Australia is a vast country - or continent to be precise - with 36,000 km of coastline and microclimates ranging from steamy and tropical in the north to cool and fresh down south.
When one of the world’s most influential chefs, René Redzepi, crisscrossed the country last year he was blown away by the diversity and deliciousness of everything from deep-water crab to finger lime.
Few people can make the same journey, but in Sydney it’s possible to have a culinary odyssey without leaving the urban environs.
First stop is Sydney Fish Markets, the biggest in the southern hemisphere, where you can buy or just admire the bounty and sign up for classes from the city’s best chefs on how to cook your Balmain bugs, pipis, freshwater crayfish from Queensland or abalone from Tasmania.
Or you can eat freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters while procrastinating.
In recent years produce and farmers markets have proliferated, connecting consumers directly with local fruit and vegetable growers, and introducing many to nativE herbs and spices that may seem new but have been used in indigenous cooking for thousands of years.
At Carriageworks farmers market you can forage for warrigal greens (also known as Botany Bay spinach) and other native goodies. If you want to barbecue like a true blue Aussie the city has numerous butchers selling high quality meat, and then there’s Victor Churchill for the cut above.
Go to Quay restaurant to marvel at how Peter Gilmore can go back to the source and reach the summit.
There’s so much marble and wood panelling in Victor Churchill it looks more like a luxury boutique than a butcher shop. Long-time wholesaler Victor Puharich and his son Anthony spent $2 million refitting the 139-year- old shop, including having sausages cast in copper for the door handles.
They are selling the haute couture of meat - dry-aged, full-blood David Blackmore Wagyu, rare-breed Kurobata pork or dry-aged Rangers Valley 270-day grain-fed Black Angus beef - all of which is otherwise only available in the best restaurants.
Well-informed staff will talk you through ageing, marbling, grain and grass fed.
The terrines, pâtés and rotisserie chicken with duck fat roasted potatoes, lovingly made by house chef Romeo Baudouin, are alone worth a pilgrimage. There are cooking lessons, dinners and an app-TV show called Ask the Butcher, fronted by Anthony, whose idea of the ultimate barbecue is a “couple of T-bones, scotch fillets, sirloins, lamb chops and my favourite sausages from Victor Churchill, of course”. Another Anthony – Bourdain – is such a fan the celebrity chef wants an outpost of “the world’s most beautiful butcher shop” in the international food market he’s planning
for Manhattan’s Pier 57.
Amongst the many pleasures of a Saturday morning at Carriageworks farmers market are the signs showing where in New South Wales each producer hails from.
You can stock up on Pepe Saya’s hand-churned cultured butter, much favoured by some of the city’s top chefs, and Sonoma’s crusty sourdough bread.
There’s also delicious food to eat on the spot like fig and ginger tarts from cult cake maker Flour and Stone, or a farmhouse caramel gelato made from full cream milk at the Pines micro-dairy in Kiama.
The market is held in a heritage blacksmith’s workshop alongside the Carriageworks cultural centre in the historic Eveleigh rail yards – which means there’s a chance to nourish the soul as well as the stomach.
That’s what attracted chef Mike McEnearney to become the market’s creative director after 25 years of cooking. “I don’t know too many places where art and great food meet,” he says.
He wants Carriageworks to become the Sydney equivalent of London’s Borough Market, and to educate consumers that local produce, although bountiful, is seasonal.
One of Australia’s best restaurants in one of Sydney’s best locations – it’s hard to fault Peter Gilmore’s Quay, sitting dockside at Circular Quay with a view of the Sydney Opera House.
Gilmore’s food has a wow factor befitting its location, and a reputation at the summit of high-end dining. Think wild blacklip abalone with smoked pig jowl and fermented shitake mushrooms – an interplay of ingredients emphasising layers of texture and flavours that creates an overall sense of balance.
Underpinning everything on the nine-course tasting menu is a dedication to letting the produce speak for itself. “I’m looking to nature for my inspiration,” says Gilmore, a passionate gardener who worked with small farmers to develop the now-burgeoning interest in heirloom produce.
While Gilmore may be best known for his snow egg meringue dessert, it’s his signature eight- textured chocolate cake with theatrical hot sauce and melting middle that really dazzles his diners.
Having been rewarded with every accolade or star in the Australian culinary firmament for Quay, Gilmore has created more magic across the water under the smallest of the Opera House’s sails.
At Bennelong restaurant his signature is still evident but the food is less fussy and much friendlier on the pocket.
More than just a hotel, the Old Clare is a precinct stretching across two heritage-listed buildings on the old Carlton & United Breweries site that has elevated inner city Chippendale from grungy to groovy.
Sydney has been bereft of beautiful boutique hotels, so the Old Clare is a welcome addition with its 62 rooms of varying sizes and décor from semi-industrial to contemporary loft.
It’s also home to Sam Miller’s Silvereye restaurant, named after a migratory bird, where he channels his British heritage and new Nordic skills.
Clayton Wells’s Automata is the more casual sibling downstairs, with a five-course set menu or bar snacks to accompany Tim Watkins’s spot-on drinks list. In an adjacent building, star Brit chef Jason Atherton has opened his first Antipodean outpost, Kensington Street Social.
On the fourth floor of the hotel is a heated rooftop pool and bar that’s open to all comers, not just hotel guests, and it has a cocktail list courtesy of Kensington complete with frozen Daiquiris, G&Ts and lots of spritzes.
You can work off any over- indulgence with poolside yoga, boxing and personal training sessions.