Restaurateurs' favourite Surry Hills haunts

Cut of choice: Take your pick at Porteno.
Cut of choice: Take your pick at Porteno. Photo: Andrew Quilty

Surry Hills' cafe, bar and restaurant scene is thriving well beyond the Crown Street mainstay. The neighbourhood's chefs and restaurateurs tell us about their cherished local faves, from trendy newbies to hidden gems.


Ben Milgate

Co-owner and chef, Bodega, Porteno and Gardel's Bar

"When we first opened it was just brothels and ice addicts. It was pretty gnarly back then," Milgate says. Just away from Central Station, his first restaurant Bodega has been going strong for eight years, while the dining on offer nearby continues to expand. "If people can't get a table at one restaurant, they just walk over to another great place around the corner," Milgate says. These days, alumni from his venues have created their own ventures in the area. "My partner and I go to Izakaya Fujiyama a fair bit," he says. It's owned by former Bodega staffer Kenji Maenaka, and Milgate heads straight for his favourite - the sashimi bar. "As soon as I sit down, he starts cutting the raw fish for us. He knows I like to eat sea urchin."

Tio's Cerveceria is Milgate's go-to after work spot, where Akira Alvarez - previously of Gardel's Bar - preps authentic Mexican meals at the in-house taco stand, Alvarez & Sons. "I go for the beef taco … We always like to support people who've put in the hard yards for us. It's nice to go to their place and see them being successful."

As a Surry Hills local himself, Milgate's typical breakfast pit stop is Cafe con Leche, where organic Colombian coffee is paired with South American dishes. "I go there pretty much every day after walking my dog in the park." His favourite is arepa, a grilled cornmeal cake stuffed with cheese and topped with tomato salsa and guacamole.

Bodega 216 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills. 9212 7766.

Porteno and Gardel's Bar 358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills. 8399 1440.

Izakaya Fujiyama Shop G09, 38-52 Waterloo Street, Surry Hills. 9698 2797.

Cafe con Leche 104 Fitzroy St, Surry Hills. 9331 8157.

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Tio's Cerveceria and Alvarez & Sons 4-14 Foster Street, Surry Hills.


Rebecca Littlemore

Co-owner, Nomad

When it comes to breakfast, Littlemore likes hers spiced.

"I can have toast with eggs at home! Cafe Mint's hummus with lamb mince is really the only time you can have mince for breakfast," she says of the dish laced with pine nuts and caramelised onions, served with za'atar toast. For lunch near work, the Malibu sandwich shop is a favourite. "They're the biggest sandwiches you've ever seen. They cook everything fresh each day," says Littlemore, who pairs their signature chicken schnitzel filling with house-roasted tomatoes. She and partner - and fellow Nomad co-owner - Al Yazbek usually end up at Riley Street Wine to wind down at the end of a shift.

"As we serve Aussie wines, it's a nice change to go there. They get theirs from all over the world, so we grab a glass and some prosciutto." For the best pasta in town, head next door to Baccomatto Osteria. "They make everything in-house. If their spaghetti carbonara is on, it's definitely worth trying. The menu changes pretty regularly - a good excuse to go again and again." When searching for a venue to house their new wine bar and restaurant, Littlemore was attracted to Surry Hills' emerging areas. "It's not just focused on Crown Street any more," she says of the dining scene surrounding Nomad, and the growth of venues along Holt and Foster streets. "Things are opening here all the time, and our area is unbelievably different. It's still something that people are discovering."

Nomad 16 Foster Street, Surry Hills. 9280 3395.

Cafe Mint 579 Crown Street, Surry Hills. 9319 0848.

Malibu 62-64 Foster Street, Surry Hills. 9280 2233.

Riley Street Cafe & Wine Shop 1, 222 Riley Street, Surry Hills. 8093 9807.

Baccomatto Osteria 212 Riley Street, Surry Hills. 9215 5140.


Kylie Kwong

Owner and chef, Billy Kwong

It's been 13 years since Billy Kwong opened its doors, and Kylie Kwong has seen many a change since. "The area has evolved immensely. There are so many excellent quality casual eateries and small wine bars to choose from," she says. "Surry Hills fulfils so many of our needs, whether shopping for fresh produce, dining or drinking out, or visiting outdoor markets."

When breaking for coffee, you can find Kwong around the corner from work, at Reuben Hills. "I admire owner Russell Beard so much for his commitment to sourcing the finest quality and most sustainable coffee … the way he showcases and supports artisanal coffee growers.'' Head chef O Tama Carey's dishes are enough to draw Kwong to the edge of the city centre. "I do love a Friday lunch at the charming, characterful and cosy Berta," she says, especially when complete with her favourite house-cured hiramasa with toast and horseradish mascarpone and potato, pea, fontina and sage frittata. Her tipple of choice is the 2012 Barbera d'Alba by Olek Bondonio from northern Italy, served up at 121BC. "It's a juicy, fleshy, spicy and concentrated but extremely fresh and drinkable barbera from Piedmont. [Co-owner] Giorgio [de Maria] tells me the vines are extremely old, and only 5000 bottles have been produced." For Kwong, the opening of new venues only serves to strengthen her own and fellow local ventures. "We are all small businesses in Surry Hills. I love the way we all help each other out," she says. "They are the backbone of the local community; they add the colour and the culture."

Billy Kwong Shop 3/355 Crown Street, Surry Hills. 9332 3300.

Reuben Hills 61 Albion Street, Surry Hills. 9211 5556.

Berta 17-19 Alberta Street, Sydney. 9264 6133.

121BC 4/50 Holt Street, Surry Hills. 9699 1582.