If you’re looking for a top-notch Italian restaurant where the food is traditional and authentic, then Sydney has plenty of options for you. From Walsh Bay to Bridge Street and back, here are three of the best.
Popolo, Rushcutters Bay
You’re in a quiet, residential street, somewhere between the leafy Paddington border and the luxury car dealerships of New South Head Road. Tucked behind a tree-lined courtyard is Popolo, where Sydneysiders come to experience the flavoursome food and warm service of southern Italy. You certainly feel welcomed when you step through the glass-fronted doors and are greeted by Basilicata-born owner Flavio Carnevale. With an exclamation of delight and a few generous hand gestures, he whisks you and your date past the packed bar to your corner table.
The place has a muted elegance, with its exposed brick walls, glowing semi-circle bar, and dark wooden tables. But there’s also a hominess, with Flavio and the rest of the charming staff fussing over you like you’re long-lost family. Like in any good Italian home, there’s no chance of going hungry here. A bowl of rosemary-scented olives and a thin-crusted pizzetta appears with your bottle of fine Ischia wine—and the regional delicacies roll on with perfect timing from there. Creamy burrata with figs and candied walnuts, a plate of perfectly-crisped Yamba whitebait, fregola pasta with beetroot and broccolini, and a squid ink tagliatelle that could have been made in a village on the edge of the Tyrrhenian Sea all catch your eye on the menu.
Everything is fresh, exquisite, and bursting with flavour. Flavio pops back to check on you, tops up your wine, and tells you about his years working in restaurants in Italy, Barcelona, and Sydney. You all agree that it simply wouldn’t be right to leave without trying a magical dark chocolate ganache with cherries and sea salt. It’s la dolce vita in every bite.
Cafe Sopra, Walsh Bay
The Sydney Theatre Company is right here, and the Sydney Dance Company is across the street, so you have your hot tickets in hand when you take your seat outside this sprawling, lively Italian eatery. You can’t make reservations at Cafe Sopra, so it was a stroke of luck that you scored this table so quickly. It’s early evening and the weather is ridiculously perfect, so you order an Aperol spritz before heading indoors to inspect the blackboard menu.
First, sidle down some aisles of freshly picked fruit and veggies. Cafe Sopra is the dining arm of the gourmet Italian grocer Fratelli Fresh, so you can always pick up some excellent olive oil while you wait for a table. But no time for groceries now; you have a show to get to, and some stuffed zucchini flowers and duck and wild mushroom ragu to eat. It arrives speedily (the kitchen is used to pre-theatre service), which means you can slow down and savour every delicious bite.
There are four Cafe Sopras around the city, each with a distinctive style. Next time? Perhaps a casually chic lunch in Potts Point, or a dinner alongside corporate high-flyers in the cavernous, underground Sopra on Bridge Street in the CBD. For now, you’re happy at this exceptional, no-fuss Italian restaurant in Walsh Bay.
Vini, Surry Hills
There’s a line outside for a reason. This bustling little enoteca has an immense, all-Italian wine list and a creative, ever-changing menu that takes you all across Italy, so you’re happy to wait at Vini. It gives you time to mentally feast on every dish on the menu and check out the hip Surry Hills diners. You’re not leaving without experiencing the Vini stalwart—a fixed-price regional dinner, with four courses and wine.
It’s hard not to enjoy simple, heavenly Italian food when you’re elbow-to-elbow with local foodies and have the attention of a charming and knowledgeable waiter. Your menu this evening features rustic food from Campania: a smoked eggplant tagliatelle, fried trout, and some simmering mussels, all teamed with a couple of knockout glasses of busty red Taurasi. You’ll join the line for a table at this charming Italian restaurant any day.