But then a culinary flowering began, fitfully, to stir. Its taproot was immigration: the post-1945 arrival of hundreds of thousands of people whose offspring would become millions, with names like Theodorocopoulos and Abatelli, Grunwald and Rudenstein, who brought their eating habits and nutritional demands with them from Europe--followed by a second wave from Asia after the 1960s, when the White Australia policy was finally discarded. "The discovery of a new dish," wrote the eighteenth-century French gourmand Brillat-Savarin, "contributes more to human happiness than the discovery of a new star." To us, in the early sixties, almost all dishes were new. Could you really cook with the delicious local clams, which up to then we had only used as bait?People refused to eat the exquisite freshwater crayfish known as yabbies ("If you knew what those little bastards eat, you wouldn't eat them either"). But we took to such novelties, and refined and combined them for thirty-five years, adding Southeast Asian elements to the Euro-Australian mix, so that one eats magnificently well in Sydney today. Inventive, elegant restaurants abound. My own favorites are Morans, in Potts Point, and Catalina, built over the water at Rose Bay and run by my occasional fishing buddy Michael McMahon--as good for its wine list as for its scallops in sea grass and coriander broth.
Catalina, 1 Sunderland Avenue, Rose Bay. Outstanding fish, served alfresco. Call 9371-0555.
Claude's, 10 Oxford Street, Woollahra. Try cuttlefish with elder flowers. Call 9331-2325.
Darley Street Thai, 28-30 Bayswater, Kings Cross. The most authentic Thai south of Bangkok. Call 9358-6530.
Lucio's, 47 Windsor Street, Paddington. Artsy diners and great tagiolini. Call 9380-5996.
Morans, 61-63 Macleay Street, Potts Point. Inspired fare, plus Aussie staples like duck and pea pie. Call 9356-2223.
Onzain, 232 Campbell Parade, Level Two. Classic French on Bondi Beach. Call 9365-0763.
Rockpool, 107 George Street. The high-water mark for fresh seafood. Call 9252-1888.
Sean's Panorama, 270 Campbell Parade. Don't miss the spaghettini with lemon, chile and garlic. Call 9365-4924.
The Best Hotels
Observatory Hotel 89-113 Kent St., Millers Point; $240-$300,* 800-237-1236
Park Hyatt, Sydney 7 Hickson Rd., The Rocks; $390-$405, 800-233-1234
Regent Sydney 199 George St., Circular Quay; $165-$355, 800-332-3442
Ritz-Carlton, Double Day 33 Cross St., Double Bay; $250-$377, 800-241-3333
Ritz-Carlton, Sydney 93 Macquarie Street; $309-$379, 800-241-3333
*All prices reflect high-season rates in U.S. dollars.
The Presidents Cup. A little over an hour's flight from Sydney, Melbourne hosts the Presidents Cup from December 8 through 13. Australia's two carriers, Qantas (800-227-4500) and Ansett (888-426-7388), offer regular Melbourne to Sydney flights for a round-trip coach fare of about $245. Presidents Cup packages, including travel from the U.S., accommodations and six-day general admission tickets to Royal Melbourne, are also available through Swain Australia Tours (800-52-SWAIN), Karma Tours (800-641-8772) and Qantas Vacation (800-722-5978).