Sydney: Where to eat and drink
SYDNEY always has new nosheries springing up and it's good fun to sample these alongside old favourites like celeb hangout Otto Ristorante at Cowper Wharf, Woolloomooloo, Tetsuya's in Kent St or Matt Moran's Aria at Circular Quay, to name just a few of the city's best.
Plus, recent changes to NSW liquor licensing laws have led to a new small bar culture, which means there are lots of "hole-in-the-wall" bars popping up all over the place, some of which are must-dos during any trip across the ditch.
Following are some of the top places on Viva's radar.
With its name a play on "MSG", this new eatery owned by hospo magnate Justin Hemmes offers a youthful spin on Chinese cuisine. Its four floors are decked out with playful urban decor featuring a graffiti wall, lots of neon lighting, a jam jar-covered ceiling, vege garden courtyard and a feature wall of retro girlie magazine covers. On the menu are bubble tea cocktails which come properly sealed and a dessert called "Stoner's Delight 2.0" is made up of doughnut icecream, peanut butter, raspberry jam, candied bacon, potato chips, Mars bar slice and a banana fritter ($12). Diabetic coma anyone? Be warned there is a no bookings policy.
This New York-style steakhouse with a sophisticated twist is meat heaven - the industrial interior design was even inspired by an abattoir: its chandelier is made of cattle carcasses, there is a clock hanging from a meat hook and the ceiling resembles a ribcage. There are 10 types of steak on the menu, all local, but their speciality is a juicy, thick and perfectly seasoned double lamb chop.
Jamie Oliver's new 200-seat trattoria offers fresh, affordable Italian food with a twist in an intimate and homely environment. There are no bookings and the wait is a minimum 30 minutes, but reportedly it's worth it - and a whirring pasta machine in the window making fresh pasta daily and open prep areas including a salami station, will keep you entertained in the meantime.
The "Queen of Rice Paper Rolls" Nga Chu is branching out right across town - and states - with her delicious high-end, low-price hawker-style Vietnamese takeaway food now available at four locations in Sydney: Darlinghurst, George St in the city, the Opera House Kitchen, and most recently Bondi.
Top Australian chef Neil Perry's latest eatery has been on the scene for a couple of years but its still cited as the city's best Chinese restaurant by those in the know. Maybe the sensory deprivation created by its near-dark opium den-like basement premises allows you more appreciation of Perry's exquisite menu which offers piping hot modern Chinese food, often awash with chillies, inspired by regional cuisine from all over China.
Try the Leatherjacket fish drowned in heaven-facing chillies and Sichuan peppercorns ($32). Served under a mountain of chillies which are (mostly) scraped off by the staff table-side.
Sake is another restaurant which has been on the scene for a couple of years and consistently features in the city's best eateries lists. Chef Shaun Presland's fine-dining take on contemporary Japanese cuisine is beautifully presented, mixing new-style sushi with classic dishes, and the large restaurant located in a beautiful heritage building has a great atmosphere with some of the best service you'll ever encounter.
Try the kingfish jalapeno - hiramasa kingfish, yuzu, soy, thin jalapeno slices and coriander ($22). Delicate slices of fish delivered with a kick from the citrus-tanged yuzu sauce and jalapeno.
Formerly Star City, Sydney's casino complex has undergone a major refurbishment and is now home to a host of fine eateries.
Among them are Momofuku Seiobo, Black by Ezard, Sokyo, and Balla, but the most buzz surrounds Adriano Zumbo's fantastical patisserie and dessert train, which would be quite at home in a Tim Burton film.
21, Kings Cross
With a bit of imagination you could pretend you're at a Jay-Z after-party at this glitzy blinged-out hotspot in the Cross which has an urban New York flavour, from its decor to its food and drink menus.
This basement gem is hidden behind a mock tailor's display window complete with sewing machines, balls of yarn and a rack of shirts. The sartorial theme continues down the stairs where patrons sit around vintage Singer stands and old sewing patterns cover the walls.
If nautical kitsch is more your style, head out to the Eastern Suburbs to Bucklers Canteen, named after a convict called Ben Buckler who lived in a cave in the cliffs at North Bondi. There's a model ship behind the bar, and patrons are encouraged to carve their names into the bar. Yarrrr!
Owners of this bar describe it as a "retrosexual haven of cosmopolitan kitsch and faded granny glamour". Love it already! Decked out with vintage furniture, old crockery, and Nana's knitting basket, this basement establishment is a cute, tongue-in-cheek joint with a great cocktail list that features an ever-changing secret-ingredient punch.
Former brothel madam Matilda "Tilly" Devine is a name that's been popping up a lot lately thanks to last year's Underbelly TV series about the "razor gangs" who controlled Sydney's underworld in the 1920s and 30s. This new bar, which is hidden down a tiny East Sydney laneway in the cellar of a former bottle shop, is so named for Devine as a nod to the neighbourhood's past.