Rafi review North Sydney Review 2022

99 Mt St
north sydney,
NSW
2060

view map

opening hours Lunch and dinner Mon-Sat
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed, Bar, Groups, Outdoor seating, Events
payments eft pos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 8376 2900

They said it couldn’t be done, a feat up there with running the first four-minute mile and building the shells of Utzon’s Opera House. But Moses parted the Red Sea, and now Patrick Friesen has lured me to North Sydney on a Saturday.

Specifically, the central business hub of North Sydney, which pulses with tech and media workers from Monday to Friday but, on the weekend, has less going for it than an airport Red Rooster.

However, Rafi has just opened with Friesen’s flavour-thumping food, and it could well become one of the hottest places to eat grilled seafood this summer.

Barbecued South Coast octopus with chilli, oregano and lemon.

Barbecued South Coast octopus with chilli, oregano and lemon. Photo: Jennifer Soo



It’s a rainy Saturday when I visit – weather more conducive to staying on the couch at home – but the dining room is already three-quarters full for lunch. Light streams through floor-to-ceiling windows, showing off a stone and marble mosaic floor, woven rush seats, leather accents and tones of orange, pink and bottle-green. It’s a ridiculously attractive joint.

Why is it called Rafi? That would be the initials of the owners’ kids. Ben Carroll is dad to Raffaella and Aurora; Hamish Watts, Frankie and Indio. Carroll and Watts co-founded Applejack Hospitality in 2011 and the group’s portfolio includes The Butler Potts Point, Neutral Bay’s SoCal and The Botanist in Kirribilli – all solid venues that do a roaring trade on Melbourne Cup Day, but are rarely interesting enough to cross town for.

However, this is Applejack’s first new bar and restaurant since Canadian-born Friesen was appointed the group’s “head of culinary” in April. I’ve been a fan of the guy’s cooking since he launched Papi Chulo with Justin Hemmes’ Merivale group in Manly in 2013, and still find myself thinking about his calamari with bacon, crisp-fried potatoes and sorrel from those days.

Must-order dish: Raw tuna with tomatoes, cucumber, tahini and garlicky chilli oil.

Must-order dish: Raw tuna with tomatoes, cucumber, tahini and garlicky chilli oil. Photo: Steven Woodburn



That dish hasn’t made a comeback, but there is barbecued octopus ($30) at Rafi that’s every bit as good, tentacles grilled slowly over charcoal and dressed Greek-style in fruity olive oil, lemon, oregano and chilli. Expect a fight for the charred end bits.

The menu – in news that will surprise no one – is largely designed to share, save for a few bar snacks, such as a potato galette sort-of-thing topped with sea urchin ($22). I can’t tell you if it’s any good because it’s sold out when I visit.

But I can say that you absolutely must order the raw tuna ($28). Tumbled with tomatoes and cucumber, the scarlet-red fish thumps with tahini and neon, garlic-loaded chilli oil, making it one of the best dishes of the year.

Crispy potato with sea urchin.

Crispy potato with sea urchin. Photo: Jennifer Soo



Applejack already serves steaks bigger than a wrestler’s bicep at Bopp & Tone in the CBD, so the carte here leans more into vegetables and seafood. If you really want a prestige hunk of cow, there’s an 800-gram rib-eye with fresh horseradish and fermented chilli for $148.

Stick to the white meat, such as buttery roast toothfish ($72) marinated overnight in umami-boosting koji and sharpened with a rough sauce of grilled lemons, capers and white soy. A citrus-forward 2019 Mountadam chardonnay from Eden Valley ($80) has enough drive to cut through the walloping flavours. It’s not a bad drop to have with the massive crumbed snapper sandwich ($28), either.

What else? Well, there’s an awesome half chook ($38), brined, blanched and roasted so the skin crinkles like cellophane. Add a side of sprightly radicchio ($11) with anchovy and garlic dressing, or steamed asparagus covered in peas and pistachio ($18), and you have a terrific in-and-out business lunch for two.

Koji-marinated toothfish.

Koji-marinated toothfish. Photo: Jennifer Soo



The only dud note is a chocolate hazelnut tart ($15) with hardened pastry that needs more butter or less time in the oven.

I should also mention the outdoor glasshouse and terrace for anyone who’s planning an office Christmas party or who just wants a post-work Negroni (a lofty $22, presumably because the house gin is Four Pillars). Ignore the view to Betty’s Burgers across the street, focus on the frilly umbrellas and, for about two seconds, you can pretend you’re knocking back Aperol in Amalfi.

With seven other venues to “head culinarily”, Friesen won’t be on the pass full-time, but has hired talented Peruvian chef Matias Cilloniz to lead the kitchen.

Scallops with pickled turnip.

Scallops with pickled turnip. Photo: Jennifer Soo



After a decade of playing catch-up with Merivale, Applejack seems to be doing all the right things to ramp up its food and booze offering and become a leader in the smart-casual dining scene, with more North Shore venues on the cards.

For his next feat, Friesen might even get me to Manly on a Monday.

Vibes: Bright and breezy all-purpose diner

Go to dish: Barbecued South Coast octopus with chilli, oregano and lemon

Drinks: A nice mix of natural wines and Australian favourites, plus several well-made cocktails

Cost: About $160 for two, excluding drinks

This review was originally published in good weekend magazine

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