Sydney has always had the climate and the coastline to pull in visitors. Now it has the cuisine to match
ext year Sydney is hosting the Olympic Games, and the city has never looked so buffed, so ready for a party. Billions of dollars have been lavished on building the Olympic sports centre and village out at Homebush to the west of the city, as well as creating new roads and railways. The Games have made this city boom: property prices have escalated, hotels have had expensive makeovers, there are thousands of new jobs and people have money to spend. The Games has also prompted a feeling of real confidence among Sydneysiders (not that Australians are noted for being inhibited), and a sense that 2000 will be their year. Nowhere is this attitude seen more clearly than in the incredible explosion in very high quality restaurants, food stores and bars. Brave entrepreneurs are turning Sydney into one of the great culinary capitals (and also allowing the city's residents to ignore Melbourne's traditional claim to be the only place you can eat really well in Australia). Stan Sarris's GPO project and Rachel Peart and Lindsay Jones-Evan's Jones the Grocer, are retailing excellent food with a panache that you just don't see in Britain. Restaurants such as Longrain, Kable's, MG Garage and The Summit are successfully mixing high style and great cooking. Over the following pages we visit just a few of the trailblazers, which, like all the best Sydney culinary ventures, pride themselves on the freshness of their ingredients and their use of Australian produce.

GPO Stan Sarris has spent the last 10 years in the food business, starting with a four-year stint at McDonald's helping the company extend its grip across the states of New South Wales and Queensland. Today he still works for a business with big ambitions, but this time he owns it. Its raison d'etre is to provide quality produce at value-for-money prices in an environment that appeals to professional and amateur foodies alike. The most eloquent expression of this is the project Sarris has just completed at the renovated GPO building in the heart of Sydney's business district. Here he has created a food court that holds five bars and restaurants and 11 food areas, including a wine cellar, cheese room, butcher, fishmonger and baker. Sarris says his development reflects the new confidence that is emanating from the Olympic city of Sydney: "There's a real feeling that this is our time." GPO is food as theatre. Everywhere you look there are staff preparing, cooking and serving, plus, of course, hundreds of customers milling around buying lobsters, the own-label wine at under A$15 a bottle and great Australian cheeses. Oh, and because Sarris sees this as a one-stop destination, he also stocks condoms and cans of Heinz spaghetti among the choice delicacies. Diners, meanwhile, can head for Prime, a steak house; Post, a French-style brasserie; Tank, the beer and cocktail bar; Sosumi, Australia's first conveyor-belt sushi bar; or the coffee bar, Espresso GPO.

GPO, 1 Martin Place, Sydney (00 61 2 9229 7700)

The Regent Sydney The hotel business in Sydney is as fierce as anywhere else in the world, and in the run-up to the Olympics, several of the city's key establishments have committed themselves to multi-million dollar facelifts. The famous Regent Sydney, a Four Seasons hotel on the harbour near Circular Quay, completed a A$65m makeover in August that involved closing down for several months. The Regent wins over residents and locals alike with its celebrated restaurant Kable's, which has also been revamped; gone are the Deco look and blond wood, in come darker colours and a high-style urban design. The dining room takes its name from Henry Kable, a convict who arrived in Australia on a prison ship but became a leading landowner in the 19th century. The restaurant is under the stewardship of Iranian-born executive chef Azmin Ghahreman, who has worked in kitchens around the world. Kable's serves the best Australian wines to accompany its menu, which also includes Asian influences. Expect unfussy dishes that make the most of local produce, with seafood such as marin and yabbies. Breakfast includes roasted pumpkin, omelettes, Tasmanian salmon and fresh fruit. In addition to Kable's, there are four other bars and restaurants, including The Cafe, pictured here.

The Regent Sydney, 199 George Street, Sydney (00 61 2 9238 0000). Rooms from A$375

Longrain Surry Hills is where you can find spacious loft apartments and a touch of urban grit. Robert Sample and Sam Christie's new restaurant, Longrain, epitomises this alternative side to Sydney. In a vast space, they have built a bar with low-level seating and a restaurant with three long communal tables. One of the greatest luxuries is the amount of empty space, although on weekends it soon fills out. The decor mixes cool granite, dark wooden tables, exposed roof beams and plain walls. The menu? A typically Sydney take on Asian fusion, with pad Thai and spicy fish cakes.

Longrain, 85 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, Sydney (00 61 2 9280 2888)

Summit A place to literally make your head spin. This revolving restaurant (the largest in the world), on the 47th floor of Australia Square, was first opened in 1968 when, to celebrate its launch, Sir Edmund Hillary scaled the outside of the building (he obviously failed to notice the high-speed lifts). Now restaurateur Anders Ousback has put Summit back at the pinnacle of the style mountain with a multi-million dollar upgrade by designers Burton Katon Halliday, the same team responsible for the Kirketon hotel. The decor is an of-the-moment mix of classic chairs by Bertoia and Saarinen, red carpets and silver fixtures. It seems to pretend that it's an untouched gem from the Swinging Sixties - it's not. But who cares when you can sit in the Orbit Bar, sip cocktails and watch the city panorama gently pass before you? Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, you can see up to 80km away. The Mod-Oz cooking offers mains such as barramundi with buttered Savoy cabbage and thyme, roasted milk- fed veal cutlets with garlic mash, and asparagus and grilled grain-fed sirloin with mushrooms and anchovy butter.

Summit, Level 47, Australia Square, 264 George Street, Sydney (00 61 2 9247 9777)

Spring This minuscule open-fronted cafe, with a sprinkling of white Formica-topped tables, lures in caffeine addicts with its impeccably brewed Illy coffee and short, innovative menu (pumpkin and goats-cheese pizza, beetroot salad, smoked-trout bruschetta). A Sydney institution, people go to desperate lengths to be part of the scene here. At weekends they stand, sit in the street, perch on upturned crates and huddle in their cars, all just to get the perfect espresso or latte, and perhaps a slice or two of Turkish toast. Spring, Shop 1, 65 Macleay Street, entrance on Challis Avenue, Potts Point, Sydney (00 61 2 9331 0190)

The Kirketon When the Kirketon, a boutique hotel, opened earlier this year, it was greeted with breathless coverage in style magazines around the world. It's true, the Kirketon is a stunning, achingly fashionable, destination. Set in the young and vibrant Darlinghurst quarter, it offers chic rooms; a popular restaurant, Salt; and a stunning cigar bar called Fix. The hotel was designed by Sydney architect of the moment, Iain Halliday, and is perfect for the sort of affluent young traveller who wears Prada, reads Nest and would sell their mother to avoid flying economy. Even if you're not staying, it's worth dining at Salt, where chef Luke Mangon's dishes include raw salmon belly with soy, ginger and shallot dressing, and roasted Australian marin tail with truffled peach and celery. While Salt is all bright white tablecloths and chairs, the Fix bar is a place of sensuous intimacy. This small room is subtly lit and has burning- red lacquered walls - ideal for drinking serious spirits and eating Mangon's version of bangers and mash.

The Kirketon, 229 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst, Sydney (00 61 2 9332 2011). Rooms from A$200

MG Garage and Fuel

The MG Garage was one of only four restaurants to be awarded the ultimate accolade of three chef's hats in this year's Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide awards. And, on first glance, that's an achievement for a restaurant that's built on a gimmick. For, as the name declares, this is not just a restaurant but also an MG garage. On the menu you will find listed an MGF 1.8i at A$45,000, alongside chef Janni Kyritsis's modern Australian dishes - such as blue eye cod in salt cod bouillabaisse - at a more modest A$34. But it's the cooking, which mixes Australian and Mediterranean influences, that has assured this restaurant its dedicated following (dream of starters such as lobster with fennel and hot potato salad, or oysters with lava bread and bacon). Like so many of its contemporaries, the MG Garage empire does not stop here. Next door is sister establishment, Fuel, where the popular weekend brunch menu lists temptations such as corn fritters with avocado, tomato and crispy bacon. There's also a food store with an excellent deli counter.

MG Garage, 490 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, (00 61 2 9383 9383)

Jones the Grocer

While sitting on a Thai beach, medical researcher Rachel Peart and her commercial director boyfriend, Lindsay Jones-Evans, decided it was time for a life change. Without any retail background behind them, they hatched a plan to launch the sort of food store they would like to shop in. Somewhere that had the best produce - from cheeses and handmade chocolates to olive oils and cakes. Just three years later, Jones the Grocer, in the chic district of Woollahra, draws in foodies from across the city. The shop is like an Australian version of Harvey Nichols' food hall, but more fun. Lots of own-label products, crockery and cookbooks are for sale, and they serve a mean breakfast. Pull up a chair at the long communal table, read the papers and admire the concrete floor that Peart and Jones, in cash-strapped times, mixed and poured themselves.

Jones the Grocer, 68 Moncur Street, Woollahra, Sydney, (00 61 2 9362 1222) n

Andrew Tuck flew to Sydney with Malaysia Airlines (0171-341 2020), which has flights from London and Manchester, via Kuala Lumpur.