There’s a peculiar unspoken rule in Sydney. You are either a denizen of the north or south of the bridge, and you stick to your side — or at least you avoid crossing the bridge at all costs. For a long time, there was no reason to cross the bridge from the south. The restaurants were average at best, and the primary motivation for bridge crossings was to visit Manly Beach or more secluded shores like Balmoral Beach.
However, these days, North Sydney has transformed into its own buzzing CBD, filled with towering office buildings and a slew of restaurants that make the bridge crossing a delectable proposition.
Go on, cross the bridge.
There’s nowhere I’d rather be on a balmy afternoon than sipping a cocktail and ripping open a sourdough pita at Rafi. Whether I’m seated inside surrounded by fresh pastels, marble mosaics, terracotta tiles, and patterned tones of mustard, or perched at a table in the semi-alfresco glass house named The Arbor, which wraps around an outdoor tree-lined terrace, it’s always a good time here. The menu skews Australian, with a Mediterranean influence. All ingredients are touched by fire or simply dressed in ponzu sauce. They believe that simple is best here and let the flavours shine on their own.
The bar menu embraces native Australian ingredients and an enticing selection of wines. The Almost Illegal Seltzer and the Positano Punch are both ideal choices for sipping on a balmy summer day.
From the food menu, a visit to Rafi would be incomplete without tasting the seared kingfish swimming in a pool of tomato ponzu — it has become their signature. The menu is designed to share, which makes it perfect for groups too. The $85 lunch banquet menu is a good place to start if you’re looking for an affordable, long lunch.
Morning, day, or night, Loulou is my go-to when I’m craving the best of France. The Boulangerie is a one-stop shop for pastries, savoury danishes, and ready-to-go meals, including pork and fennel sausage rolls. You can pick up whole tarts before a dinner party or impress your guests with a country terrine for an entree.
Next door is the bistro, open for lunch and dinner. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure with an à la carte menu filled with delicious French classics. However, if I were to recommend some dishes, it would be the John Dory bathed in champagne sauce and the artichokes. Of course, don’t skimp on the bread or the frites. For dessert, the crème caramel is a classic, and the petite madeleines dusted with early grey sugar are like chips—you can’t have just one (or at least you shouldn’t).
There is also a $60pp two-course lunch menu available Monday to Friday for when you can slink away from the office to treat yourself.
Poetica, the newcomer on the culinary scene, is swiftly gaining a reputation as the trendsetter. Bathed in natural light, its dining room boasts four outdoor terraces, making it a perfect choice for a romantic summer evening. On the menu, expect Sydney rock oysters with melted beef fat dripped from a red-hot cast-iron cone, resulting in a delightful combination of nduja and guindilla pepper.
To start your culinary journey, pair the oysters with crispy focaccia di recco while perusing the rest of the menu. In the starters section, the broad bean salad may not initially sound extraordinary, but a single bite will forever banish any notion of broad beans being bland. The scallops with yuzu kosho make for an enticing starter to enliven the taste buds.
When it comes to main courses, the spotlight falls on the grill, whether powered by wood or charcoal. Choose from a range of fire-kissed vegetables, fish, and meats. The sirloin, in particular, deserves a special mention and pairs with a generous bowl of fries dusted with parmesan shavings.
For a sweet conclusion to your Poetica experience, the brown butter cake is the go-to order. It’s sweet and sticky but balanced with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, leaving you content without feeling overindulgent.
There is one thing North Sydney doesn’t have, and that’s a fancy restaurant — the one you book for those special occasions you want to celebrate. Well, that was until Charlotte came along.
Housed in a heritage building, Charlotte transports diners to France, whether it’s the French Riviera on The Terrace or a slice of timeless Parisian elegance in the main dining room.
The menu is helmed by Chef Hiroshi Manaka, who sharpened his culinary expertise in some of Europe’s most renowned Michelin-starred kitchens. Here, he combines his two passions — French and Japanese cuisine — to craft spicy nori tacos stuffed with seafood tartare.
The other section of the menu offers an authentic yet avant-garde approach to French cuisine, with the standout being the ‘Boeuf En Croûte Royal.’ This signature dish harmoniously blends tradition and innovation, requiring a minimum of 24 hours’ advance notice and a group of forks at the ready. Additionally, a tableside-prepared beef tartare with all the trimmings adds to the culinary allure. Among the main dishes, the lobster ravioli crowned with tempura zucchini flowers take centre stage.
The French have long been masters of desserts, and this tradition continues at Charlotte with a dedicated dessert menu. Choices like Paris Brest, rum baba, and mango Charlotte are all worth the indulgence. However, the apple tart stands out for me. Served with a quenelle of apple ice cream, a chocolate garnish, and drizzles of rhubarb coulis, the first bite delivers a symphony of flavours, from sweet apple to buttery, crumbly pastry and the comforting chill of vanilla ice cream.
You probably won’t find this corner gem on any list. It’s a local secret and one I’m willing to spill on. Luho is a fun, modern Asian restaurant serving hawker-style dishes to a casual crowd. Think duck pancakes, prawn wonton tacos (a must), fried chicken wings brushed with a chilli tamarind glaze (also a must), and crab fried rice.
From the curries, you can’t skip the Vietnamese beef stew, a rich, hearty dish best mopped up with roti. In the noodles section, the Luho Mee Goreng is a signature and a crowd-pleaser. Then there’s an entire wok section filled with ginger chicken stir fry, a crispy pork belly stir fry and everyone’s favourite, sweet and sour pork.
The cocktails are loud and funky, summoning a party vibe for every occasion. If you’re looking for something casual and fun, maybe to catch up with some friends without breaking the bank, Luho is the spot.