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We’re well into 2021 now and it’s definitely been… interesting. Whilst 2020 had a strong “It can’t get any worse than this” mood, it’s difficult to deny the positivity that persists with the ceremonial changing of the date and the explosion of fireworks that lit up our Sydney skyline on New Year’s Day.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic and unrest in several parts of the world, the “new normal” has managed to enable us in several ways, including putting to the fore what truly matters most in our lives: our relationships. Whether it’s relationships with our families, our mates, our partners or our colleagues, we find ourselves blessed to have people who inspire us to fight through the continuing challenges we face, and to have something to hold on to in the midst of such change.
It’s ironic how a virus that requires all of us to express our care by literally distancing ourselves from each other has, in many ways, brought us closer together. Cheesy as it may sound, it’s this love from the people we hold close that gives us the strength to lift even the heaviest of burdens. And so it’s only fitting that, as Valentine’s Day approaches, we take the time to celebrate the different kinds of love we have in our lives.
I understand and believe that it’s far less than prudent to go all out when a pandemic is ravaging the Earth. But an intimate, hearty dinner and a cheerful little toast, when done responsibly, surely can’t hurt. If you’re looking for a great spot this Valentine’s day, be it with a significant other or loved ones you’d like to celebrate with this Day of Hearts, here are some of my favourites:
Level 4, Westfield Sydney
108 Market Street, Sydney
Infinity is a great place for those looking to switch up nights on the sofa with an extraordinary dining experience. Enjoy contemporary Australian cuisine amid stunning views of the city in a revolving restaurant, and find yourself falling in love with Sydney—and possibly your date—all over again.
338 Oxford St, Paddington NSW
(entry on William St)
Il Baretto’s recently opened space in Paddo Inn’s Dining Room may look different from its OG counterpart in Surry Hills, but none of the vibe we love has been lost. Order old Italian favourites like the Slow-Cooked Duck Ragù, reminisce about your best times together, and remind yourselves why classics never go out of style.
5th Floor, Customs House
31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay
The iconic rooftop view from Customs House punctuates the Cafe Sydney experience, but its menu and service sets this dining destination apart from the rest. Their wine and cocktail lists are the cherries on top of their already extensive a la carte, plant-based and dessert menus, giving you all the options you need to make your date memorable.
44 Macleay Street, Potts Point
Sharing is caring, and this modern Greek restaurant follows the historical traditions of its parent cuisine with tasty, sizable portions. Ranked one of the best restaurants in the world in 2017, their set menu for Valentine’s Day is aptly named ‘Aphrodite’s Feast,’ serving up both beloved and romantic Greek specials to warm your loved ones’ hearts and bellies.
15 Bligh Street, Sydney
Opulent interiors, French cuisine, classic cocktails and smooth jazz. What more could you ask for? This restaurant takes you back in time with grand, old-world charm—a welcome departure from the hustle and bustle of the everyday. Savour the intimate lighting and sublime fare, and say oui to another glass of wine.
270 Campbell Parade, Bondi
A pioneer since 1993, Sean’s Panaroma calls itself a “salty jewel” for its gorgeous farm-to-table dining set by the sea. Picture it: the freshest seafood, the most idyllic view, and a gentle, wafting sea breeze running through as you enjoy your meal with those you love most. (I’m surprised you aren’t already in your car with the engine running.)
161 King Street, Sydney
Anyone can have a steak on Valentine’s Day, but The Gidley offers you both a Riverine Black Angus rib eye and a full dining experience. Take a swig of their deconstructed martini, which you have the option to garnish with the classic green olive, a lemon twist or some cocktail onions to make it a Gibson. Located underground, the atmosphere is dark and playful, and best enjoyed with someone with a sense of adventure.
17-19 Alberta Street, Sydney
Keep it warm and low-key with Alberto’s, with its laid back atmosphere and delightful Australian-Italian fare. Enjoy a refreshing prosciutto con melone or a lovely burrata with fresh figs and fig leaf oil, and savour the fact that good food, good wine, and great company are always the ticket, no matter the occasion.
Shop 3 2-12
Angel Place, Sydney
If spontaneity, fresh pasta, and great wines are your vibe, Ragazzi is the place. The chic, warmly lit space is home to a swiftly changing menu at the hands of Chef Scott McComas-Williams, which uses only the freshest and best produce. For the ultimate culinary adventure-seeker, strap in and take the “let our chefs decide for you” option for a ride.
139 Murray Street, Pyrmont
This list wouldn’t be complete without handing the #1 spot to a true gem in the city.
Sydney boasts nonchalantly regal architecture that captivates more than just the history buffs, filled with first grade amenities, amazing waterfront views and a forward thinking culture. Many of the colourful buildings in this city have been transformed into modern iterations of their former selves, one of my favourites being Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour. (The boutique hotel used to be a wool store, built the year it was named after!) This now leads us to Mister Percy.
Named after Ewart Percy; a gentleman “not averse to a glass or few of wine,” Pyrmont’s neighbourhood wine bar serves up an incredible selection of pours. Their impressive list of boutique and local wines is complemented by a bistro-style, all-vegetarian menu — all executed so flawlessly that the staunchest of meat eaters will find themselves joyously satiated. The space also retains some of its original antique wool store fittings, dressed up with a mix of vintage and modern decor paying homage to its history as it looks ahead into the future. But what makes Mister Percy my #1 pick isn’t just its decor or cuisine — it is its judiciously thought out service that sets it apart from the rest.
On my recent visit, I was greeted by a man named Antonio whose warm but powerful welcome signaled the start of a trip to Italy right in the cavernous lobby of the Ovolo hotel. A man of taste, full of stories of a life well lived, Antonio spoke of owning a restaurant, living on a farm, bellowing songs as a musician and so many more adventures that he managed to transform an otherwise ordinary dinner into a complete cultural experience.
Recommending the best accompanying wines and building a perfectly curated menu for the night, I can’t think of any other restaurant in Sydney that provides service as personal or thoughtful as the one I had with Antonio. Through him, Mister Percy provided an escape and a journey to an entirely new world, at a time when we can barely leave our doorsteps.
Upon reading this, you may have heard murmurs of praise for the Ovolo —its chef’s tables, boudoir experiences, musical talents and even fresh markets. The distinctive experience, full of undeniable charisma and character, owes its unique flair to none other than Antonio.
Under the low, warm lights of Mister Percy’s lounge, you can share beautiful plates from their deliciously creative vegetarian menu, toast a glass of their finest boutique or local wine and just stay a little while to hear more of Antonio’s tales from the other side of the world.
If there’s a place to visit this Valentine’s Day, it’s definitely Mister Percy. (And, please, ask for Antonio.)
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