The 11 best delis in Sydney
Must buy: Bitey Greek kefalograviera cheese.
We tell the owners we’re doing a story on best delis, and an unprompted punter quickly chimes in: "This is definitely one of them." It’s not hard to see (and smell) why. Every inch of the narrow, winding Greek-focused deli is packed – precariously balanced piles of sheep’s milk cheese, two square metres devoted to every type of olive soaking in brine, and a whole fridge of imported pastries and filo pies. Evidently this is a Greek deli, but you’ll also find continental goods from butter chicken mix to dried pasta. They make their own hummus, toum and tzatziki, and you’ll also find $6 falafel wraps and $5 chicken schnitzel rolls that diehard locals line up for every day.
Must buy: Mascarpone Reale – the signature layered mascarpone, blue cheese and fig jam layered cheese 'cake'.
Serving the Haberfield community and beyond for just shy of 20 years, this small but mighty gourmet grocer is a celebration of the downright delicious. There's fresh pasta, a range of sauces by chef Luca Ciano, stuffed olives from Marrickville and exceptional puff pastry by Carême. You may recognise the range of vacuum-sealed deli meats up the back – it’s Paesenella’s own brand, which started here, and is now stocked in Harris Farm and other independent grocers. Cheese here is the drawcard. Paesenella’s main factory is just over in Marrickville, where they make all their own cow and buffalo milk cheeses. Think still-warm ricotta, ultra creamy orbs of burrata and just-sweet mascarpone.
Must buy: All the cheeses.
Head here for the kind of fresh fruit and veggies that belong on a Sicilian postcard. There are floor-to-ceiling shelves bursting with preserves, condiments, spices and dry goods, and in the centre of the store is a veritable cornucopia of fresh produce, laid out in baskets, boxes, trays and barrels. Load up on spicy sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and air-freighted Buffalo mozzarella for the perfect Caprese salad, or peruse the vast selection in the dedicated cheese room for a full-on fromage fest fit for a king.
Must buy: Leg ham, sliced to order.
This sweet little shop is everything you could ever want in a local delicatessen. Owner Nick Vanos took over the deli in 2016, ditching the corporate life for a life of cheese and cured meat. His grandfather was a longtime owner of a much-loved deli in Darlinghurst, and Vanos says his pa played a big part in his decision to re-discover the family roots. You'll find goods like Kangaroo Island free-range eggs, buttermilk ricotta, Spanish cold cuts from La Boqueria and Urban Beehive raw Sydney honey here. If you’re feeling peckish, you can also wrap your hands about Organic Bread Bar sausage rolls, $8 sarnies and killer lasagne by the slice.
Must buy: Fresh truffles year-round.
Strictly speaking, this is less of a deli and more of a showroom for fine imported perishables – aka fancy, delicious things you don’t come across often in Sydney. Truffles and caviar are specialties, but it’s not just these boujee goods that makes this providore special. Browse and sample Piedmontese hazelnuts (a variety with a super fragrant, nutty-sweet flavour different from the ones you’ll find in Oz), Sicilian pistachio nut creams and herb-dusted almonds. You can drop $70 on a bottle of French olive oil or $97.50 on a jar of baby artichokes. There’s also a whole table devoted to Calabrian peppers, two long shelves to tinned fish, and a stellar selection of regional charcuterie from around the world. Cheese-wise, French varieties dominate, from Pavé d’Affinois to Crottin de Chavignol. The French theme continues with foie gras and fresh, wild (and very rare) chanterelle mushrooms.
Must buy: Pecora Dairy Yarrawa cheese.
You’ll find this little specialty gourmet haven amidst the chaos of the Fish Market, flaunting a dynamite range of cheeses. Order up slices of rich, savoury Emmentaler (a 6-month cave-aged Swiss cheese) and Tête de Moine (a hard cow’s milk cheese, which is not cut but shaved into thin, twirly slices); or stay local, and get a hunk of ewe’s milk cheese from Pecora Dairy (Australia’s first uncooked raw milk cheese) or Maffra cloth-bound cheddar from Gippsland. Given its touristy location, it’s no surprise there are loads of Australian honeys, jams, oils and vinegars, all of which are wrapped and ready to go for optimal gift giving.
Must buy: Frozen tamales and masa flour.
When Rosa Cienfuegos moved to Australia, tortillas were hard to find. “Now,” she says, “they’re in the supermarket.” Growing curiosity about authentic Mexican fare (we are not talking taco-kit Tex Mex here) is what has seen Cienfuegos go from helping out in her dad’s restaurant in Enmore to hosting monthly, then bi-monthly pop-ups at Marrickville Markets, until finally the demand shifted. “I started to get a lot more demand from non-Mexican people. I thought, 'Oh wow, they are very excited about tamales and soft tacos.' That’s when I started looking for a shop.” Here you’ll find ready-made tamales (which take two full days to make 200), imported tins of chipotle beans, nacho cheese sauce, serrano peppers, zucchini flowers, alongside fresh corn tortillas, hot sauces galore and Mexican sodas. While you’re here, stay for lunch and order a gordita – all extra thick, doughy masa tortilla, pork shreds and coriander, with just a hint of sour cream. Add in their chilled housemade horchata – rice milk panela sugar, condensed milk and cinnamon make for a killer pick-me-up on a humid day.
Must buy: House-tinned octopus in XO sauce, made from leftover charcuterie offcuts of the leftover charcuterie.
The real magic happens when you dine-in at this deli/restaurant/wine bar (which opens at noon every day), but you can take home all the delicious goods stacked on the shelves and in the fridge. The house-tinned and bottled goods are the niftiest part of the offering, and include mackerel and salmon, along with salted caramel, olives and ripping hot sauce. You’ll also find 15 different cheeses, including Tunworth soft cheese, Holy Goat Skyla and Époisses, alongside liverwurst and mortadella, (which also come in the form of killer sandwiches for $13-$17). Don’t pop in here to stock up for a big shindig, come for a drink at the bar and a small plate of smallgoods, and then buy a little something special for later.
Must buy: Olives and Sicilian focaccia with potato, fennel, chilli and rosemary on the weekends.
Deli Mercato’s olives are the right blend of Italian origins and Australian hard work. Owner Nancy brings them to Sydney all the way from Gaeta, in the central Italian region of Lazio, near Rome, and then marinates them in the deli. If it’s not olives that you’re after, however, Deli Mercato offers one of the most comprehensive displays of Italian produce in Australia, from tuna to panettone, plus the most famous biscotti brands like Mulino Bianco. They even stock Italian cleaning products. Why? Because, in Nancy’s words: "People need to feel at home even when they’re on the other side of the world and their favourite brands from back home play a huge part in achieving that."
Must buy: Pelmeni.
This Russian deli stocks fresh and frozen goods from Eastern Europe you won’t typically find on supermarket shelves. Stacks of Moscow pelmeni (Russian dumplings), pierogis, housemade borsch, blueberry blinis, Polish sausages, Hungarian speck and tins of Siberian caviar line the fridges. You’ll also find ready-to-heat-and-eat fresh khachapuri (Geogrian cheese bread), Russkis' meatballs and cabbage rolls. On the pantry side, stock up on pickled and preserved vegetables galore – more cabbage, gherkins, tomatoes, capsicums and beetroot.
Must buy: Ovelha sheep's milk cheese.
This deli's got a Portuguese and Brazilian focus (which makes sense given Petersham’s expat community). To that end, you’ll find Brazo acai smoothie packs, Maizena corn starch and Delicia pre-made cheese bread and chicken coxinhas – a killer croquette-like street food snack. There's Portuguese cheese, plenty of different hot sauces and piri piri oils, imported sardines, and striking stacks of bacalhau (whole salted and dried cod). And, like all good delis should, Charlie's lets you take your pick of meat and cheese and stuff it in a roll for a few bucks. Winning.