This might just be the neighbourhood with the very best of what this city has to offer in terms of eating and drinking. Whether it’s homestyle, hole-in-the-wall Indonesian or an all-out chef’s menu from a kitchen with nothing but open flames, each and every price point and palate is catered to on these streets, from the fringe of the city down to the bottom of Crown.
After a chaser? Sink a few at one of the best bars in Surry Hills.
After a bargain? Check out Sydney’s 50 best cheap eats.
The best Surry Hills restaurants
This restaurant is from Lennox Hastie, the British-born chef whose pedigree is littered with Michelin stars and a five-year stint in the Basque Country at Asador Etxebarri. What sets Asador Etxebarri apart is its focus on fire – everything is prepared over an open flame powered by specific woods to cook each ingredient. Hastie brings the same approach to Firedoor. Shellfish is cooked over applewood; mushrooms are toasted over burning mallee root, and the aromatic smoke of orange wood balances the richness of salmon.
Sydney’s restaurant trailblazers have still got it, and our love for them endures. The second incarnation from the eponymous restaurant group is as good as the first, feeding you luxuriously juicy wagyu skirt steak, charred broccoli, wood fired pork and dark caramel sauced flans, along with well made Americanos and glasses of Argentinian wine.
Even though our love for Chippo resto Ester is a strong as the day it opened five years ago, when you’re in a long-term dining relationship you can get a wandering palate. But it’s not cheating if your piece on the side is a wine bar by the very same crew who won your heart in the first place, right? How fitting that chef Matt Lindsay and sommelier Julien Dromgool’s new walk-in wine bar is called Poly, because it’s going to split your love across two venues. And don’t kid yourself, just because it’s calling itself a bar doesn’t mean you’re not going to drop a chunk of cash grazing your way through the snacks menu.
Omelette in a sour Thai soup does not sound like it should work, but, goddamn, if it isn’t a delicious revelation at number 79 on Spice I Am’s famously lengthy menu. At 82 items long, those A3, double-sided, laminated menus have been keeping flavour fossickers on their toes for 14 years. Although co-owner and head chef Sujet Saenkham has been in Sydney since 1985, it wasn’t until 2004 that he felt the city was ready for his authentic brand of Thai cooking, taken from the recipes his mother would make on their farm in Ratchaburi, south west of Bangkok.
Where else in this city can you sit back, relax and stick your fork into ten different dishes (served over five courses, in groups of two) for the ridiculously good value of $70? Arthur's proposition is a very tempting one, made all the merrier by chef-owner Tristan Rosier's smart updates to comforting flavour combinations, with intriguing surprises along the way. Add a good-value all-Aussie list of natural-leaning vino, service that's both relaxed and informed, and the elegantly minimal dining room's glorious golden glow, and it all becomes a package deal that's very hard to resist.
This tiny, family-owned gem is all about getting the details right, and that they do – from the beautiful hand-crafted chopsticks to the pitch-perfect crispness of the fried eggplant bathing in sticky spring onion and garlic sauce. Sure, you'll find fried chicken and bibimbap here, but love and care are the primary ingredients in every dish, so it pays to branch out and venture bravely into the territory occupied by braised pig's trotters, steamed clams with doenjang or the so-called platter of nine delicacies, a neat little pile of pancakes surrounded by colourful condiments, each one more delicious than the last.
At Kenji Maenaka’s Japanese bar and restaurant, Sushi chef Taketoshi “Take” Iwama wields his razor sharp sushi blade with confidence. The knife glides through sides of ruby-red tuna, as smooth as any Hattori Hanzō creation. The slices are destined for the for the tuna tasting plate, where they’ll contrast lean bluefin, fatty bluefin belly, regular yellowfin and swordfish. Iwama’s handiwork makes pristine sashimi and sushi of many more of the fishes that swim in the sea; the familiar standards supplemented by the less-usual likes of sardines and the special of gurnard, the angriest-looking fish you’re likely to come across.
Sitting in Surry Hills’ latest too-hot-to-trot eatery, you really don’t feel like you’re in inner Sydney. Everything about the place screams Bondi Beach: the high ceilings strung with long, tassled lighting; the crystal-white tones everywhere you look; the mirrored pizza oven in the corner and most of all, the beautiful people sitting all around. The Dolphin Hotel has been taken over by none other than Maurice Terzini, the man behind Icebergs and Da Orazio, and he’s brought everything but the sand with him.
Gogyo comes from the same people who brought Japanese ramen juggernaut Ippudo to Australia. They specialise in a kogashi (which means ‘charred’ in Japanese) ramen, which sees a pan heated to a smoking-hot temperature before a dollop of miso paste is added and then it's deglazed with chicken broth. The resulting ramen is underpinned by a distinct smokiness that’s intense in flavour and appearance. It’s imbued with ash flecks, and the chewy noodles and chashu look a little ominous and odd swimming in the slick black broth, but it tastes damn good.
Sydney might have invented the dance known as ‘queuing for hours for a hot new restaurant’ but that aspirational jig was perfected by Melburnians when Chin Chin, the Modern Thai eatery on Flinders Lane, proved that the quickest route to popularity was a hot wok, a cache of chilis and a stocked bar. Sure, we scoffed at the two-hour wait on a Sunday at 5.30pm when we were last in town, but now that Sydney has their very own Chin Chin in the restored Griffiths Tea Building near Central we’ll be taking a slice of humble pie while that 200 person waitlist counts down during their first Friday lunch service. And it’s not like they didn’t plan for crowds. The big, open dining room seats 160 people, plus there’s spillover into the booths in the darker, more industrial GoGo bar. They’ve effectively taken a bellows to the smouldering love of South East Asian food that is at the core of Sydney dining. There are many good things to report, including the fact that the pricing and servings sizes mean you will roll out of the place clutching your sides, with a couple of drinks under your belt, for well under $100 a head. While your tongue is still fresh and untarnished eat a round of soft, cold, juicy spanner crab meat mixed with toasted coconut and a warming tropical curry sauce wrapped in betel leaves. We are warned off the larb but encouraged towards the Issan chicken, marinated and grilled on the bone and bedazzled in a warm roast chilli. You can ratchet up the heat with a fresh,
Nomad is good fun. For us, the highlights here tend to be the smaller, lighter dishes like the crunchy spanner crab-spiked felafels captured inside a soft, fluffy steamed ‘pita’ bun with a side of yoghurt. We’re also here to tell you that melted butter on hummus is a great idea. Get your chickpea purée with a swirl of browned butter over the top and a pile of cumin crackers on the side. It’s the highly spiced and richly buttered party dip of your.
Surry Hills might be the last place you’d expect to find cheap and homestyle Indonesian food but that's exactly where Medan Ciak has opened. It’s a new favourite with Indonesian students and ex-pats – queues out the door are not uncommon, especially on weekends. There’s a reason for the frisson of excitement. Unlike most Indonesian restaurants across Sydney that focus on Javanese cuisine, here you’ll find the food of Medan, the North Sumatran capital known for its distinct mix of indigenous Batak, Malay and Chinese flavours.
It’s kind of hard to imagine that Kerby Craig's original little burger and wine bar on Bourke Street in Surry Hills was ever in the fine dining category, but Ume was, for a time, some of the best casual Japanese outside of the CBD. And the 2016 downgrade hasn’t hurt the excellence of Bar Ume. In fact, burgers, snacks, natural wine, sake and hip hop actually suit the place better in many ways.
There seems to be two approaches in Sydney’s vegan dining scene. The first tries to replace and replicate the meat, dairy and egg with faithful recreations. The other school of thought seems to go along the lines of ‘vegetables are fucking awesome’ and lets plants take all the lead roles in the dish. Yulli’s approach is the latter. This long-standing vegetarian eatery on Crown Street also has a dedicated, and expansive, vegan menu, including vegan wines.
This streetside Vietnamese joint does huge trade thanks to incredibly cheap prices for super tasty food. Xage are also BYO so either come prepared or prepare for a trip to the bottleo. Crack a six-pack of 333 and order the likes of the crisp chicken and mushroom spring rolls. These long, skinny fingers are the perfect beer snack. They also offer a duck fillet pancake summer roll which, though carbtacular, is a bit thick and cakey. Make sure to try some of their signature dishes (marked on the menu) such as the slow cooked pork kho – a sweet melt-in-the-mouth braise of pork bits topped with fresh chilli and a nest of bean shoots.
The beloved Bronte Road pizzeria has branched out, bringing their truly excellent pizzas to Surry Hills, along with a mozzarella bar if that's your thing. The lights are low, the chatter is jovial and the pizza is excellent at the Surry Hills arm of Bronte’s favourite pizza parlour. You can get imported mozzarella or burrata straight up, or upgrade your pizza with Campania Garofalo buffalo mozzarella for a fiver. They have eight pizze on the menu that can be ordered bianchi (white) or rosso (red).
Anyone who thinks vegan can’t be fun needs to both update their opinions from 1998 and also get to Bad Hombres, stat. What started as a Mexican Chinese mash-up from Toby Wilson (Ghostboy Cantina), Sean McManus (Neighbourhood Surry Hills) and Jon Kennedy (the Sandwich Shop) with a 60 per cent veg-powered menu has now gone the full vegan and we’re into it. Snacks, tunes and booze are the key elements to a good time and these guys are rocking one of the best house-party playlists in town.
You'd expect very good cocktails from the mind behind Kittyhawk and the Lobo Plantation, and you'll find them at Bartolo. You'll also find an all-day dining menu of Italy's greatest hits and a few remixes, which kicks off every morning when the espresso bar fires up the machine at 7am and pumps out coffee and pastries from Organic Bread Bar. Come lunch time, it's all about antipasti, housemade pastas and larger plates like Amatriciana-style spatchcock and pan-fried dory. Take the dolce vita fantasy one step further and bring the pooch along for an afternoon session that might easily stretch into the evening.
The best fried chicken in Sydney? That's a tough call, but Butter is often part of the conversation. It is definitely the only fried chicken spot in town that spruiks tonkotsu ramen gravy, a list of big-ticket Champagne and limited-edition sneakers, which makes it a pretty big talking point in its own right. You can also get crisp chicken tenders and maple syrup in a donut, and shoestring fries loaded with Kewpie mayo, furikake and shaved bonito flakes. And bonus points for the winter ramen special, which proves to be a hit year after year.
Spaghetti and spritzers; carbs and fun fizzy booze; pasta and kick off drinks – whatever you wanna call it, it’s a combo that sells itself and Mark and Vinny's in Surry Hills is nailing it. Cranking the pasta machines here is Adrian Jankuloski who’s done stints at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar and the Dolphin, and what he’s doing here treads the line between kooky and cool, and classic and clever all at once. It’s a small space decorated with dusty pink furnishings and warm low hanging globes, a brash neon sign and a busy open kitchen lined with Campari bottles.
The Pasta Emilia team make all their certified organic pastas and sauces in their kitchenconnected to their trattoria-like Surry Hills restaurant. Pasta Emilia’s truffle cream sauce features a surprising spicy kick, and is their most popular product among their pasta-craving clientele. You can eat it in, and it’s sold in the deli to take home for round two. Pair it up their house-madetortelli, filled pasta that comes in ten different flavours.
Where do French expats head when they want to experience an authentic taste of Provence? Here. Owners Luc and Loic borrow liberally from their mother's recipe repertoire, plating up dishes like pork rillettes, classic Niçoise-style pissalidières and gnocchi with tender duck breast, along with other Southern staples, in a charming, rustic dining room that exemplifies the elegant neighbourhood bistro.
This place is all about pizza, with the chefs resting the yeasted dough for up to three days before shaping it to not be too thin, resulting in a pizza that has a smooth, lighter texture than most. The Margherita is a standout – with a charred, bouncy crust and the perfect balance of tomato sauce and mozzarella. The Caprino vegetarian pizza includes an array of char grilled veggies with crumbly goat's cheese, and the meat-based slices are equally as epic; the Parma ham finely sliced, paired with mushrooms that are buttery and tender and melting into the cheese.
Explore Surry Hills
Once the scruffy home to Sydney’s rag trade and a former local haunt for nefarious folk like the Kate Leigh, Surry Hills is now Sydney’s buzziest and most happening ’burb. Want clothes? Hop along Crown and Bourke or hit the monthly markets. Hungry? It's a virtual urban foodcourt brimming with Sydney’s most innovative chefs. Thirsty? From absinthe to big bold reds, Surry Hills has got you covered.