My Sydney Restaurant Recommendations – China Doll, Longrain, Lotus Dumpling Bar and More

Mar 11, 2014

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I’m doing things a little out of order in my series on my trip to Australia with TPG Managing Editor Eric. So far I’ve covered how I used miles to book my award ticket, my flight from LAX-MEL in United GlobalFirst, Eric’s trip on Virgin Australia, the day I spent wine-tasting out in the Yarra Valley, a Melbourne restaurant review roundup of all the fantastic places we ate, my review of the Westin Melbourne, a review on the Hamiliton Island Reef View Hotel, flying Jetstar to Hamilton Island, and Virgin Australia from Hamilton Island to Sydney, my stay at the Park Hyatt Sydney, and a review of Hawaiian Airlines business class from SYD-HNL. Today I’m stepping back to Sydney with a roundup of some of the restaurants I enjoyed while there, and stay tuned for future posts on activities in Sydney and on Hamilton Island.

After all the scuba diving, helicoptering and sailing on Hamilton Island, I worked up a pretty solid appetite, so I landed in Sydney ready to see what the restaurants had to offer- and they did not disappoint! The first night we met up with some friends in the Wolloomoolo waterfront district at a restaurant they had suggested, China Doll.  Wolloomooloo is more of a cafe/restaurant/nightlife kind of development, so the restaurants are a bit flashier and more on the pricy side and were packed with well-to-do professionals.

The chili salt squid at China doll.
The chili salt squid at China doll.

The waiter told us we could do any number of pre-set options with a specific number of dishes already picked out or that he could choose for us, but we’re started off with one of the signature dishes, the chilli salt squid, which was breaded and fried with sprigs of cilantro on top – pretty much your average calamari dish, and though the squid itself was good, the the breading was greasy and salty, so it wasn’t my favorite.

China Doll rice
Barbecue pork and prawn fried rice.

We also got the barbecue pork and prawn fried rice, which was delicious, as was the penang curry of slow-braised Wagyu beef shin.

China Doll curryWe were hungry, so we got one more main, a pork dish with pineapple, stir fried greens and bell peppers.

China Doll beefWe were off to meet some other friends for a Friday night out, so we skipped dessert and headed out on the town. The meal was nice, but expensive for what it was – it seems like you’re paying for the trendy ambiance as much as the menu items, but it was still a fun first night out in the city.

The following day was a Saturday, and while I was off on the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, Eric enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the Gowings Restaurant at his hotel, the QT Sydney. He started off with hot spanner crab cakes with hot sauce, lemon, aioli and celeriac, which were absolutely delicious – crispy and fried on the outside with the juicy, tender meat inside.

Gowings crabFor his main, he tried the nicoise salad with fresh pieces of seared yellowfin tuna belly, marinated Ortiz and white anchovies, Ligurian olives, fresh green beans, tomato, kipfler potatoes, a quail egg and mustard-seed dressing.

Gowings nicoiseFor dessert, he indulged with the fluffy beignets dusted in sugar.

Gowings donutsThey went perfectly with an afternoon espresso, though he could only manage to finish about one and a half.

We just had a casual dinner that evening at a pub with some friends, and the following day we went out on a harbor cruise so we split up for the evening. At the last minute, I decided to try to get into one of Sydney’s better-known restaurants, Asian-fusion Longrain. I had asked the Park Hyatt Sydney concierge to make a reservation, but Longrain doesn’t take them so we showed up hoping to be sat. Lo and behold, there were open tables so we didn’t have to wait at all, though this was at 8pm on a Sunday night- I imagine it would be a lot more crowded Thursday-Saturday nights.

We started off with caramelised pork, prawns, peanuts, sour pineapple- delicious. ($16)

Longrain pineappleAs well as a green papaya salad, dried shrimp, peanuts ($18)

Longrain vegI continued with the dry red curry with octopus, pork crackle, wild ginger, Thai eggplants and Holy basil that was an absolutely delicious combination of Southeast Asian flavors – it was pretty unique, though the octopus was smoked, which was surprising and it overpowered the dish. Still good, though pretty expensive for what it was. Welcome to Sydney! ($42)

Longrain squidNext up was the grilled Angus beef rib, yellow bean and ginger – it was a bit more well-done than I liked, but still delicious.

Longrain lambMeanwhile, Eric walked to Darlinghurst from his hotel and ate at a casual little Vietnamese restaurant called Phamish where you order inside and then grab a table out on this small patio/plaza area. It’s really convivial and tons of Sydneysiders are regulars. He started off with fried chicken-mushroom spring rolls with sweet-and-sour chilli dipping sauce.

Eric’s meal at Phamish.

Then for his main he got the sesame lamb with garlic-hoisin sauce, fresh tomatoes and cucumber along with a side of rice garnished with fried garlic. It was quick, inexpensive (well, by Sydney standards) and delicious.

The next day I was leaving for Honolulu…but with a long afternoon ahead of me and a red-eye, I wanted to be sure to get in a good lunch, and a friend of mine had recommended a restaurant near the Park Hyatt called Lotus Dumpling Bar. The restaurant was really cute, and packed at lunch, so we got a table on the pavement outside.

Lotus Dumpling Bar was packed.
Lotus Dumpling Bar was packed.

I will say service was pretty slow – it took about 45 minutes to get our first dish – but they took off a couple dishes from the bill to make up for it without our having to ask, which was nice. We got a variety of dim sum, including some xiao long bao pork soup dumplings, and these Jade seafood dumplings with king oyster mushrooms and snow peas in a spinach dough.

Dim sum
Jade seafood dumplings at Lotus.

My favorite was a draw between the pan-fried pork and baby bok choy potstickers and the  prawn and pork won tons in a spicy peanut sauce, both of which were really tasty.

The pot stickers and won tons.
The pot stickers and won tons.

There were also larger dishes on the menu, but we wanted dim sum, so that’s all we ordered, and I think it was the right choice since they were all really delicious. We also got a starter of Peking duck pancakes rolled over carved duck meat with spring onion and cucumber slices with a sweet plum sauce, which was a nice way to start the meal.

I took off for Honolulu that evening, but Eric caught the ferry to Manly, a cute beachy suburb on the north side of the Harbour with a ferry dock on the Harbour side and beaches on the Pacific side. He met some friends for dinner at Hugo’s a hopping restaurant right on the wharf. They started with raw yellowfin tuna with chilli and extra virgin olive oil on warm char-grilled crostini; light Hiramasa kingfish carpaccio with avocado, radish, Avruga caviar garnish and a spicy citrus dressing, and salad with prosciutto, rocket, dates, burrata and balsamic dressing, which was salty and creamy and fresh all at the same time.

Hugos saladThe other starter was a luscious crab-avocado tower topped with a dollop of caviar that was rich but light.

Hugos crab
The crab-avocado starter at Hugo’s.

Hugo’s is known for pizza, so they got one with marinated artichokes, pancetta, spinach, taleggio cheese, chilli and lemon; and another with chilli prawns, tomato, roasted peppers and basil salsa verde on a crispy thin crust.

Hugo's prawn pizza.
Hugo’s prawn pizza.

There was no time for dessert since Eric had to run to catch the ferry back or get stuck out there for another 45 minutes, so with a quick farewell, he paid and dashed to the boat.

The following evening, Eric stopped by a cute little wine bar in Paddington called 10 William that specializes in natural and biodynamic wines, also serves small plates and nibbles, then went for dinner in Surry Hills at The Winery, a lounge/restaurant with a big dining room that’s got all kinds of quirky little decor elements like  and a beautiful outdoor patio/garden that’s a little bit poncey but still fun.

He started with fresh prawns with aioli and lemon, and also ordered a fresh summer heirloom tomato salad with farmhouse cheddar and celery leaf and a meaty veal-chorizo sausage roll that was an upscale take on a classic Australian snack.

Dinner at The Winery.
Dinner at The Winery.

For dessert, he and a friend walked down Crown Street to Gelato Messina, a cute little ice cream parlor that always seems to have a line around the corner and tried some of the signature flavors like blood orange and coconut-mango sorbet, and a creamy milk chocolate chip peanut butter fudge gelato that was pretty amazing.

All in all, it was a delicious end to a great trip, and though Sydney’s not as well known as Melbourne for its food scene, the dining options we got to try were still delicious and fun, and part of the reason I want to get back down there when I can.

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