Melbourne has always been Australia's most Europeanized city, but Sydney is suddenly overflowing with Italian restaurants, many of them in the trendy enclave of Surry Hills. Housed in an elegantly restored warehouse with a sprawling open kitchen and pantry, La Sala (23 Foster St.; 61-2/9281-3352; dinner for two $120) is the creation of celebrity chef Darren Simpson, formerly of London's River Café. Sydney's young and fabulous anointed the place when it opened last fall, drawn as much by the scene as by rustic, hearty dishes like baccalà (salt cod) with garlic and poached duck egg. • At nearby Lo Studio (5355 Brisbane St.; 61-2/9212-4118; dinner for two $125), the spacious chocolate brownand-white dining room is an appropriate setting for chef Danny Russo's modern cooking; don't miss the squid-ink tortellini, a jet-black purse filled with ethereal mascarpone and crabmeat. • The chalkboard menu at Vini (3/118 Devonshire St.; 61-2/9698-5131; dinner for two $50), a minuscule enoteca, details an impressive range of salumi, a rich spaghetti with blue swimmer crab, and 20 Italian wines by the glass. Factor all that in with Sydney's legendarily good espresso, and Italy may have reason to worry.
The chalkboard menu at this Italian restaurant and wine bar changes daily, depending on the freshest produce available at the local market. Containing approximately two dozen seats, the small dining room is simply decorated with light wood walls, floor-to-ceiling blackboards, and shelves filled with wine bottles. The dishes are traditional and straightforward, with possible options including beef braciole, spaghetti with braised rabbit, and panna cotta with caramel and almonds. Vini also serves an extensive list of mostly Italian wines and, on Tuesdays, a special prix fixe menu showcasing the cuisine of a particular region in Italy.