What makes a top restaurant? Some judge by the food alone. Sure that's important. While all of our best Sydney restaurant picks offer sublime food that is not only tasty but also innovative and demonstrates the unique hand of the Chef, we looked for more; we looked beyond food and even traditional at table service. We scored the restaurants, for the phone attitude from the moment they took our anonymous bookings (which required the ability to be even able to make a booking), and from the minute we arrived at their door until the moment we hit the footpath after dinner. We looked at room layout, table spacing, ambient (no music or appropriate music) noise, the timing between courses, the moments left unattended, unnecessary interruptions (like a question from a waiter while we were eating) plus those little extras in service that showed our individual tastes were understood.
A list of five is perhaps too small for contemporary Sydney high end dining. And, we applaud new restaurants LuMi Bar & Dining for its very fine food, warm service and good value, ACME and Guillaume also for culinary excellence, Sydney bars 10 William Street, Monopole and Dragoncello for incredible food, upgrades to even higher excellence during 2014 at Sydney restaurants Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, Café Paci, Bentley and Ormeggio.
All worthy of a best restaurants mention, but here's our final five:
Executive Chef Phil Wood is an under-rated food hero. The polite, humble and quietly spoken chef, has led the kitchen and cuisine at Rockpool for the past five years. In that time, he has developed, with restaurateur Neil Perry, a unique culinary style that truly showcases contemporary Sydney, combining European (leaning to classic French) and Asian cookery techniques, with Asian (mostly Chinese but more lately stretching into Korean) and European flavours. And while we find his food in itself worthy of the best Sydney restaurants list, we're also totally enamoured with the consistent and faultless service - that bridges knowledge and exacting detail with warmth - as well as the beautiful new Bridge Street space, the intimate shape of the room, the spacing of tables, the weight of the damask and silver. When dining at the original Rockpool, all is right with the world.
11 Bridge Street, Sydney +61 2 9252 1888
For a number of years now, Quay has been consistently most highly regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world. And, rightly so. The extraordinary and exquisite food of Chef Peter Gilmore is an expression of an ongoing food philosophy that more than embraces nature. The beautiful dishes are an extension of his understanding of produce, from farm seed saver heritage and a growing room at the restaurant through collaboration with some of the finest artisan producers in the country, and his use of artisan ceramics an extension of the food philosophy - sometimes the plate even comes first in his creative concept. Amazing views to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House may go unnoticed when it's all eyes on this food.
Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks +61 2 9251 5600
Another example of exceptional service, impressive knowledge on the floor, and a nicely sized room supporting the leading edge modern cuisine of the chef. The French Australian food of Chef Mark Best is always innovative. Monochrome plates that use dehyrdration and powders to give us texture and flavour shifts. Seemingly simple combinations that are also shift shapers. Yet, look and taste deeper, and there is a complexity of hand that can only come after mastery of the classics. We all know the saying: you need to know the rules to break the rules. Chef Mark Best is all that. Like all of the restaurants in this best five list, leave you wine choices in the hands of the professionals, the Sommelier.
355 Crown Street, Sydney +61 2 9332 2225
Two rooms with black lacquered tables split by the central Sydney CBD bar entrance. The glossy tables are the perfect foil, for the of-this-moment food of Chef Martin Benn where modern meets traditional. Benn understands his ingredients and seasonality, and cutting through the contemporary his clean aesthetic makes the produce the hero. The food is innovative and unique yet approachable. Heads of the floor staff here offer the most knowledge and better service, with Assistant Sommelier, Benjamin Brown getting our hat tip for best restaurant service of this year. Tip: the bar food at Sepia is - in itself - worth a visit.
201 Sussex Street,Sydney +61 2 9283 1990
With our increased understanding of regional Italian food in Australia, the wonderful menu and terrific Italian wine list of Pilu at Freshwater showcases the region of Sardinia, the birth place of Chef Giovanni Pilu. The marriage of his homeland and his home country of choice replicates the harmonious marriage in his food, which uses the best of local Australian produce with the best imported Italian ingredients. The only Sydney best restaurant in our 2014 list outside the CBD, Pilu at Freshwater is destination dining, worth the trip for the food and the service, and the heart that goes into it, as well as the beautiful beach side location. The Pilu roast suckling pig is famously regarded, but there is so much more it can be hard to decide.
"On the beach", Moore Road, Freshwater +61 2 9938 3331
Five (more) fine Sydney restaurant institutions we couldn't live without:
We haven't had a chance yet to check out the new Billy Kwong - after its late relocation in 2014. And we're also excitedly waiting to see the new incarnation of the Sydney Opera House, Bennelong that 2015 will bring.