George Street now the place to chow

Mr Wong ... the new Cantonese-style restaurant and dim-sum palace is causing a stir.
Mr Wong ... the new Cantonese-style restaurant and dim-sum palace is causing a stir. Photo: Jennifer Soo

It is 8pm on a Friday and restaurateur Nino Zoccali is a busy man. Around him, the second storey of George Street's historic Strand Arcade is buzzing as excited diners enjoy some of the city's finest Italian cuisine.

Since setting up shop in 2008, Zoccali has attracted the acclaim of Sydney's foodie community with his Italian restaurant Pendolino, offering regionally inspired Italian cuisine, featuring hand-made pastas and artisanal olive oils.

Inspired by its success, Zoccali and his landlord decided to open La Rosa; a pizza restaurant and bar that fuses rustic Italian ambience with the edge of Sydney's blossoming small bar culture.

Zeppola doughnuts at La Rosa in The Strand Arcade.
Zeppola doughnuts at La Rosa in The Strand Arcade. Photo: Steven Siewert

''I just fell in love with the building,'' says Zoccali.

''I've always believed in George Street as a great place, with great potential. It's really exciting what's happening here''.

Perched on either side of the second storey of The Strand, these are just two of the many fine-dining restaurants that have settled along Sydney's most unlikely ''eat street'' in recent years.

Notable new addition ... Gowings Bar and Grill.
Notable new addition ... Gowings Bar and Grill. Photo: James Brickwood

''Sydney is increasingly becoming an international city and it's great, as a restaurateur, to be involved in that,'' says Zoccali.

For years George Street epitomised grungy downtown dining. Seedy bars lined the windy street and fast food restaurants more or less held the monopoly on eateries.

Skip forward to 2012 and locals are looking at a brand new dining hot spot.


Over the past year several new eateries have been established along George Street, with more than 1000 new seats opening up around the main strip. Among some of the most notable new additions are China Lane, O Bar & Dining and Gowings Bar & Grill in the new QT hotel.

''George Street used to be a no-go zone when it came to serious dining,'' writes food critic Terry Durack, ''But all that's changed''.

Also making a name for itself since opening its doors just over four months ago is Cantonese-style restaurant and dim sum palace Mr Wong, which is tucked in next to the Establishment Hotel and serves up to 500 diners on a busy night.

''It's been busy, very, very busy,'' says manager Andrew Jones with a laugh, ''but an absolutely fantastic experience so far.''

With so many acclaimed newcomers in the area, and more to follow next year, George Street's established restaurateurs could be panicked about the new wave of competition. It seems this is not the case.

''I'm a big believer in the more people around you, the better,'' says Luke Mangan, owner and head chef at the elegant Glass Brasserie at the Hilton, where they are celebrating the restaurant's most successful November in seven years.

''All these new restaurants opening up aren't taking customers away from us they're just bringing more great people in to the area.''