January 2020: Lankan Filling Station was the big winner at our annual Time Out Food Awards last year. The all-day Sri Lankan eatery took home the prize for both Restaurant of the Year and Best Casual Dining Restaurant, which makes it our undisputed top pick for where you should be heading right now – for hoppers that are equal parts spongy and lacy, dynamite curries and a weekend brunch menu that you won't be able to stop thinking about long after you've paid the bill. Sydney's long-standing love affair with Italian cuisine also shows no signs of slowing down, which is why you'll find newcomers like Totti's, Alberto's Lounge and our Best New Restaurant, Bella Brutta, on the list, alongside old favourites like Fratelli Paradiso.
This is the Time Out EAT List, our handpicked choices for the best places to eat in this city right now: from hot newcomers to time-honoured institutions – all memorable, all at the top of their game – ranked by our expert local editors. Whether it's a neighbourhood pizzeria or a degustation-only Caribbean restaurant in a casino, this roll call has all price points and appetites covered. Bon appétit!
Eaten somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutEatList. You can also find out more about how Time Out makes recommendations and reviews restaurants here.
The best restaurants in Sydney
It's about as narrow as a corridor, and boy is that kitchen tiny, but what Lankan Filling Station lacks in elbow room it makes up for in high-voltage energy and kaleidoscopic flavour. Cover your table in curries and sambols, tear off a corner of a lacy hopper and swipe that spongy base through it all in one fell swoop. Every experience here is a different adventure. What remains the same is the urge to keep exploring this vibrant, visceral cooking knowing full well that more than just your stomach will be nourished.
Not every restaurant closes the doors at its creative peak, undergoes a multimillion-dollar reinvention and resurfaces, almost impossibly, as an even better version of itself. But Quay has proved, time and again, that it's certainly not every restaurant. From the oyster-free oyster intervention, to the heartbreakingly beautiful marron and flowers and the otherworldly white coral dessert, Peter Gilmore's intricate and imaginative plates almost distract you entirely from those shameless and shimmering dress-circle harbour views – and that's really saying something. The king of Sydney fine dining still reigns supreme.
Our 2019 Chef of the Year, Paul Carmichael, is a man of many talents. Sit at the bar – you'll discover he makes some of the best roti in town, fries up a chicken sandwich you won't soon forget and bakes a coconut turnover that will roll your eyes to the back of their sockets. Sit ringside at the kitchen counter, and you'll see the wizard himself at work, whipping up a brightly coloured, dazzling degustation that has you grinding your own plantains, greeting the marron that will later become one of your courses and experiencing the tastes of the Caribbean in ways you never knew existed.
Sydney is synonymous with seafood, but what Josh Niland does at his sliver of a restaurant in Paddington is take the treasures of the deep to another plane. Not only does he source with great care and attention, but he also does things to fish that nobody else does: dry-aging fillets, using eyeballs as chips, turning offal into things you often end up enjoying more than the flesh. More the no-frills fish-and-chips type? He makes a mighty mean one. And a few words of advice: don't skip dessert – the custard tart is a masterpiece.
The fact that there are so many ways to enjoy Bentley makes it that much more enjoyable. It might just be the best place to drink wine in the city, so pull up a stool at the bar and dive in to the riveting list with an open mind, knowing that sophisticated snacks like witlof and white pea hummus are on hand for the peckish. Sneak out of the office for a two-course lunch that sets you back just $65, or go ham and conquer the tasting menu with gusto – uncompromising quality, complexity and creativity are never in question.
Hubert knows and understands the fantasy of restaurants better than any other in Sydney. Stepping down the spiraling stairs and into the immersive, hyperstylised French wonderland never gets old, and neither does the triumphant chicken fricasee, the heart-clogging dominoes of crisp potato that are the pommes Anna, or the kimchi gratin that in theory shouldn't work but really, really does. Bonus points for the live jazz and a happy hour that boasts addictive deviled eggs and killer ten-buck burgers.
Nothing makes you fall in love with Ester like a long Sunday lunch, when daylight spills through the windows and into the nooks and crannies of all the arches in the airy, bare-bones room. That irresistible blood sausage sanga, those ferociously delicious king prawns in fermented shrimp butter and that whole cauliflower with almonds and mint are still on the menu for a reason. Bow down, this is wood-fired cooking at its finest.
It takes a kind of vision bordering on the mad to see a burnt onion as a dessert, but that is the creative genius we’re dealing with from the team at Yellow. We expect vegetables to be part of a every great tasting menu in Sydney, but it’s rare to see them as masterfully handled as they are here, dish after dish, time after time. This restaurant has seismically shifted how we frame fine dining in Sydney, and we love them for it.
This intimate, understated and ever dependable Stanmore sweetheart is almost unparalleled when it comes to nailing the details. Dan Puskas's degustation is pioneering in its own distinct way, a parade of multidimensional dishes that don't scream for attention, but command it with impressive technique and a deep understanding of flavour and texture.
Our Best New Restaurant winner takes the notion of the ideal neighbourhood pizzeria and turns it up to 11. Each and every one of the blistered bad boys that slides out of the oven is good, but if there’s one pizza at Bella Brutta you’ve got to get your hands on, it’s the clam. Diced surf clams are the unlikely hero of the tomato-free flavour bomb, coated instead with a briny riff on béchamel, and showered with fermented chilli, garlic and parsley. It’s a revelation.
A blink of an eye finds you far from the bustle of Bondi Road and smack bang in the centre of an idyllic villa in Puglia – whitewashed walls, 50-year-old olive tree and all. You could make a day of antipasti in the summery courtyard (and after a few bites of that puffy flatbread with 'nduja, you might really want to), but don't. That would mean skipping the rigatoni with milk-braised pork and the linguine soaked in dense spinach, herb and walnut sauce; the all-star line-up coming off the wood-fire grill and all the sides to go with it – and that would be a big mistake.
Joel Bickford's cooking at this harbourside institution impresses every bit as much as the magical views, which is no easy feat. Plus, it's home to one of the most awarded wine lists in the country. Sit back, relax and pop some bottles – celebration is always on the menu.
The best seat in the house? One of a handful at the chef's counter, overlooking the kitchen with no electricity, where Lennox Hastie and his brigade cook with nothing but flames, coaxing the best out of whatever hyperseasonal and handpicked produce is in the fridge and on the bench.
This sexy little Italian-ish Paddington institution treads the line between wine bar and restaurant like so few imitators can, with style and finesse in spades.
There's so much to love about the Son family's tiny Korean eatery – the kimchi, the handcrafted tableware – but mostly it's the overwhelming generosity of spirit.
Five courses for $105 or seven for $130? That's the only choice you have to make at Clayton Wells' sleek, industrial eatery. The guy understands umami better than most, so expect that fifth taste to knock you out in one way or another more than once throughout your journey through one of the short, sharp and pocket-friendly tasting menus.
The winner of our 2018 People's Choice Award remains a go-to for consistently crowd-pleasing Nyonya cooking, and Malaysian classics that don't seem to fall off your radar. Signatures like char kway teow, creamy laksa with chicken and prawns, and fragrant nasi lemak never fail, but dig deeper and you'll find weapons like the steamed eggs and wok-fried squid drenched in salted duck-egg yolk, butter and curry leaves.
The restaurant inside one of Utzon's Opera House sails could easily be overly priced, tourist-bait schlock. Instead, it's one of the city's best places to splurge for a special celebration. Bargain hunters: look no further than the $70 snack menu at the Cured and Cultured Bar, one of the best not-so-well-kept secret steals around.
We're firm believers that it's always acceptable to make an entire meal out of cheeses, cured meats, tinned fish and canned cocktails. Luckily for us, the crew at Newtown's favourite deli, bar and bistro agrees – and they take it to the next level.
Come for all manner of meats prepared in all manner of ways, but stay for all the rest. Luke Powell has a knack for much more than the restaurant's name suggests, which you will realise as soon as the epic eggplant parmigiana or smoked ocean trout lands in front you.
A tried and true stalwart of Sydney's fierce Thai restaurant scene. The menu is a staggering 82 items long, so make like the rest of Sydney: start from the top, work your way down, and repeat over and over again.
In its short life span, A1 has managed to churn out some of the city's most talked-about daytime dishes: the curried scrambled eggs with LP's sausages, for instance, or the muffuletta that almost broke the internet. For all-day dining, this is the force to be reckoned with.
You know what to do here by now. And if for some reason you don't, it's easy: slide on in to this Chinatown institution well into the witching hour and load up the lazy Susan with two courses of Peking duck, salt and pepper squid and those steamed pipis scooped live from the tank in funky, fiery XO sauce.
The Paradiso brothers have been dishing up the goods for close to two decades now, and their eponymous Italian restaurant still draws crowds that can't seem to resist the lure of al dente spaghetti scampi and tip-top tiramisù. We sure as heck can't blame them.
Danielle Alvarez's minimal intervention approach to cooking lets the top-quality produce do all the talking. Watch it unfold in the dreamy open kitchen from the confines of a comfy seat in the rustic-chic dining room and revel in your Hamptons dinner party fantasy come to life.
Breathing in the salty Bondi air (with sand from the beach still between your toes) while you relish the elegant simplicity of Sean Moran's no-nonsense modern Australian cooking has to be the true definition of living your best Sydney life.
The Mary's crew reinvigorate both the old Basement site and the dinner-and-a-show experience in high-flying style. Big-ticket dishes like rotisserie duck and lobster Australienne are the shining stars of the mod, supper club-style menu and the natural wine list is a thing of real beauty. Go big or go home.
The vibe at the Swillhouse Group's pocket-sized Hubert follow-up is cinematic, old-school Italian. The dial of Dan Pepperell's cooking, meanwhile, is set to modern in dishes like trippa alla Romana that plays close to butter chicken, and marshmallow-soft gnocchi that get the cacio e pepe treatment.
This fun-loving, Italian-leaning pop-up that keeps on keeping on nails all aspects the good food, good wine and good times brief. Get in while you can.
Ramen-ya by day (with only 40 bowls to go around), and buzzy izakaya by night – that's a concept we can all get behind.
Trends come and go, but the joys of sinking Spritzes in the sunshine with those peerless ocean views while you rub elbows with Bondi's most beautiful people will never die.
One of the undisputed jewels in Merivale's highly decorated crown continues to shine thanks to proper Cantonese cooking and the lavish, larger-than-life colonial-style digs that carry an epic sense of occasion.
Falafel crumpets with tahini, pickled onion and a soft quail egg sum up Nour in a nutshell: outside-the-box Lebanese food that presents familiar flavour combinations in ways that are new and exciting.
Some of the best seafood in the city? Tick. Exceptional wine list? Tick. Spot-on service? Tick. An easy, breezy room with seating both indoors and out, that feels miles away from the frantic hustle of Barangaroo? Tick. All the boxes, indeed.
Lunch at Bert’s is as close as we can ever get to actually living the jazz age in all its glory. There’s not a dining room in the city that can hold a candle to the soft-focus beauty that Merivale have achieved in the final instalment of the Newport’s renewal.
Popolo was one of Sydney's best Italian restaurants. Now in its second life as Marta, a mid-century modern osteria dedicated to all things Rome, it continues to be one of Sydney's best Italian restaurants.
One of Sydney's favourite chefs has found a permanent home on King Street. The cross-cultural flavours are in a class all their own, backed by engaging service, killer wine and a vibe that's nothing if not fun.
Seven years on, the Apollo signatures – the butter-smooth taramasalata and pillowy pita, the bubbling and sticky-sweet saganaki cheese, and that insanely juicy lamb shoulder – still set the standard for refined Greek dining.
Is there a more awesome restaurant facade in all of Sydney than the Marie Louise salon? No. Thankfully, Ibrahim Kasif's Turkish cooking in the handsome restaurant behind that retro pink-and-purple frontage is just as awesome.
Drop into this grandiose Art Deco gem when you want to be your best pre-GFC you and drop serious dosh on Champagne, oysters, red meat and red wine. Skip the ceremony of a sit-down dinner in the restaurant and sidle up to the bar for a wagyu cheeseburger that's still a contender for one of Sydney's finest.
Ten cleverly constructed dishes at chef-owner Tristan Rosier's neighbourhood charmer sets you back just $80. If that's not the definition of a bargain, we're not sure what is. Say g'day to the new way to degustation.
It's kind of Italian, kind of Japanese, but all sophisticated, incredibly thought-provoking and set against a shimmering harbour backdrop that dazzles from almost every angle in the glassed-in dining room. What's not to like?
David Thompson is one of Australia's legendary ambassadors for Thai cuisine, and Bangkok street-food fundamentals prepared with precision are the name of the game at his buzzy, industrial warehouse-style restaurant that's all fire, smoke and sizzle.
It's hard to believe that almost a decade has passed since this Argentinian steakhouse came along and shook Sydney took its core with sensational steaks and a side of rockabilly style. The good news is that it still slays it on both fronts.
Cantonese pub grub sounds like something that might set off alarm bells, but Merivale gets it right once again with this Hong Kong-style diner above the Queens Hotel, where the dumplings are a work of art and the mud crab merits the market price.
This is the most impressive sushi counter in Sydney. The only challenge is landing one of those eight spots that let you take both hands off the wheel and let chef Chase Kojima do the driving during your omakase dining experience.
There's a reason Chat Thai has grown into an empire, and that reason is simple: you can pretty much close your eyes, point to any dish on the gigantic menu, and pick a winner. If you'd prefer not to do that, just order the green papaya salad and have a tissue on hand to wipe the sweat from your brow – you won't be able to wipe the smile off your face.
Cho Cho San certainly doesn't get an A for authenticity, but that's not the point. It's a playful take on the izakaya trope that gets how Sydney likes to eat, whether it's raw or roasted, deep fried or cooked over coals. The sake flights are flights worth taking, and yes, you want the matcha soft serve to finish.
It turns out Melbourne's most overwhelmingly popular Thai restaurant can also be one of Sydney's. Round up the posse, order the banquet menu, and get crushed by a parade of next-gen dishes that are every bit as raucous as the rowdy dining room at the base of the heritage-listed Griffiths Teas building.
Finding amazing food in the least likely places is one of the best things about Sydney. All that sprawl means more hot spots for ace noodles, baked treats, and in this one very specific case, a wicked smoked chicken katsu at a so-called Asian smokehouse.
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