What's summer to you? To me, it's redskins melted onto the concrete next to the swimming pool, fresh cotton, big hats, mango juice spilt on sun-kissed, beach-fresh skin. It's a time for lazy eating, minimal movement during the day and maximum elbow flexing once the sun goes down. It's about dropping your fish and chips in the sand and still eating them. Having ice-cream run down your arm, while making a ham sandwich straight from the fridge with leftover cold cuts. It's late nights, and long lunches, spicy snacks and cold beers.
For chef Matt Moran – the star of the Great Australian Bake-Off and the chef/owner of Aria Sydney/Brisbane, North Bondi Fish and Chiswick – it's all about seasonality and maximum preparation for minimum effort later down the track. "We change every menu according to the seasons. So every quarter, the menu is altered," says Moran. "North Bondi Fish is a classic example. We struggle in winter – but try and get a booking there between now and the end of January. Forget it."
In general, people want to eat lighter – not less. That means lots of fresh seafood, fewer braises. Sunday lunch is more likely to be a series of salads, and if there's a roast it's likely to be put up with rather than embraced. That is, of course, until it becomes sandwiches for the next few days. And then everyone gets involved.
But really, who wants to turn the oven on at all? Not Matt Moran, that's for sure. He'd rather be winning friends with salad, straight from one of his two gardens. "I've just planted low-lying stuff – pumpkins, cucumber, capsicum and zucchini. The tomatoes are just going nuts."
Of course, not everybody is blessed with rolling lawns and a nice plot behind Gordons Bay in which to plant a luscious garden. The closest I'll ever get is not killing the rosemary hanging from my kitchen window. If you, like me, live in a shoebox and possess a pair of black thumbs, do the smart thing and head straight for the best fruit and vegetorium in your area. That's exactly what Moran does when he's emptied out his gardens.
His Sunday lunches over the warmer months are light, colourful (fresh tomatoes with basil and goat's curd, say, or poached eggs on crisp lettuce with chives and hazelnuts) and entirely driven by what's available at the fruit and veg shop that day. "I don't go into the veggie shop with some preconceived idea of what I'm going to make. Never, ever do it. Go into the fruit and veg shop, see what is in season and what is available and what is in good nick and then the juices just flow."
TOP 5 LATE NIGHT EATS
Beat the heat and eat late
Frankies There are many, many things to love about this late night boozetorium – the secret bar right out the back where you can get lost in plush booths, hair metal Sundays and craft beer in the middle bar and Italian liqueurs out the front. No matter where you're imbibing, you can get a late night Margherita. That's amore. 50 Hunter Street, Sydney. frankiespizzabytheslice.com. 4pm - 3am.
Mamak The great thing about this Malaysian restaurant is if you frequent on a weekend post-midnight you very often beat the queues. That means a much shorter distance between you and a nasi lemak, or feathery roti and a sweet lime iced tea. Don't miss the chicken satay skewers, either. 15 Goulburn St, Sydney. mamak.com.au. Sun-Thu till 10pm; Fri-Sat till 2am.
Chat Thai Any time is a good time to eat at this perennial Sydney favourite. But there's something kinda special about a late night visit for the post-eleven o'clock supper menu. Eating super-spicy food in hot weather is a time-honoured tradition all over Asia. Get involved. 20 Campbell St, Sydney.chatthai.com.au. Daily till 2am.
Superbowl Or, if you will, 'superb owl'. This is the epitome of late-night streetside Cantonese dining in downtown Haymarket. The big orders are congee with pork and preserved egg and Chinese doughnut; barbecue pork and a serve of salt and pepper squid. BYO beers and cheers. 41 Dixon Street, Sydney. Daily, till 2am.
Harry's Cafe de Wheels Is there any more famous late-night snack in Sydney? We're guessing no. Join the 3am throng on Woolloomooloo wharf for a 'tiger' – that's a meat pie topped with mashed potato, mushy peas and gravy. No hangover stood a chance. Plus, it's open air – eat yours with your feet dangling over the pier. Sun till 1am; Mon-Tue till 2am; We-Thu till 3am; Fri-Sat till 4am.
TOP 5 BEER GARDENS All the beauty of a really good picnic, only with colder beers and comfier seats
The Courthouse Hotel The jewel of the inner west, this watering hole has been attracting beer-fanciers for years with its sprawling courtyard, massive bench seating and outdoor dispensary – the only time you need to head indoors is when you leave. 202 Australia Street, Newtown.
Watsons Bay Hotel It's all about the beach club here at this Sydney dazzler. Order a pitcher of cocktails, maybe the fish and chips, and soak up the sea breezes. Up early? They even offer a full breakfast menu. 1 Military Road, Watsons Bay.
The Oaks It's here that you can experience all the fun of a barbecue, only with clean glasses, cold beers on tap and plenty of shady spots to sit under the massive oak tree that takes centre stage. 118 Military Rd, Neutral Bay.
The Henson If there's a more kid-friendly pub in Sydney, we'd like to see it. The Henson has its own foam pit, jungle gym and serves organic juice boxes, ferchrissakes. For the adults, there's a massive sprawling beer garden, updated with lots of greenery and a broad range of crafty things on tap. 91 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville.
The Beresford This grand old Surry Hills pub has had many incarnations. The latest, run by Sydney hotel supergroup Merivale, offers a massive open beer garden where you can get a full meal and dine al fresco, or just settle down with something on tap, a bottle of French rose or a cocktail. 354 Bourke St, Surry Hills.
TOP 5 WATERSIDE RESTAURANTS
What's dining in Sydney over the lazy months without a water view?
Sean's Panaroma A menu driven as much by the seasons as what appears through the kitchen doors on any given day, this restaurant captures everything that's truly great about dining in Sydney. But most especially in summer when the waves roll over North Bondi's white sands. 270 Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach.
Pilu at Freshwater The only fine-dining Sardinian restaurant in Sydney sits inside a beautiful old coastal cottage looking over Freshwater beach. Walk off the suckling pig after lunch and get your feet wet at the same time. Hot tip, inner-city dwellers: take the ferry to Manly and walk the rest of the way. Moore Road, Freshwater.
Coogee Pavilion The recently renovated Coogee Pavilion takes in all the granditude of the old building, updated with modern Sydney sensibilities. Grab a pizza after a swim at the (extremely) nearby beach, or set up on the balcony with a round of skewers and cocktails. 169 Dolphin St, Coogee
Chiosco Ormeggio's little cousin is just the sort of casual, easy, breezy dining experience you want on a hot summer's day. All outdoor, placed smack-bang on the wharf with a recently acquired liquor licence, it's as close as you'll get to the Cinque Terre on Sydney Harbour. Spit Rd, Mosman.
Icebergs Down the other end of Bondi Beach, things get a little ritzier. The jazz hands are out at Maurice Terzini's stalwart cliffside restaurant and bar, as famous for its sparkling clientele as its salt-crusted rib eye steak, served with nothing but a cheek of lemon. 1 Notts Ave, Bondi Beach.