Dining alone need not be daunting. Where a party of one may have once been considered an awkward anomaly, it's now one of the primary drivers of growth in the Australian food industry. And why wouldn't it be? Having the freedom to eat where, when and what you want is enormously liberating and self-indulgent in the best possible way.
An increasing number of eateries are now catering for unaccompanied customers. With comfortable counter-style seating, well-portioned dishes welcoming wait staff, a stress-free, solo dining experience is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Late American food writer M.F.K Fisherwrote, "human beings are happiest at the table when they are very young, very much in love, or very alone." Make a date for one at these venues, and you'll understand why.
Pull up a stool at Bar Suze for a solo date night. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Bar Suze, Surry Hills
There is a welcoming warmth to Bar Suze, a self-styled neighbourhood bar with long-stemmed candles, heavy drapery and several (highly coveted) bar stools overlooking the kitchen. Visit on a Friday or Saturday night if you feel like conversing with someone new, or book midweek for a low-key dinner. The Scandinavian-inspired snack menu features beef tartare topped with a nest of crispy potato frites and smoked caviar ($28) and smoked storm clams with ajo blanco, almond and cucumber ($22).
54 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, 0431 180 389, barsuze.com
The long, winding bar and intimate tables at Menzies Bar are ideal for solo dining. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Menzies Bar, Wynard
Shellhouse's Menzies Bar provides the glamour without the price tag. Every day between 4 and 6pm you can treat yourself to an ice cold martini (served extra dirty, of course) with a fresh lobster roll for just $10 a pop. If you feel like settling in for a meal at the dimly lit, blackened steel bar there are plenty of well-portioned snacks to choose from, including slow ferment sourdough toasties with fontina cheese and black pig ham ($22) and abalone toast with XO sauce and black sesame ($26).
37 Margaret Street, Sydney, 02 9158 4000, shellhouse.com.au/menzies-bar
Where's Nick is great for a casual snack or a solo meal. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Where's Nick, Marrickville
Everyone wants a local like Where's Nick, the unassuming suburban wine bar sandwiched between a Pizza Hut and a discount fabric store on Marrickville Road. For the solo diner, there's bar seating along the front window for people watching, or a Victorian velvet couch perfect for curling up with a glass of red wine. The vibes are friendly, dogs are welcome (yes, even on the couches) and the food is excellent. Don't miss out on the hash browns bejewelled with salmon roe.
236 Marrickville Road, Marrickville, 0481 759 182, wheresnick.com.au
Don't forget to order the bread rolls at Jane in Surry Hills. Photo: Anna Kucera
Jane, Surry Hills
The freshly baked, golden dinner rolls with kefir butter ($5) at Jane are worth the visit alone. Jane is the cool little sister of fine-dining restaurant Arthur, with dimly lit '70s decor inspired by the Southern Highlands home of owner and chef Tristan Rosier's grandmother. It creates a familial atmosphere, ideal for solo dining. Book a stool at the marble and gold bar, then settle in for an evening of vibey '70s tracks, crisp martinis and Australian-forward dishes such as saltbush panisse with shisito and parmesan custard ($16), and kangaroo tartare with bush tomato and shoestring fries ($25).
478 Bourke Street, Surry Hills, 0403 632 355, janesurryhills.com
Pan fried rice noodle with chickpea miso, taratour and garlic oil at Baba's Place.
Baba's Place, Marrickville
Persian rugs, religious iconography and an assortment of vintage tableware have turned a Marrickville warehouse into the welcoming living room of a Middle Eastern grandmother. The kitchen-side bar is the best spot for solo diners to sample small plates, particularly if you appreciate a chatty chef explaining the virtues of Afghani bread. The pan fried rice noodle with chickpea miso, taratour and garlic oil ($18) is an unusually delicious combo, packed full of umami.
20 Sloane Street, Marrickville, 02 9090 2925, babasplace.com.au
Lola's Level 1 "will make you fall in love with restaurants again". Photo: Nikki To
Lola's Level 1, Bondi
While you wait for Icebergs to reopen wander down to Lola's Level 1. Solo diners are welcomed at the long, marble bar where, with just a little craning of the neck, you can peer through the rustling palm trees to the pacific ocean. The relative newcomer has already scored a hat for its flavour-first Mediterranean menu, with chief restaurant critic Terry Durack noting "it's the sort of place that makes you fall in love with restaurants all over again".
Level 1/180/186 Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach, 02 9085 5888, lolaslevel1.com.au
Soak up the friendly, relaxed atmosphere (and order the potato scallops) at Golden Gully. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Golden Gully, Leichhardt
Top off a sunny afternoon in the suburbs with a casual meal at Leichhardt's Golden Gully, a popular solo dining destination for its friendly, relaxed atmosphere. The bar seating by the window is perfect for people (and dog) watching while you sample their carefully curated selection of Australian natural wine. The bar is particularly popular on Sundays, when crispy, golden potato scallops are served alongside spicy, bloody marys for just $15.
153 Norton Street, Leichhardt, 0423 666 746, goldengullybar.com.au