From the city fringes to deep Crown Street, Surry Hills really is a bit of a hub for dining in Sydney. While Porteno and Firedoor and may be the top notch options, you'll also find plenty of places that are big on fun like Bodega, Salaryman and Bar H. Add to it cheap eats at Xage; great pub dining at the Dolphin, BYO winners and old favoruites like Longrain and and it's not hard to see why you'll often find yourself out for dinner in Surry Hills on any given night of the week.
The best Surry Hills restaurants
Porteño is awesome. Always has been, really, since the day it opened those cast iron gates to hungry customers in 2010. The must-order starter is the vitello tonnato. Reminiscent of a remixed steak tartare, it is simultaneously rich, creamy, salty, sour and smoky. The Kobe wagyu beef skirt steak is sliced into big, fat marbled strips and cooked medium, leaving the texture buttery within and charred on the outside. Don’t look past the morcilla blood sausage, either. Soft and barely spiced, it pairs beautifully with the sweet, grassy notes of the roasted red capsicum it crowns. As for sides, the Brussels sprouts remain a must.
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, widely considered one of the finest restaurants in the world. What sets Asador Etxebarri apart is its focus on fire – everything is prepared over an open flame, and head chef Victor Arguinzoniz selects specific woods with which 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.
Often overshadowed by its sister venues Porteño, Gardel’s Bar and LP’s Quality Meats, Bodega sometimes feels like their shier, quieter sibling. But this eatery ain’t no shrinking violet. Sure, it’s framed as a tapas restaurant, but portions are generous, flavours are banging and the drinks list is killer. It’s got that upbeat vibe inside, too. It’s the neighbourhood restaurant you’ve always wanted, right in the centre of Surry Hills.
Here, ramen has been elevated to an art form. Take the cabbage and mushroom ramen bowl. It’s a symphony of veggies each cooked perfectly, including crunchy pickled turnips, charred broccolini and crushy disks of radish. This isn't a second-rate vegetarian version of a dish popular dish, it's a standout, even for meat-eaters. The Tantanmen ramen bowl (a Japanese dish inspired by the Sichuan dish, Dandan noodles) is more in line with that hangover-cure, but so much more amazing than your usual tonkotsu. Here it’s hot with chilli, with a slick of pork-rich oil lining the top of the bowl, and big wedges of tender, fatty chashu pork belly lurking around, just being delicious.
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.
Holy moly Bangladesh, your food is a revelation! Bang is open now in Surry Hills, serving up food inspired by the streets of Dhaka, and injecting new life and flavour into one of Sydney’s most popular dining strips, Crown Street. One of the best things about this place is the dynamic atmosphere. Maybe it’s the on-trend, industrial-meets-designer interior, the jazzy neon lights, boldly monogrammed crockery, or friendly staff in their vibrant, tiger-themed T-shirts. Or perhaps it’s the thoughtful little cone of roasted, unshelled peanuts that lands on the table to see you over until the food comes.
No matter how many winning new enoteche chef-owner Andrew Cibej opens (see 121 BC and Berta) the demand for seats here never dwindles. The original recipe remains unchanged: a daily menu of imaginative, contemporary Italian fare scrawled on the walls, packing them in for lunch and overflowing on to waitlists in the evening. One day may focus on a region such as Campania; the next may simply be titled Giovedì (Thursday). The only guarantee is al dente pasta, disturbingly fresh seafood and a couple of superb slow-cooked secondi every day.
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.
A decade and a half since its arrival transformed Sydney's understanding of high-end Thai cuisine, Longrain remains a buzzing destination stalwart on the local dining scene. It isn’t hard to see why. Longrain was originally the brainchild of chef Martin Boetz and restaurateur Sam Christie, who has since gone on to open Cho Cho San and the Apollo. These days, the chef on the pass is Victor Chung. The man knows how to run a kitchen. It’s open to the restaurant so you can see everyone inside milling about – like worker bees, they stay busy steaming and frying and running around each other. They do it with such composure, it’s like a military operation.
At Izakaya Fujiyama, 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.
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 for some seriously cool vintage. Hungry? Well, ‘Surry’, as locals call it simply, is a virtual urban foodcourt brimming with Sydney’s most innovative chefs – including Nel and those rockabilly Porteño boys… Thirsty? From absinthe to big bold reds, Surry Hills has got you covered. In fact, so transformed has this steep little slice of Sydney been that some are wondering whether it’s lost its rougher charms. Maybe. But when you’re six-in at the Cricketers on a Friday arvo, mixing it with the gentrifiers and the gentrified, it's hard to think of a place in Sydney you’d rather be.