Whether you're after a quick bite, a business lunch or decadent dinner, there are plenty of places to wine and dine in the Sydney CBD.
The best restaurants in the CBD
They’ll tell you to go for the Peking duck. They’ll tell you it’s a juicy bird with crisp skin and sweet meat. And they’d be right. It is. This is just one of the many roast delights at Mr Wong – a two-level Canto-extravaganza offering everything from fancy dim sum to green beans stir-fried with pork mince and house-made XO sauce. Chefs Dan Hong and Jowett Yu have left the day-to-day running of Potts Point pop-Asian diner Ms G’s to take the reins here, alongside head dim sum chef Eric Koh, fresh from London’s Hakkasan – luxurious dumpling den to the stars. If you’ve been waiting for a no-holds-barred-spend-big-with-service-and-wine–to-match Canto-palace, congratulations – you’ve found it.
As soon as you walk through the big wooden doors of Hubert you feel instantly detached from the outside. This is because they have excellent attention to noise control (acoustic ceilings and carpeted floors), which also means you can actually hold a conversation over lunch. As you climb down two flights of stairs into the city’s depths, it feels like you’re walking back in time (Belle Époque? Post war Paris?). Your destination: a music-filled, candle-lit restaurant buzzing with people. Order up the chicken to share, or the steak frites.
The first thing that hits you when you enter the 1936 City Mutual Building – considered by many the finest Art Deco building in Australia – isn't the pristine stone and brass work. It's the smell. Push through the heavy brass doors and be greeted by a mingling of grilling meat, wood fire and leather. This is Sydney's best-smelling restaurant and it's enough to make your mouth water even before you sit down. Breathe it in as you look up at the grandeur of the room.
Cirrus is the new restaurant from the superstars behind Yellow, Bentley and Monopole: chef Brent Savage and sommelier Nick Hildebrandt. The restaurant itself is positioned at the base of Barangaroo's cloud-like Andara building (the word ‘cirrus’ defines a wispy sort of cloud), in the space that once housed Noma Australia. It's a completely different look though – they've spliced the space into two venues (Lotus is next door), and Pascale Gomes-McNabb – who also designed Bentley's striking interior – has designed the room with sculptural wooden batons and concrete features. Overlooking the water and Pyrmont peninsular beyond, it’s certainly the most spectacular of all the group’s restaurants. The menu boasts classic dishes reimagined like smoked trout mousse with trout roe, fennel pollen and pickled onions, with little buttered toasts so you can make fancy sandwiches.
Mike is back (hurrah!), having just opened No. 1 Bent Street in the CBD. Mr McEnearney has gone a bit fancy. This isn’t really all that surprising, seeing as he was once head chef of Rockpool (RIP) just down the road. Here at No. 1 Bent Street, he’s not just a headline; he’s on the pass. But maybe we shouldn’t call it a pass, because this looks more like a home kitchen than a commercial one. His ‘pass’ is a kitchen island backed by a flaming wood-burning oven. You may be in a restaurant but it feels like you’re also in McEnearney’s home.
Bistrode CBD is the restaurant Sydney's been waiting for: classic British stylings in the stunning city dining room, with the floor being manned by Sydney hospitality legends. There are plenty of Bistrode favourites that have made the trek into the big, bad city, such as confit duck salad replete with duck's eggs and gizzards. Or how about some down-home comfort food such as corned wagyu beef with brown bread dumplings, mustard and horseradish? It's unbeatable if you're a little tender or just need feeding.
David Thompson has brought his Long Chim empire to Sydney to stoke the flames of our South East Asian eats. Order up the $45 set menu – it’s an affordable treat with all the good bits in reasonable portions. You'll kick off with a serve of the famous marinated pork skewers, which come charred and tender with little ribbons of fat, followed by an aromatic curry, or perhaps deep fried squid with crisp fried peppercorns. Finish with buttery soft folds of roti topped with thick drizzles of condensed milk – it's like capping your night off with some crisp banana pancakes, which is oh so right in a weird way.
The seasonal menu here changes virtually every day – one day you may be having trout served with popping roe and a pared-back fennel and radish salad dressed, the next garlicky lamb forequarter. A main of casarecce (short lengths of slightly curled pasta) with duck ragu and eggplant showcases a classic Berta approach to cooking: homey, simple and exactly what you want on a cold night. Whatever you end up having at Berta it's guaranteed to be fuss-free, homely and excellent.
You might not expect a seriously schmick wine bar and restaurant housed in the original Fairfax building in the heart of the CBD to be all about inclusivity, but the Bentley Restaurant and Bar by sommelier Nick Hildebrandt and chef Brent Savage wants everyone to have a good time. If you’re not here for the full sit-down dining experience that’s A-OK. Grab a table down on the bar level, vanish some exceptional wines by the glass and let the view into the buzzy, open kitchen tempt you to order up some bar snacks like glazed bonito with almond, buckwheat and finger lime, or a fancy prawn cocktail made with macadamia nuts and Mexican cucumbers. Or maybe you just want to pine after whatever they’re hanging in the dedicated charcuterie cupboard sitting right in your sight line. Oh sweet torture, thy name is cured duck breast.
We hope you don’t have to sign off any multi-million dollar deals or negotiate with any clients after lunch at Balcón by Tapavino, because all the wine you were unable to resist is going to make that a lot harder to navigate. And it’s all well and good to say that you shouldn’t have gotten carried away, but who can blame you when they’re pouring the 2009 Flor de Garnacha that is a beguiling mix of heavy oak and that nutty, sherry-like oxidation? If you’re wondering how you got into this pickle in the first place, the answer is practice.