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Inside restaurant at Bennelong
Photograph: Anna Kucera

The best restaurants in the CBD

Seek out these top notch dining destinations in the heart of the city

By Time Out editors
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Virtually every suburb in Sydney can boast a world-class eatery (or several), but none rival the CBD for the sheer number of sky-high culinary experiences on offer. We've cherry-picked the best tables to book in the heart of the city, whether you're stepping out for business lunch, a pre-show bite or a swanky degustation. 

Want more top chefs? Check out our guide to the 50 best restaurants in Sydney.

Recommended: Want something a little more casual? Check out our guide to the best cheap eats in the city.

The best restaurants in the CBD

Food at Quay
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Quay

Restaurants Australian The Rocks

The dress-circle Harbour views? The exquisite works of art on each and every plate? The custom-made crockery? The cornucopia of produce grown exclusively for the restaurant? The service team’s unrivalled professionalism? Some restaurants are engineered for special occasions and totally worth the splurge – this is most definitely one of them.

Chicken fricassee at Hubert
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Hubert

Restaurants French Sydney

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.

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A shot of the crab at Mr Wong covered in XO sauce
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Mr Wong

Restaurants Chinese Sydney

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. 

Long Chim
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Long Chim

Restaurants Thai Sydney

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. 

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Food at Aria
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Aria

Restaurants Sydney

Dining at Aria will make you fall back in love with Sydney; the longstanding, harbourside fine-dining landmark not only has world-class views, but it's overseen by world-class chef Matt Moran. Both the relatively recent renovation and overhaul of the menu by head chef Joel Bickford have brought the restaurant firmly into the here and now, thanks to the kitchen’s less-is-more approach and a brighter spotlight on native ingredients. The panoramic outlook from the floor-to-ceiling windows, on the other hand, remains some of the city’s best.

Prawns at Cirrus
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Cirrus

Restaurants Seafood Barangaroo

Hit peak Sydney with seaside seafood from Cirrus, the fourth venue from culinary kingpins Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt. Their trophy cabinet is already chockers thanks to Monopole, Bentley and Yellow, but the collection wanted an aquatic addition. When NOMA moved out, Savage and Hildebrandt moved in and built something Sydney was sorely lacking: an elegant seafood restaurant by the water that'll impress the socks of anyone you bring here.

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The Gidley food overview steak
Photograph: The Gidley/Dominic Loneragan

The Gidley

Restaurants Steak house Sydney

The sequel to Bistecca, which offers a broader spectrum of carnivorous thrills but keeps the old-world elegance front and centre. Handing over your mobile phone at the door allows you to surrender completely to a bygone era of prawn cocktails and Waldorf salads, when drinks were stiff and proper and whole fish were filleted tableside. If you need to loosen your necktie and let out your inner Don Draper, this is the place. 

 

Cavatelli with sausage and pipis at Ragazzi
Photograph: Leigh Griffiths

Ragazzi

Restaurants Italian Sydney

This petite laneway pasta parlour that follows in the footsteps of sibling wine bars Dear Sainte Éloise and Love, Tilly Devine. The Harbour City’s obsession with pasta is at an all-time high, but thanks to a focus on lesser-known shapes and a willingness to stray from the tried and true, Ragazzi stands out. And because these are the brains behind two pioneering wine bars, there’s good drinking aplenty to be had. 

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Beef burger served with salad on the side
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Rockpool Bar & Grill

Restaurants Sydney

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.

Stir fried quail at Spice Temple
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Spice Temple

Restaurants Sydney

Rather than choosing some airy harbourside venue with Opera House views, Neil Perry's gone subterranean in the city for Spice Temple. "I'm asking people to go down a number of steps and come underground in beautiful Sydney," says Perry. "To do that, I felt I had to have something really special." And special it is – a Chinese restaurant that does not serve any Cantonese dishes. Instead, you'll find a menu that roams China from Sichuan to Yunnan to Guangxi. Spice Temple is an exciting restaurant – not just because it's Neil Perry's amazing food in a casual, fun environment. It's unlike anything Sydney's seen before.

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Bentley Restaurant and Bar

Restaurants Australian Sydney

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. But to get the most out of this venue it's worth ordering a full meal. You won't regret a bite.

Food at Bennelong
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Bennelong

Restaurants Sydney

World-renowned chef Peter Gilmore’s artful, imaginative interpretation of Australian cuisine, is even more remarkable when tasted under the soaring sails of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Much like a ride on the Manly Ferry or the coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi, eating inside the Opera House is a Sydney rite of passage. Both the food and the service are every bit as polished as the magnificent setting.

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Tablelay at Balcon by Tapavino
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Balcón by Tapavino

Restaurants Spanish Sydney

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. 

Hands eating food at Alberto's Lounge
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Alberto's Lounge

Restaurants Italian Sydney

Hubert’s hyper-stylised baby sibling channels the look, feel and flavour of an Italian trattoria straight from the ’70s. The Swillhouse Group leaves no stone unturned when they commit to a concept, and Alberto’s is no exception. Stucco, wood panelling and more vintage posters than you can shake a stick at set the stage for mighty good times. You’ll want to double up on the pane fritti with anchovies and keep the Chianti topped right up.

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Outside at Restaurant Leo
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Restaurant Leo

Restaurants Sydney

This pedigreed CBD newcomer fusing Italian fundamentals and flashy technique, care of two of the city’s top chefs. Federico Zannellato (LuMi) and former Oscillate Wildly head honcho Karl Firla are bringing back the power lunch in high-flying style. They’re unafraid to reboot saltimbocca and squid ink risotto, and they go straight for the jugular with the likes of luxurious lobster maccheroncini and fontina-coated cauliflower gratin. Amen. 

Jimmy’s falafel food overview
Photograph: Nikki To

Jimmy's Falafel

Restaurants Lebanese Sydney

Merivale's latest addition to the Sydney food scene is a late-night, vintage kickback to the swinging '70s in Beirut with some of the best falafel in town. George Street is not famous for its destination dining, but the queues form outside Jimmy’s for the fried-to-order falafel, which they cram into fresh pita pockets or pile onto mezze plates. And it doesn’t matter where the little hand is pointing to, order the late-night wrap, which is like a lahmacun and a kebab rolled into one feisty, funky, tasty package.

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