THE QUESTION I’M ASKED MOST – MORE OFTEN THAN ‘HOW ARE YOU?’ –  IS ‘WHERE SHOULD I GO FOR [insert occasion here]?’ IN (À LA) CARTE BLANCHE, I’M PUTTING THAT QUESTION TO SYDNEY’S BEST CHEFS AND GIVING THEM FREE REIGN TO CURATE A WEEK’S WORTH OF OPTIONS FOR DINING OUT, IF ONLY TO ENSURE THAT I’M SPARED FROM having to answer that question EVER AGAIN.

That’s Drake, as in a male duck – not Drake, as in Degrassi High’s most emotionally intuitive alumnus. It feels important to distinguish between the two prior to any discussion of Drake Eatery, the Bondi restaurant where for three years chef-owner Ian Oakes has plied his trade to locally-sourced produce to create seasonal dishes that are emblematic of unpretentious, modern Australian cooking. In both name and nourishment, Drake Eatery is an Aubrey-free zone.

The restaurant’s namesake protein has long been a calling card for Oakes, formerly of Paddington’s Grand National Hotel and who this winter is celebrating Drake Eatery’s third year of service by staging a series of dedicated ‘Duck and Pinot’ nights, held each Tuesday from now until the end of July. A weekly special of one-off dishes will celebrate Oakes’ favourite core ingredient alongside a selection of Australian pinots selected by the restaurant: think everything from duck ragu or duck pie, to inventive twists like crispy duck legs with blood orange and szechuan salt, a duck ramen and a duck schnitzel, all accompanied by a glass of pinot for $35.

“Quite rightly, Bondi is the ultimate summer destination, but given our third birthday coincides with winter I wanted to give people a reason to venture out in the cooler months”, Oakes says. Below, the chef shares with GRAZIA his favourite places to venture out to with friends whenever he manages to steal himself away from Drake Eatery for a morning or night off, all year round.

The Shop & Wine Bar
This has been my local for over five years. I eat here at least three times a week. The BLT has been voted among the best sandwiches in Sydney for good reason. It’s epic. Coffee is awesome as are the happy hour wines. Lucy and Mikey have become great friends and I regularly go surfing with Mikey. Lucy’s focus on seasonal, healthy dishes is a nourishing addition to the usual chef diet. I love that everyone knows everybody and the staff are all so lovely. It’s one of the places that makes me realise how much I love the Bondi community.

Raw Bar
Another Bondi favourite on high rotation. Our usual order is the Sashimi (always incredibly fresh), seared salmon Nigiri (the perfect rice to fish ratio, lightly seared), prawn tempura (who doesn’t love prawn tempura? This is an excellent example, light crisp and not oily), Nasu no dengaku (miso eggplant, it’s just delicious). All the staff are super friendly and make you feel welcome. Try to snare a table with an ocean view, settle in and order a Sapporo or a sake.

Restaurant Hubert
I was first introduced to this restaurant with a group of friends. Traditionally, we gather to celebrate our respective birthdays – each person chooses a different restaurant – it’s a great excuse to go out and try different places. Of all the places we’ve been this still stands out as a favourite. The atmosphere is incredible and you could easily forget that you’re in the middle of the Sydney and not a lively Parisian bistro. The food is also seriously good and shows excellent technique and execution. The duck liver patê is a master class in charcuterie. The mushroom in pepper sauce is simple, yet perfectly balanced. The whole chicken is a winner with groups. Service is flawless.

Firedoor
This restaurant is the first of its kind in Sydney and there is an incredible level of skill in what Lennox Hastie, the chef, does. It’s hard not to appreciate how incredibly talented he is. The dishes are elegant and appear to be simple however I’m blown away at how complex they actually are. The knowledge of timbers and cooking techniques is astonishing and inspiring. I also love that the ethos of this restaurant is in everything from the décor to the cocktail list – the dining room is as elegant as the food.

Chaco Bar
Alex Munoz Labart of Restaurant Labart (opening next month in Burleigh Heads) introduced me to this hole-in-the-wall, which is a becoming a popular chef hangout. Alex did the ordering as he wanted us to try everything – and I’m pretty sure we did! I’d be hard pressed to choose a top dish, however if you want to get a bit cheffy, the chicken hearts are a standout. It’s also BYO, which is a rarity in Sydney.

10 William St
I have a soft spot for Paddington, having worked there for over ten years before I made the move to Bondi. This wine bar and restaurant is housed in a beautiful old terrace, and they’ve made great use of the tiny space. Staff are knowledgeable, attentive and typically Italian. Their outstanding knowledge of wine means you always try something new and interesting from the ever-changing list. The food doesn’t disappoint either and like the wine list, changes constantly. You can always rely on the fact that there will be a great house-made pasta on the menu.

Golden Century
It’s an institution. If you haven’t been, go. Pretty much the only place in Sydney open till 3am. XO pippis and duck pancakes. Need I say more?

Buvette
I know it’s not in Sydney, however this would have to be my favourite place in New York. We have friends and family living in New York and have been fortunate enough to visit several times over the last few years. If I don’t stop into Buvette, the trip feels incomplete. It’s very small, and I think the bar is the best seat in the house. It pumps out breakfast lunch and dinner and is open until 2am. It describes itself as a “gastrothèque”, an eating and drinking establishment dedicated to the serious enjoyment of food and wine. It’s the perfect description. The buttermilk waffles with bacon, egg, Gruyere and maple syrup for breakfast is a revelation. The charcuterie with a glass of Chablis is a perfect end to a day in New York. Then, there is always room for the apple tarte tatin.

Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Drake Eatery

thoughts?