Chefs share their post-lockdown restaurant and bar hitlists in Sydney (and beyond)

Myffy Rigby
Ready to hit the pans again: Chef O Tama Carey at her Darlinghurst restaurant Lankan Filling Station.
Ready to hit the pans again: Chef O Tama Carey at her Darlinghurst restaurant Lankan Filling Station. Photo: Anna Kucera

Glory be, restaurants are back and we're very excited.

Break out the cocktails, pop the champagne, and butter the bread that you have not made yourself – the low-grade hum of happy diners in restaurants across the land is back. No one is more excited than our hospitality industry, both to throw open their doors to customers again but also to eat and drink out themselves. Here's where a selection of them are busting to get back to.

The owners of The Cliff Dive, Jeremy Blackmore (left) and Alex Dowd (right).

Sydney bar kingpins Jeremy Blackmore (left) and Alex Dowd are behind Tio's Cerveceria. Photo: Supplied

Alex Dowd and Jeremy Blackmore 

Best friends, business partners and Sydney bar kingpins Alex Dowd and Jeremy Blackmore are behind Tio's Cerveceria, pocket-sized tequila and mezcal dispensary Cantina OK, and Polynesian tiki club Cliff Dive. Because they work a lot of nights (and have a lot of kids), good coffee is the key to their existence. "The golden triangle for us is Paramount Coffee Project, Single O and Artificer," says Dowd. "In isolation, I've also fallen in love with Sample Coffee. Cafes are kind of like an office for us." He says as much as he loves the grocery shops that many cafes have turned into, he cannot wait to sit in a cafe again. "I'm there to get fired up." Food-wise, Banh Xeo Bar at the Cannery in Rosebery is a favourite for traditional Vietnamese snacks and the kid-friendly vibes. "Jeremy and I are both very keen to see Dodee Paidang reopen for the rice soup, and Maya Vegetarian for the potato curry bread roll." When it comes to their own venues, Tio's will open this week with the 50-person rule, but Cantina OK only fits eight at the best of times, so they're still working on how to roll up the shutter. "Like everything there, we're just trying to approach it in the best, intellectual way we can."

CORRECT SPELLING: Anna Ugarte-Carral
Finalist of the Good Food Guide 2019 Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year award - Anna Ugartes Carral. Photographed Monday 1st July 2019. Photograph by James Brickwod. SMH GOOD FOOD 190701

2020 Josephine Pignolet Young Chef Award winner Anna Ugarte-Carral. Photo: James Brickwood

Anna Ugarte-Carral 

If you'd asked the winner of the 2020 Josephine Pignolet Young Chef Award what she thought she'd be doing six months down the track, she would have told you that she'd be interning in Spain, not living back home at her parents' house waiting out a global pandemic. The young chef won the JP Award while working at Momofuku Seiobo but she also put in some serious hours at Firedoor. And she's been accepted to attend Rene Redzepi's MAD academy in October. "Hopefully I can get there," she says. "Ideally I'd be able to work in Spain after MAD but it's so hard to know what the international restaurant industry is going to look like." With strong cultural ties to her Basque heritage, the chef  looks to Spanish butcher and grocer Rodriguez Bros for their housemade chorizo. "But then they also import all my favourite stuff, including the delicious olives stuffed with anchovies." Restaurant-wise, she looks forward to taking her family back to the Gure Txoko Basque Club in Darlinghurst, which is only open on Sundays. She hopes it survives. "It's only $20 a head and it's the most authentic Spanish vibe I've ever experienced in Australia. The food is cooked by a different member each week so it isn't always spot on but they have their own house-labelled wine and old ciders. I love it. Least pretentious place in Sydney. I really wanted to do a lunch there one day. I'm trying to talk them into that." 

Ben Devlin - Pipit Restaurant xxHerosCover - Heros of travel 2019 - text Craig Tansley
Image supplied via journalist for use in TRAVELLER.

Ben Devlin at Pipit Restaurant in Pottsville. Photo: Supplied

Ben Devlin 

Before the world paused, Ben Devlin from the two-hatted Pipit restaurant in Pottsville in northern NSW had been planning a road trip with his wife and child to visit some of the country's great restaurants. "We always look enviously around us at the things that we'd like to do," says Devlin. "We had a plan – we were going to close for a week and we were going to take a road trip and drive down to Oakridge in Coldstream, Victoria, Provenance in Beechworth and Pilot in Canberra." If he had to pick just one, it would be Provenance with the new kaiseki menu. "I haven't eaten in Michael Ryan's restaurant before but he always struck me as a really smart guy." Lately Devlin's been eating around his beachside neighbourhoods, supporting the likes of La Casita, Fleet and Tyalgum Gelato. But one of the things he misses from the restaurant experience is the element of surprise, whether it's from a drink, a dish, or when someone uses an ingredient in an unexpected way. "It's hard to come by at home or in takeaway."  

Chef Pasi Pentanen and owner Giorgio de Maria at Cafe Paci.

Chef Pasi Pentanen (left) and owner Giorgio de Maria at Cafe Paci. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Giorgio de Maria 

The sommelier (you'll find him over at Cafe Paci) and wine importer (check out his collection at Fun Wines) who helped put natural and organic Italian wine on the map in Australia has a soft spot for Korean food. Sang by Mabasa, a family-run restaurant in Surry Hills, has become a local favourite for him and he's excited to see it reopen again. "They make incredible kimchi, and they stir-fry it. It's not spicy and strong, it's more mellow and has a lot of beautiful flavours," says de Maria. "I love it because I'm particularly attached to small places. That's the kind of business I like to run. Tiny, super fresh."

Palisa Anderson of Chat Thai restaurants and Boon Luck Farm, Tyagarah.

Boon Cafe's Palisa Anderson. Photo: Mikey Andersson

Palisa Anderson

If you've ever marvelled at some of the fruits and vegetables on the menu at Quay or Bennelong and wondered who would grow such a thing, the answer is Palisa Anderson, at her Mullumbimby farm, Boon Luck. Her mother, Amy Chanta, is the matriarch behind the incredibly popular Chat Thai restaurants. They also run Boon Cafe and grocery store where you can get quite a lot of the produce grown at the farm (especially right now, as a lot of the restaurants they supply aren't quite ready to re-open). The week before total shutdown, Anderson and her husband happened to be at Fleet in Brunswick Heads, Rae's at Byron Bay and then at the last service at Ester in Chippendale. "It was very sombre, she says. That last lunch was amazing, and so when everything is OK again, I want to go back to those three. I often say to my kids (because I have to leave them all the time while I work) "life is full of sad departures and happy reunions".     

Sam Young

When it comes to supporting neighbourhood dining, the head chef of Potts Point diner Lotus is very plugged in. Pre-COVID, he would regularly take his staff out to Eastwood, Bankstown and Cabramatta, BYO a few bottles of nice wine, and then restaurant hop, eating a single dish at as many as six different venues. "I'm craving Phu Quoc in Cabramatta. They make these incredible rice paper rolls," says Young. "I called them, and they're opening back up this week. And the ramen at Chaco, it's the best in Sydney, in my opinion. Also, VN Street Foods in Marrickville. And then the cheong fun (steamed noodles) at Traditional Cantonese Taste in Eastwood. They make [the flat rice noodles] themselves and you can choose your own ingredients. It's really cool. You can have fish and beef, some people  will add an egg for breakfast. There are so many gems in the suburbs that are fully delicious,"  Young says.

Nornie Bero

She might be a longtime Melbourne resident, but Torres Strait is where Mabu Mabu Cafe owner Nornie Bero's heart is – especially when it comes to seafood. "My cousin keeps posting pictures of fishing and I get jealous every single time," she says. He's just eating fish all day on a tropical island and I actually don't know the next time I'll be able to do that. That's been hard." She says she's never worked so little in her life as she is at the moment, and learning to take that chill pill has been a steep learning curve. The thing she misses is echoed by a lot of people at the moment – a cold beer at the pub. She also cannot wait to go to the South Melbourne Market, where she first launched her business, where she would often go for a huge seafood breakfast. "I just go down there and get myself some oysters, some sea urchins, some prawns – you know, just go hell for leather and you're just ready to start the day," she says. She loves Oyster Bar by Aptus Seafood, South Melbourne Seafoods and The Fish Shoppe. "It's very nostalgic for me as well because it reminds me a lot of my dad and having seafood breakfasts with him. It just takes me back home a little bit."

O Tama Carey  

Lankan Filling Station, the Sri Lankan restaurant that spiced the lips of Sydneysiders, has been operating as a little shop during isolation. And now that chef Tama Carey is about to hit the pans again and perhaps do a little eating out of her own, she's thinking about yum cha. A lot. "I'm rather fond of the rice noodles with the peanut sauce, especially if you get them to cook them extra crisp. Also, garlic chive dumplings. I think Palace Chinese is my current favourite. I know it's an oldie. And I know I can probably get this as a takeaway but I haven't eaten a banh mi in a long time. I just feel like I've lost all eating out, like I've really been eating at home. I like the Marrickville Pork Roll, but not the one everyone goes to – it's the one that's further away from the Newtown end of Marrickville. It's where they bake all of the rolls and things. I think it's the superior pork roll." Carey's really excited to be cooking again. "We've been doing takeaway food, but there's no vibe in a bag. And there's no interaction."

Sydney street (food) directory

Artificer, 547 Bourke Street, Surry Hills,

Banh Xeo Bar, 11/61-71 Mentmore Avenue, Rosebery,

Cantina OK, Council Place, Sydney,

Cafe Paci, 131 King Street, Newtown,

Chaco Ramen, 238 Crown Street, Darlinghurst, (Chilli coriander ramen pictured at right)

Chat Thai, locations around Sydney,

Dodee Paidang, 9/37 Ultimo Road, Haymarket, 

Ester, 46-52 Meagher Street, Chippendale,

Fleet, 2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads,

Firedoor, 23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills,

Gure Txoko Basque Club, 344 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst,

La Casita, 5/3 Fawcett Street, Brunswick Heads,

Lankan Filling Station, Ground Floor/58 Riley Street, East Sydney,

Lotus, 22 Challis Avenue, Potts Point,

Mabu Mabu, 13 Anderson Street, Yarraville,

Marrickville Pork Roll, 236 Illawarra Road, Marrickville

Maya Vegetarian, 470 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills,

Momofuku Seiobo, Level G/80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont,

Myeong Dong, 1/5 Railway Street, Chatswood 

Oakridge, 864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream,

Palace Chinese, Shop 38 Level 1 Piccadilly Tower, 133/145 Castlereagh Street, Sydney,

Paramount Coffee Project, 80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills,

Phu Quoc, - 11/117 John Street, Cabramatta 

Pipit, Shop 4/8 Coronation Avenue, Pottsville,

Pilot, 1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie,

Provenance, 86 Ford Street, Beechworth,

Quay, Upper Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks,

Rodriguez Bros, 144 Miller Road, Villawood,

Sample Coffee, 1a/118 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills,

Single O, 60-64 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills,

Sang by Mabasa, 98 Fitzroy Street, Surry Hills,

South Melbourne Market, 322-326 Coventry Street, South Melbourne

Tio's, 4/14 Foster Street, Surry Hills,

Tyalgum Gelato, 15 Coolman Street, Tyalgum 

Traditional Cantonese Taste, 9a/1 Lakeside Road, Eastwood

VN Street Food, 294 Illawarra Road, Marrickville,