Category Archives: Reviews

Contrabando – Sydney CBD – Restaurant Review

Executive chef Peter Varvaressos has an uncanny instinct for what Sydneysiders want; from $3 taco Tuesday, slider Monday and a gluten free menu to Contrabando’s approachable wine list, attractive bevvy of wait staff and buzzing vibe. He’s nailed it. You know why I know this? Three words: derrières on pews or rather, bums on seats. From lunch through to dinner, Contrabando is almost a full house and this is by no-means an easy feat given the current hospitality climate but also taking into account the size of the restaurant with space for 130 guests.

$3 Taco Tuesday

$3 Taco Tuesday

The menu is built around a few familiar Mexican signposts like ceviche and taqueria however, “the munchies” and “a little something on the side” garner much of my attention. Wedges of hot suckling pig quesadilla, come with a coriander salsa verde, adding a dash of freshness to an otherwise rich and potentially oily dish. Char grilled corn tastes like it does in Mexico, with gratings of queso (cheese) and a sharp chipotle mayo, however it is slices of richly marbled ocean trout that force me to put my fork down. The perfectly cured ceviche, has a hint of a cinnamon-like sweetness that is perfected contrasted by a slither of a mild jalapeno and a drizzle of the same coriander salsa verde as the quesadilla. While the menu has foundations in Mexican fare, Chef Varvaressos surpasses any deeply rooted traditionalist notions, in a good way. Local ingredients, such as Hawkesbury calamari, are teamed up with a fragrant quinoa salad while paleo-friendly sweet potato fries are served with chipotle aioli.

Anna Lisle


Downstairs Restaurant – Darlinghurst

From the creators of The Hazy Rose, Downstairs Restaurant is situated on the ground floor on Darlinghurst’s trendy Stanley Street. The interior is decked out with quirky British paraphernalia, including bowler hats and British band posters a la The Beatles and The Who. The curtained wooden booths are cosy and intimate, while there are long communal tables available for larger groups.


We start with chicken liver parfait accompanied with apple sauce and pickles. Liver parfait is not for everyone, but this one is delightfully smooth and flavoursome, the rich butter-like puree easily slathered onto the accompanying toast. The twice-cooked veal tongue, served with onion puree, pickled beetroot, watercress and gravy is a simple but winning dish. The veal is soft and succulent, and perfectly tempered with the sweetness of the beetroot. My carnivorous self is pleased with yet another meat dish; a 250g sirloin, accompanied with crumbed marrow, relish and mustard. We are presented with other quintessential British favourites, including cauliflower cheese, and bubble and squeak. We walked in unsure as to what to expect, however it is safe to say that the menu developed by Ben Allcock (formerly from East Village) does an excellent job delivering tasty British fare with a modern twist.


With the days getting cooler, Downstairs Restaurant offers a comforting British roast every Sunday at a penny pinching price of $20 a head. Be sure to make the most of your visit and visit The Hazy Rose for a cocktail after your meal.

Jenny Wang

Downstairs Restaurant

Tokyo Bird – Small Bar- Surry Hills – Best Restaurants

“Want to go to Birds of Tokyo?”, I ask my partner. “Hell yes”, he says, “When?”. “Tonight?” I respond, shocked that he actually knows what I’m talking about. “How can you get tickets?” Silence. I suddenly realise my mistake. Scrambling, I try to sell it to him. “Apparently it’s just like a bar in Shibuya!” “They do yakitori chicken heart and liver!” I keep rattling off every aspect that I was excited about but the damage had been done. Apparently he didn’t love Shibuya or yakitori as much as he would have loved the band, Birds of Tokyo. In an attempt not to seem overly disappointed, we head to Tokyo Bird where Birds of Tokyo were not playing.


Japanese inspired cocktails are a must

Hidden away on a side street in Surry Hills, Tokyo Bird can almost be mistaken for one of Shibuya’s izakaya restaurants. If you get lost, just look for a queue of people lingering on a nondescript laneway that runs parallel to Foveaux Street, there you’ll find it. Although there were three couples waiting outside, it doesn’t take long before we get a table (which is a relief given the Birds of Tokyo incident). The place is packed with suits and hipsters sitting side by side at one communal table while groups of work mates hog the corner booths.

Mixed yakitori plate

Mixed yakitori plate

Although still early on a Friday night, it’s hard to have a conversation due to one noisy group in the corner. For first dates, this may not be ideal but for my partner and I, rather than attempt a strained conversation, with every second sentence being “what did you say?” we decide to focus on eating and drinking. Scoring a seat at the bar, we watch on as Japanese-inspired cocktails are shaken with flair by bar manager Yoshi Onishi (ex Stitch). We order a whisky highball and the snacks start arriving soon after that. The sesame salad is true to its name, creamy and sweet, with crunchy shreds of cabbage and sprinkled with toasted seeds. Crisp lotus root chips and bowls of steamed edamame are obligatory drink snacks, while the assorted pickles are a nod to more traditional cuisine. Though the menu has tonnes to sate the craving of meat lovers, birds are the preferred protein on the barbie of the rising sun. Hearts are crisped and charred outside, succulent within and for those partial to fried chicken, crunchy nuggets of katsu are the perfect way to soak up an Asahi or two.

Anna Lisle

Tokyo Bird

New Restaurant – Bills Bondi – Sydney

Best Restaurants of Australia heads to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs to profile Bill Granger‘s new restaurant opening in Bondi.

If there was one chef synonymous with breakfast, it would be Bill Granger. The born Sydneysider opened his first restaurant in Darlinghurst (which still remains) at just 24 years of age. Today, his famous ricotta hotcakes can be found not only in Australia but across the globe, with Bills restaurants in the UK, Japan, Korea and Hawaii.

Given the paleo diet du jour, breakfast items such as the almond milk chia pots with coconut yoghurt and an egg white omelette with prawn and spiced salsa rosso have meant that Bills has been welcomed into the Bondi family. While Granger’s sweet corn fritters and toasted coconut bread will still appease instagram-addicts, it is his target marketed menu that has meant that any time of day, Bills’ 100+ seats are filled with both locals and visitors.


A Bills classic: sweet corn fritters

A Bill’s classic: sweet corn fritters

He may have built his career as the breakfast king, but the lunch menu is where his talent shines. Dishes such as tahini baked kale chips and a braised beef shin mole with cauliflower rice, are equally appealing to Stone Age dieters as the general public. The tofu yellow curry with brown rice is tastier than it sounds, with crunchy cauliflower fritters and a fresh coconut and apple chutney. For those not devoted to eating like our ancestors, there’s also 21st century dishes such as crisp pork belly stuffed into a sweet brioche roll with chilli jam and a bowl of fried brown rice topped with prawn, chorizo and house kim chee.

While the Surry Hills and Darlinghurst cafes remain, Woollahra’s loss was Bondi’s gain. All that’s missing is a bone broth beverage to sit beside the almond lattes.

Anna Lisle

Bills Bondi

For a list of our Top 10 New Sydney’s restaurant openings, see here.
For all restaurant openings in Sydney, click here.

Restaurant review: The Butler

What makes a restaurant successful? Does it offer something the city was missing, or suggest a fresh approach that deserves to catch on? Is it blogged about the most? Does it have the most instagram-worthy dishes? Have I gone back, or wished I could?

Sub-consciously, most of us are analysing these questions every time we dine out. In the case of The Butler, it is hard to pin down why the restaurant works, because it certainly does, but why exactly is a mystery to me.

Cured swordfish from the "seafare" menu

Cured swordfish from the “seafare” menu

Just down from Ms G’s on Victoria Street, The Butler has replaced Italian stalwart Mezzaluna, with a garden-inspired fit out, that combines the original sandstone walls of the building. Executive Chef James Privett who has worked under the likes of veteran chefs Damien Pignolet, Janni Kyritsis and Anders Ousback, is rocking no boats with a simple, small and share-plated list of crowd-pleasers. Tabasco prawns with coconut quinoa actually have a good kick of spice while crisp skin, still-pink salmon is paired with what is listed as curried yoghurt and spiced eggplant but tastes more just like yoghurt and eggplant. Steak frites work surprisingly well as a shared dish, the rib eye cut into slices and served with tapenade and parsley butter. Carafes of Pimms and peach lemonade spritz suit the ladies-who-lunch clientele with an on-trend mix of both imported and boutique beers.

Anna Lisle

The Butler

The Life of Riley (St Garage)

The joint is jumpin’: mixologists flamboyantly pour drinks to those who’ve nabbed a seat at the bar while chefs shuck away, sending out wooden Ruinart boxes of oysters to their fate. A bluesy soundtrack wafts over the vast space as patrons sip and slurp, oblivious to the muggy heat that has enveloped the rest of Sydney.

The glamorous space on the Woolloomooloo end of Riley Street is certainly accustomed to the finer things in life. Prior to its reincarnation as a restaurant, Riley Street was once multi-billionaire Frank Lowy’s garage, storing, what I can only imagine, would have been a bevy of luxury cars. This is pure speculation but, let’s be honest, the co-founder of Westfield and Australia’s fourth richest man in 2014 is unlikely to arrive at a meeting in a Ford Fiesta.

Inspired by NYC's Meatpacking District

Inspired by NYC’s Meatpacking District

It is only fitting that stepping into Riley Street Garage provokes memories of New York nights, sipping martinis in a dark and brooding restaurant in the meat packing district. The Art Deco interior combines sky-high walls of exposed concrete with polished wooden floorboards and leather stools and, despite what you may assume, food here refuses to play second fiddle. Chef Regan Porteous has an impressive resume, hailing from Maze in London, Hong Kong and Dubai before working locally at Toko in Surry Hills. His Japanese experience can be seen in dishes such as the ‘fish n’ chip’ tartare with miso dressing, a cheeky play on a classic Aussie favourite, with paper thin ‘chips’ and raw fish. The beef carpaccio is dotted with capers, brioche croutons, aioli and micro herbs with a subtle soy vinegar that allows the beef to stand on its own, without detracting from the quality of the produce. A punchy pickled vinaigrette, tossed over chunks of perfectly seared tuna, fight for attention in the mouth.

Ladies Who Lunch: $60 set menu with sparkling 12-3pm every saturday

Ladies Who Lunch: $60 set menu with sparkling 12-3pm every saturday

Oysters are the star attraction, served in an ice-filled wooden Ruinart box, there’s two varieties of the day; Pacific and Sydney rock with four variations: natural, smoked soy truffle, mignonette jelly and tempura. Shucked at the bar, the smokey soy truffle is hands-down the crowd favourite and a dish that we all agree we will return for. Still-translucent scallops are served in the half shell and paired with a glorious citrus (yuzu) koshu garlic butter, that I would happily eat in spoonfuls, without anything else.

Just a short cab ride from the CBD, Riley Street also offers a “PitStop” menu from Tuesday – Friday, offering $12 burgers and, our favourite, a mini crispy pork knuckle with pickled apple salad and fries ($20).

Anna Lisle

Riley Street Garage

Sydney says yes to Sake Double Bay

Shaun Presland’s name may be behind this venture, but the star chef is not in the kitchen. Instead, he has handed the reins to talented import Min Kim, who turns out some of the most accomplished Japanese food in the city.

In Japan, you don’t go to a restaurant for ‘Japanese’, you go to a specific restaurant that serves only one type of dish; ramen, sushi, tempura, izakaya, robata, yakitori, soba, tonkatsu, shabu-shabu or teppanyaki. Rarely are any of these two dishes served in the one place, and if they are served together, I probably wouldn’t eat there. I’m on the conservative end of the foodie spectrum; almost always preferring a classic dish, as opposed to a modern interpretation and the same applies to staying true to a cuisine. In Australia, we don’t follow Japanese tradition; we start with sashimi, a cold soba salad, perhaps a few mouthfuls of sushi before venturing into crunchy morsels of tempura, followed by robata and yakitori skewers. And, I’m so happy we do and dinner at Sake reminds us why we are so lucky that this is the case.

The robata grill steals the show; baby beetroot, feta yoghurt and tomato relish

The robata grill steals the show; baby beetroot, feta yoghurt and tomato relish

Chef Min Kim delivers on all fronts; from delicate slices of sashimi from the sushi counter and simple tempura vegetables to textural salads and perfectly balanced mains, but, it is the robata grill that steals the show. Heated to 700°C, the cooking process is to steam, smoke and grill, all at once. The end result is nothing short of brilliance. Stalks of Peruvian white asparagus are charred and smoky, with just the right amount of crunch, sprinkled with flakes of bonito. The braised shortrib falls off the skewer and, I’m exaggerating (but only slightly), the meat dissolves on the tongue. Lamb chops are served with a wasabi chimichurri while corn is charred and lathered in a spiced shiso butter.

Give the chef at the sushi counter your budget and let the team design you a menu

Give the chef at the sushi counter your budget and let the team design you a menu

At any restaurant, on any day, there are a handful of dishes that I will always order. Glacier 51 Toothfish is one of them. Years of illegal fishing has meant that this gloriously oily and flavoursome fish, also known as Patagonian Toothfish, has been off the menu. Only in the past few years, after the endangered species was managed in a sustainable way, has this prized fish popped back up in kitchens, with Sake Double Bay being one of them. Min treats the toothfish with the respect that a fish, that can live up to 50 years and weigh in at over 100 kilograms, deserves.

Anna Lisle

Sake Double Bay 

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


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.


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.


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