The best restaurants in the CBD
Seek out these top notch dining destinations in the heart of the city
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rockpool Bar & Grill
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.
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.
Bentley Restaurant and Bar
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.
Time Out's ultimate guide to dining in the CBD, from high end Cantonese crab-houses to sleek European offerings. Some of the best Sydney restaurants are in the heart of the city.
ICYMI: Our guide to the hottest Sydney CBD restaurant openings of the past year
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Despite the general tenor of last year (“ugh” is a universal descriptor), a lot of good things happened. And a lot, surprisingly, in the restaurant world. Even more surprisingly, a lot happened in the city – an area of Sydney widely reported to have suffered the most. That’s something to be celebrated.
Restaurants in the CBD and surrounds need your support more than ever, so Good Food is putting out an all-points SOC (Save Our City) call to anyone who is hungry.
To aid you in this delicious mission, we’ve rounded up everything you might have missed over the past year, from new restaurants to old favourites doing new things.
A’mare: that’s Alessandro Pavoni’s new love
Grand old Italian opulence is the theme here. Picture George Clooney’s Lake Como loungeroom, where he drinks his morning espresso and evening martini, and you’re probably pretty close. Chef-restaurateur Alessandro Pavoni (Ormeggio at the Spit, Chiosco) offers big northern Italian flavours in big, brassy surrounds. The pitch here is old-school service and old-school dishes, both executed with that particular flavour of flashy refinement Sydney loves so much. Fresh pesto, made tableside, is a signature we can get firmly behind. Crown Sydney, level 1, 1 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo, crownsydney.com.au
Calabria Panineria brings the breakfast sandwich
Sydney sandwich queen Marcella Nelson-Aebi is back on the scene with a brand new panineria, specialising in the sort of sambos you’ll start eating at lunch and finish for dinner. She even does a special breakfast menu – egg and sopressa salami on focaccia, Italian beef sausage and eggs fried in olive oil – if you want to begin the day with intent. Otherwise, order her signature schnitzel (so crisp, so juicy) or a ham and cheese jaffle. 252 George Street, Sydney
The chilli crab at Chinta Ria Buddha Love. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Chinta Ria offers big Buddha love
Regulars of Chinta Ria’s original Darling Harbour site who have missed being greeted by chef-restaurateur Simon Goh’s three-metre laughing Buddha statue will be pleased to see it has taken pride of place at its new home at Darling Square. Here, in a canteen-style atmosphere, order carrot and potato curry puffs for just $3 a pop, roti with chicken curry sauce or a whole crab with all the trimmings including deep-fried Chinese-style bread to deal with the leftover sauce. Casual Malaysian food in very pretty surrounds and plenty of price points? Sold, to the Buddha in the front. 14 Nicolle Walk, Haymarket, chintariabuddhalove.com
Taco al pastor is worth a double order at Esteban. Photo: James Brickwood
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Esteban is two levels of good times, wood-fired meats and sipping tequilas
The team behind Paddington’s Tequila Mockingbird has transformed the old Grasshopper Bar site into a multi-level Mexican restaurant. Sip tequilas and scoff tortillas made in-house and a whole lot of grilled meats from the hefty ironwood-fuelled parrilla. Make sure to order the sweet potato tart, if only to say you tried sweet potato cream in a restaurant that also sells a reposado tequila for $300. 1 Temperance Lane, Sydney, estebanrestaurant.com.au
Everybody is popping up at PS40
It may be a sleek city bar and soda shop serving up sharply presented cocktails, but over the past year PS40 has started morphing into something so much more. Known for its out-there cocktail program, owner-bartender Michael Chiem and co have taken the spirit of experimentation and opened their space up to chefs who may not have permanent venues or just want to try something outside the box in a safe space. Takeover Tuesdays have hosted everyone from Big Sam Young to Graeme Hunt (Chin Chin, Spice Temple Melbourne) and Toby Wilson (Rico’s Tacos). The cooking lineup changes as often as the in-house cocktails – sign up to the newsletter to secure a table. Skittle Lane, Sydney, ps40bar.com
Char kwai teow is value-added with shellfish of your choice at Ho Jiak. Photo: James Brickwood
Ho Jiak Town Hall is all spice and very nice
It’s not lunch in the CBD unless you’ve spilled something indelible on yourself. And there’s no better place to do that than chef Junda Khoo’s new city restaurant, specialising in delicious, stainy foods (shout out to those laksa-filled dumplings) from the Malaysian city of Penang. If your hip pocket will allow it, go for the whole mud crab, wok-fried with butter and salted duck egg. And if not, their char kwai teow is legendary. 125 York Street, Sydney, hojiak.com.au
Tuna sushi at the tiny but mighty Kuon Omakase. Photo: Supplied
Kuon Omakase is the ultimate delicious trust exercise
Book way in advance for this 11-seat, “trust the chef” experience where you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Happily, what you get is nothing to get upset about. Here you’ll discover a daily-changing, 20-course degustation made up of highly styled Japanese dishes (truffled snow egg chawanmushi! Monkfish liver cooked in soy!) at the hands of chefs Hideaki Fukada and Jun Miyauchi. Shop 20, 2-58 Little Hay Street, Sydney, kuon.com.au
Matt Moran takes over Chophouse menu
When Matt Moran and the Solomon family first took over the Sydney steakhouse back in 2016, they were management in name only. But in October last year, Moran stepped in and worked with head chef Scott Kim on developing the menu to incorporate more of his personal cooking aesthetic. Dry-aged steaks are still the main attraction here, but alongside those rib-eyes, T-bones and rump caps are anchovies and lardo on toast, chubby burrata with heirloom tomatoes, and beef tartare. The dining room has also had a makeover, with a whisky cart available for nightcaps. 25 Bligh Street, Sydney, chophousesydney.com.au
Merguez sausage with roasted fennel and harissa at the new Monopole. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Monopole has moved to the city
All-new moves in an all-new part of town for restaurateurs Nick Hildebrandt and Brent Savage. The two-hat wine bar, which previously occupied space on Macleay Street in Potts Point, now resides around the corner from sister restaurant The Bentley overlooking Australia Square. Here you’ll find all the hallmarks of the OG venue (the award-winning list, beautiful design by architect Pascal Gomes-McNabb), along with a reinvigorated menu (thanks to chef Brent Savage) that includes parmesan and caramelised onion gougeres and killer steak frites. 16-20 Curtin Place, Sydney, monopolesydney.com.au
The Jorge Perez rattlesnake mezcal at Cantina OK! Photo: Edwina Pickles
New outdoor seating at Cantina OK!
One of Sydney’s smallest bars (when they opened, you would have been hard-pressed to squish in eight people) has now turned into a Sydney outdoor bar with Melbourne sensibilities. Thanks to a loosening of the rules around outdoor drinking and dining spaces, the OK! team was able to utilise the laneway to seat more guests, which means 30 people can now experience the joys of the hand-cranked ice machine, single estate mescals and excellent margaritas. Best of all, Sydney is finally getting the opportunity to utilise all that outdoor space the way it was intended – for fun. Council Place, Sydney, okokok.com.au/cantina-ok
Maccheroncini pasta with lobster at Restaurant Leo. Photo: James Brickwood
Restaurant Leo brings some sass to the classic business lunch
Love Federico Zanellato’s Japanese-flecked Italian food at LuMi? Miss Karl Firla’s tight, modernist cuisine at Oscillate Wildly before they shut up shop in 2019? Then hold onto your pearls, Sydney – the chefs have teamed up to bring the CBD a breezy, delicious and approachable Italian restaurant that ticks all the business lunch boxes with some hidden twists such as squid ink risotto and bagna cauda butter served with the house-made focaccia. Shop 1, 2-12 Angel Place, Sydney, restaurantleo.com.au
Sydney Symphony Orchestra musicians treating Bennelong guests to dinner and a show. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Bennelong has changed the sound of Sundays
The recently launched Live at Bennelong series coincides with a brand new a la carte menu from chef Rob Cockerill. The three-course menu, which includes the likes of a salad of summer greens with feta, figs, pepitas, verjuice and a steamed murray cod with whole lemon cream, is available every Sunday from noon to 3.30pm, and is $160 a head, with a $30 cover charge for music. The music program, curated by Phillip Johnston, will include the likes of Tim Rollinson (D.I.G.) and Lloyd Swanton (The Necks) with special guests Jeremy Rose, Peter Dasent, Gary Daley, and Virna Sanzone. Bennelong Point, Sydney, bennelong.com.au
Sammy Jnr is set to change aperitivo hour
Panini and espresso by day, aperitivo by afternoon and cocktail bar by night? King Street just upped the game significantly thanks to Vince Lombardo and Stefano Catino – the duo behind Rocks cocktail bar Maybe Sammy. The venue, due to open in early March, will have a focus on cocktails on tap, and interior design work by architect-to-the-stars, George Livissianis. 66 King Street, Sydney, maybesammy.com
Clockwise from top right: Sergeant Lok’s snapper, Sichuan pepper squid, king prawns, and ocean trout. Photo: Supplied
Sergeant Lok brings mod-Chinese vibes to the old Sailors Thai site
Remember those heady days when the old Rocks police station housed gone-but-not-forgotten Sailors Thai? The site lives again as a modern Chinese restaurant named for the famously corrupt Hong Kong policeman, Lui Lok who terrorised the city back in the 1960s and ’70s. Expect to see tofu made from scratch in-house, shaoxing-glazed beef and smoked-and-barbecued duck. 127 George Street, The Rocks, sergeantlok.com.au
The three-martini lunch returns at Hubert
This one’s for all you Gerald Fords, Gordon Gekkos and Jordan Belforts. CBD French restaurant Hubert has brought back the long lost three-martini lunch – an institution born in the 1950s that died with the introduction of fringe benefits tax in 1986. The doors swing open every Thursday and Friday at noon for $11 martinis made any way you like. Order yours with gin, vodka, shaken, stirred, a lemon twist, on the rocks, cocktail onions or, as they suggest, “garnished with enough olives that you could call it lunch”. Order half a lobster, a steak, three martinis and sink into Friday in the time-honoured – by not going back to work. 15 Bligh Street, Sydney, restauranthubert.com
Quay menu changes
Chef Peter Gilmore has been busy, working behind the scenes on a few low-key menu changes at this three-hat dazzler. Beauty and intricacy are the names of the game on the plate, with those views out the window. Look out for poached marron with green almonds, pomelo and micro flowers, or a riff on his classic pork jowl dish. This iteration sees slow-cooked pork jowl bedded down in umami custard and black pig salami. Given the commitment it takes to nab a table at one of the world’s best restaurants, it’s probably worth strapping in for the sommelier’s selection drinks pairing as well. If you’re going to do it, you may as well do it properly. Upper level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, quay.com.au
Brick chicken with fragrant lime and barberries at Woodcut. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Here are the Sydney CBD openings you may have missed while you were working from home.