Flat white by day, espresso martini by night

The charming Republic 2 Courtyard is home to a handful of Sydney’s hospitality heavyweights; take Lucio’s for authentic pizza margherita, Phamish for sticky duck and shallot pancakes or Jazz City Milk Bar to slurp on a peanut butter milkshake. Now, there’s Civilian, a slick space offering a smooth flat white by day and an espresso martini by night.

Once home to Christine Manfield’s acclaimed Universal restaurant (which closed in 2013), Civilian is the prodigy of Adelaidians Steve Pirone and Steve Waldeck. While most of the restaurant has a South Australian stamp  with the restaurant design completed by Studio Gram, the driving force in the kitchen is chef Andy Ball, formerly of Bel Mondo and, impressively, former UK Chef of the Year.

Brioche, poached plum, pistachio, ricotta and rosewater syrup

Brioche, poached plum, pistachio, ricotta and rosewater syrup

Brunch is about as fancy as a bacon and egg roll can get. There’s no boring (but delicious) bacon, but instead tonkatsu (a Japanese breaded pork cutlet), coupled with our favourite kewpie mayo. The yoghurt in our fruit salad is of the goats milk variety and instead of the standard avo’ smash, crushed edamame beans make a textural and nutty alternative.

 

Getting down to business though, the heart of this place can be seen in the lunch and dinner menu where a classic French sauce vierge is coupled with tiger prawns deglazed with vermouth; spicy miso pork belly and NZ snapper sits atop house made linguine with a ham hock stock. Alternatively , the ‘Feed Me’ menu, which includes six courses as selected by the chef sounds like the perfect Civilian initiation.

Anna Lisle

Civilian

Fassnidge’s Four in Hand Dining Room

Best Restaurants Senior Editor Anna Lisle visits hatted Paddington restaurant, the Four in Hand Dining Room, owned by Sydney-based Chef Colin Fassnidge.

At 9pm on a Saturday night, the Four in Hand is heaving. Clusters of well-heeled locals smoke Malboro Lights on the footpath while their mates nurse bottles of ice cold schooners of a local froth, eyes glued to the TV as they watch the Aussies sledge the poms into submission. This isn’t a particularly busy Saturday night, in fact, on any given weekend, the Four in Hand is a home away from home for many Paddington locals, myself included. It’s one of the few pubs that hasn’t been revamped; ask a Four in Hand regular what it looks like, and all you’ll get out of them is a story about the last time they were there.

The Four in Hand Dining Room received One Chef Hat in the 2015 SMH Good Food Guide

The Four in Hand Dining Room received One Chef Hat in the 2015 SMH Good Food Guide

This is the entrance to the hatted Four in Hand dining room, where Head Chef and owner Colin Fassnidge rules the roost. He’s arguably more commonly recognised for his hardline persona on My Kitchen Rules however, in the food world, he’s Australia’s answer to Fergus Henderson. The menu is dotted with pigs tails, marrow and pigs trotters but Fassnidge has finetuned each dish to ensure that each dish isn’t just appealing to the offal-friendly. In fact, the pork- and potato-heavy menu is just as appealing and exciting to lenient pescetarians.

Leave room for dessert, Fassnidge's menu is one of the best in Sydney

Leave room for dessert, Fassnidge’s menu is one of the best in Sydney

Pickled strawberries are paired with a duo of cured and raw tuna however, it’s dishes such as his DIY bone marrow that make your meal a memorable one. An Irish ‘san choy bao’, diners are encouraged to scoop spoonfuls of crab, avocado and flecks of macadamia out of a roasted bone marrow and onto raw sorrel leaves. There’s quite a knack to it, trying to get as much marrow juice into each mouthful without dripping it on the tablecloth. Don’t let this put you off because the more marrow, the better. Corned beef may have gained popularity during the World Wars, when fresh meat was rationed, but there’s nothing that reminds one of canned bully beef in this dish. Laced in bresaola, hunks of slightly salted beef fall apart with a fork, topped with grated fresh buffalo curd. It’s hard to avoid any of Colin’s pig dishes but on this occasion, we push the boundaries with a 12 hour braised lamb shoulder, and Hiramasa kingfish in a clam and tomato stock. Our decision pays off, we will venture into other four-legged and fin varieties on future visits because there are at least four mains we didn’t try and if they’re anything like we’ve had before, we will leave as very happy customers.

Anna Lisle

Four in Hand Dining Room 

Local Coogee favourite, Banana Palm

Taking its name from the banana palm leaf, which is habitually used in Vietnamese cooking, Banana Palm restaurant is a reliable locale for good food at an affordable price. Its atmospheric sweetness, emblematic of the blossoming sugar bananas that grow within the emerald palm, is a testament to the warm hospitality of the sibling trio (Hai, Lilly and Tai) who operate the venue.

This sentimental banana palm symbol has been used as a decorative accent throughout the restaurant and can be found printed on the bodice of the bar. The rest of the space is equally smart with polished wooden floors, mahogany furnishings and chocolate wooden-framed wicker chairs. Serene photographs featuring snapshots of Vietnam taken by a close family friend hug the ash blonde walls. From long moon shaped boats cruising down the Mekong to an old French colonial style hotel in Saigon, the imagery lends a dignified feel to the space.

bananapalm-best-restaurants-australia-blog

The beautiful bar at Banana Palm

Lily fondly recalls that in its early days, the restaurant offered a mix of Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese fusion cuisine in a carpeted space with soft textile wallpaper (it was the 70’s after all). The Pham trio bought the restaurant from their parents over a decade ago and turned it into a Vietnamese-only diner to better reflect their culinary heritage: Their great grandparents hail from North Vietnam, but they grew up in the South where chef Tuan Hai Pham (‘Hai’ for short) notes that “the food is more complex in flavour.” The dishes are predominately influenced by the southern palette, but in the future Hai hopes to transform the menu to reflect the country’s regional culinary landscapes.

We take chef Hai’s advice and order a selection of entrées to share. A fragrant, delicately spiced papaya salad arrives draped in rare beef slices and speckled with coriander and crispy shallots. The combination of meaty petals and crisp papaya, with a furtive chilli kick is a well balanced, texturally pleasing combination.

bananapalm-scallop-best-restaurants-australia-blog

Seared scallops with salted black bean vinaigrette

To follow, fresh Vietnamese prawn and scallop rolls come tightly wrapped in a rice paper casing. The whole peeled prawn peeps through the rice paper, tail fixed behind. They are simple and tasteful. To accompany, seared scallops arrive doused in salted black bean vinaigrette. Perfectly cooked with a hat of julienned seaweed and a lick of chilli, the lightly seared scallops pair pleasingly with the tangy dressing.

As the setting sun dapples through the French colonial bay windows, a calming ambience settles in. It is clear that the trio have honed a relaxed and dependable dining experience.

 

Sami-Jo Adelman

Young Henrys: highbrow harlots (the best kind)

Young Henrys restaurant resume is first class. They’ve canoodled with the who’s who of Sydney’s fine dining scene and these smooth operators grace the beer lists of Marque, Momofuku, ARIA, Chiswick, Bloodwood, Spencer Guthrie, Six Penny and Rockpool. Wow, you’re thinking. They must be good in bed. Sorry, at brewing.

Everyone wants a piece of Young Henrys, which can only mean their beer is good. Very good.

“The idea for Young Henrys started nearly six years ago over a bar. The business as it is now has been running for a bit over two and a half years and is a very different beast to what we first ever imagined” says Oscar McMahon, one of the core members of 20 or so individuals who make up the self-described “misfit family”.

young-henrys-blog-best-restaurants-of-australia

Inside Young Henrys on Wilford Street in Newtown

Situated in the backstreets of Newtown, this boutique brewery is a community haven, connecting beer lovers throughout the inner west and elsewhere. The large warehouse space contains the brewery itself, a tasting bar and a sea of elevated communal tables for beer and banter. “The idea for Young Henrys from the very start was to create a brewing company that was connected to the people who enjoy it. The tasting bar is the embodiment of this ethos. It’s our way of including people in our world and sharing the love of beer” says Oscar.

 

young-henrys-tour-blog-best-restaurants-of-australia

A tour of the Young Henrys brewery

Young Henrys brew a core range that includes a Real Ale, Hop Ale, Natural Lager and Cloudy Cider as well as limited release beers that change according to new partnerships.
A creative collaboration recently unfolded with restaurateur Kylie Kwong, with whom Young Henrys share a similar ethos for “freshness, balance, localism and collaboration” states Oscar. “She is also very passionate about Australian native ingredients as are we”.
For the re-birth of Kylie’s Potts Point restaurant Billy Kwong, Young Henrys brewed a single-batch beer (Quandong Saison) to be offered on tap. Oscar explains “Quandong Saison is a beautiful beer that showcases Australian native Quandong fruit and Lemon Aspen in a slightly spicy yet easily drinkable Saison (a broadly defined pale ale). It is unusual, balanced, crisp, tart and refreshing with a smooth malty mouthfeel.”

young-henrys-hopale-blog-best-restaurants-of-australia

Tasting notes of the Hop Ale from Young Henrys core range

Another recent project has evolved with Sam Taylor, founder of the Newtown Growler Depot and organiser of the Sydney Craft Beer and Cider Festival. The Depot, located within the Newtown Wine Shop on King Street, is home to Rosie – a custom-built machine that is capable of cleaning, sanitising and filling growler bottles (two litre glass bottles for beer). With Rosie, customers can have direct access to 12 fresh craft brews from Young Henrys, Batch Brewing, Shenanigans, Dennis, Grifter, Willie the Boatman and Little Creatures.

Sam explains “Brewers fill reusable kegs that go directly to a growler depot, the customer cleans and fills their re-useable growler with their beer of choice. They go home, enjoy it with friends (or by themselves), rinse out their bottle and keep it for next time. In this whole cycle there is no packaging waste, no beer sitting around on shelves or in wholesaler’s warehouses, which means there are more interesting beers available.” Moreover the project is very ‘green’; so the group are “practically saving the world with every delicious mouthful”.

Young Henrys has solidified its place amongst Sydney’s flourishing craft beer scene with its passion, collaborations and sense of community. As they continue to partner with Sydney’s culinary A-list and local artisans, the future for these highbrow harlots looks bright.

 

Sami-Jo Adelman

December Dining

The holiday season is upon us and December dining deals are popping up faster than Christmas window displays at David Jones, meaning the time for pre-festive restaurant sampling is now.

Via Alta on Willoughby’s High Street is the bambino of Alessandro Pavoni (Ormeggio at the Spit), his chef Alex Keene and business partner Bill Drakopoulos, of the Sydney Restaurant Group and the Aqua Dining Group. In honour of this festive season they are offering patrons a main course, glass of wine and tea or coffee for $28. Yes, that’s less then your green smoothie and ricotta hotcakes at Bills.

Alessandro-Pavoni-Alex-Keene-Bar-Blog-Best-Restaurants

Alessandro Pavoni with Head Chef and Co-Owner Alex Keene

There is a choice of three mains: a pasta dish of orecchiette with vongole (clams), cherry tomatoes, asparagus, majaram and bottarga; a poultry classic – ‘chicken alla diavola’ (deviled chicken), which traditionally consists of chicken barbecued over coals and flames (resembling the devils humble abode) and finally a Tasmanian ocean trout that is cooked ‘cartoccio’ (in a paper cone).

I order the trout, which arrives perfectly cooked in its paper parcel, packaged with broccolini ribbons and potato buttons, and topped with a generous star bow of canary yellow dill and saffron mayonnaise. It is simple and pure cooking that allows the fish to be the hero. This delectable pre-Christmas gift pairs nicely with the white wine offering – a crisp La Delizia Vignal Pinot Grigio from Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Northeast Italy.

Angelotti-Via-Alta-Blog-Best-Restaurants

Agnolotti is a type of pasta typical of the Piedmont region of Italy. It features regularly on the menu with diverse seasonal fillings and sauces.

If you would like to fork-out a little extra, you can start with the Ormeggio Bakery organic sourdough. Don’t even think twice. This is a must.  A mighty wedge of fresh sourdough is accompanied by two shallow dishes of light, fluffy homemade ricotta and olive oil, both begging to be slathered across the doughy folds of the bread. It is an indulgent and deeply satisfying experience.

Via Alta is a smart operation without a speck of pretence. The swift service, fantastic food and dignified dining room make for a lovely meal in December…or any other time of the year.

Sami-Jo Adelman

The Order of the Phoenix

Sisters Anita Yuen and Alice Lee are the founding members of the Phoenix Group, whose symbol of the regal female phoenix bird hails from Chinese mythology.  The phoenix or ‘fenghuang’ embodies high virtue, grace and the union of yin and yang. It is an apt reflection of the dynamic duo and well suited to their enterprise.

After arriving in Australia over 15 years ago, and settling into the hospitality realm working at local pubs, the girls quickly realised a gap in Sydney’s food scene. No restaurant offered the traditional Yum Cha experience they had grown up with in Hong Kong. Accordingly, the sisters quickly set about opening an eatery where the family tradition of Yum Cha would be honoured and experienced in all its weekend bunfight glory. In 1999 they opened Hilltop Phoenix in Castle Hill and since then they have added outlets in Sydney CBD, Rhodes, Parramatta and, most recently, Zetland.

east-pheonix-best-restaurants-blog-diningroom

The East Phoenix outpost in Zetland’s East Village complex comes with a polished fit-out that is chopstick chic.  The large restaurant space, which can accommodate up to 450 patrons, boasts sleek two-toned leather dining chairs, white linen-draped tables and a large window-wall that overlooks industrial Zetland, a peculiar pocket of inner-east Sydney that is undergoing significant gentrification.

Weekend Yum Cha is all hustle-bustle with ravenous families and beady-eyed couples queuing fervently in the waiting lounge. Once seated the customary pandemonium commences as feuding family tables wait for new arrivals of pillowy char sieu bau (steamed pork buns), delicate pork and prawn siu mai and supple prawn and chive gow gee, which arrive swiftly on trolleys.

east-pheonix-best-restaurants-blog-yumcha

Envious table peering sees crispy bbq pork and duck, accompanied by a mustard and plum sauce respectively, arrive on our plates with surprising speed. The rectangular pork pieces are wonderfully tender owing to the layer of juicy fat under the cracker-crisp skin. There desert dry duck brings a slight ping of disappointment, but a simple side of Chinese broccoli swimming in oyster sauce lifts our spirits, as does a good swig of Chinese tea.

As tables turn over by the dozen, it would seem the order of the phoenix have the magic touch.

Sami-Jo Adelman

Happy to Pei

Guillaume has restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, while Shaun Presland’s Sake has outposts in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Matt Moran has Aria in both Sydney and Brisbane and, of course, Mark Best has Pei Modern in Melbourne, Marque in Surry Hills and now Pei Modern in the CBD. Running multiple restaurants interstate has got to be tough. How do you ensure your high-standards are upheld when you’re sitting in a Business Class lounge waiting for your next flight? Well, I’m told that, yes, it is possible, thanks to two words. Loyal staff.

Milly Hill lamb shoulder

Milly Hill lamb shoulder

The head Chef at Pei Modern Melbourne, Matt Germanchis, has jumped across the border to take the lead at Best’s Four Season outpost. The 180-seater boasts an entirely open kitchen, giving sticky beaks (like myself) an opportunity to gawk at the chefs hard at work while well-oiled waiters float around the space with an ease and professionalism that only comes from years of experience. On reading the menu, rustic dishes such as the Milly Hill lamb shoulder and O’Connor T-bone steak seem a far-cry from the foams and mousses of Marque but don’t be deceived by its apparent simplicity, these are technique-driven dishes. Fresh burrata is served with an egg yolk jam and fried artichoke while the ‘ham of the sea’ is a smoky mackerel dish with slivers of fresh pear. Leading ‘the sweet spot’ is a duck egg sauternes custard with Italian crostoli and a sorrel sorbet with honeycomb, created by former MasterChef contestant Kylie Millar.

Pei Modern Sydney is open for lunch, Monday to Friday including the “Eat.Pei.Quick” express offer, and dinner Monday to Saturday.

Anna Lisle

Pei Modern

Keeping it local

Last week the Best Restaurants team were invited to tour the Sydney Fish Markets under the guidance of celebrity chef Matt Moran (of Aria and CHISWICK fame) to learn about where our food comes from. As a vocal advocate of locally-sourced ingredients, Moran was the perfect man for the job.

Sydney-Fish-Markets-Tour-Anthony-Matt-Blog-Best-Restaurants

Anthony Puharich and Matt Moran at Vic’s Meat Market

We began the day by learning how to select fresh seafood from Peter’s Fish Market, where one must look for “bright, clear eyes and shimmery scales”.  From there we popped over to the newly opened Vic’s Meat Market, where Anthony Puharich, CEO of Vic’s Premium Quality Meat, chatted with Matt about providing customers with the culinary know-how to select the best quality meats from their butcher.  We were advised to look for light cherry coloured meat that is firm and finely textured as well as cut’s with marbling (fat doesn’t have to be a bad thing)! The best meats have fat weaved throughout to ensure the meat stays juicy after cooking.  Vic’s is also home to a Wagyu tasting bar  where you can sample some of the world’s finest such as the Rangers Valley BMS9+ Emperor’s Cut. Whilst there you must also try a slow-cooked pulled pork roll, fresh from the custom built BBQ smoker (by Yoder Smokers in Kansas City) that has been affectionately named Kong.

Sydney-Fish-Markets-Tour-Matt-Blog-Best-Restaurants

Matt Moran cooks up a feast at Sydney Seafood School

After the tour we were invited back to the Sydney Seafood School kitchen where the bounty of the day was expertly prepared by Moran himself. Fresh scallops and delicately spiced mussels were a highlight. We also got to sample a selection of both grass fed and grain fed meat from Vic’s to see if we could quell the age-old question…grass or grain? Alas, no luck, we foodies remained divided.

The event celebrated the launch of LG’s newest Door-in-Door Refrigerators.

The Governor’s Table

The new restaurant at The Museum of Sydney is a collaboration of passionate hospitality and design heavyweights. There are no egos fighting for attention, merely a partnership of like-minded individuals who have pulled together to create a special venue and a welcome addition to the CBD dining and drinking scene.

The first restaurant for Fresh Catering, Managing Director Peter McCloskey is excited to venture into unknown territory. With a range of venues including Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney Theatre Company and Vaucluse House Tearooms to name a few, you’d think a restaurant like The Governor’s Table would be a nonchalant affair for Fresh. However, McCloskey’s warm demeanour and diligent attention to detail can be seen everywhere – from the staff’s genuine interest in the success of the new restaurant, to the design and menu.

Asparagus with panko crumbed soft boiled egg. Photo credit: Chris Court

Asparagus with panko crumbed soft boiled egg. Photo credit: Chris Court

The all- Australian wine list is the work of sommelier Samantha Payne, who includes 4Fourteen, China Doll and China Diner as part of her portfolio. Samantha focuses on local, young producers, with a Nick O’Leary 2013 Riesling from Canberra and Athletes of Wine 2004 Pinot Noir from Macedon Ranges. The space, which includes both indoor and outdoor seating, has been created by inochi DesignLife Director Kristie Paul, who drew inspiration from the history and architecture of the site. Like the entire team at The Governor’s Table, Kristie’s passion is infectious, as she explains the process of creating this warm and hospitable space.

Cep scented pork, butternut squash, caramelised endive, lavendar jus. Photo credit: Chris Court

Photo credit: Chris Court

Working closely with the Museum of Sydney, The Governor’s Table has a resident gastronomer, Jacqui Newling. As a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Masters in gastronomy, Jacqui looks at Australia’s food heritage, from the type of food that was served in historic houses, from the horrible hominy (cooked maize) served to the convicts at Hyde Park Barracks to the feasts found on the finer tables of Sydney’s elite. Thankfully, there’s no hominy on the menu, only an expansive menu of rustic Modern Australian dishes, created by ex- Bridge Room chef Andrew Barkham. Sitting at a 16 seat French oak banquet table, we feast on share plates of grilled asparagus, parmesan custard, nettle and shiso dressing and roast mulloway with a sweet onion puree, crunchy morsels of purple cauliflower and a hazelnut brown butter. Confit salmon, soy bean and blood orange is not only instagram-worthy but a delicious combination of texture and flavour while a lemon myrtle burnt custard with granita and fresh berries is an impressive showcase of native Australian ingredients.

Anna Lisle

The Governor’s Table

Leading the pack

There was so much hype around The Wolf of Wall Street that by the time I actually saw the film, I was really underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I can see why Leonardo was nominated for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” but, for me, it just wasn’t as entertaining as all the reviews purported. Nomad was my Wolf of Wall Street. It was nominated for Best New Restaurant in the 2015 SMH awards and almost everyone I respect in the hospitality industry has given glowing reports.

The star dishes come via the wood fire oven

Nomad is co-owned and operated by Al Yazbek and Rebecca Littlemore

Dinner at Nomad was a family affair; Mum, Dad, my husband and I landed a last-minute mid-week booking. Dad, being a sheep farmer, isn’t really into big plates and small dishes. He prefers value-for-money dining, as do I. He also loves when you read a menu and know exactly where your dishes are coming from. And, in the case of Nomad, most of the ingredients come from the 200 square metre former furniture showroom in which Nomad now resides.

Chef Nathan Sasi is quite the nomad himself, having trained at Rockpool and, most recently, worked at London’s Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, and he doesn’t just cook. Sasi is part of a new superbreed of chefs who also cure, smoke, churn, bake, ferment and forage. The fruit of this restaurant’s loins sits on the kitchen shelves, jars of pickles and chutneys are just as much aesthetic as practical, with the housemade produce featuring in many dishes.

The star dishes come via the wood fire oven

The menu changes regularly, in tune with the seasons

The open grill and wood fire oven deliver the goods with wood-roasted bone marrow, Moreton bay bugs with chilli smoked pork jowl and fillets of sweet sand whiting, served with a nutty yet fresh tahini dressing. A generous serve of barbecued lamb rump, still pink in the middle, is melodiously served with a Moroccan eggplant salad and dollops of runny sheeps yoghurt. Interestingly, the wine list is entirely made up of Australian drops, which may have been a concern a decade ago but is appropriate given the focus of today’s restaurants on sourcing local-produce.

Walking out of Nomad, I felt nothing but deep regret. I wish I had reserved my pessimism and visited sooner, especially with the untimely news that Chef Nathan Sasi has resigned.

Anna Lisle

Nomad