On this whistle stop weekend visit, Jen and I came with the intention of checking out some restaurants we hadn’t tried before; a mix of new eateries and some of Sydney’s much loved favourites.
We’re not usually ones to have a quiet holiday where we put our feet up and this trip was no different. As well as an itinerary of six dining destinations, we were also keen to check out the Vivid Festival and watch the Socceroos final game in Australia before heading off to Brazil for the World Cup.
Vivid is a relatively new cultural festival in Sydney that was started in 2009. It’s described as a festival of ‘lights, music and ideas’. Over the course of three weeks, Circular Quay is transformed into a colourful hub of creativity where artists get to show off their latest work, bands (including The Pixies, Kate Miller Heidke and Lauryn Hill this year) perform at the Opera House and crowds get to witness a megabucks light and multimedia extravaganza that is emblazoned on the waterfront buildings in the city including the Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Jen and I met up with an old friend from Brisbane who showed us the sites. We had a couple of cheeky beers at the Opera Bar so we could watch the sun go down on the waterfront before the fluorescent beams from the MCA light up the Opera House to mark the start of the proceedings. As you’d expect, the Opera Bar is stupidly packed so I wouldn’t really recommend hanging around too long. Besides, you’d miss out on all the cool interactive exhibits that can be found along Circular Quay.
Jen and I had a chance to catch our first ever gig at the Opera House on the Saturday night. There is a much loved Australian hip hop album from 2001 called Since I Left You by The Avalanches. It’s a near perfect album from start to finish and to date, it’s been the group’s only release. Our friend Nick is adamant that a second album is ‘still coming’ but its considerable delays are starting to put it into Chinese Democracy territory now.
Anyway, the album was being performed live in its entirety at the Opera House by the pint sized Sydney performance artist Rainbow Chan backed by a sixteen-piece band comprised of deejays, samplers, a string section and two drummers. It was really quite something.
I’ve never seen Chan perform before but I found her to be an amazing and exhaustive bundle of energy. Her powerful voice did justice to The Avalanches tracks and her incredibly energetic and enthusiastic dancing brought the appreciative fans in the venue to their feet for virtually the entire performance. Her infectious yet quirky appeal reminded me of the Icelandic pop star Bjork.
I’m not a person who can articulate the nuances of audio projection and how it works in the Opera House but needless to say this was an enjoyable act to see live. I love The Avalanches album from start to finish and to see it performed by such a gigantic and eclectic musical group blasting us with a wall of sound was really something special.
Food And Drink
In 2009, it was a rainy night in Sydney dining at Tetsuyas, the establishment of world renowned chef Tetsuya Wakada, that really kicked off my love affair with fine food. Five years and a hundred restaurants later and I still have the appetite for finding new diners, new dishes and new gastronomical experiences to enjoy.
For this visit to Sydney we didn’t have any big tasting menus or degustations planned. Instead, we had researched a bunch of popular places using food blogs and the Good Food guide and made a shortlist of places to check out. We didn’t make a reservation at a single one so there was every chance some of our plans would be scuppered.
Our first stop was at Mr Wong, recipient of Best New Restaurant in Sydney, as recognized by the Good Food Guide of 2014. It’s an inner city Chinese establishment set up by chefs Dan Hong and Jowett Yu. The venue is plush and inviting, with a stone wall interior furnished with ornamental wood trimmings. It looks amazing and thanks to its popularity and five million servers, it is a hive of activity.
Patrons raved about the peking duck and with good reason. They’re served with a delicious crispy skin and sweet meat that is on the money. We also had the Balmain bugs and the pork bun which were glorious. People rave about the mud crab but we were stuffed so it’ll have to wait for another time. Our verdict was that Mr Wong is a definite winner.
That night we went to Rockpool Bar and Grill to get a quick bite to eat and a scotch before watching Rainbow Chan at the Opera House. For the uninitiated, you should know that Rockpool specializes in and are masters of serving steak. They are also an extraordinarily opulent establishment in Sydney. Our resident expert Nick explained that the venue was used as a shooting location for Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby. I have no idea if thats true or not but I can believe. The place looks like a million bucks. Because we could only stay a short while, I ordered a wagyu burger instead of going a whole three course dinner. The burger was enourmous, flavoursome, came with a paltry single leaf of lettuce as a side, and tasted amazing. I washed it down with a scotch and then we were off. I could happily come back to Rockpool. Their whisky selection was several pages deep, filled with extravagant distillers and unique curios the likes of which I hadn’t seen before.
The next morning we went to Potts Point to have breakfast at Bills, owned by celebrated Australian chef Bill Granger. At Bills you get a pretty straight forward classic Aussie breakfast with eggs, sangers, tomato and bread. It wasn’t anything especially creative but everything was fresh and cooked perfect. Plus, Potts Point turned out to be quite a picturesque little area to start your day. The autumn air was brisk and there were plenty of folks out walking their dogs. It was a lovely morning to have a coffee, slow down for a minute and watch the world go by.
On a whim, we decided to visit Ippudo, a popular Japanese ramen joint that we first experienced in New York. The Australian Ippudo hasn’t fared quite as well when you look at patron reviews on Urban Spoon but Jen and I had like for like dishes with the New York venue and we think they’re pretty comparable. The broth for the ramen is beautiful, the pork buns are melt in your mouth tender and that weird cucumber thing they do is still a treat. The main difference is that Ippudo in New York is located in the East Village and is populated by a weird amalgamation of Asians, musos, hipsters and beatniks. It’s like the Cantina from Star Wars. Ippudo in Sydney is located on the fifth floor of a Myers shopping centre. It’s frequented by just Asians. That’s not nearly as exciting.
We also checked out Jamie’s Italian in Sydney. I know, I know. It’s a bit touristy and I’m sure there’s about five hundred of these places around the world but we wanted to experience it all the same. Turns out so does everyone else! “The current wait time is two hours sir” was what I was told when we arrived. No problem. We had no where to be so we just enjoyed some more of the sights at Vivid Festival before coming back for supper. We had a bottle of prosecco, some bread and cheese sides and vongole and lasagne for mains. It was a lovely evening and we were pretty sloshed by the end of it. Before I forget, the Winter Berry Trifle was a smashing dessert.
Lastly, a morning brunch at Bourke St Bakery. Its so small, the counter is about a meter away from the front door and there’s just one window seat indoors. The rest are all out on the sidewalk. But people come from miles to try out their fresh pastry and coffee and with good reason – it’s absolutely divine. The weather gods smiled on us for the entire trip and it was no different on our last day. We demolished the Pain Au Chocolat and took our time finishing our coffee as the sun beamed down on us.
On our last night, we journeyed to Olympic Park to see the Socceroos play South Africa at ANZ Stadium for their World Cup send off. The stadium is absolutely monstrous and holds a gargantuan 80,000 people. It hosted the opening ceremony and the track and field events during the Sydney Olympics and nowadays is home to Sydney FC, a bunch of NRL teams and is a sell out for State of Origin each year.
A respectable 50,000 were on hand to see the Socceroos tonight and man would they be disappointed. South Africa brought out a weak squad loaded with teenagers and debutants. Despite this, they unexpectedly took the lead in the first half after a goal mouth scramble saw keeper Matthew Ryan beaten by a low drive to his left. It lasted all of five minutes before Socceroos legend and captain for the night Tim Cahill headed home an equalizer. The Socceroos appeared to have the ascendancy but couldn’t convert their opportunities. We expected a strong second half and didn’t get it. The team lost the initiative and there were few scoring chances. A rather lacklustre finish against some tepid opponents. Right now, we shudder to think how the team will fare against the tikki takki skills of the Dutch and the Spanish at the World Cup.
All in all, we had a lovely long weekend and it was a thoroughly enjoyable first getaway for the year. In Sydney, there’s good food, good company and if you time it right, plenty of amazing sights and sounds to experience. We got pretty lucky with the weather, the football was a little bit rubbish, but overall, we had a blast.
We’ll be back Sydney. Those mud crabs at Mr Wongs better not get too comfortable.