After my five day trip through Australia's Yarra Valley, I had a few days to spend in Sydney—a city I was interested in exploring, yet had no real connection to previously. Since I was old enough to drink, I've longed for the romanticism of Rome, the posh sensibility of Paris, and the tumult of Tokyo's nightlife, but I don't think there was even a small part of me that longed for the sights of Sydney. Frankly, I didn't know much about it and I didn't know what I would do if I were to ever get there. However, after a few days and nights of non-stop eating, drinking, walking, and snapshotting, I've really come to love Sydney. There's a completeness here; there's nothing lacking. You can do it all: swim, hike, shop, and eat—all in one place! Not only would I recommend spending a few days in Sydney on your way back from the Yarra, I'd advocate for Sydney as an international destination worthy of all our attention. In many ways it combines the best parts of Seattle, San Francisco, Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Miami all into one easy-to-navigate destination. And the food! Oh, the delicious food. Let me show you a few hot spots.
After a boat ride around the harbor, I'd suggest stopping at Bennelong near the Opera House, a spectacularly visual dining experience with some of the freshest seafood in Australia. We don't typically think of Sydney as a seafood destination, but as a few people mentioned to me during my stay, much of the produce that's brought back to Japan is harvested from just north of Queensland.
I went all in for the scallops as well as a steamed cod, which paired beautifully with the extensive and interesting wine list. We tried to order only Australian wines at every meal and, as we all know, the country has a number of delicate and fish-friendly rieslings, chardonnays, and lighter sauvignon blancs. I'd go back here again in a heartbeat.
For drinks in the evening, I'd suggest starting at the Baxter Inn: a fantastic cocktail with an extensive Scotch whisky list (posted behind the counter) and a secret entrance that you'd never find on your own. Make sure you ask a local to help you find the door. If you don't like whisky, there are plenty of gin-based options!
For dinner, walk a few blocks over to Hubert, a French-themed brasserie owned by the same group that does the Baxter Inn. While the food is fantastic, it's really about the atmosphere at Hubert. There's a large dining hall with a stage and live jazz music, along with beautiful decor, an attentive waitstaff, and another well-curated wine list. I felt transported to another time while eating there and now I'm itching to go back.
The real secret of Sydney, I've discovered, is the upstairs food court at the Westfield mall downtown; a spot that has a number of serious Asian-themed destinations in a city with a large Asian population due to its proximity. Dai Tin Fung was one of the first places I ate during my stay in Taiwan a few years back and I was shocked to find an outlet here. I ate there three times during my stay in Sydney, each time going back for different dumplings and cold beer.
There's also an Ippudo here, which was a lifesaver yesterday when all I really wanted was a bowl of spicy ramen and tall glass of Asahi. You can sit at the bar and watch the shoppers scatter while slurping up your noodles. While I know I'm in the minority with the wine crowd, I love malls. This was a win-win for me.
My favorite little gem, however, is Frankie's Pizza: an underground, super-divey, CBGB-like, rock n' roll haven that dishes out cocktails and cold beers with by-the-slice options and one of the most eclectic crowds I've ever seen in one establishment. I would probably be there every night if I lived in Sydney, playing pinball at the back with the bikers and grabbing slices from the rowdy boys manning the oven.
There's a lot to do in Sydney and the food culture offers more than enough interest and diversity. I'd put it on your short list of international destinations, especially if you love the bustle of a big city.