Sydney’s Late-Night Dining Scene Is Finally Stepping It Up

sydney late night dining

I remember an American friend visiting me in Sydney in 2019 asking, “So, where should we have dinner?”. It was 9:30pm on a Friday, and we were at my home in Bondi.

“I think most venue kitchens will be closed,” I said. We called a few restaurants to check. I was right – their kitchens had all closed at 9pm. Of course, there were kebab takeaway shops, Macca’s and a pizza spot serving greasy slices, but we were after a sit-down restaurant. With food that could at least be considered healthy-ish.

Since then, that’s slowly changed. While most Bondi restaurant kitchens still shut at 9pm, in other parts of Sydney, they’re closing later. Venues at the Ivy precinct on George Street, Jimmy’s Falafel, Bar Totti’s and MuMu, are open until 2am for dining from Thursdays to Saturdays.

The NSW government created late-night trading areas in the city’s York, Clarence and Kent street precinct, Enmore Road and Lakemba, reported Sydney Morning Herald in 2023. Burwood Chinatown and Wigram Street in Harris Park also offer late-night dining.

sydney late night dining
Image: The Waratah

In March this year, Bar Conte, a 38-seat venue in Surry Hills, extended its dining hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to last order at 11:15pm.

The venue’s owner Raffaele Lombari says this rise in late-night dining options will help to put Sydney back on the map as one of the most vibrant cities in the world – a position it held when Lombari first moved to Sydney from Italy over a decade ago.

“The past decade, the Sydney nightlife, including dining and international-level drinking spots, has been terrible,” he says. “To me, it almost felt like a police state environment.”

With Bar Conte, Lombari wanted to bring the Italian culture of late-night dinners to Sydney. Chady Khouzame, owner of Lebanese restaurant Zaffi, which opened in the CBD in March 2023, had a similar vision.

“We have been trying to bring the overseas culture of going out late to Sydney,” Khouzame says. “Our kitchen is open until the early hours of the morning.”

sydney late night dining
Image: Bar Conte

The number of diners coming to Zaffi after 10pm has steadily built since its opening. On Fridays and Saturdays, after dinner is cleared, DJs play, and guests dance on tables and chairs.

A rise in late-night diners isn’t the case at The Waratah, which opened in Darlinghurst in December 2023. Though the kitchen is open until midnight, the main dinner trade dies off around 10pm. Evan Stroeve, co-founder of The Waratah, says this won’t be a case of a few venues in Sydney serving food late-night and the city suddenly becoming a metropolis.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think we have the transport systems, legislative framework or a major demand for it from a consumer perspective,” Stroeve says. “There needs to be major infrastructural and governmental changes if we’re even going to begin creating a late-night economy. Lockout laws decimated the city, and we’re yet to recover.”

Stroeve says venues shutting their kitchen at 9pm aren’t doing so out of naivety or failure to see a golden opportunity. They’re simply shutting because no one’s eating in them. Not to mention, owners then have to pay their staff penalty rates.

Khouzame thinks the lack of customers is partly because Sydneysiders aren’t aware more venues are now trading late night — which needs to change.

“Lockout laws are done,” he says. “We have some of the most amazing venues around Sydney. The city is doing what it can be to push the late-night economy, but now we need the people to fill our venues.”

Related: Get a Taste of Terrigal With These Tips From a Local

Related: We Found the Perfect NSW Holiday House For a Group Stay

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.