Do You Picture Sydney as a Culinary Destination?

What comes to mind when you think of Australian cuisine? Steaks, meat pies, kangaroos and backyard barbies? Sure, Australians love grilled meats, but there’s a new trend emerging in the Australian dining scene that may surprise you.

According to The Australian, the local population is diverting their income from expensive housing to somewhat affordable dining. People are going out to eat more often, as popularity of celebrity chefs and cooking shows increase. From formal white tablecloth restaurants, to casual cafes, and hole-in-the-wall take-outs, Sydney offers a delicious range of choices to match any budget.

seafood1Sydney is home to many immigrants, which explains the heavy cultural influence on the local food scene. Chefs are well trained in international cuisines. Many have gone on to attain celebrity status. Within the city, you can find some of the best Japanese sushi, Chinese dim sum, homemade Italian pizza and pasta, French patisseries, Indian curry houses, and more. The food is as cosmopolitan as any big city in the world.

But Aussies are not just consumed with eating. The residents of Sydney are health conscious too. You can see people running, walking, biking, and playing sports throughout the day at neighborhood parks and beaches. They like to eat well, exercise, and look good. Recently, there’s been a strong emphasis on eating local and fresh. Most restaurants offer seasonal menus using ingredients sourced from New South Wales. Even the wines and beer are produced in the surrounding areas.

Sydney Fish MarketPhoto courtesy Sydney Fish Market

As prices of meat go up, seafood is becoming the preferred source of protein. Instead of importing fish, Australia has turned to farm raising barramundi, cod, trout, and Australian salmon. The Sydney Seafood School, established in 1989, is the largest market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest seafood market in terms of variety in the world. The curriculum includes classes in how to safely handle and prepare seafood. Over 12,000 students come through The Sydney Seafood School each year. Behind-the-scenes tours (held on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) offer a chance to witness seafood tradition on the auction floor and learn about the operations of fisheries.

From fisherman baskets to sushi, here are the top places to enjoy the best catch in Sydney:

seafood2Photo by Sucheta Rawal

• Freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters are sourced from the best growers on the New South Wales coast at Catalina Rose Bay
• Chilled in-the-shell succulent Moreton Bay Bug (slipper lobster) at Cafe Sydney in Circular Quay
• Crab Gazpacho with Bloody Mary vinaigrette and salmon caviar at The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room
• Cuttlefish cooked with garlic and chilies at The Fish Shop
• Cone Bay Barramundi with tamarind, coconut, and mint at Flying Fish
• Beer Battered Fish and Chips at North Bondi Fish
• Snapper Pie with Smoked Tomato and Mashed Potato at The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay
• Maine or Connecticut Style Lobster Rolls at Waterman’s Lobster Co.
• Blue Swimmer Crab Lasagna at Manta Restaurant
• Sizzling Garlic Prawns at Sydney Cove Oyster Bar

Sydney Fish MarketPhoto courtesy Sydney Fish Market

What Do To If You Have Only 48 Hours In Sydney

Whether you have a long layover in Sydney, or are planning a weekend getaway, this urban capital of New South Wales is full of exciting choices for food, drinks, sightseeing and adventures. Here are some highly recommended things to do in Sydney based on my recent visit. sydney harbour

Travel like a celebrity. From the airport, ride in style with Astra Limousines. The fleet of luxury cars include Ferrari, Maserati, BMW and Mercedes, driven by friendly chauffers.

Check in at Pier One Sydney Harbour, a contemporary hotel nestled alongside the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and centrally located in the heart of The Rocks, so you can walk to most attractions. The lobby looks like an upscale cabin, and the rooms are spacious with modern amenities. Breakfast is served in a homely setting at The Gantry, where you can grab yogurt and juice from the refrigerator, eggs and farm dishes from the kitchen counter, and fresh baked breads and homemade jellies off the buffet table.
Book your stay at Pier One through TripAdvisor

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Acquaint yourself with the city through an aerial tour with Sydney Seaplanes. Taking off from Australia’s first international airport at Rose Bay, this 15-minute ride will give you breathtaking views of the beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, Sydney skyline, million dollar mansions, world famous Bondi Beach, and stunning sandstone cliffs rising abruptly from the sea.

catalina restaurant sydneyA Sky/Fly package will include lunch at neighboring, Catalina Rose Bay Restaurant, where you can continue to watch seaplanes take off throughout your meal. This iconic family-run establishment is known for serving the highest quality of locally sourced meat, seafood and wines. Enjoy house specialties like oysters on the shell, sushi, snapper and caramelized figs with salted caramel. Taste the light and dry Australian rieslings as you bask in the crisp Sydney sun.

After lunch, take a stroll at Bondi Beach, the city’s only in-town beach where residents flock to. At any time of the day, you can find people surfing the waves, walking their dogs, and exercising. Though the beach is not very long (a 10 minutes walk from end to end), it is a spot to catch the action in the summer.

Head over to see some of the touristy spots of the city – Royal Botanic Gardens, Circular Quay and The Rocks. Guided tours are offered at the Sydney Opera House, and the outdoors cafes are a great place to take a break as you watch the sunset.

sydney opera house

Visit the neighborhood of Potts Point, home to some of the trendiest cafes, restaurants and boutiques that are comparable to those in New York City or Paris. Don’t be surprised if you run into a superstar or two, as many of them live in this area. Grab a cocktail at MONOPOLE, a swank bar featuring over 500 rare and boutique wines.

Dinner at Missy French is a must. The classic French dishes are cooked using local ingredients, with a slight modern twist imparted by local celebrity chef, Josephine Perry. Try the flavorful grilled garlic prawns, goat cheese salad, and tender trout. All of the desserts, including the luscious creme brûlée are to die for.

After a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast, start the day with a thrilling adventure at the Sydney Tower Eye. Experience bird’s eyes views of the city from the observatory, or go outside for the Skywalk. You will be tied to a harness as you feel the Pacific winds in your hair, walking 268 metres above. Sunset is perhaps the busiest and the loveliest time to be here.

It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best lunch spots downtown is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. CHISWICK at The Gallery boasts a contemporary dining room, casual bar area with a large communal table, and views overlooking Woolloomooloo and Sydney Harbour. Menu includes an extensive wine and cocktail list, small plates and few mains.

CHISWICK at The GalleryExplore the souvenir shops at Darling Harbour and Circular Quay Eastern Pontoon, from there you can catch a whale watching excursion. The Fantasea Adventure Cruising takes you on an unbelievable adventure to spot hump back whales. Note, the waters can be quite rough at times and sea sickness is not uncommon.

The CBD area is a good place to people watch as they hustle through crowds after work. On George St, you can see a mix of British and Romanesque Revival architecture, as well as old colonial buildings and glass skyscrapers.

sydney downtown

While there are many cool restaurants in Sydney, an unusual dinner experience can be had at the Sydney Seafood School. Located at the Sydney Fish Market, which is the second busiest seafood market second to Tokyo, beginner to advanced classes are offer daily. After a hands-on class taught by some of Australia’s celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and restauranteurs, you will be able to enjoy your meal with newly made friends. If you come early in the morning, you can also see the seafood market and trading in action.

There is so much more to do in and around Sydney, and this brief narrative no way serves to summarize a complete list of attractions. If you have anything else to add to this brief Sydney travel guide, please leave a comment below for our readers.

Top 5 Meals of 2015

It has become an annual tradition. Each year, I write a blog about the 5 best meals I ate. This is very hard to do since my job involves eating and traveling “for a living.” This year, I traveled to 14 countries and 5 states in the US. Needless to say, I ate a lot of good food!

After considerable thought, these memorable meals made it to my top 5 picks of 2015:

Machneyuda Restaurant in Jerusalem – This concept restaurant is run by three genius chefs – Yosef “Pappy” Elad, Assaf Granite, and Uri Navon. They run the business like a party. The quirky website and non-descript menu that offer dishes like “Entrecôte Django Unchained Style,” and “Lamb with lot of tasty stuff,” with pairings like “yummy stuff, some sauce” offer some clues. The waiters are not just friendly, they are singing, dancing and even doing shots in the kitchen…at work! The food is served in unpretentious sharing plates and is absolutely to die for. Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding Machneyuda market.

The biggest surprise for me was the dessert. Our server cleared out our table (we were 5) and laid out aluminum foil to cover it. On it, was orchestrated a symphony of cake, chocolate sauce, caramel, candies, nougats, cookies, ice cream and whipped cream – spread around the entire table within matter of minutes. It looked very haphazard as it was happening, but then appeared to be a delicious pile of artful looking happiness. We dug in with our spoons feeling like kids, and started dancing to the Israeli pop tunes.

Catalina Rose Bay in Sydney – Located on the world-famous Sydney Harbour, this family run restaurant is known for serving the highest quality meat and poultry sourced from all over Australia. Sydney Seaplane Highlights Flight Fly/Dine experience, included lunch at Catalina overlooking the Rose Bay. We start by enjoying fresh oysters on the shell paired with an Australia white that is produced not too far from the bay. The warm Sydney sun refreshed us as we watched the Seaplanes go by. I had the Poached Western Australian Marron Tail (something I had not had before), and the small sushi plate with delicious fresh tuna, salmon, prawn, kingfish, tataki tuna and Catalina roll. Dessert was caramelized fig with bitter caramel mousse, brik pastry and sugared pistachio. It was a memorable dessert, though the others I took bites off were pretty good too.

best seafood in Sydney

Boulanger Patissier Le Fournil Notre Dame in Marseille, France – My husband and I got to this bakery in the South of France early Sunday morning when the aroma of fresh baked goodies were oozing out of this tiny neighborhood bakery. There were sleepy residents, some still wearing pajamas, lined up to get bread, croissants, pastries, macrons, and Tropezian cakes. We got a few assortments to share with our cappuccinos. Till this day, we still talk about how the croissants flaked into a thousand pieces and melted the moment it touched our tongues. It was so good, that we had to eat another. Though so simple, it was by far the best breakfast I had this year!
best croissants in France
Marea in New York City – My close friend know that I am a big snob when it comes to Italian food. I can just about dismiss majority of the Italian restaurants in the U.S., but when I find a good ones, my heart melts into clarified butter. This is what happened at Marea, 2 Michelin star restaurant located on Central Park South. My friend and I had to wait for a long time to a spot at the bar (reservations few days in advance are highly recommended), but it was great people watching too. Everything at this high end Italian eatery boasted freshness of ingredients, integrity of flavors, and perfection in cooking. Some of my favorites were the tender Noca Scotia lobster and burro found in Astice; al dante and earthy Funghi Risotto; flaky and dressed Branzino: as well as the fried doughnuts dipped in lemon ricotta and dark chocolate Bomboloni. The portions are not small and you may end up eating 10k calories, but now you can die and go to heaven on earth.
best Italian in New York
Yachiyo Ryokan at Himeshima Island in Japan – It’s hard to imagine that one of my top 5 meals was at a 1-lady run Bed and Breakfast in a sleepy island off the coast of Kunisaki. I stayed at this beautiful family run 8-room inn surrounded by gardens, where we were served a delicious seafood dinner with ingredients that were probably swimming just a few hours ago. I had eaten a lot of good sushi throughout my stay in countryside Japan, but this was an unbelievable spread. Every inch of the table was covered with a fresh piece of fish or vegetable that was delicately prepared and artful served. The Japanese chefs take great effort in presentation as you can see from this picture. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t have a website and the manager, Michuri-San, speaks limited English, so good luck finding it.
best sushi in Japan