The talesofasia guide to Sydney
Updated May 30, 2005
Bars, Restaurants, and Clubs
Visiting every bar in Sydney is an admirable, yet seemingly impossible task. In a country where the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke set the world speed drinking record for downing 2.5 pints in 11 seconds (1955), and the drinking binges of the national cricket team (in particular Merv Hughes) returning from tours of England are stuff of national legend, it is hardly surprising that there appears to be more bars than food shops in Sydney. However not all bars in Sydney were created equal. Many are overpriced, staffed by pratts, dirty, serve crap beer or are just plain dodgy (any bar in a train station, or that has sawdust on the floor is probably best avoided). The following list is my personal “best of” Sydney bars. There are undoubtedly many, many more that deserve to be here and if I didn’t have a day job they probably would be. For those not familiar with Australian Bars, a schooner is a 330mL glass of beer. In no particular order…..
The Australian Hotel
The Australian Heritage Hotel has a laid back “couple of beers after work” atmosphere and is located at the top of the rocks. From George Street (the main thoroughfare through the rocks) head up Argyle Street and take the Argyle stairs just before the cut. A “traditional Aussie Pub” that does fantastic gourmet pizzas for about $16 (try the Moroccan lamb), the Australian has indoor “parlour” style seating, or you can sit outside under the wide veranda. The Australian has nearly 100 different beers available and serves pints (as opposed to a number of bars that only serve draft beers in schooners) which means you don’t have to head back to the bar as often. Call ahead to book a table if you are planning on going with a group in the evening.
The Hero of Waterloo
The Hero is hidden away at the top of Lower Fort Street. Again, from George Street head up Argyle Street, past the stairs and go through the cut, then turn right into Lower Fort Street past the Garrison Church. The Hero of Waterloo first opened for business in 1845, making it one of the oldest bars in Sydney. The low slung timber ceiling and smoke stained hand cut sandstone walls give the bar an excellent sense of age. In winter, the open hearth fire at the far end of the bar is a great position from which to nurse a pint of Guinness. Traditionally quiet in the afternoons, The Hero is usually ‘standing room only’ at night. Live music is provided during the weekend afternoons by a “ragtime – jazz” quartet, with a combined age hovering somewhere around 300 years. The pub kitchen does brilliant lamb shanks and mash.
If guys in small leather shorts and girls in “heidi” outfits is your thing, then Lowenbrau is definitely worth a look. The same thing goes if you are in need of a Stein of German / Austrian Beer. Tiny on the outside (about 15 tables), walking in the door reveals a cavernous beer hall. Lowenbrau is a bit pricey (about $16 - $18 for a stein) but the beer is good, and the kitchen churns out an excellent selection of Bavarian style food. The chicken schnitzel is especially good.
Bar Cleveland is one of my traditional favourite bars, and not just because it is conveniently located next door to Maya De Dhaba, arguably the best curry house in Sydney. Walking distance from the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) and Fox Studios, Bar Cleveland is a great place to fire up, or wind down an evening. James Squire’s ‘Amber Ale’ and Little Creatures ‘Pale Ale’ are two draft beers to look out for here.
The crowd is student / urban and gives the place a super relaxed vibe. The cocktail bar upstairs does cheap drinks on Wednesday nights. The front bar is light and airy, making it a great place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon over a few cheeky pints and a game or 5 of pool.
As far as drinking goes, Pier26 is practically the only saving grace of Darling Harbour, which is otherwise populated by nasty overpriced bars and restaurants. Located above a cruising and tour shop, Pier26 is largely an outdoor bar, covered by large removable awnings. This is one of the best places to spend a sunny afternoon reclining on one of the oversized couches, watching people wander around the harbour below. The beer to try here is Beez Neez, a pale ale brewed with honey. The food and bar snacks are excellent and also reasonably priced (quite a rarity in this part of town).
The Tilbury is one of many bars in Sydney that have spent a stupidly large amount of cash turning them from your humble watering hole into ‘slashies’ (A Bar / Restaurant). Downstairs is a fairly expensive looking open plan restaurant (where you can apparently eat quite well for about $70 a head) and an outdoor courtyard (which is basically an upmarket beer garden). The best feature of the Tilbury is the sunny open air upstairs bar / deck, which has Coopers Pale Ale and Asahi Super Dry on tap. The crowd here is a mix of after work and ‘glamour’ girls, but you can pretty much wear whatever (in the afternoons at least). The outside grill does great snacks for a reasonable price. Another great feature of the Tilbury is that it is a quick stumble from Harry’s Café de Wheels, a pie cart – cum Sydney institution that has been on the Woolloomooloo waterfront since forever. Nothing cures post drinking hunger like a Harry’s pie topped with mash, peas and gravy.
The Coogee Bay Hotel
The Coogee Bay Hotel is a sprawling complex with bars, restaurants and (apparently) accommodation. The large, shady outdoor beer garden is an excellent place to spend a couple of hours relaxing after an arduous afternoon lying on nearby Coogee beach. The Coogee Bay Hotel has a large selection of beers on tap, the best of which is Coopers Sparkling Ale.
The Darlo Bar (or The Royal Soverign Hotel)
The Darlo bar is a small bar popular with locals and students. The décor is 60’s lounge with lots of couches and leather reclining chairs. The Darlo is close to the restaurant strip along Darlinghurst Road, and is an excellent place for pre-dinner drinks.
The Opera Bar
The Opera Bar is an outdoor terrace bar on the Harbour Bridge aspect of the Opera House. It can be hard to get a table immediately before or after a show at the Opera House. The view of the inner harbour is superb, and they often have live music at night during the weekends. Expect to pay about $7 for a bottle of beer here (330mL).
Named after the infamous New York institution, the Stonewall is located in the middle of the Gay and Lesbian Strip on Oxford Street. Although this is possibly the highest profile Gay / Lesbian bar in Sydney, ‘boring straight people’ are also welcome, although the door staff do sometimes appear to have a policy of turning away (obviously straight) girls on the basis that they are wearing open toed shoes. Wear your dyke boots and you should be fine. There are three levels, each with a bar. The middle floor resembles someone’s ornate lounge with a jumpin’ crowd and DJ in the corner. Open until 5am, the Stonewall has a relaxed feel and is worth checking out on any Oxford Street pub crawl.
When getting to know Sydney, eating out is as important as going to visit the Opera House, the harbour bridge or Bondi. Restaurants are an integral part of Sydney and reflect its inhabitants. The restaurants listed below are all ones that I visit regularly, or used to visit when I lived in different parts of the city. A couple are pretty expensive, some are quite cheap, all of them offer excellent food and value for money.
I have deliberately not included any of the restaurants that ring either Darling Harbour or Circular Quay (and I have eaten at several). By all means go into these places, grab a coffee or a beer and enjoy the view. However, if you want excellent food that isn’t stupidly overpriced then go elsewhere. As with the bar guide, there are more restaurants in Sydney than any one person could visit without at least getting a solid dose of gout and a stern warning from their cardiologist. As such, this list does not pretend to be an all inclusive ‘best of’…..but it’s a not a bad place to start.
I’m not going to put together a list of best café’s or best place to get coffee in Sydney, as there are hundreds of good coffee joints in the city, but many have such a high staff turn over that the guru who made you the best ever latte yesterday is replaced by a cack handed caffeine monkey today. That said, Jet in the Queen Victoria Building has done consistently great coffee pretty much time every time I’ve been there in nearly four years.
Maya Da Dhaba
431 Cleveland Street
Finding a good curry house is a definite cause for celebration. Finding a good curry house that is next door to a half decent pub is a beautiful thing indeed. Maya Da Dhaba is in my opinion, the best curry house in Sydney. Serving up a range of food from the tandoor, service is quick and the food is reasonably priced (about $14 for a main). The Gulab Jamun for dessert is brilliant. BYO beer and wine.
325 Pitt Street
Located in the heart of the city on Pitt Street, Sakura kitchen is a tiny, 7 table setup that serves fresh tasty Japanese food for a pittance. My personal favourite is the Chicken Katsu Don, a generous portion of chicken, vegetable and rice served with miso soup and a green salad for only $8.50.
Shop 320, Kingsgate Shopping Centre
Disappearing down an underground entrance in the cross is generally not a terribly good idea, unless you happen to be heading into JuJu’s. After ditching your shoes at the door and squeezing into the traditional sunken table settings order up a round of Asahi Super Dry and check out the super cheap menu. Fusing traditional Japanese food with mayonnaise, bbq sauce and cheese is apparently a house speciality here. Karaoke is also popular here from mid evening onwards. Juju’s is always packed on weekends so book ahead.
130 Roscoe Street
If you are in the mood for pork spare ribs, then this is the place to go. The Hurricane’s ‘Uluru’ sized portion of sweet, tangy bbq ribs served with a token garnish is well worth the trek out to Bondi. Nothing helps wash down a big stack of porky pig ribs like a jug or two of Sangria, available for about $25.
Long Grain Restaurant and Bar
85 Commonwealth Street
Dinner at Long Grain will possibly be one of the most expensive Thai meals you ever eat. It will also probably be one of the best. The caramelised pork is fantastic and the bar makes some of the best cocktails in town. Bring your credit card and unless you’re there when it opens, don’t expect to be seated quickly.
The Nepalese Kitchen
481 Crown Street
A quick walk down Crown St from the Clock Hotel, the Nepalese Kitchen is small, cosy and always crowded. They have a banqueting room above the main restaurant which you can book for private functions. The goat curry is especially good.
57 Liverpool Street
Short on a dollar and need some solid sustenance? Then mamma’s kitchen is a good place to start. There are actually two Mamma’s Kitchens, the other can be found at the top of the Market City Complex in Chinatown. Generic Spaghetti Bolognaise starts at about $4 a serve, and if smothered in enough cheese isn’t actually too bad. The Market City branch also does cheap pizza.
Dixon St Food Court
Underground, half way down Dixon Street, this collection of 20 odd hawker stalls in an underground cavern is the place to go to get a cheap dinner in Chinatown. Its busy, loud, and probably only just adheres to health regulations, but the food is not too bad and it is cheap.
135 Crown Street
Come for the food and the ambience, not the service and be prepared to wait for a table (luckily there are several bars close by). The Trecolore pizza is brilliant and there is an extensive blackboard menu. Try to avoid sitting in the outdoor courtyard if at all possible.
260 Oxford Street
Just past the barracks in Paddington (look for the upside down sign) Arthurs Pizza is a super popular pizza joint that does brilliant gourmet pizzas. Its loud, busy and you may have to throw an empty wine bottle at a waitress to get her attention. Great place to start a messy night out.
Unless you’re seriously injured, facing a magistrate or addicted to heroin (Kogarah is home to a large hospital, a court house and a methadone clinic) you’re probably not likely to come to Kogarah. However if you do, you can avail yourself of one of the best kebabs in Sydney. The Turkish Bread with chicken is my personal favourite.
The Sydney Fish Markets
Sydney Fish Market
A great place to have a lengthy lunch on a sunny day. You can buy pretty much whatever seafood you desire, cooked or fresh, at a reasonable price. There is also a number of bread, cheese, alcohol and fruit shops to choose from. There are several dozen tables along the waterfront, but you’ll have to be here by 11am on a weekend if you want to get a seat.
Doyles in Watsons Bay
11 Marine Parade
Take the ferry from Circular Quay for a relaxed Saturday afternoon, and definitely book ahead. Great seafood, but a little on the expensive side Doyles is a great place to have a few glasses and take in the harbour view. The fisherman’s soup is excellent.
Corner Paul and Northcliffe Streets
Aqua dining combines possibly the best dining view in Sydney (Circular Quay, the Opera House and the harbour bridge) with excellent food (I think they call it ‘contemporary’ cuisine) and slick service. While not being super expensive by Sydney standards, you are still looking at a minimum of $35 for mains. Dessert and Entrees are about $15 - $25. Be sure to stipulate you want a table with a view.
Harry’s Café De Wheels
Cowper Wharf Road
A Sydney institution. Nothing soaks up ‘one too many pints’ like a solid Harry’s steak pie with mash, mushy peas and gravy. The hot dogs are pretty good too. Open late for all your ‘post-lager’ hunger needs.
Specific comments regarding this section should be directed to Matt Kemp . Comments or questions regarding any other part of the talesofasia.com website (except for sections noted as such) should be directed only to Gordon Sharpless.
Opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the owner, publisher, editor, marketing manager, or coffee girl of the talesofasia website. So there.
The text appearing on this page is © 2005 Matt Kemp. For the rest of the website, unless otherwise noted, all text and photographs © 1998 - 2010 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder(s) is prohibited.