Make a foodie field trip via ferry stopping first at Cockatoo Island for a bite to eat, with a great view, and then finish off in Woolwich for dinner.
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At 23, most of us spent our time trying to work out what to do with our lives but Cucinetta’s owner and head chef Vincenzo Mazzotta says being in the kitchen with his nonna and the happiness he associates with Sundays provided all the direction he needed.
“I loved Sundays,” the now 35-year-old says.
“Everyone would go to church then gather for a long lunch followed, of course, by a siesta.”
Twelve years ago, Vincenzo opened Cucinetta serving classic, rustic Italian fare that draws on the cuisines of Italy’s many regions.
While he has adapted the dishes to a more contemporary palette, he remains adamant about traditional cooking methods just like those he learned from his nonna, noting how she also taught him to relax in the kitchen.
“She did so much with her senses — touch, smell, taste,” he says, adding that she’d never use a recipe but say, “if it doesn’t work, just start again”.
In line with that approach, the menu at Cucinetta is constantly evolving, though Vincenzo says there are a few things that will never leave the menu such as Zuppa, a seafood casserole with tomato, crab bisque, white wine and charred bread.
The other constant is the gnocchi in which he employs his nonna’s approach of using touch and feel to “understand the potatoes”.
Seeing as it is one of his signature dishes, the method must be working. While the gnocchi remains the same, the sauce rarely does so one week you may have a cheese sauce or luck onto the lamb ragu, mascarpone, hazelnuts, crispy kale, truffle oil.
Situated at the top of Woolwich Rd looking out over the Lane Cove River toward the city, the view alone is worth a visit but once the food is served, it’s the table that gets all the attention.
— 103 Woolwich Rd
Executive chef Anthony Naylor’s 20-year culinary journey has seen him swap the drab skies of the UK for sunny Sydney.
Now at Deckhouse, he enjoys one of the best views in the world. Having built an impressive CV along the way, including two chef hats in the Gault & Millau Restaurant Guide as head chef of Prime Restaurant in the CBD, Anthony notes how his travels have influenced his cooking.
There was a special kind of eagerness when he first came to Australia however.
“I was really excited about trying all these new ingredients,” he says, referring to such things as bush tomatoes, Davidson plums and quandong — which he admits not knowing much about much less what they tasted like.
Now, with Anthony overseeing the kitchen, Deckhouse Cafe prides itself on using Australian ingredients and locally sourced products to create popular dishes such as chicken liver pate, native plum and pistachio; barramundi fillet with a Lemongrass broth, Asian greens, coconut and Kaffir lime or the decadent French Toast.
The food has gone from “from heavy to more contemporary and refined”. The secret he says is to “put your heart into food”.
The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week is adjacent to Australia’s oldest working boatyards and stunning views of Sydney Harbour.
— Clark Rd, Woolwich Dock
MARINA CAFE & BAR
Wagyu burgers, gourmet pizzas, vegetarian nachos and classic fish and chips. Not quite your average wharfie fare but then again, this isn’t your average wharf.
Here, on the south side of this world heritage-listed island, looking out towards Balmain, a relaxed “beer garden” setting has taken hold.
Where once there was a tin shed/cafe that served coffee and quick stuff for those that worked on the boats and on the island, now there’s a relaxed cafe and bar. Having worked out of the marina themselves, David Field and his wife Melissa noted the potential of the site and within a few short months (September) took over the cafe.
A big addition to the space was a shipping container bar with Byron Bay Beer on tap, boutique wines, a “grass” lawn with umbrellas out front and plans to add a deck on its roof.
On the other side of the 10m lawn is the basic cafe to which they’ve added on a kitchen of sorts.
They’ve also brought a chef from Melbourne to oversee it all. David and Melissa have big plans, including live music sessions, event hire and of course a New Year’s Eve party.
At the rate they’re going, this’ll be the hot new waterside spot by summer.
— Camber Wharf, south side of Cockatoo Island
WOOLWICH PIER HOTEL
There’s nothing better than pub food that tastes as good as the stellar view from your table.
Harking way back to 1885 the Woolwich Pier Hotel, with its view out to the Sydney Harbour and city skyline, has always been a popular pub but if you haven’t been that way in a while, the recent revamp should be quite the enticement to make it your own regular spot.
Gone are the thick walls blocking off each section, replaced by a natural flow from the outdoor courtyard and kids play area, perfect for the younger families moving into the area, through the sun-drenched main eatery to the more open and industrial bar with big screen TVs.
Upstairs has also done away with closed rooms with easier access to the wraparound veranda.
Head chef Glen Tabudlo has taken a similar approach to the menu lifting the game on pub classics such as with the Chicken and Leek slow braised in a creamy white wine velouté and phenomenal steaks (hooray for Monday and Tuesday steak night) but also adding more contemporary dishes to the menu.
With his French and Vietnamese background, Glen has added such taste treasures as tuna tartare with ponzu and wasabi; Wagyu beef tataki; and miso salmon with squid ink risotto.
Be sure to save room for dessert and get those cameras ready, as the sweets such as the triple citrus cake or French macarons are as creative as they are delicious.
The Woolwich Pier Hotel is very a much a local, with staff seeing regulars coming, meeting them with a beer at their regular spot — and for one customer in particular, with two bags of peanuts. You may not get a beer at the door, but you’ll certainly get a smile.
— 2 Gale St
SOCIETE OVERBOARD CAFE
There’s the traditional drive-through and the not-so-traditional paddle-through. Just inside the gates of the ferry entrance near Parramatta Wharf is the Societe Overboard Cafe where most mornings you’re likely to see a row of kayaks parked up on the lawn.
The cafe’s co-owner Jad Katalinic notes people will time their morning paddle to be first in line for a cuppa or on weekends a longer break for breakfast, before heading back out to the water.
For a less arduous entry, there’s always the ferry — a quick 10-minute ride to the wharf.
Before you explore the island, sit down and have some breakfast while enjoying the view over magnificent view out to the Harbour Bridge.
The chilli eggs (two fried eggs, smashed avo, greens, grilled haloumi with chilli sauce) or the bacon and egg roll is an excellent start before you head off and take in this historic site.
— Near Parramatta Wharf, Cockatoo Island
SALT AND PEPPER SQUID
Just before you crest the hill to the top of Woolwich Rd is an intimate restaurant serving up authentic Vietnamese fare.
Chef Mr Muoi adds a creative touch to popular dishes such as the consummate favourite salt and pepper chilli squid.
Just enough chillies to give it a zing but not so much that you’ll be reaching for your water.
— Moonlight; 94 Woolwich Rd
Whether it’s a specific occasion or just to celebrate good friends, High Tea makes any moment memorable.
With three tiers of housemade scones, savoury finger sandwiches and mini cakes and tarts you’ll hardly notice the harbour view.
Add a glass of Chandon to make the day just that much merrier. (Monday — Saturday, groups of 4 or more)
— Woolwich Pier Hotel; 2 Gale St
At this local cafe, coffee reigns supreme and by using Fair Trade beans which they roast on a daily basis for freshness, owners Jake and Michael intend on keeping it that way.
Once you’re set up with your latte, take a look at the menu and linger a little longer over a smoked salmon omelette from their All Day Breakfast menu, some crabmeat spaghetti for lunch or just share a mixed entree platter — all of which are from Australian farmers and suppliers.
— Ironwood Coffee Company; 102 Woolwich Rd
HAPPY CAMPERS BBQ PACKS
Whether you’re camping overnight or just making a day of it, take advantage of the BBQ setups (two public ones and overnight campers have separate facilities).
You can bring your own food but why lug it around when you can pre-order Happy Camper BBQ packs.
There are breakfast options — a simple one with muesli and bread rolls; or go large with the big brekkie option that comes with bacon, sausages, eggs, and rolls.
For lunch or dinner go for the classic with rump steaks, sausages, bread rolls, salad and condiments; or try the chicken souvlaki with pita bread, dips, salad and condiments. Vegetarian options are also available. Pre-order 48 hours.
— Societe Overboard Cafe, Cockatoo Island
This summer, spend your lazy Saturday evening listening to live music and sipping wine while taking in the magnificent views of Sydney Harbour from Biloela Lawn atop the hill of Cockatoo Island.
Every Saturday through mid-February catch live music sessions form 5-7pm.
Marina Cafe & Bar will have food and drink available for purchase — ice creams, beer on tap, wine and charcuteries. ($25pp)
— Biloela Lawn, Cockatoo Island