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Bills: Bills, in Darlinghurst
Bills is a Sydney institution, pulling in the crowds since 1993. It is owned by 'celebrity chef' Bill Granger, who is famous around the world for his simple cooking with good quality ingredients, and of course those creamy scrambled eggs! There are now 3 Bills cafes/restaurants in Sydney, but this is the original and possibly the best.
Located on a quiet corner just off the main drag at the Kings Cross end of Darlinghurst, Bills is a small, modern café with a relaxed feel. We went for breakfast earlyish one Saturday and managed to score the last available table.
Favorite Dish: Bills make excellent coffee, so we ordered one quick smart whilst deciding what food to have. As we had a big day of eating ahead of us, I decided to just have the Homemade toasted coconut bread. This delicious bread is made with large shredded pieces of coconut, and was such a big serve that I couldn't eat it all. Alex had Bills famous Sweet corn fritters with roast tomato, spinach & bacon, and he wasn't disappointed.
I can also highly recommend the aforementioned scrambled eggs - which must be made with way more cream than you want to know about, and also the evil Ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter.
You may well need a second coffee to wash it all down with - thankfully it is some of the best in town!
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Global Burger: Burgers from round the world - 'Global Burger'
Simple, clean, fashionable - an upmarket, white formica bar serving fresh burgers and salads. BYO wine and beer.
Favorite Dish: Superb burgers from around the world. Try a Wellington (lamb), Sydney (fish), New York (ground beef), Moroccan (chick pea vegetarian), Delhi (chicken tikka) - served with a mound of salads and on fresh ciabatta. Result - a burger about 10 inches high! Order a side portion of fries with choice of salt flavours and away you go.
Great value and a great location near the junction of Darlinghurst and Victoria Rds, 2 minutes walk from King's X station.
Arthur's Pizzeria: Brash, Noisy but wholly worthwhile - 'Arthur's'
Squeeze past the queues forming for take away or to grab the last table for arguably the best pizza in town. Its simple, its loud, its quick but totally worthwhile as the ultra thin crusted pizzas come with imaginative toppings which leave you wanting more.
Try lamb sausage, spinach and pumpkin, or an incredibly tasty vegetarian. Size and price varies, from small (A$15) to the gi-normous 'family' (A$28). They also do good pasta dishes if pizza is not what you fancy. Added bonus is that its BYO, with a wine shop a couple of doors further along Oxford St.
Favorite Dish: Excellent pizzas.
Spicy Life: Indian On Oxford St - 'Spicy Life'
White walls, white linen, simple clean lines - modern design meets traditional Indian specialities with a slight twist.
Without any pretentions, the emphasis is on the food, but at the same time knowing that it has to fit into the ambience of Sydney's Darlinghurst/Oxford St crowds. Not a sign, thankfully, of flocked wallpaper!!
Favorite Dish: All that you would expect - menu divided into entrees and then chicken, lamb, beef, fish and vegetarian. Plenty to chose from and each dish has a 'hot' rating. Chicken and/or lamb are always my choice - the chicken was one of the softest I had tasted. My only (slight) criticism is that the definition of a 3 star 'hot' curry is much milder than mine. I don't like having the roof of my mouth burned off, but '3 star hot' in Spicy Life is little more than a mild medium to me..But still excellent and considering its location, pretty cheap.
Fish on Padd: Marinated Fish by the Weight - 'Fish On Padd'
A glass counter greets you with approx 10 marinated fish dishes, alongside octopus, calamari and two or three plain fish steaks. Basic, simple furniture and a moreorless do-it-yourself eating experience.
The fish (dependent on the catch of the day but may well be salmon, blue-eyed cod, barracuda etc and served in various fantastic marinades) is served and sold by the 100gram weight - so eat as much or as little as you want. BYO as well, no corkage charge (you open it yourself!) and 10% discount from the excellent bottle shop just across the road.
Its not necessarily a place to linger, but a great place for an early dinner (they sell out very quickly once opened!) if you are wondering the galleries of Five Ways and Paddington.
Favorite Dish: Fish! (but start with a plate of octopus marnated in honey and soy sauce!)
Thada Thai: Victoria St - 'Thada Thai'
Yet another restaurant on the Victoria Street strip, and to my mind, one of the best. The food is traditional Thai, the setting simple but contemporary. White walls, simple but practical decor - two long tables down the middle of the room, more 'private' tables for two and four at the sides. First reaction when the menu is bought out was one of 'oh no' (I tend to not like the picture menus) but the food was great, and for Sydney, cheap. Its also a BYO - so this makes it even more attractive if you're on a budget.
Favorite Dish: The whole experience was excellent. There was enough ambience to create an atmosphere but enough padding in the walls, floors and ceiling to deaden the sound so you could hear your own conversations. Its a young crowd attracting all types who are out for good food without breaking the bank.
Bill's and Tony's: Spaghetti al dente
This is a lively place. It seems likely that it is busy all of the time, because no matter when I visit you join a queue to gain a table. The wait is never for long though, probably due to the fast service. It is a no fuss type of restaurant upstairs ............it spills onto the balcony and caters to many people.......it's hard to say how many can be seated..........they might fit 50 upstairs. Downstairs caters for coffee and cake and snacks mostly.
The food is traditional Italian with substantial servings and as I said all pasta is properly cooked. hmmmm.
Favorite Dish: Penne with bolognaise sauce and fresh parmiagiano cheese on top. Very simple and simply ymmy. It is served with a basket of crunchy bread and a bottle of cordial. As I said, no fuss but plenty of bustle and small price.
Pink Peppercorn: Gay Laotian?
I'd passed this place so often without trying it out, finally took the plunge, grabbed a table and was certainly glad that I had!
A somewhat incongruously named restaurant, but then it is in the middle of Oxford Street and gay Sydney. But that's not the important point, even if pink is the dominant (but not over dominant) colour, offset, thankfully, by lots of white walls and black tables. Importantly, it's not camp or OTT so it's not a case of sitting in Barbara Cartland's parlour. Stripped back contemporary pink, black and white is the order of the day. (My one minor criticism is that with two rows of tables running along each wall makes it a little too regimented).
The cooks are from Laos and Laotian food is a hybrid of Thai and Chinese with French colonnial influences! Slightly less fragrant than Thai but also lighter; I assume the salmon on the menu is either French influence or an adaptation for Australia :) Lots of dill, chilli and kaffir lime, less coriander, lemon grass and coconut milk (although it still features).
Favorite Dish: As mentioned, Thai and Chinese are the main influences, so you already sort of know what you are in for. Point being that the food is of a high quality and very well cooked - the chicken is tender, the lamb is tender, the taste explosions of tamarind, lime, touches of chilli and coconut milk, steamed fish and meats wrapped in palm leaves etc.. All very very good and a welcome addition to a seedier side of Oxford St that is srrounded by grungy and generally poor quality cafes and $2 pizza slice joints.
Rambutan: Stunning Fusion: Rambutan
The Sydney Thai restaurant 'scene' has to be the best in the country. There's 000s of them, and whilst, inevitably, only a few get the foodies a-going, a new kid on the block that certainly has the critics a-talking is Rambutan. Its great to see this seedy part of Oxford Rd slowly moving up the quality food chain (Pink Peppercorn - see seperate tip - is only a few doors up the hill).
It oozes style - from the coffee-coloured sheer silks blocking views into the restaurant from the busy street through to the deeply impressive open kitchen at the rear of the ground floor restaurant; huge floral displays, lots of black and discrete lighting, it's a place to head. But not on a busy Friday or Saturday night though - downstairs is the Cocktail Bar and it gets mighty popular. But then if you see the weird and wonderful concoctions on the list, not surprising - when did you last drink a Smoked Peach Samui Sazerach (cognac, peach & Peychaud's bitters, vanilla sugar and Laphraoig's whisky)? Or a Lemongrass and Peach Sake Crusta? The clientele of downstairs do 'merge' with upstairs, so it can get loud and, with a large shared table the central focal point, this is not a place for the feint-hearted or seriously dtermined to have a romantic dinner for two. The side tables are the place for that, but they are, not surprisingly, something of a premium.
Food is spectacular (although I have heard a few mutterings about it - mind you, we did not go on a busy night, so maybe that helps), wine list wonderful and staff attention perfect.
Favorite Dish: The pad prik king – a sticky braise of beautifully cooked pork belly dotted with lime leaves and lengths of snake bean, balanced perfectly by the accompanying dish of chilli-garnished rice vinegar - is devine. And that's the point to Rambutan - it may be Thai, lemongrass, ginger, sweet basil may still feature - but not in the more standard fare ways of the local high street Thai. This is a place to savour.
And apparently the hit of the house is the wagyu beef, although we did not try it on this occasion.
Bar Almond: Middle Eastern Tapas - Bar Almond
A terrific new place tucked away between Victoria St and Darlinghurst Rd on Liverpool Street. A single shop front, so not a particularly big place, and, in spite of it being a Middle Eastern restaurant, thankfully not a sign of OTT decor, velvet ottomans, nargilahs etc. This is most definitely contemporary Middle Eastern - white walls (although one wall is taken up by beautifully decorative carved doors - they lead no-where), bare tables, and leather stools.
Along with the food, the main attraction is the incredible friendliness of the owners and staff. Carol and Sharon (Syrian background) are the owners - the first time we went, made to feel like long term friends. Went back the next night (late on Saturday night - great option to avoid the full pubs in the vicinity) and the red carpet was metaphorically laid out for us.
Favorite Dish: The tapas is extraordinary (but be careful of the plate of almonds placed on your table - roasted almonds, sweet almonds and a fiery chilli paste almond). Not a huge list and to a large extent is what you would expect on such a menu - choice of three dips with pitta (A$17), but the baba ganoush is the best I have tasted and made me wish we had ordered the humus to check it out. Lamb patties were wonderful - incredibly delicate, and the haloumi was near perfection. Meat skewers are also on offer as are a few other things - but nice thing is that, with only a few things to choose from, you focus on the food order. Even the olives were fabulous.
Wine list is extensive and all in all, excellent value - A$80 for a bottle of shiraz, olives, the three dips, haloumi, lamb patties and 2 coffees.
Open from 4pm until late.
Morgan's: Victoria Street - 'Morgans'
Victoria Street in Darlinghurst/King's Cross from Williams St (more closely identified with the Coke sign) through to Liverpool Rd is basically wall to wall restaurants, cafes and bars. Its one of the best places to hang out, night or day and certainly a place to people watch.
One of my favourites (so far) is Morgans. Its on the pricey side but the quality is fantastic. As a result of the prices, can be suprisingly quiet in the evenings and so can be the place to go just for a glass of wine or coffee (like most places on this strip, they also have on-street parking for smokers) or that special occasion.
Fairly minimalist decor on three levels - off-white walls, dimmed lights etc but very cosy and welcoming (and very friendly).
Favorite Dish: Full breakfasts are best on the strip but have prices to match.
Dinner is an excellent option with a fairly limited choice (thankfully) superbly presented, but, like the decor, erring towards minimalism. So don't expect the normal Aussie outsized portions! But the food is great and an excellent wine list by the bottle or the glass.
Paper Box: Victoria Street - Paperbox
Fast-food, contemporary SE. Asian style. Chose your noodle (from 4), chose your style (Chinese, Malay, Thai) and then chose your main dish. Go sit down at the big shared stainless steel table in the centre of the room and wait a few minutes for a big bowl of your selection. Add your own chilli, soy or whatever from the bowls in front of you and away you go. It may not be the most sophisticated food you have ever had, but its fresh, its tasty and its cheap!
Even more appealling now that it's main competitor, Noodle King, has closed down.
Favorite Dish: Hakkien noodle Thai style with Chicken and vegetables.
Una's Cafe: Victoria St - Una's
Open early to late, Una's is a place where you know you will have to queue for a table. The food is 'classic' cafe - big breakfasts, sandwiches, pastas, schnitzels, burgers etc - (officially its an Austrian restaurant) ie high on carbo-hydrates, low on subtlety, low on damage to your pocket. But they've got it right - the food is good, portions are huge and is excellent value for money. Plenty of on-street parking for the smokers, two double-windows open to the elements where you can sit and look out on to those that weren't as quick as you were in grabbing the last table.
Favorite Dish: Carbohydrates -:)
Darlinghurst / Paddington Restaurants: Onde
great bistro style food. Steak/ Frite and a pate of stunning quality, each around $20. They also have a great rillette, original wines (BTG) and a fabulous atmosphere in a very funky part of town
Favorite Dish: Sirloin & Frite, Pate
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Eat Thai: Victoria St - 'Eat Thai'
The newest Thai on the block here - making it 5 within a 100 metres of each other! And it's very good (but then it has to be to survive). Amazingly, directly opposite 'Thada Thai' and a direct challange, although 'Eat Thai' is targetting a slightly older market (but not by much). It's slightly more expensive than Thada Thai, but not by much and even though I'm a fan, 'Eat Thai' will feature as first option between these two in the future.
It's a funky space - bright colours, discrete lighting, square pouffes to sit on and fairly small (probably no more than about 30 covers). It's also BYO which helps keep the bill down (bottle shop across the road).
Favorite Dish: The Beef Massaman curry (with pumpkin and potato) was the best I have ever had!
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