Australia’s biggest city has seen a spate of restaurants open in the last year or so. MEI LIN recently visited four swish venues to see if they have what it takes to compete with award-winning Sydney stalwarts such as Bilson’s, Tetsuya’s, Aria and Rockpool.
Bacco Wine Bar Pasticceria
Chifley Plaza, 2 Chifley Square
+61 2 9223 9552
Bacco has a prestigious office address in Sydney’s CBD, surrounded by designer boutiques and with lawyers and real estate agents as co-tenants. Head chef Fulvio Lanciore, originally from Rome, has kept to his roots with a delightful authenticity in his menu. One highlight is the selection of imported cheeses and cured meats. The pecorino, made from Tuscan sheep’s milk, is mild and creamy, while the bresaola (cured, aged beef) is lean and not too salty. Also excellent are his capocollo (pork neck salami) and pork nduja – the latter with a fiery but divine chilli kick.
“Not many restaurants in Sydney offer as extensive a selection of cured meats as ours,” says the chef. “Our plan in the future is to establish our own pig farm. I’m recreating the taste of what I used to eat as a kid.” With pasta handmade from scratch in the open kitchen, guests can be sure of the real thing. Among the mains, the fettuccine al cervo – slow-braised venison ragu – yields hearty flavours, while the costoletta di vitello – two milk-fed veal cutlets seared on a wood fire and served with veal jus – is utterly satisfying. A beautiful finish is provided by the tortino al cioccolate caldo.
Charming barman Stefan from San Remo makes it impossible to resist the list of a dozen Italian aperitifs made with interesting Italian liqueurs, syrups, wines and fresh fruit. Try the Invidia, a handcrafted lemon sorbet mixed with Italian wild strawberry liqueur and topped with Prosecco.
Ground Floor, Darling Park
201 Sussex Street
+61 2 9283 1990
Housed in a tall office building overlooking Darling Harbour, Sepia has a polished retro interior with soft lighting. A centrally located marble and brass bar evenly splits the restaurant into two sides. With its distinguished address and immaculate ambience, it caters to the high-powered executives in the building.
Sepia is a creative collaboration between well-known seafood wholesaler George Costi of De Costi Seafoods and British-born Sydney chef Martin Benn, formerly of Tetsuya, which explains his penchant for Japanese touches. Chef Benn also spent time at Aqua in Hong Kong in 2007 before returning to Sydney.
He says: “My inspiration is to create a quintessential city restaurant reminiscent of London and New York that serves a unique style of contemporary food pulling inspiration from Japan and matching it with new thinking. I am utilising Australia’s very best seafood from around the country and treating it with respect to produce smart and interesting food.”
An example: fresh yellow-fin tuna tartar layered with creamy avocado and a sumptuous soy and wasabi jelly, served in transparent glass bowls and scooped up with a dainty wooden spoon. Another Japanese-influenced dish is the salt-crusted Murray cod, lightly pan fried and accompanied by a flawless chawanmushi (egg custard). For starters, Coffin Bay oysters from South Australia and smaller Pembula rock oysters from New South Wales were served with a straightforward but refreshing dressing of shallot and rice vinegar.
“I would love Sepia to continue to grow and evolve,” says Benn. “We have now put in place a Saturday night chef’s tasting menu with an eight-course dinner that gives us the freedom in the kitchen to explore different produce and techniques. So far, the guests have embraced this.”
Level 4, 252 George Street
+61 2 9240 3000
Uccello is located in a multi-outlet complex in the middle of the CBD providing a whole lifestyle experience, from the ground floor to the poolside club on the fourth floor. This is party-town central, the “in” place to hang out. Meet at the Ivy Bar or Ivy Lounge for an aperitif, before deciding whether to eat at The Mad Cow, Teppanyaki, Sushi Choo, Royal George or Uccello.
Uccello serves traditional Italian cuisine complete with a vast antipasto table and a pizza oven. Located on the aforementioned fourth floor, next to the pool, Uccello is helmed by Roman chef Massimo Blanchi. His menu is a tasty tribute to classic southern Italian flavours.
For starters, lightly smoked ocean trout served with white asparagus is unpretentious yet delicious. Sliced veal cooked with lemon butter is melt-in-the-mouth tender, while the spaghetti with shredded pork cheek is al dente and hearty.
Sensing our predicament over dessert choices, the waiter brings forth an outstanding platter of the restaurant’s popular sweets: panna cotta, tiramisu and fondant – pretty in presentation and ambrosial in taste and texture.
The wine list dazzles with Australian blends and varietals as well as an impressive selection from Italy. If you like dessert wines, don’t miss the Giacomo Bologna Brachetto d’Acqui, a sparkling red with just the perfect sweetness.
Quality ingredients are a key priority for Blanchi: “The restaurant sources the very best ingredients and produce, whether it be meat, cheese or perishables, all from the best suppliers in Sydney. We work with seasonal produce to capitalise on the fresh flavours of produce when it’s at its very best.”
10 Bligh Street
+61 2 8078 1888
Opened in January 2009, Spice Temple is celebrated chef Neil Perry’s new modern Chinese restaurant. It sits in the basement of a former bank – the heavy vault door is a giveaway – while the floor above is occupied by Perry’s new Rockpool Bar & Grill.
Reminiscent of a Chinese boudoir, the main dining room is filled with dark wood contrasted by carpeting and upholstery in matching scarlet; jazz music and a spicy scent permeate the air. Powerful lighting at each table heightens the sense of drama in the otherwise dimly lit restaurant.
The menus are as dramatic. Instead of the usual Asian fare found in Sydney, Perry has made a deliberate foray into the spice-heavy provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangxi and Xinjiang.
“I wanted to do a regional Chinese restaurant,” says Perry, “and for it to be very authentic, but not Cantonese. These provinces with their liberal use of chillies and spices provided just that.”
Menus reflect the restaurant’s specialities, with the hottest dishes highlighted in red. First-timers to Spice Temple would do well to order the Banquet Menu at A$69 per person for 10 courses. Appetisers include cabbage and radish pickle in a sweet and tangy vinaigrette, and cucumber with smashed garlic and shredded ginger. Colourfully presented tofu and preserved egg is simple but tasty. Wagyu brisket stir-fried with baby eggplant and chilli is full of robust flavours.
Of the hotter dishes, shredded lamb shoulder with salted chilli in oil is a fiery treat; so is the “three shot chicken” breast braised in Tsingtao beer, chillies and soya sauce. The fieriest dish on the menu is the poetically named “Fish drowned in heaven facing chillies and Sichuan peppercorns”. Fillets of leatherjacket are served in a lethal broth – we were later advised that the chillies and peppercorns were meant for flavouring and not for eating! A sharp and tart blood-orange granita offers a cooling end to an unforgettable meal.
The drinks list has 100 wines (it recently received an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator) to ensure that every dish is matched, a thoughtful Chinese tea selection and creative cocktails named after signs of the Chinese zodiac.