Our Eat Drink Play contributors reveal their favourite BYO restaurants.
What makes a restaurant great? It’s character, certainly. A cracker food offering, absolutely. A BYO licence? Now that offers a certain allure very few can resist. The beauty is, it doesn’t matter if you’re blowing the dust of a special vintage or grabbing a cleanskin off the shelf of the closest bottle shop. BYO accommodates budgets both big and small. Always on the search for a culinary gem, we asked the people who eat, drink and play the most – our Eat Drink Play contributors – to reveal their favourite BYO restaurants.
Ms Darlinghurst: Favourite: Vacanza Pizzeria, Surry Hills
“Changes and modifications are politely declined unless it’s a matter of life and death”. This is what you’ll find on Vacanza Pizzeria’s website and it kind of sums them up to a tee. This authentic Italian restaurant is buzzing every night of the week, often with queues out the door. Firmly positioned on the corner of Fitzroy and Bourke St it’s part of the pulsing heart of the Surry Hills restaurant scene. Their menu is simple with focaccia, antipasti, a buffalo mozzarella bar and salad. The main attraction is the pizza though. I usually start with some share style dishes from the mozzarella bar. I love a good caprese salad ($17) or simply ordering some fresh burrata ($14.50 for 125gm). Then it’s on to the pizza and without fail I always order the Il Capitano $23.90. A thin, crispy base is topped with San Marzano tomatoes, Italian fior di latte, truffle oil, goats cheese, Swiss roasted mushrooms and Italian pork and fennel sausage. Just writing about it makes me hungry. Vacanza don’t make changes to the food because they don’t need to. The staff are as authentically Italian as their food and you have full view of the pizza bases spinning in the air as they prepare your pizza. They have a short wine list to purchase from but also offer BYO. Hooray. Corkage is $3pp.
Vacanza in the Hills
414 Bourke St, Surry Hills, NSW 2010, Australia
Open Mon – Sun, 5:30pm to late for dinner & Fri – Sun 12 -3pm for lunch
Vacanza also have a restaurant in Bronte!
Emilie’s Favourite: Phamish Vietnamese Cafe, Darlinghurst
What could be better than sitting out in the open air, glass of your favourite wine in hand, and enjoying the sights, sounds and smells from the buzzing courtyard that is 248 Palmer Street? In this courtyard, nestled amongst Lucio’s Pizzeria, Kindness Café and Rosan Japanese Cuisine, sits Phamish Vietnamese Café. This is Vietnamese at Sydney’s best, serving top-notch, mouthwatering dishes like blue swimmer crab dumplings (genius), caramelized slow-cooked pork (melts in your mouth) or their unconventional beef ragu, an homage to the French colonial history of Vietnam. They also offer a few lighter options like rice paper rolls and tasty papaya salads. You won’t find any pho here, but they more than make up for it, with many tasty options of stir-fries, curries, noodle and rice dishes. For your wine, we recommend a dry sauvignon blanc or perhaps even a rosé, because let’s face it – we love a bit of rosé in Sydney! Corkage is $1pp.
Phamish Vietnamese Cafe
248 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW
02) 9357 2688
Open: Tues – Wed, Sat : 6-9:30pm, Thurs- Fri: 12-2pm, 6-9:30pm, Sun: 5:30pm – 9:30pm. Closed Mon
Chantelle’s Favourite: Fatman’s Café & BYO Bar, Darlinghurst
I love the opportunity to enjoy my cheap as chips Cleanskin shiraz at a fancy restaurant. Who doesn’t? But I also love a good novelty. That’s why my favourite BYO restaurant is Fatman’s Café & BYO Bar. You may be equally puzzled and excited when perusing the cocktail menu. $5 for a margarita? Have we been transported to the Mexican beachside? Not exactly but considering the chilled and friendly vibe at the bar, you’re not far off. Fatmans Café & BYO bar have revolutionised the whole concept of BYO, asking you to bring the spirit so they can whip up the cocktail. It is a faultless Friday night hang for the gang (especially if you’re on a budget – just head to the local bottle-o, grab yourself a bottle of Mishka Vodka and presto, watch as Fatman’s barmen turn that unpalatable liquor into a refreshing Caipiroska).
Let’s not forget about the very reasonably priced meals like their finger lickin’ good buffalo wings. Fatman’s is also a café, offering all day brekky plus lunchtime treats like burgers and salads. I haven’t tried it yet but maybe bring a bottle of Champagne along with you for some Saturday brunch mimosas? I can’t think of a better beverage to enjoy alongside Fatman’s incredibly decadent Nutella pancakes.
Fatman’s Cafe & BYO Bar, Darlinghurst
3/256 Crown St, Darlinghurst
Will’s Favourite: Kepos Street Kitchen, Redfern
Tucked away in suburban Redfern lingers Kepos Street Kitchen. A Middle Eastern café with a hint of Mediterranean spice. Serving up its renowned fusion food from breakfast until dinner, the refurbished corner store is a favourite for those from near and far. But don’t miss out on the dinner menu! Before you can even think about your main meal, entrees of brasserie sourdough with dukkha, dates smothered in goat’s cheese and homemade hummus will transport you to the sands of the Middle East. Then it is time for the decadent main event! Fish kefta, kingfish, duck bastilla, 100-day aged sirloin; take your pick from the scrumptious list of mains. Your stomach will not regret your decision to top off your Mediterranean evening with a platter of churros. If choosing a drink for the evening sounds a bit overwhelming, then never fear! This open kitchen gives you the chance pop open your own bottle of wine for the price of $8 per person.
Kepos Street Kitchen
96 Kepos Street, Redfern
9319 3919, Dinner available Wednesday to Saturday 6pm-10pm
Hannah’s Favourite: Blue Ginger, Balmain
Not much has changed since I first entered the great red entrance door of Blue Ginger seven years ago. The interior, the menu and the vibe remain the same and thank god for that! Each meal at this South East Asian restaurant is enticingly sultry in flavour. It is home to my favourite meal of all time – the fried eggplant stuffed with prawns and pork served with garlic soy sauce ($16). Another noteworthy meal from this Balmain culinary beauty is the thrice cooked crispy skin chicken Maryland ($29). Doused in a chilli, basil, black vinegar dressing, this blue ginger favourite shines with perfect and powerful simplicity. Now, despite the impressive wine list at Blue Ginger, they understand the wino’s plight. For a $4 corkage fee, you can BYO your own bottle of wine as the perfect sidekick to your south east Asian tastebud tour.
241 Darling St, Balmain
02 9818 4662
Lauren’s Favourite: Il Baretto, Surry Hills
Maybe it’s the menu written on butchers paper. Or the tight interior. Or even the dog-friendly pub across the road. Whatever the reason, I love this place. Situated on the corner of Bourke Street, this Surry Hills darling epitomises the unpretentious Italian dining experience. I can’t lie though, part of the attraction does lie in its BYO licence with $3 corkage fee. Bring along a bottle of your favourite red and they’ll pour it into small water glasses for you. For the full Italian experience, start your night with an Italian staple, the bruschetta al Pomodoro ($7). Carefully layered on sourdough toast are freshly sliced tomatoes this comes with lashings of luxurious olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh basil sprigs. It’s from there that you’ll quickly be lured towards the pasta menu. I order the spaghetti all vongole ($26) every. single. time. This dish, like every other at Il Baretto, incorporates the Italian ethos of seasonality and simplicity. You’ll be excused for otherwise opting for the Pappardelle with Duck Ragu ($27). It’s Il Baretto’s signature dish. Make sure you come with paper notes- Il Baretto is cash only. With a belly full of pasta and wine, keep in mind Messina is a short 5 minute walk up the road.
496 Bourke St, Surry Hills, Sydney 2010, (02) 9361 6163
I stand by my theory that some of the best places are hidden behind unassuming garage doors. Enter Two Chaps in Marrickville. If I hear you asking ‘isn’t Two Chaps just a café?’ – Have patience my friend, it’s so much more than that. Housed inside an industrial style garage, this joint offers artisan breads, house roasted coffee, locally sourced organic produce which is served straight from the kitchen to your table. Now for the twist… Every Thursday and Friday night Two Chaps keeps its doors open until 10pm to host a legendary homemade pasta and vegetarian dinner. Trust me, this seasonal menu will make you drool (ravioli filled with buffalo ricotta and burnt sage butter for $25). You can order the set menu for $55 per person with free corkage or dine a la carte with corkage at $4 per person. Owners Richie Maxfield and Piero Pignatti Morano have done a fine job with the atmospherics at Two Chaps – A warm and rustic venue with friendly service and good music. Come here with a group of your nearest and dearest and stay until they pull down the garage door.
122 Chapel Street, Marrickville
Open: Tues: 7–3, Wed: 7–3, Thurs: 7–3 & 6–10, Fri: 7–3 & 6–10, Sat: 8–3 & Sun: 8–3.
Iselin’s Favourite: Time for Thai, Newtown
Sanjana’s Favourite: Rossopomodoro, Balmain
Olivia’s Favourite: The Spice Alley, Kensington Street
My favourite BYO restaurant in Sydney isn’t just a restaurant; it’s a whole alley! Spice Alley in Kensington Street to be exact. With a multitude of flavours to indulge in, it’s the perfect place to grab a couple of dishes and a bottle of wine to crack open with friends. From Vietnamese to Malaysian and Thai, my few favourite picks are the succulent BBQ Pork Buns from Hong Kong Diner, and the spicy satay chicken skewers from Alex Lee Kitchen. With no corkage fee, you’ll have a little left over to indulge in some dessert, which calls for some of the delicacies at KOI dessert bar just down the road. Pro tip: The Handpicked Wine cellar door is just down the road. Pop in for a tasting before dinner and grab a bottle to go!
18-20 Kensington Street, Chippendale
02 9281 0822
Open Sun – Wed 11:00am – 10:00pm (last orders 9:30pm), Thurs – Sat 11:00am – 10:30pm (last orders 10:00pm)