Sshhhhh… T.H.E. is one of Bondi’s best kept secrets

From Sarah Hendriks and Michael Benson (of Porch and Parlour) and head chef Sam Smith (ex L’Etoile), this treasure-box-of-a-restaurant is constantly swarmed with appreciative locals.

The rustically-refined space is where you want to linger. Glass jars of fresh flowers sit on every table and vintage light fixtures hang from the restaurant’s ceiling. Menus come printed on mini clipboards, exposed ducts run along the ceiling and the wooden floor is unpolished.  It’s cool and fashion-conscious, without doing it in that ‘alienating-anyone-over-30’ kind of way.

The breakfast grazing board

The breakfast grazing board

Behold, there are no panoramic views of Bondi Beach (unless you consider street-side glimpses) and before you turn up your nose, take note; this also means there aren’t hordes of tourists. Instead, the restaurant is filled with groups of friends meeting for a late brunch and couples willing-away the afternoon with a few glasses of wine.

King george whiting, fried eggs, beurre blanc  and fresh lemon

King george whiting, fried eggs, beurre blanc and fresh lemon

The restaurant prides itself on sourcing local produce. Kate and Craig, from Old Man’s Gully Farm in Scone provide the restaurant’s organic meat, and their seafood is sourced from Chef Sam Smith’s dad in Port Lincoln. In the kitchen, the dishes are fussed over but not in a fine-dining fashion. The breakfast grazing board, served all day on weekends, is a generous feast for all the senses. Perfectly poached eggs, marinated feta, tomato and basil salsa and smoked salmon come with preserves and toast, perfect for dunking and dipping. A bowl of grilled whole prawns (yes, that’s head and shell) are served with a punchy harissa and the pork belly sandwich with an apple ‘slaw is serious hangover food. For drinking food, the locals come here for duck fat potatoes served with aiola, salted roasted almonds and pickled prawns served in a pretty glass jar.

Now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, every suburb needs a version of The Hill. 

Anna Lisle

Read more about The Hill Eatery here
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It’s the Côte d’Azur of Australia, Watsons Bay Beach Club

Tourist hotspots don’t generally appeal to locals. It’s something about those piercing American accents, bum bags and over-sized, under-used professional cameras. However, the recently renovated Watsons Bay Beach Club, may well be an exception to your anti-tourist radar.

The view from Watsons Bay Beach Club

The view from Watsons Bay Beach Club

Formerly the Watsons Bay Hotel, this new “beach club” takes you to a white-washed seaside oasis. It’s like the Côte d’Azur of Australia, except without the chic French accents. The “club” in the title refers to the multi-purpose use of the venue; there’s dine in or takeaway, a BBQ area, the “Miss Watsons” bar, table tennis, a bottle shop and accommodation plus various function spaces. You can rattle on about the colourful umbrellas and the staff’s Bassike blue-and-white striped uniforms but the main attraction here is the cracking view of Sydney Harbour, the city skyline and the Bridge. If you don’t get that tingly “wow-I-live-in-one-beautiful city’ feeling, then I suggest you hand in your Australian residency because it doesn’t get much better than this.

The nautical theme of the venue

The nautical theme of the venue

When you have views like this, you can’t expect the food to impress too, right? I bite my tongue as we sample Sydney rock oysters and a smoked Snowy River trout pate. Enjoyed with a chilled glass of Stony Peak sav blanc, the quality of the produce impresses. In the mains department, I’m not a tourist but it’s hard to go past the “famous” fish and chips. Sadly, the Coopers batter doesn’t have that light, crisp fluffiness but the chips give this dish a capital F for famous. From the “fresh and green” options, the char grilled chilli and lime octopus salad isn’t char grilled and the dressing could do with some work but it’s a kilojoule-friendly dish for the yummy mummies.

Chilli and lime octopus salad

Chilli and lime octopus salad

Leave your Jesus sandals and matching khaki outfit at home and throw your Polo knit over your shoulder, pull on your chinos and slip on your boat shoes because the Watsons Bay Beach Club is as good as Sydney gets to the French Riviera. If only Johnny Depp thought the same thing too.

Anna Lisle

Read more about the Watsons Bay Beach Club here.

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Hola, we’re off to meh-he-co!

Just when you thought good-ol’ Sydney town couldn’t take another taco… hola, Mejico! Swinging open its doors, right next to Jamie’s Italian on Pitt Street, Mejico has set itself apart from its fellow quesadilla-loving counterparts in various arenas.

Firstly, the name. It’s not pronounced Mexico, it’s “meh-he-co” – the way you say it in North America. I’m usually not one for silly restaurant names but just saying “meh-he-co” gets me all excited. I almost want to break into a Mexican hat dance and twirl my brightly coloured skirt. Almost.

It's a far cry from your usual Mexican restaurant

It’s a far cry from your usual Mexican restaurant

Secondly, the fitout. You may want to leave your feathered headdress at home because Mejico is no ordinary cantina. Owner Dr Sam Prince, of Zambrero Fresh Mex Grill, has spent over $4 million on a design that features fluro pink stools, leather lounges, an open bar and bold hand-painted striped walls. This vibrant aesthetic, together with a team of staff that strut around in fluro pink-and-white striped t-shirts mean that energy levels at Mejico are high.

 

Hiramasa kingfish ceviche with watermelon, radish and pepita on house-baked tostadas

Hiramasa kingfish ceviche with watermelon, radish and pepita on house-baked tostadas

Thirdly, Mejico does not serve Mexican street food. Chef Daniel Schai (imported from Singapore) has created an upmarket menu with dishes such as Achiote chicken and 24 hour smoked pork belly tacos. But the key component in all dishes is freshness. And this isn’t the standard claim-to-fresh-produce statement. It’s; “You want guac to start?”. Smack, bang – the wait staff mash it up right in front of you. “Need a corn fix?” Out comes the grill. Plantain chips are made by hand and the tostadas are baked in-house.

Chargrilled Black Angus sirloin with quinoa, black bean, pumpkin and green chimichurri

Chargrilled Black Angus sirloin with quinoa, black bean, pumpkin and green chimichurri

And lastly, there’s more than margaritas on the drinks list. In fact, Mejico has the longest tequila list in Sydney. If you don’t want to eat, guests can perch themselves at the open bar and enjoy a cocktail or two.

Restaurants love to make a claim but most are just that; statements that aren’t followed though. At Mejico, they practise what they preach.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Mejico here

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Just Pure Bistro at Swissotel Sydney

There is a tingly feeling that comes with dining in a luxury hotel. The place seems to exist on its own frequency, which gives even the jaded local the delicious feeling of rendezvousing in one’s own town. This is especially true of Sydney’s Swissotel, with its practically-hidden entrance on Market Street, across the road from the high-octane glitz of Topshop and the State Theatre.

Meredith goat cheese croquettes

Meredith goat cheese croquettes

The Swissotel’s new signature restaurant, Just Pure Bistro, also thrives on unexpected appearances. The mirrored elevators and marble tiles of the hotel sharply contrast with the styling of the restaurant’s entrance, which is piled with bales of hay strewn with pumpkins and wheels of cheese. Executive Chef Stephan Tseng is breaking into territory so far untouched by Sydney’s high-end hotels; the reasonably-priced bistro. JPB has all the makings of a budget-blowing restaurant – the Stolzle Lausitz glasses, plush furnishings and ambient lighting – but the menu has been thoughtfully constructed with comfortingly familiar dishes at equally comforting prices.

Grilled swordfish with organic soba noodles, smoky eggplant and stuffed zucchini flowers

Grilled swordfish with organic soba noodles, smoky eggplant and stuffed zucchini flowers

We are seated in one of the glass atriums that line the outside wall of the restaurant, the sinewy cables of Sydney Tower rise directly before us and the magic of the city skyline looms beyond. The hospitality of the staff is at once professional and homely. The delivery of the menus is accompanied by an insight into JPB’s focus on sustainable, ethical dining and a well-informed explanation of the farms that supply the kitchen with its produce. There is a complimentary serving of house-baked spelt with olives and a side of deliciously fruity olive oil from a small producer in Megalong in regional NSW.

Frozen nougat with fresh berry salad and green tea ice cream

Frozen nougat with fresh berry salad and green tea ice cream

What follows is a theatre of country-style flavours executed with five-star technique. The Hunter Valley organic chicken is served with a crispy, golden skin on a generous pile of green beans, mushrooms and puy lentils. The lamb rack, plate after plate of which seemed to be coming out of the kitchen for every occupied table in the restaurant, was juicy and flavorsome. The mille-feuille was a ballerina of a dessert, all wafer-thin layers of crisp pastry constructed with delicate slivers of pear and light vanilla custard.

Sydneysiders are notoriously image-conscious. Long-trapped between the desire to be seen in a dining room with class but wary of spending a small fortune on a weekday meal, JPB breaches the gap nicely.

Elizabeth Fenech

Read more about Just Pure Bistro here

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Serious soul food at Sean’s Panaroma

Is this the most unpretentious hatted restaurant in Sydney? Sean’s Panaroma (note: say and spell, ‘pan aroma’) is a Sydney institution which opened on Bondi’s Campbell Parade, way back in 1993. A man before his time, Sean Moran was one of the first chefs to implement a paddock-to-plate eating philosophy. He’s against genetically modified foods and he, together with partner Michael Robertson, have designed their Bondi restaurant with a closed loop system that involves composting and recycling. Aside from the ethical eating to be done there, one of the big draw-cards of this restaurant is view. Stunning vistas of Bondi’s coastline can be observed from the dining room and it’s a landscape that doesn’t disappoint, regardless of the weather.

The humble dining room at Sean's

The humble dining room at Sean’s

The menu at Sean’s is simple. Four entrees, four mains and four desserts are scribbled on swinging chalkboards and dishes change daily. Rather than an over-descriptive explanation of each dish, Sean simply lists a couple of ingredients. We opt for the “mulloway, tarragon, pippies” and “hogget, eggplant, rosemary”. Steamed in a bag, the mulloway is served on a bed of lemon, olive oil, tarragon and snow peas, all of which are generously topped with pippies. The lemon is slightly overpowering but the olive oil broth is so well developed that any of the bitterness is lost. The hogget (mature lamb) is served as a rack and roasted. The meat is slightly overcooked however, coupled with an eggplant mash and snow peas, the dish is wholesome and tasty. This is the type of food that you would eat at home, sitting at your mum’s kitchen table. The food may not be perfect but it’s made with a bucketful of love. Sean offers serious soul food.

Mulloway, tarragon, pippies

Mulloway, tarragon, pippies

The wine list offers a selection of boutique Australian varietals, vintage and non-vintage French champagnes, and a range of digestives. You can also BYO for $20 per bottle. Sean’s may not be cheap and you certainly aren’t paying for the décor but each dish is absolutely delicious and also generously portioned. Plus, how can you put a price on love?

Anna Lisle

Read more about Sean’s Panaroma here

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Bondi’s PaperPlanes is a high-flier

Ever seen a ceiling made of 500 individually-painted, brightly coloured Japanese skateboards? Or walked through a tin fleet of origami cranes that hang in limbo? Chuck in a purple, 10-metre neon-lit bar and you have Bondi’s PaperPlanes. Hidden away from the tourist-driven chaos of Campbell Parade, PaperPlanes is the brainchild of brothers Matt, Chris and Tim Barge (of Barge8), who also own LL Wine and Dine in Potts Point, together with business partner Phil Capaldi.

PaperPlanes Functions & Events

The ceiling features 500 individually-painted Japanese skateboards

The restaurant design features a quirky mix of kitsch Tokyo pop culture (think Manga comics) and Bondi sass. When we walk in the doors, it’s like we’ve been transported to downtown Tokyo, but the crowd, mostly made up of Bondi’s beautiful people in all their golden-skinned, Tsubi-wearing glory, reminds us that we’re still firmly planted on Australian soil.

An origami-folded menu reveals an array of modern Asian cuisine that has a clear Japanese bent. It’s been created by former LL Wine and Dine head chef, Jin Kung. For starters, the edamame is served with a seriously hot chilli sea salt and provides the perfect excuse for throwing back one of their signature cocktails – the ginger and lychee martini. A sesame seed-crusted yellow fin tuna is seared and sliced in rectangular mouthfuls, topped with a pinch of fried garlic and macro herbs.

Kingfish belly carpaccio with chili oil and a sweet ginger and mirin sauce, topped with tempura jalapeno

Kingfish carpaccio with a sweet ginger, chilli oil and mirin sauce, topped with tempura jalapeno

The special of the day, a pretty ceviche dish of salmon, watermelon and avocado is testament to how well Asian flavours and Australian ingredients work hand-in-hand. After our cold appetisers, the kushiyaki (grilled skewers) become the perfect ‘transition dish’ from entrée to main. The shiitake mushroom stuffed with a truffle and prawn butter has a curious flavour that is beguiling but it is the red miso eggplant that is truly impressive. The cubes of eggplant ooze with a salty-yet-sweet sauce and the only problem with the dish is that there just isn’t enough of it. The sake-flamed teriyaki chicken is served with sautéed white wild mushrooms, giving the dish an interesting edge that makes you wonder, why don’t more Japanese restaurants serve this?

Char-grilled sea scallops with kushiyaki glaze

Char-grilled sea scallops with kushiyaki glaze

There are nine different sakes in 60-millilitre, 240-millilitre and 720-millilitre sizes, and an international wine list that spans European and South American varietals as well as Australian drops. The cocktails, however, are what you’re here for – with a range of standard concoctions, served with Asian twists like fresh yuzu, shochu and wasabi infused vodka.

Anna Lisle

Read more about PaperPlanes here

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Kings Cross has a new sweetheart

Rooftop bars are the cool thing right now. They’re up there with pulled pork sliders and boutique beer labels. But, I have to say, Sweethearts Rooftop BBQ has a few endearing qualities that make it stand out among Sydney’s other slick, sexy rooftop offerings.

 

Shrimps on the barbie with garlic butter & Paul Hogan

Shrimps on the barbie with garlic butter & Paul Hogan

Sweethearts is brought to us by the team behind hipster hangouts, The Winery, Gazebo, Cargo Bar and Bungalow 8. Knowing this, I dressed the part, complete with a silk top and my highest heels. I arrive at Kings Cross, before the doors of Sugarmill, at an hour when no one should ever really be found here (which, for the record, is anytime before 10.00pm). Eager to leave the Darlinghurst Road sidewalk and find a seat to rest my already-sore feet, I start up the stairs. One level, two levels, three levels. Am I in the right place? “Keep walking,” say the signs. “Stop walking” says my now-clinging, slightly wet silk top… Aha! Finally, 20 floors up, I emerge from the dingy, airless, winding stairwell, and the urban oasis that is Sweethearts is revealed before me, complete with a pretty vista of the city skyline. Why is Sweethearts unique? Well, because it really is on the roof. It’s so on the roof that I would suggest wearing your Kathmandu hiking boots to get there.

 

Crispy lamb short ribs with honey, chilli, caramel and lime

Crispy lamb short ribs with honey, chilli, caramel and lime

After such a trek, you really deserve a drink. A range of Australian and New Zealand wines are offered on tap. Then there’s some fancy drinks such as Little Creatures Pale Ale shandies, wine spritzers, pitchers of sweet lolly-water and spiked cider slushies. Due to dehydration, brought on by the stair-climb, drinks disappear quickly. Responsible drinkers know that lining the stomach is the right thing to do (particularly if your friends are more likely to pitch you off the roof than carry you back down the stairs) so the food menu is a welcome distraction. For us, a pile of salmon belly, chicken and beef skewers are the first to go down the hatch. A shot of chilli caramel or harissa aioli (one condiment per skewer included in cost) adds excitement to the otherwise simple grilled meat skewers. I’m sure the salmon isn’t belly but the skin is crispy enough to see me withhold my complaints. A dish of grilled watermelon, fetta, mint and pita croutons hardly tastes like rabbit food (the heading under which this dish appears on the menu) while a simple side of steamed green beans is just that – steamed green beans. The food doesn’t reinvent the wheel or attempt to push any culinary boundaries but the staff at Sweethearts are friendly, the music is upbeat and there’s just something cool about sitting on top of a building as the calamity of Kings Cross plays itself out below.

Anna Lisle

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