Probably the busiest part of Sydney, you wouldn’t expect Circular Quay to have bars and restaurants that locals would enjoy. But here are a few places we love to eat and drink at in Sydney.
A perfect tourist trap storm, Circular Quay is the convergent point of two of Australia’s most recognisable icons—the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House—not to mention the main hub for ferries, an important train station and the end of the line for the light rail trams.
Also here are museums, galleries, theatres, access to the Botanic Gardens, the historic Rocks District—so where’s good to eat in Circular Quay?
Or are you destined for a sad playoff between MacDonald’s, Hungry Jacks and Subway?
And what about bars at Circular Quay? Surely you’re not limited to the Ship, or worse the Paragon, where a midi of beer will set you back upwards of $11 and a part of your soul?
Thankfully, like so many touristy spots worldwide, you only have to scratch at Circular Quay’s surface and step back a street or two from the crowds to discover a wonderful array of truly superb options.
Where to eat and drink at Circular Quay
Of course, if you’re looking for something extra-special (and you’ve booked way in advance), the likes of Aria and Cafe Sydney are right here at Circular Quay. But here are dining options that are much easier going on your wallet and patience.
Deux Frères Pintxos and Bar
As if plucked from the cobbled lanes of San Sebastián or Bayonne, Deux Frères Pintxos and Bar offers a true taste of Basque Country. This cosy little venue, with its open kitchen and broad counter displaying goodies on pintxos sticks, serves an array of Basque delicacies.
Tender yet crunchy croquetas of Iberia jamon or house-cured bacalao fish, buttery brioche topped with the likes of foie gras pate or brie and Serrano ham are the perfect snack to start you off.
There are more substantial items on the menu. From the hibachi grill, the cider-glazed coil of chorizo that’s presented on a terracotta pig then set afire with calvados, or the ‘piperade Basque’—a typical spicy tomato-and-capsicum dish from the region—finished with a baked egg in the middle, will fill up the corners and leave you feeling very satisfied.
All the food here pairs perfectly with the dry and slightly fizzy wine of the region Txakoli (“tshako-li”), which has lovely fresh apple notes to it and is poured from a great height from the bottle.
Hinchcliff House—Grana, Lana and Bar Apollonia
Close to Deux Frères, Hinchcliff House has three floors of bars and restaurants (and another for events) each with a different Italian nuance.
At the top, Lana—Italian for ‘wool’—is a beautifully converted wool shed and serves elegant Italian and Asian dishes, less in fusion more in compliment of one another. Seafood alongside classic Italian staples like stracciatella, tagliatelle and ragu make up this experiential menu.
Grana—Italian for ‘grain’ is on the ground floor, where not only does the kitchen make its own bread and pasta, but the mill here grinds specialty heritage grains into its own flour.
Obviously, pasta and bread feature on the menu, but there’s a wealth of traditional and modern Italian dishes on offer too.
Downstairs is Apollonia, Hinchcliff House’s bar. This moody subterranean watering-hole specialises in negronis and other Italian specialties. The bar gets its name from Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone from The Godfather and has all the romance and drama of that iconic cinematic masterpiece—minus the mafia of course.
The Spice Room
For me, of all things to find on the shores of Sydney Harbour, a really good Indian restaurant was the least expected. But this cosy cave-like curry house is easily one of the best in the city.
Featuring many of the classics and a few lesser-known dishes, The Spice Room offers more than just food and drink. Service here is warm and friendly, and the window to the kitchen gives a rare glimpse into an Indian restaurant’s inner workings.
Whisky and cocktail bars
As well as Apollonia, there are some excellent options for a dram or a well-crafted cocktail around Circular Quay.
Bar Messenger, part of the Intercon Hotel, is a magnificent new bar packed with beautiful detail and character. Its elegant ‘20s vibe comes to life with quirky elements like the huge painting that doubles as the secret front door and the glass wall showing off the sandstone cliff the building sits against.
Highlander Whisky Bar—part of the Sir Stamford Hotel on Macquarie Street—has a huge selection of Scotch and whiskies from around the world. Its cosy decor makes you feel like your in a private bar in the Scottish Highlands.
Bar Besuto and its superb omakase restaurant of the same name is squeezed into one of the little laneways of the new eating precinct Sydney Place. Bar Besuto has the biggest range of Japanese whisky in the country, some of them incredibly rare.
For foodcourt style options, Gateway has a multitude of choices from fine-dining Malay-Chinese and steakhouses to crepes to gelaterias. It’s good for a cheeky sandwich or sushi and even has a burger joint.
It’s exciting to see how this tiny section of Sydney has grown so many great places to eat and drink at. And it feels like more are popping up all the time.
What used to be a part of the city you’d avoid, Circular Quay is becoming one of Sydney’s best areas for going out.