of vibe. There's brisket, pork rib and beef short rib, as well as chopped pork or lamb, but we lose it for the jalapeno and cheese link sausage. Go for the ‘plate for one’ and you can choose two meats, plus a side.
Hartsyard is the baby of husband and wife team chef Gregory Llewellyn and hostess, Naomi Hart. It’s a gorgeous room with a real Inner West sensibility – lots of upcycled timber, black painted metal and a cute feathered fake duck at the counter. If the room is Inner West, the menu is most certainly pegged in the deep south. The American deep south, that is. You’ll want to go for the crunchy, golden fried chicken, all juicy on the inside and served with buttery, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits – those buttery American-style scones they serve all through the south – and sausage gravy.
How about a drink after dinner?
Cruelty-free dinner ideas
People repping a vegan diet don't have prentend they enjoy pumpkin salad anymore. Sydney is now home to plant-based burger shops; classic Italian pizzerias that opt for cheese and meat alternatives; gelato shops that favour coconut bases; and a growing contingent of fine diners offering fancy degustations for vegans.