Sydney's 2022 half-year dining report card

Luxe Catalan diner Parlar whisks us away to Barcelona and beyond.
Luxe Catalan diner Parlar whisks us away to Barcelona and beyond. Photo: Christopher Pearce

It's been a rollercoaster ride so far, but all signs point to an exciting next six months as our creative, resilient and food-loving city gets back on its feet.

Hey, Sydney diners, how are you doing so far? Do you believe we are half way through the year already? It's been a rollercoaster ride, with plenty of highs and lows to make the time fly, that's for sure.

Parlar's $240 seafood platter for two.
Parlar's $240 seafood platter for two. Photo: Jude Cohen

The lows we already know, but with an early rash of restaurant closures (Stanbuli, Lentil As Anything, Kepos & Co) hopefully behind us, it's staff shortages and rocketing costs that are placing the most pressure on hospitality operators right now.

"At present there are around 95,000 hospitality vacancies unfilled across the nation," says Suzee Brain of Brain & Poulter food consultancy.

"That's enough to fill every seat at the Sydney Cricket Ground twice over, and equates to every cafe, restaurant and takeaway in Australia being short about 1.5 staff."

If you took the temperature of the hospitality industry, it would run hot.

She says restaurateurs will have to look at ways to reduce the number of staff they need by using digital menus, reducing menu items, shrinking trading hours, and extending seating times, all of which we have seen this year.

Allowing more time to dine can take pressure off reduced staff numbers while still maintaining sales, Brain says, in what is actually good news for diners.

"The sector needs to work with the staff shortage situation rather than just complain about it," she says, "and customers will have to learn to adapt as well."

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The highs we also know already. We're out and about again! It's genuinely hard to get a table at lunchtime in the CBD (hang on, isn't that a lowlight?), and you can feel the buzz on the streets. 

The NSW government is considering an ambitious, industry-led CBD revitalisation plan that involves free public transport in the city (which Melbourne has had for years with its trams) and more support for Chinatown. 

There's a flurry of new ideas and innovations, as restaurants open with braver, more personal concepts.

One man's obsession with sake and vinyl come together at Ante.
One man's obsession with sake and vinyl come together at Ante. Photo: Supplied

We've seen one man's obsession with sake and vinyl come together at Ante; a courageous female chef with an uncompromising vision for Thai food at Viand; and two-hatted chefs creating a fine-dining journey across three different spaces in one meal at ELE by Federico and Karl.

Luxe Catalan diner Parlar and upscale Middle Eastern Aalia nail the 2022 need for a more transportive experience, whisking us away to Barcelona and Cairo and beyond. It's not so much takeaway any more as take-me-away.

And the mood out there? If you took the temperature of the hospitality industry, it would run hot.

The ambition is clear at Aalia in Martin Place.
The ambition is clear at Aalia in Martin Place. Photo: Louise Kennerley

"We're all in the onwards and upwards mindset," says Anna Pavoni of Ormeggio and a'Mare.

"There are new venues opening all the time, and our industry continues to come up with new exciting and unique concepts and fitouts." 

Restaurant longevity, however, will rely on change. "There will be a general raising of prices across the industry," Pavoni says.

Viand's courageous chef brings an uncompromising vision for Thai food.
Viand's courageous chef brings an uncompromising vision for Thai food. Photo: Edwina Pickles

"And I'd love to see the new immigration minister get on board with some short-term solutions to get highly skilled hospitality professionals back in the country." 

For Thomas Pash, CEO of Hunter St. Hospitality and Pacific Concepts, only time will tell.

"The past two years have been tough," he says. "It will take 12 months of clear air to get full confidence back."

Aalia's mezze (clockwise from centre): Anchovy toast, potato and lentil tart, raw king salmon, hand-stretched halloumi, ...
Aalia's mezze (clockwise from centre): Anchovy toast, potato and lentil tart, raw king salmon, hand-stretched halloumi, waraq simsim with aged rice and sea urchin, and Pharaoh's foie gras. Photo: Jason Loucas

Pash confirms the need to think big. "Restaurateurs should be innovating, with events, programs, partnerships, collaborations and menus," he says.

"Business as usual is no longer good enough. We have to offer something unusual, special and unique to inspire customers to visit and return."

Anton Forte of the Swillhouse Group, which is about to open Le Foote in The Rocks with a mad mix of historic pub, old-school Italian and al fresco terrace, is also upbeat. 

"There are a lot of volatile political factors that are freaking me out, but when I focus on what's important, I realise that our venues [Hubert, Alberto's Lounge] are busy, our guests are enjoying themselves and our staff are brilliant," he says. "What more could you want?"

The half-yearly assessment

Given the ongoing disruptions in class, Sydney is doing incredibly well. Some areas of performance need improvement, but the hard work and creativity we are seeing, and the ability to adapt to change quickly and smoothly, will really pay off over the next six months.