Sydney has some of the best top-end cuisine in the world, but it also has a food scene with great depth and diversity.
By Paul Chai
You don't have to reserve an expensive fine dining table to enjoy Sydney's buzzing food scene. There's a range of affordable dining, from boutique burgers to Asian restaurants serving simple, honest food with flavours that will linger long after you leave. Here are just a few of Sydney's best cheap eats.
There is an artful simplicity in the naming of this restaurant, located in the trendy inner city suburb of Potts Point, and it's in the dumplings, too. At Dumplings & Beer you get pan-fried pork and cabbage dumplings, scallops and chives dim sum and the ever-popular xiao long bao (steamed pork dumplings with soup inside). It is all served in a fun and friendly Asian-inspired fit-out with Chinese-language newspapers covering the table tops, zig-zagged patterned stools and street art wall murals.
This is fast food done by celebrity Sydney chef Neil Perry, who also oversees the food on Qantas, Australia's national airline. This is not only the cheapest way to sample Perry's famous food, it is one of the best tasting, best value things you will find between two slices of bread. Burger Project is all about provenance, with ingredients including Cape Grim beef from Tasmania (thought to be among the best grass-fed beef in the world). The room is light, white and simple, in keeping with the upmarket fast food approach, so your Aussie burger (with beetroot and special sauce) will come on a plastic tray, and your wine in a plastic cup. But this is a world away from the plastic food of many fast food chains.
A mamak stall in Malaysia serves local street food: spicy fried noodles, rich curries and roti, a flat bread with rich, thick dipping sauces. You will get the same delights in this award-winning Sydney restaurant of the same name. Try the kari ayam (a rich chicken curry), the sambal sotong (delicate rings of calamari wok-fried with a fresh chilli sauce), or rojak (a Malaysian salad with tofu and vegetables covered in a dark, spicy peanut sauce). Dine in at Mamak where bustling tables are surrounded by lush, red walls, or join the queue for takeaway that snakes along the front of the restaurant most days.
A little bit LA, a little bit retro Chinese eatery, this quirky spot serves up delicious cocktails alongside fun and affordable bar snacks. Where else can you get duck cakes, sticky US-style pork ribs and yellow fin tuna ceviche all in one spot? Tuck into the Szechuan crumbed soft shell crab slider for something really memorable.
Belles is a rock 'n' roll diner with bright signage and loud music, serving up southern-style fried chicken with five different levels of spice. You can choose drumsticks or wings, a side of Carolina slaw, and a range of dipping sauces including Belles blue cheese and peach BBQ sauce. Your order will be served in a red basket lined with chequered paper.
A pastizzi is a traditional Maltese pastry filled with simple fillings such as cheese, but at this local favourite, in the cool inner city suburb of Newtown, the diamond-shaped Maltese morsels are given a modern twist. You might get fillings such as chicken curry, chilli con carne, or sweet ricotta (original range AUD$2.70 each, gourmet AUD$4 each). In Malta these pastries are fast food, and no one lingers long in Pastizzi Café’s cosy, white-tiled shopfront. Just grab a "Maltese pie" and head back out to explore King Street, the bustling main artery of this trendy neighbourhood.
The affluent harbourside suburb of Balmain is home to some of Sydney's best, and cheapest, pizzas, with locals queuing to eat at Rosso Pomodoro. This is authentic Naples-approved pie topped with only the best ingredients, such as prosciutto, shaved parmesan and fresh herbs. Grab a bruschetta all’aglio (garlic bruschetta) to start and give a pizze bianchi (white base) a try, topped with gorgonzola cheese, ham and mushroom. The room is as simply dressed as the pizzas, with colourful chairs and a few paintings decorating the walls.
Sydney's current suburb of cool, Chippendale, is home to Spice Alley: a collection of four kitchens in a laneway, which have come together to create a hawker street similar to those in Singapore and Malaysia. These stalls are run by some of the best Asian chefs in Sydney. Alex Lee Kitchen offers a slice of Singapore with roti (Indian flatbread) and Singapore's national dish of chicken rice. Old Jim Kee seeks to emulate a kopitiam, a type of coffee shop popular in Singapore and Malaysia, serving curry puffs, fried noodles and sweet coffee. At Bang Luck, things have a Vietnamese accent, and Hong Kong Diner celebrates hot pots and congee.