Run by husband and wife team Luiza and Marcello, Justine Grill sits unexpectedly on a leafy corner of Hunters Hill. Exposed brick, white paint and dark wood fit out a cosy, modern interior that feels a bit like a rural gastropub. To start, Crispy Quail ($25) is too tempting to go past, and sufficiently moreish to result in unbecoming bone-gnawing.
When I arrived at Gelatony, Antonino Lo Iacono was making gelato. This might not sound surprising, but with so many places buying in product or importing the base, it’s important. When we sit down over a Flat White ($3.50) he brings me the smoothest gelato I’ve ever tasted.
“John Laws had lunch at Otto today,” my UberX driver informs me when he sees my destination. I’m apparently his second trip to this famous waterfront spot - operated by The Fink Group, who also have Quay, The Bridge Room and Firedoor in their stable. With its reputation preceding it, I was surprised to find an accessible menu of every-day food, starting with vibrantly green asparagus, broad beans and peas hiding Buffalo Ricotta ($27).
The Two Wolves: Community Cantina
At The Two Wolves: Community Cantina, the décor tells a worldly story: the ceiling boasts strings of flags and hanging plants, and the walls are festooned with action shots of volunteers and religious paraphernalia. The purpose here is to sell food and drink to raise money for The Cardoner Project, a Jesuit and Catholic youth network that sends volunteers all over the world to help out communities in need.
Entering Sydney's latest fine dining hotspot made me feel more like James Bond than a food writer. Buzzing through the entrance, we're ushered through a passageway of the fully restored yet still antiquated Old Clare Hotel, and placed in an elevator bound for the floors above.
Our understated country waitress is effortlessly beautiful. She gestures casually out one window to show where the 2014 Logan Sauvignon Blanc ($12/glass) comes from, then the other to indicate the origins of the Pressed Duck ($36) with lentils and heirloom carrots.
Diving into an established all-male Italian kitchen as the new head chef could be daunting (especially as a half-English, half-Welsh woman) but Naomi Lowry has taken it in her stride. She’s maintained the menu’s confident Southern Italian focus, notching it up with Sardinian Fregola ($27/$35) resplendent with perfectly cooked cuttlefish, calamari, prawns and mussels, and topped with a generous helping of bottarga.
La Puerta Latino Flavours
Taking someone who has just arrived back from Peru to a South American restaurant is a double-edged sword. They’re full of helpful advice, but they’re also a little, well, full of it. Luckily La Puerta’s Colombian owner Catherine Espinosa was there to step in: “We’ve taken our favourite dishes from the whole of South America and adapted them to the Australian palate.”
Bar Fly: Blu Bar
As the lift zoomed up to Level 36 of the swanky Shangri-la and I set foot into the New York-inspired Blu Bar, I was greeted by the image of the man who designed the 2014 official Oscars cocktail giving a fellow bartender a bollocking over a mishap with a whipped cream canister.
Capriccio Osteria & Bar
“It’s like meat butter,” my dining companion exclaims, gesturing with half a two-bite Cannolo alla Mortadella ($4/each) in her hand. It’s crude, but apt: the balsamic cannoli come rolled in pistachio and filled with imported Italian mortadella that has been fashioned into pâté.