Welcome to one of the world’s great dining cities. And one of the newest. It’s a place of unashamed hedonism (a city founded, after all, by convicts) that has discovered a passion for quality – an overnight success story that has been a surprising number of years in the making.

At the turn of the millennium, the received narrative was that food in Sydney was good, but that it was confined to a handful of expensive elite establishments. To find real innovation and culinary excitement, the cognoscenti looked to Melbourne. Whether or not this notion was true at the time, it’s certainly not the case today. While Melbourne continues to thrive, Sydney is giving it a run for its money, having seriously upped its culinary game in the past two decades.

Seafood has always been a thing here, celebrated for thousands of years, plucked in abundance out of its harbors, rivers and shoreline. Feasting and making merry is part of the city’s modus operandi and though some detractors claim that all the sunshine and beachy good times have produced a lotus-eating culture more focused on surface than depth, privileging looks over substance, the reality (for the restaurant scene, at least) is much more alluring.

As Sydney pushes closer to the five-million citizen mark, following two centuries of European settlement and a boom in migration (particularly from Asia) in recent decades, it continues to punch above its weight, offering great examples of food from an array of cultures as diverse as a diner might hope to find in London, New York or other much larger and older metropolises.

This cultural diversity, along with the riches of its waters, and an Australian love of informality and irreverence, are among the key drivers of Sydney’s culinary style. Your average Sydneysider relishes the chance to dress up for a big night out, but if great food and drink are offered somewhere informal, where she can kick off her heels (and, better yet, stick her toes in the sand) then that’s where you’ll find her.

The scene just keeps on getting better, with newer, more interesting and more ambitious restaurants opening at a rate the city has never seen before, yet its ancient appeal as a place to gather on the water and celebrate nature’s gifts remains unchanged.

12forward by White Guide lists 12 eateries in each chosen city that represent the very forefront of gastronomy.

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