There's a lot to be said for hunkering down in a bar with no plans for the evening. Taking a load off, sitting on a bottle and turning lunch into dinner. All the better when it's the kind of weather that makes ducks think twice about going for a swim.
But this is springtime Sydney swinging straight into summer. A time to stroll streets you've never strolled before and give thanks to chicken salt, star jasmine and Cockatoo Island. A time to take yourself on a bar crawl.
Not the kind of crawl that involves skolling more schooners than the Barmy Army at a one-day international, mind. The Berejiklian government has indicated Sydney's CBD lock-out laws will be scrapped by the end of the year, and it would be terrible if anything happened for that decision to be reconsidered. (Everyone – please act responsibly! The ability of future generations to have a drink and dance after midnight depends on it.)
I'm talking about a bar crawl of snacks, sunny afternoons and your favourite tunes. A spritz here and a pasta there. Maybe a lightly chilled red around the corner. A large number of watering holes and wine bars have opened in the past few months, and a progressive drinks session is the best way to make the most of them. Spending time with old favourites is also key, so slip on your walking shoes and enjoy Sydney at its best.
A movable Italian feast in Bondi
A Sydney summer without a visit to Icebergs is like a trip to Tokyo without buying ramen from a vending machine. The terrace at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar should be your prime target at sunset, with its pink-on-blue horizon views and a caprese salad featuring shiny happy tomatoes.
Before you hit the beachside icon, however, begin your Festival of The Boot at Ode natural wine bar, dozing between the Thai restaurants of Bondi Road's mid-point. The Mediterranean-channelling cucina offers the eastern suburbs' most pillowy focaccia, with cooling burrata on hand for salty bread enhancement. "Another glass of something fizzy and cold in your charming establishment please, pals."
Venture a couple of blocks east and you'll find Peppe's open for plant-based pasta and Italian bar snacks. It's a neat little trattoria in which to spend an hour or three, with a blackboard menu and sturdy bar made for negronis. Gnocchi al pomodoro is a must-order if the springy potato dumplings are going.
Totti's Capri-inspired courtyard is nearby if you fancy blood orange sorbet after pasta, or you could roll down to Hall Street for a perch at CicciaBella's breezy marble bar. C-Bella is Maurice Terzini's reimagining of the site once known as Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta, and welcomes former ACME chef Mitch Orr to the neighbourhood. Pizzette (mid-sized pizzas with a puffy, blistered crust) are top value at $12 each, perhaps topped with puttanesca or spring greens and ricotta. Consider a Campari and soda, a blushing pink cocktail of Campari, riesling and pineapple soda, too – a strong contender for drink of the summer.
Barbera, burgers and basements in the CBD
Sydney's great pizza and pasta party of 2019 isn't confined to Bondi. Chef Scott McComas-Williams and crew behind Love, Tilly Devine have been carb-loading city-dwellers since late October, opening Ragazzi near the hanging birdcages in Angel Place. It's a sleek Italian wine bar that keeps itself unpretentious, engineered for sharing Barbera d'Asti on a leather banquette, or mafaldine to fuel an evening on the town. Pig's head and taleggio croquettes are essential snacking, and arriving at 3pm on a Saturday to claim an outdoor table is the trick – certainly before the City Recital Hall matinee crowd rolls through, hunting for anywhere with hot coffee and reasonably priced meals.
Settling into Frankie's Pizza before the crowds hit is another swell plan. An afternoon at the Hunter Street basement dive is never time wasted, especially if you're keen on pinball, Black Sabbath and new-release beers from cult brewers including Mikkeller and Dugges. Indeed, many of the city's best bars can now be found underground, and after a few tins of Frankie's house lager, a bracing Restaurant Hubert martini may be needed to keep motors running.
Next stop: Double Deuce Lounge. Ramblin' Rascal Tavern Renaissance men Charlie Lehmann, Sebastian "Cosmo" Soto and Dardan Shervashidze gifted Sydney a tribute to the golden age of Galliano in July with this wood-panelled gin joint below Bridge Street. What the `70s-inspired cocktail bar lacks in food, it makes up for in bracing tinctures and Curtis Mayfield funk hits. Try a Deuce stinger of cognac, peppermint and Fernet Branca.
As brilliant as subterranean boozing can be, it would also be a shame not to make the most of daylight-saving hours with al fresco drinks on a terrace. The Museum of Contemporary Art has open-air cocktails covered until February 16, partnering with Patron Tequila to create a terrace summer bar inspired by magical realism, complete with virtual reality headsets. No bookings required, so rock on up.
Regardless of where your itinerary takes you, make Mary's Underground the last port of call. Dry-aged duck! Live music! Biodynamic wines! There's a lot here to love, with a late-night menu rocking Mary's burgers well after the last ferry leaves Circular Quay.
Chianti and a succulent Chinese meal in Crows Nest
If you haven't been to Crows Nest in a while, know that it positively pumps on a Friday night with locals making the most of Willoughby Road's many boozers. The right way to begin a Crows Nest bar crawl is with spring rolls at Peacock Gardens, the Chinese institution Mathew Chan opened in 1975 and still commands. It's a restaurant, yes, but Cantonese food is excellent booze ballast and Chan's cellar contains prestige wine of exceptional value.
A post-sang-choi-bao whisky may well be in order, in which case the Hayberry staff can talk you through a savvy selection of Scottish drops and American rye. It's also a user-friendly spot for blues music, beer and waffle-fry baskets and I feel most first dates in Crows Nest either begin or end here. A quieter date-night cocktail can be found on Falcon Street at The Foxtrot Inn, a late-opening purveyor of fruit-forward creations such as a finger-lime spiked Tom Collins.
After fixing the bill at Foxtrot, you'll need to find a suitable place to withdraw cash (Crows Nest has many ATMs), before taking a tiny seat at tiny Tachinomi YP. The cash-only small bar (by night) and ramen shop (by day) is one of Sydney's most idiosyncratic and enjoyable venues, and with its wall-to-wall posters and bric-a-brac, anyone might think it's a Japanese thrift store. The staff's enthusiasm is infectious, and other guest will happily guide new users through the imported drinks fridge of mystery. Whether it's a yuzu highball, sake or Hitachino ale, everything that comes out of that fridge is delicious. Every suburb needs a Tachinomi YP.
If you would like a crash course in Japanese tinned fish, Tachi also serves snacks, but there are more comfortable seats a block over at handsome bar and restaurant Annata. There's also a much longer menu at your disposal for celeriac schnitzel, Moreton Bay bug tart and veal tartare sharpened with guindillas. Extra kudos to owner Christian Blair for pouring hard-to-find French wines from producers such as Ganevat and Laurent Roumier.
Sunsets, sushi and beach beers in Manly
Why are there always so many people walking around barefoot in Manly? Don't they want to visit any of the cracking bars in town? Belgrave Cartel? Chica Bonita? Perhaps they know one of the best things you can do on Pittwater Road is pick up a margherita from Pocket Pizza and take yourself down to the beach.
For the less footwear-adverse, Pocket Pizza is open for a Cynar spritz at the bar and New York vibes by the slice, in a setting of red-chequered tablecloths and white lace curtains. You might also happen upon a free tasting at Winona (Dormilona and Cultivar Wines were recently representing), while a few of the bottle shop's offerings are on the list at Busta next door.
The Chica Bonita team launched laid-back Busta in August, serving modern Italian food in Scando-ish room of blond wood and stark white walls. Kingfish crudo and a Mada rosé should do the trick – you'll need space for sushi at Sunset Sabi, only a cricket pitch away.
Calling ahead to see if there's bar seats is highly recommended at Sabi, a much-loved haunt of locals attracted to izakaya-style snacks and daiquiris punched up with peach sake. Cured salmon nigiri with yuzu kosho is a menu highlight, while Sabi's party atmosphere demands Japanese tacos laden with shiitake, daikon, Kewpie mayo and ginger. Also, fried chicken with spicy tonkatsu on the side. There are few occasions that don't call for fried chicken.
If you're a south-sider planning to catch the ferry home, be sure to leave time for a beach stroll, too - a visit to Manly is essentially a holiday without the long-distance travel. All the better with a beer at 4 Pines Keller Door to conclude your mini break, especially when the sun's hanging low over the harbour.
Devilled eggs and freaky tikis in Newtown
It's probably a good thing there are no decent pubs within cooee of Bella Brutta and new King Street neighbour Cafe Paci. Otherwise an inescapable vortex of awesome would likely form above Missenden Road, luring diners into a delicious cycle of late nights, hangovers and empty wallets.
Paci 2.0 is a beautifully designed space heavy on the metallic and royal blues, where chef Pasi Petanen delivers the same intelligent cooking that earned his East Sydney pop-up so much acclaim before its last service in 2015. Petanen has ditched the degustations for a la carte, but most plates are moderately sized, so you can devise a tasting menu of your own creation. Perhaps raw beef with smoked tomato that tastes like the best parts of bolognese; devilled eggs topped with an electric pop of trout roe; a cardamom caramel and chocolate cake that threatens to make hundreds-and-thousands a trend in 2020.
For the purposes of a Newtown bar crawl, however, you might settle on oysters with cumquat mignonette at the George Livissianis-designed counter, paired with something pink from Giorgio De Maria's mostly natural wine list. Swing into Bella Brutta afterwards for its signature surf clam pizza and a shot of Averna to seize the day.
The Courthouse Hotel is to Newtown what Icebergs is to Bondi, which means a ramble past King Street's vintage fashion retailers and chicken shops is in order. You could easily spend all day on the Courty's sun-dappled porch, with Coopers jugs on every table and Paul Kelly singalongs to send them down, but then you would be missing out on cheese at Continental Deli Bar and Bistro, and no one really wants that.
Ask Continental's Mikey Nicolian to make you a gold-standard mint julep, and ponder how much washed-rind is too much before a mud crab dinner at Queen Chow. (A Newtown bar hop should always be done on an empty stomach with friends, especially when Enmore Road's Queen Chow is part of the equation.)
If you can still muster the energy after Chow's typhoon shelter crab, Jacoby's Tiki Bar is directly across the road and offers the perfect Twin Peaks-themed lounge to end a night in Newtown. There are rarely nights when a tiki filled with five types of rum is the right way to start, but many times when it's the correct way to cap one.
The Good Food Guide's third annual national edition, featuring reviews of more than 500 restaurants across Australia, is on sale now in newsagencies and bookstores, and available at thestore.com.au/gfg20 for $29.99 with free shipping.