sydney under the radar | restaurants locals love | new tables

Brainy and cheeky. Witty and inventive. Always smoking hot.


While fine dining temples such as the reborn Bennelong and the scheduled Noma summer pop-up at Barangaroo have been getting all the press love lately, elsewhere Sydney sizzles with more under-the-radar options. Here, four hot new diners.

Petrol, in Springfield Avenue, has in the past eight years become something of an institution among Potts Point brunchers seduced by its Turkish and Moroccon accents, and last night chef and owner Clinton Whiteman invited regulars to sample a new, idiosyncratic spring/summer dinner menu that pays homage to the Australian bush.

Using wild spices, salts and bush herbs and bush fruits, and meats that range from kangaroo, crocodile and emu to rabbit, duck and wild boar, Whiteman has crafted a menu that’s different from just about anything else around town. Standouts are his bush salt-smoked rabbit paella, wattle tree cod cakes, wild warrigal greens that shake up the salad leaf scene, and mountain pepperleaf chicken tagine with quandong peach. The food jumps out of its skin with flavour, freshness and finesse.

Petrol’s lush french terrace setting, looped with lights, new cushioning and shawls for temperature drops, make it a sophisticated oasis just a stone’s throw from the hurly burly of Darlinghurst Road. There’s a snug little bespoke bar down the end with some fine French wines.

To differentiate two very different menus, it’s Petrol Kitchen by night and Cafe Salvador by day.

Petrol kitchen potts point sydney clinton whiteman australian native food herbs and spices

Native Australian herbs, spices and fruits make Petrol Kitchen’s menu pop

Dragoncello in Surry Hills (it means tarragon in Italian), is the innovatory of Roy McVeigh, who spent time in the kitchens of Berowra Waters Inn, Bathers Pavilion, Bennelong, and a Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong, as well as Attica, Royal Mail and Quay before opening his own place in the corner store that used to be the Indian eatery Maya Dhaba.

It’s an unpretentious space, mostly bar room downstairs and an upstairs dining room that pops with Niki McDonald’s tapestry.girl paint on pegboard art.

McVeigh’s food is smartly sophisticated and finely balanced, more Jackson Browne than Jackson Pollock. An amuse bouche is a wondrous tipple of fish head curry stock with apple foam. His ultra-fine beef tartare with mustard oil, oyster mayonnaise, crumbs and “mock caviar” (made by soaking basil seeds in water then mixing them with leek ash and oil), is dry in a fabulous way, with a clever accompaniment of Piper Heidsieck Champagne imparting a matching sec-elegance.

Dragoncello beef tartare mock caviar roy mcveigh surry hills dining

Dragoncello’s beef tartare with mustard oil, oyster mayonnaise, crumbs and mock caviar. Photo Anji Kim

Next on his “mini deg” menu ($60, $98 with matching wines) is caramelised red onion and yoghurt soup with walnuts and plump raisins, served with – and again an unexpectedly good match from Darren Jahn and the Robert Oatley cellar – an Ad Hoc pinot noir called Cruel Mistress.

Prettiest dish of the night is a chicken ballotine with a glossy green palette – endamame (soy beans), a puree of locally foraged chickweed (“caviar for chickens,” quips Chef) and sweet basil, with pickled jellyfish – and a crisp twist of pig’s ear. There’s Larry Cherubino’s 2014 Ad Hoc Hen and Chicken Chardonnay with that, although it’s hard to let the red go.

Dragoncello Sydney dining surry hills roy mcveigh chicken ballotine

Chicken ballotine and a sea of green: endamame, pickled jellyfish, basil and chickweed puree. Photo Susan Skelly

Dessert is a geranium cream and sorbet (colour-coordinated with the Wild Oats Rose) with a little log or two of rhubarb and tomato soup cake.

There’s so much heart, soul and sincerity in this understated place you just want to magic up a queue at the door. “It’s a big risk to cook this sort of food,” says McVeigh. “The idea is that everything is me on a plate. I’m doing it by myself …” with the help of his wife and partner Esther Dickinson and manager Rodolfo Dauz.

Chef off-duty? He’s itching to try Sixpenny in Stanmore; reckons Vasco’s cocktails are off the chart (Vasco is across the road at 421 Cleveland Street and last year won the Time Out Best Neighbourhood Bar Award), and likes the Issan Thai food of House, 202 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills.

Taste tango in Bondi

Across town at Bondi Beach, the in crowd is flocking to new kid on the block, Luis Tans, which is where Paper Planes used to be. It feels like one big party, with an ever rotating guest list. The girls look like Courtney Love freshly-minted, the guys fashionably dissolute.

Luis Tans is co-owned by bar czars Raul Gonzales and Shane Moran, and TV celebrity bros, Nathan Joliffe and Ryan Ginns. According to the launch spiel, the Luis of the name was a notorious wealthy Peruvian hustler from the 1960s who married the daughter of one of Japan’s biggest crime leaders. That feeds into the décor, which is edgy and eclectic, and the food which is the hangover cure before the hangover. Which you might as well seek out as there’s a focus on cool cocktails that draw on South American rum, pisco, sake and Japanese whisky. Fresco Delicioso makes a mover and shaker out of gin, cucumber, apple juice, lemon and, yes, marmalade.

Luis Tans Sydney dining bondi beach octopus ceviche

Octopus and cobia ceviche with palm hearts, radish and jalapenos.

Unless you are fuelling up for a night with no bounds, go easy on the plantain crisps with chipotle mayo, the stracchino cheese croquettes and the dug-out sourdough canoes of smoky leek and gruyere filling. They’ll cruel it for the fresh and delicate braised octopus and cobia (black kingfish) ceviche with palm hearts, radish and jalapenos.

The “warm dishes” are sultry and sexy and what you’d expect from a Venezuelan-raised chef with a name like Alejandro Franco Lancini, who’s created idiosyncratic South American street food with Asian accents (a reminder of Barcelona’s Pakta where Kyoko Ii, Jorge Muñoz and Albert Adrià choreograph a dance of Peruvian and Japanese flavours). The tomato-braised back angus beef shortribs comes with chimichurri and black turtle beans and is the dish you’d walk over hot coals for. As is an eight-hour slow cooked pork tossed in sesame, miso and citrus dressing.

There are wild Port Lincoln mussels in coconut curry waiting in the wings for the seafarers.


Wild Port Lincoln mussels in coconut curry.

Side dishes? Yotam Ottolenghi eat your heart out! Order these: Ensalada de Broccoli y Faro – broccoli, farro, Tuscan cabbage, caramelised walnuts and fetta with a red wine vinaigrette; and Ensalada de Repollo – a red cabbage, black rice, shaved Brussels sprouts and edamame soiree.

But don’t leave yet. Churros to dip in honeyed chocolate sauce are the wings of song.

Chef off-duty? Alejandro is itching to try his mate and head chef Phil Davenport’s new venue Mentmore & Morley in Rosebery; rates Mille Vini in Surry Hills for wine and cocktails, and nominates Seans Panaroma in Bondi and Movida Bar de Tapas in Surry Hills as his regulars.  

Woollahra hotel reboot

It’s been a tradies’ pub and a Champagne bar. And now Woollahra’s Phoenix Hotel has settled for the middle ground, opening its doors recently after a refit as a Mediterranean-style meeting place.

Brothers Alex and William Cooney (with younger brother Andrew advising on the mixology side of things) have nodded to their Greek heritage (their grandparents hailed from the island of Kastellorizo in the Aegean Sea), with a Mediterranean menu focused on shared plates from $13 to $18 that include chorizo you’d cross town for, haloumi with ouzo-soaked figs, saganaki prawns, lamb keftedes, and a signature crab angel hair.

Wines are mostly from  New South Wales (with some Greek offerings by the bottle or glass); there’s a good cocktail list, several bottled craft beers and half a dozen on tap including Yulli’s Fat Nerd Porter.

One of the decor features in the dining room section at the rear (with comfortable lounge and “fire”) is a wall of pressed wool, wood and resin tiles, in Mediterranean hues. Any raucousness is softened by acoustic felt “clouds”. And in a nod to the Great Anxiety of Our Times: a mobile device with a flagging battery, the bar seating and most tables offer a charging port.

The new owners see it as a locals haunt. Indeed, Phoenix has an egalitarian ambience that should see it hit that mark.

Petrol: 9 Springfield Avenue, Potts Point; 9331 5048; Dragoncello: 466 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, 8399 0907;  Luis Tans: 15/178 Campbell Parade, Bondi (the thoroughfare beside The Bondi Hotel), 8021 8891; the Phoenix Hotel: 1 Moncur Street, Woollahra, 9363 2608.

Related articles: Regatta restaurant; Centennial hotel; Manta gets a makeover


Your turn: Any new Sydney dining discoveries?


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

'sydney under the radar | restaurants locals love | new tables' have 2 comments

  1. August 13, 2015 @ 4:57 pm Maddi

    You’ve definitely convinced me to try Luis Tans this weekend.
    As for a dining tip, it’s not brand new but I recently discovered (and fell immediately in love with) the dinner service at Two Chaps in Marrickville. The best fresh pasta I’ve had in ages!


  2. October 16, 2015 @ 11:47 am @chatsbury

    Another under the radar experience is lunch at Ester in Chippendale. Understated, this place always astounds me with their elegant combinations that see so simple but always surprise as they explode with taste. The cauliflower is a work of art, singed as seems to be the wont here, with almond cream and mint. The carrots similarly make you want to be a vegetarian. But not for long as the bone marrow is to die for, and the kingfish with kingfish emulsion, burnt nori and grilled orange just redefines fresh food. A perfect wine list meals with such intelligence.

    Oysters are roasted in the oven with horseradish emulsion. Died and gone to heaven. Gourmet Traveller magazine has shared this recipe and others for fans of Ester.

    What I like is you are never moved along, with the service continuing to make you welcome, with staff ensuring five minutes they have discreetly checked on your needs.

    Being in creative hipster Chippendale, the crowd is young with packs of well dressed hipster boys eating in packs, but oh with such good manners.

    On the Frank Moorhouse scale this would be a ????? if only they made martinis.


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