Hats off to Surry Hills: Sydney's hottest food suburbs revealed

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Rotisserie pork belly with fennel pickle and scud chilli death sauce served at Chin Chin in Surry Hills.
Rotisserie pork belly with fennel pickle and scud chilli death sauce served at Chin Chin in Surry Hills.  Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

If you were keen to live in a suburb with top-notch food credentials, you might want to consider real estate in Surry Hills, which has more hatted restaurants than all suburbs north of the Harbour Bridge combined.

The Good Food Guide 2019 was released this week and while the CBD claimed the most hatted restaurants for another year, Surry Hills was the best performing suburb with eight venues awarded one chef’s hat or more. A restaurant needs to score at least 15/20 in the Guide to receive a hat.

“Surry Hills is a major drinking-and-dining destination with a large number of approachable, everyday-use restaurants,” said Good Food Guide editor Myffy Rigby. “Restaurants with hats north of the bridge tend to be heavy hitters – special occasion restaurants such as Ormeggio at The Spit, Cottage Point Inn and Justin Hemmes’ glamorous new fine diner, Bert’s.

Porteno in Surry Hills.
Porteno in Surry Hills. Photo: Sarah Keayes

“This has a lot to do with a high population density in Surry Hills compared to the northern suburbs. Apartments are smaller, with limited kitchen space, meaning people are more likely to dine out rather than cook at home, especially mid-week. There’s a large market for restaurants where you can drop in for a couple of snacks and a pasta and be on your way.”

Surry Hills wasn’t always a restaurant hot spot, however, and it wasn’t until the 1999 edition of the Good Food Guide that the suburb’s dining scene was described as beginning to “take off”.

“By the end of the 1990s, you could quite happily dine in Surry Hills every night of the week, and never cross the bridge or head west or south,” said the Herald’s chief restaurant critic Terry Durack.

Green curry with grilled fish wing, pea eggplant and baby corn served at Chin Chin.
Green curry with grilled fish wing, pea eggplant and baby corn served at Chin Chin.  Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

“Mark Best’s Marque opened in 1999, followed by Billy Kwong and the mighty MG Garage with Janni Kyritsis and then Jeremy Strode. Plus there was Anders Ousback’s The Clock and Barry McDonald’s Fuel. Surry Hills has changed a lot since then and gone through a few hard times – the light rail continues to throw things off track – but it still attracts a magical mix of high and low dining.”

Durack says the big difference with Surry Hills dining today compared to 20 years ago is that the epicentre of eating has crept closer to the CBD. “Restaurants are now filling in the small streets at the southern edge of the city with the newly hatted Poly and Chin Chin in Commonwealth Street, Porteno in Holt Street, and the two-hatted Firedoor in Mary Street.”

Hatted Surry Hills’ pub The Dolphin was also named Bar of the Year in the Good Food Guide for pouring sustainably made wine and showcasing Australia’s best chefs at one-off aperitivo events. Now operated by Icebergs owner Maurice Terzini, the Crown Street hotel has progressed a long way from 1985 when the Herald praised its salad bar to put “all other smorgasbords to shame”.


Potts Point was the Guide’s next hottest Sydney food suburb featuring seven restaurants awarded one or more hats. Six of those are located on leafy Macleay Street, including The Apollo, Yellow, Monopole and Billy Kwong, which relocated to Potts Point from Surry Hills in 2014.

“Historically, Potts Point was always the boho darling of the eastern suburbs, pulling the younger, see-and-be-seen crowd,” says Good Food Guide senior reviewer Jill Dupleix.

“Twenty years ago, the Bayswater Brasserie started everything. It was the blueprint for modern Sydney dining, with its freshly opened oysters, backstage bar and bustling, cheeky service. Then David Thompson and Peter Bowyer’s Darley Street Thai upped the glamour stakes with a super-cool designer fit-out and incendiary Thai curries. Potts Point is now completely different, yet somehow the same. Now, it’s The Apollo and Billy Kwong that are packed to the rafters with celebratory tables.”

The brilliant savarin, poor mans orange marmalade, witlof dish at Poly.
The brilliant savarin, poor mans orange marmalade, witlof dish at Poly.  Photo: Jessica Hromas

Dupleix says that with the lock-out laws changing the culture of Kings Cross, the smart money is moving into the area to capture the dining market. “And it’s almost all really good, so the spirit of the area is alive and well. But, I still miss the Bayswater Brasserie.”

Newtown claimed a respectable total of four hatted restaurants with Rising Sun Workshop – motorcycle garage and ramen bar – joining Hartsyard, Continental Deli and Oscillate Wildly in the hat club. Meanwhile, tiny fine-diner Sixpenny gifted the inner west its first three hat restaurant (the Guide’s highest ranking) since Tetsuya's departed Rozelle for the CBD in 2000.

There were no hats awarded to western Sydney restaurants for the third year in a row, however 75 per cent of Sydney’s best “cheap eats” listed in the Guide were from western suburbs such as Auburn, Cabramatta and Eastwood.

This year's Good Food Guide.
This year's Good Food Guide. Photo: Fairfax Media

Sydney’s south now has two hatted venues – Asian smokehouse Yan in Wolli Creek and Ble Restaurant, a new modern Greek eatery at Ramsgate Beach. There were no restaurants with a hat in the southern suburbs in last two editions of the Guide.

“You can now head west or south or cross the bridge and eat brilliantly,” says Durack. “Great dining is a lot more dispersed. Inner city villages like Potts Point and Surry Hills will always have the numbers, but as rents increase and people move further out to live, good restaurants will always follow the money.”

The Good Food Guide's second annual national edition, with hats awarded across Australia, was launched on October 8 with our presenting partners Vittoria Coffee and Citi. The Good Food Guide 2019 is on sale in newsagencies, bookstores and via thestore.com.au/gfg19 (delivery included), RRP $29.99.

Top 5 suburbs with the most hatted restaurants outside the CBD

The Good Food Guide 2019

  1. Surry Hills
  2. Potts Point
  3. Paddington
  4. Newtown
  5. Chippendale

The Good Food Guide 1999

  1. Potts Point
  2. The Rocks
  3. Darlinghurst
  4. Crows Nest
  5. Surry Hills