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. 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. As for the wine list, it may be short, but who really cares when they offer BYO? Corkage is $8pp.
Vacanza in the Hills, 414 Bourke St, Surry Hills, Open Mon – Sun, 5:30pm to late for dinner & Fri – Sun 12 -3pm for lunch
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 dishes like blue swimmer crab dumplings (genius), caramelized slow-cooked pork (melts in your mouth) and 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. Corkage is $1pp.
Phamish Vietnamese Cafe, 248 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW, 9357 2688, Open: Tues – Wed, Sat : 6-9:30pm, Thurs- Fri: 12-2pm, 6-9:30pm, Sun: 5:30pm – 9:30pm. Closed Mon
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 the 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 (wine only) as the perfect sidekick to your south east Asian tastebud tour.
Blue Ginger, 241 Darling St, Balmain, 02 9818 4662, Open: Tues- Sun 6pm- 11pm.
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 a $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). It’s from there that you’ll quickly be lured towards the pasta menu. I order the spaghetti all vongole ($26) every. single. time. 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.
Il Baretto, 496 Bourke St, Surry Hills, Sydney 2010, (02) 9361 6163, Open: Tues- Sun for lunch 12pm- 3pm, and dinner 6pm- 10pm.
I stand by my theory that some of the best places are hidden behind unassuming garage doors. Enter Two Chaps in Marrickville. Housed inside an industrial style garage, by day 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, Friday and Saturday 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.
Two Chaps, 122 Chapel Street, Marrickville, Open: Tues: 7–3, Wed: 7–3, Thurs: 7–3 & 6–10, Fri: 7–3 & 6–10, Sat: 8–3 & 6-10, 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!
Spice Alley, 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)
Siobhan’s Favourite: The Sultan’s Table, Enmore
These BYO restaurant’s didn’t quite make it onto our contributor’s guide, but are nonetheless certainly worthy of inclusion.
Chinese Noodle Restaurant
Those in the know will tell you, ‘look for the vines!’. Chinese Noodle Restaurant situated in the heart of hungry-student land in Haymarket is renowned for its eclectic interior, and not to mention their handmade dumplings, stir fries, noodle dishes, all of which are hand made to order. What might be lacking in customer service is completely made up for in the delicious menu, teamed with the option of BYO and no corkage fee.
Chinese Noodle Restaurant, Shop 7, 8 Quay St, Haymarket, 2000
You’ve probably seen the long line snaking outside the Haymarket eatery. It comes with good reason, with Mamak dishing up mouth watering and affordable authentic Malaysian cuisine. On the menu you’ll find everything from roti to aromatic curries, satay and stir-fried noodles. The cherry on the metaphorical cake is the fact you can BYO, with no corkage fee.
Mamak, 15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket, Sydney, (02) 9211 1668, Open: Mon- Fri lunch 11:30am- 2:30pm, Sat& Sun dinner 5:30pm- 10pm & supper until 2am.
You can also find Mamak in Chatswood.
Fatima’s Lebanese Restaurant goes back to delicious basics, with hummus (arguably some of the best in Sydney), kafta, lady fingers, cabbage rolls, vine leaves and more. Make sure you come hungry, as dishes are generously portioned as well as very affordable. Bring along your favourite bottle, and relish in no corkage fees!
Fatima’s Lebanese Restaurant, 294 – 296 Cleveland St, Surry Hills
Spice I Am, Surry Hills
This Surry Hills institution is well known for its spice laden and aromatic Thai menu. With BYO and no corkage fee, team your favourite tipple with crispy pork belly, Massaman curry, pad thai…this list goes on. It’s important to keep in mind though that they don’t take reservations, so make sure you plan ahead to avoid waiting too long for a table.
Spice I Am, 90 Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills NSW, Open Tues- Sun lunch 11:30am – 3:30pm & Dinner 5:00pm – 10:00pm.
While you might typically associate BYO with cheap and cheerful restaurants, Otto in Woolloomooloo is proving that you can bring your favourite vino along to a fine dining restaurant. Groups of 8 people or more are able to opt for the super luxe BYO group share menu. Served family style in the centre of the table, the menu is $95pp including BYO and service charge. Only wine and champagne allowed. Note: only available until June 2019!
Otto, Area 8, 6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo 2000, 02 9368 7488, Open: Mon- Sun 12pm- 10pm