Sydney’s busy second CBD is a towering collection of office buildings, schools and transport hubs – that’s a lot of people looking for meals before, during, and after the day is done. If you know where to look there’s some ace places to eat and drink in and around North Sydney, from swift eats like burgers and salad bowls, to Japanese barbecue restaurants and elegant spots for international dining.
North Sydney restaurants worth seeking out
Come to this bowling/leagues club on a sunny day if you can, to sit outside from breakfast onwards enjoying parkland and harbour views. The modern Australian menu is streets ahead of standard clubland fare. An entree of four seafood empanadas with a green mole sauce, combines excellent pastry with bold fishy flavours, and is great value at $17. Seafood is a strength of the kitchen: a grilled barramundi has crisp crackling but tender flesh, a taste and texture contrast to baby vegetables and fresh pea sauce. The drinks list isn’t typical of a club either, in price (higher) or choice (wider), and includes mega cocktails to share, like the watermelon kegger for $47.
At this former home of a botanist, high-set tables and a long bar with a lengthy drinks list give the impression that this is a pub rather than a restaurant. The sophisticated Mediterranean-style menu reassures diners that food comes first. The mains are pleasing, both to look at and in their flavour combinations. A ‘sticky’ lamb neck with quarters of silken eggplant is decorated with roundels of roasted beetroot and onions, and squiggles of yoghurt sauce. Daily dessert specials are inspired combinations, such as mango with whipped coconut, rum and lemon balm, reinforcing the impression that The Botanist has a very creative kitchen indeed.
Modestly described as a teahouse and eatery, this warm and inviting space is a restaurant in all but name and liquor licence. The experienced hosts (they’ve been in this same spot for 30 years) divide their labour: Ivan serves, and chooses the smooth jazz; Lizzie does the cooking. Bring your own bottle for $2.50 per person, and hoe into slightly Asian, slightly European dishes cooked without pretension but with a sure touch: see the comfort-food entree of curried lentils topped with sour cream and enveloped in a wafer-thin, soft parcel of rice-flour. The inexpensive lunch menu provides two dishes for $35, or three for $45.
In a renovated old pub with a great deck, Moorish Blue works well for large parties. Its owner and chef Jamil Ben-Hassine draws on the cuisine of his homeland of Tunisia to serve authentic North African food. Friendly staff advise what to order – and not to order too much. The tagine of slow-cooked lamb on Tunisian rice is flavoured with preserved lemon, olives, figs and pepitas, and topped with fresh broad beans, grated red radish and tiny yellow tomatoes. The servings are so generous, a doggy bag may be required. Big groups can enjoy share platters to explore more of this interesting menu.
Ryo’s is famous for the queue which often forms to get into this tiny, friendly, inexpensive restaurant, with walls decorated by menu items handwritten in Japanese kanji script. Owner Ryo Horii wanted to share the soul food of his hometown Fukuoka, opening Sydney’s ‘first real pork ramen shop’ in 2003. For some, it’s all about the pork broth garnished with pork slices, but the real secret of success has to be the fresh and flavourful house-made ramen noodles. Ryo’s daughter says even she doesn’t know the recipe. Non-ramen menu items include sides of karaage (fried chicken), which is deservedly popular as well.
By day it’s a café with Thai dishes on its lunchtime menu, at night Chedi Thai ramps up into a full-service Thai restaurant with a few pan-Asian favourites on the menu. It stands out from its local competitors due to the high standard of the cooking and the seasonal freshness of the ingredients. Veteran restaurateurs Greg and Shanya Richardson’s decades of experience, both in Sydney and in Thailand, are on display: Greg’s geniality in the front-of-house role, while Shanya and her team show they know their way around a wok. The mains include a crispy pork belly dish with green peppercorns and ginger; and an authentic version of that touchstone noodle dish, pad Thai.
An offshoot of nearby favourite Rose of India, this small but perfectly positioned ‘new age’ Indian restaurant combines harbour views and white tablecloths with ambitious fusion food. A seasonal tasting menu takes the stress out of decision-making, but brave souls can parse the not-so-easy menu on their own. At around $20 each, the starters of juicy barbecued lamb cutlets, and the papri chaat (a satisfying combination of chickpeas, potatoes, tamarind sauce, pomegranate seeds and savoury pastry pieces), are winners. A main dish of butter chicken with roasted macadamia nuts transcends the ordinary. BYO at $5 per person.
In a streamlined white space warmed by homey touches, Charlie & Franks is an oasis of real food in a desert of fast-food options. It’s two strengths are attentive customer service, and ingredients sourced with an eye to ethics and sustainability from quality purveyors, listed on a blackboard. The menu’s indulgent options coexist with salads: a Korean-style fried chicken burger is almost swamped by string-thin fries. Offset it with a ‘green detox’ juice of starring kale, or rev up with a chai latte made with leaf tea and whole spices. There are also thoughtful choices for wine, beer, and cocktails.
It’s pot-luck if you get into this tiny café tucked away in a sunny side street – it doesn’t take bookings but certainly draws crowds. They’re here for good coffee and an unusual café menu. Owner Erik draws on his Scandinavian heritage for dishes such as pytt I panna (Swedish bubble and squeak), where a perfectly round fried egg sits on top of sautéed bacon, sausages and tiny potatoes, dressed with olive oil and fresh dill. Sides of house-made pickled cucumber and beetroot help to cut the richness. Solicitous customer service is also part of Oski’s charm.
Samurai armour at the entrance to Rengaya is a not-so-subtle hint of what’s to come at this Japanese restaurant. The speciality here is yakiniku; that is, barbeque. Diners are in control of grilling select cuts of fat-marbled meat and seafood at their table. Grab three friends for the best sharing experience, or if time is tight, the lunch special of $29 covers a choice of three meats or seafood. Stick to the a la carte menu if you don’t fancy being the chef. Customers range from corporate workers at lunchtime to families with young children in the early evening.
An elevated position means the Treehouse feels like an escape from busy North Sydney. Velvet curtains, chandeliers and a soul and rock soundtrack are nods to speakeasy style, well suited to relaxed evening dining. Business lunches are catered for with ‘On the clock’ menu choices around the mid $20 mark – such as salad bowls or a steak sandwich. Those with more time can choose from more substantial grilled or slow-cooked mains.