In one big broom-sweep, I’ve found all these blog-dust-bunnies that have been lurking in my “Draft” folder over the last year. So I decided to wipe them clean and give them an airing.
In the same way stores go crazy around Dec/January – purging their storerooms and piling their shopfronts high with price-slashed items – I thought I’d adopt an “everything must go” approach too. Blog posts with a discounted word rate.
If this seems a little cheeky, I gotta admit – like most people, I’m still getting over the chronic case of lazies that came with the holiday season. (How hard is it to say ‘no’ to non-stop R&R?) I’ve since sent out a Search-and-Rescue party to see if they can recover any of the motivation that went missing around that time the Christmas lights went up. They’re still looking….
High tea is full of weird contradictions for me. It’s so prissy and totally gross-out messy at the same time. (You think you’re dainty, but your cutlery’s all jam-smeared and you’ve got a sugar-frosted mouth and feel like you’re 8 years old again.) It’s refined and yet it’s one big sweetener solo that makes you feel kinda sick once it’s all over. (Again with the 8 year old deja vu). The cucumber sandwiches aren’t much defence against the military offensive of scones, sticky fruit tarts, macaroons, puddings, cake and other baked treats.
Also, you end up throwing down a few dollars (usually up to $40) without feeling full or properly fed – craving a proper meal that doesn’t borrow so heavily from the sticky side of the food pyramid. It can seem like a rort.
Despite my high tea grumbles, I kinda am smitten with the whole ordeal at the same time. Maybe it’s ‘cos everything comes in miniature. Or because the food gets served on staggered tiers (multi-level food is weirdly appealing and classy). Or because it’s a fun way to socialise and sedate your raging sweet tooth at the same time.
Having sipped my way through a few high teas in Sydney, I’m still hard-pressed to pin a “favourite” ribbon on any that I’ve tried. I did like the elegant & artisan-like Lenotre pig-fest that Sofitel used to do, although it was full-blast sweet. (they offer a Gluten-free afternoon tea instead now). The Tea Room in Queen Victoria Building offers a good even offering of savoury and sugary, so your tastebuds aren’t so severely twisted in one direction. All in a sophisticated-looking space, too. It’s probably the highest on my list, so far. The Victoria Room was ho-hum, so is not so well-ranked.
And the Gallery Tea Lounge at the Sheraton on the Park offers high tea with a nice, liberating angle: you get to choose what goes on your multi-tiered stand. And the sweet vs savoury bitchfight can be resolved more easily, because there are options for both. We went there back in June and I mostly liked it – the Contemporary Create Your Own Stand was more adventurous than your tired scone-and-sandwiches affair, although there were some flat notes (the Fig Crouton with Ricotta and Endive was dry-tasting, and impossible to sandwich together, so none of the flavours really fused – each ingredient just had a lonely, separatist, unfulfilling taste). I did love the Lemongrass Tea & Lychee Jelly with Coconut Sorbet and Berry Pudding with Greek Yogurt and Honey and Rich Chocolate Milkshake with Choc Chip Cookie though. You could take away the stand, and they’d still feel lofty.
Gallery Tea Lounge, Sheraton on the Park, 161 Elizabeth Street, Sydney NSW (02) 9286 6650, www.sheraton.com/sydney
When at work, there are three kinds of places you can go for lunch.
1. The kind where your tastebuds get over-ruled by your budget and anything will pass as long as it comes under $7.50. Often a paper bag and sitting at your desk is involved. You use the word “grab” when talking about it.
2. Then there’s category 2, where you loosen a few more dollars, and perhaps you get to use an actual plate and sit at a table. The food is nice – not best-lifetime-meal-ever, but good – and the likeable wait staff already have your usual order encoded into their brain.
3. This is the fanciest level, where you venture when totally bummed about work and think a $17 lunch could extinguish that feeling, or really so self-justifyingly great that no flimsy reason is needed to explain the lunch budget “blowout” (namely, the wonderful Vini).
The Gallery Cafe near Central Station is Category 2. They do a pretty decent Grilled Haloumi melt (with sweet potato, salad and citrus dressing) and I like that they top their Chilli Bean Nachos with a salsa made of fresh-cut tomato, sprinkled herbs and a dash of sweet vinegar. The menu is healthy – but not saintly tasteless – and just-what-you-need.
One really remarkable thing about the cafe is the fact it seems to be run by ex-circus performers. Once there, I saw one of the staff members (at the request of a large, slightly rowdy table) elegantly flip another worker onto his head. (She was his partner, I think.) It was impressive and probably the most eventful thing I’ve witnessed at a weekday lunch.
And when I asked how they managed to get a mass of playing cards to adhere to the cafe ceiling, the same guy demonstrated with a gravity-defying magic trick that really flashed before my eyes. If you have superhero-like eyesight – you might find a card with my name on it stuck high above you, as you eat.
Gallery Cafe, 74 Devonshire St, Surry Hills, NSW (02) 9281 5931
Malibu is tiny, there’s often a queue huddling out the door, and the service can sometimes be hard to describe if you’re cursed by a polite streak. My plan has always been to go very early (ie a three-hour headstart on the lunchtime rush can be handy, but maybe that’s just me being ludicrously crowd-cautious).
It’s the ginormous, tasty sandwiches make this place a drawcard. I always get the Seasonal Vegetables on Brown Vienna Bread, which sounds unexciting, but is crammed with creme fraiche potato salad, some tasty sweet potato mash, eggplant spread, crunchy fresh vegies drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and layers of salad leaves. It is crazy-big and would probably cause lock-jaw. Such an over-stuffed mega-sandwich is impossible to eat without your dignity landsliding away like the mash and salad slipping straight out of your sambo as you struggle to clutch it.
I always find it poncy to eat a sandwich with a knife and fork – but this is the only time I ever do. Otherwise, I’d have to wear a bib and an easy-to-maneouvre bag on my head, to save myself from social embarrassment.
Sometimes this sambo can double as two actual meals for me. Not bad for something that will still get you change from a $10 note.
Malibu Sandwiches, The Giorgio, Basement, Shop 1, 62-64 Foster St, Surry Hills NSW (02) 9280 2233
Hikaru has always suffered from Walk-Straight-Past-itis for me. All those years, I’ve worn my (sensible) shoes out on King St, Newtown, I’ve never ventured into this Japanese joint. It’s tucked around an easy-to-miss corner, and even though I’ve stopped in briefly twice, it’s definitely still in my Investigate-Further list. The first time, I had this awesome spinach salad which had some mysteriously good and unrecognisable ingredient that kept taunting me. Hence the need to investigate further.
Hikaru, 134 King St, Newtown 2042 NSW, (02) 9516 5959
Single Origin is so often prized with the “Sydney’s Best Coffee” tag, that hearing it get another caffeinated accolade is like finding out Meryl Streep is up for another Oscar.
This popular, buzzy cafe also has a few other things on its laminated menu too. The Four Cheese Toastie is melt-a-licious, but highly dangerous too. You may need multiple salads to defend yourself against the full-grade dairy assault. After learning that lesson, I opted for the fruit and ricotta toast the next time I had breakfast there.
Single Origin also has a decent selection of pies. The Mexican Bean, which hides a surprise burst of (less dangerous) cheese under the crust is my favourite. The spinach and fetta one, although slightly weird on the eye, is pretty decent too.
The last time I was there, my friends went halves on a pie. They asked for tomato sauce and the staff served it in Chinese noodle soup spoons – a classy touch.
Sadly, Single Origin isn’t open on the weekend. So you can only go there if you have the good cafe luck of working close by (or being able to teleport/or not having to work Monday-to-Friday). I guess all the buzzed-up office employees who use the place as a caffeine lifeline during the week keep it in health enough business as it is.
64 Reservoir St, Surry Hills, NSW(02) 9211 0665, www.singleorigin.com.au
Yes, Dinky Di Pies is a slightly dopey name for a bakery – and there are near-zero vego lunch options on display (unless you opt for one sticky-sweet meal to pad out your day) – but it is great for finding affordable petits fours to take to a dinner party. Each one is only $2.50 and I’d always fill a box with mini Opera slices – a triple treat of coffee-buttercream-chocolate – to bring over. It’s a good impress-your-friends secret!
Also, I was once on birthday-cake-buying duty and – wanting not to fall into the sad cliched trap of turning up to the office with a Michel’s Patisserie box – I opted for a half-chocolate/half-hazelnut concoction from here. It was surprisingly awesome and even snared a few cake compliments. Not so dinky then.
Dinky Di Pies 420 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills NSW (02) 9699 6736
Wagaya is a very popular Japanese restaurant where you can order via touch screen. It’s a lot of fun, even if the food can be variable. And although you’re tapping away at a computer most of the time, it turns out to be a super-social activity, because the novelty of the experience gets everyone buzzing around the table. (Especially when you get to see how over-the-top some of dishes are. Also, you get to order suspiciously-bright coloured drinks named after your birthstone. And conscript yourself for the sushi roulette, which involves near-death-via-wasabi.)
I think it’d be a really nice, casual place to go on a first date – all the interactivity would take the awkwardness factor away. (Or at least disguise it successfully until you walked out the restaurant door.)
Also, the touch-screen ordering takes away the stress of having to align your menu decisions with the exact point the waiter turns up. Or having to do that awkward
summoning of the waiter, complete with over-obvious head and hand “I’m ready to order” movements that make you look like a mime school reject. (So often ineffectual as waiters whizz past or stare blankly ahead of you.)
It also clears away the need to wait for everyone else to choose before logging in what you want. And you can flip through the screen to see a dish and its description and not have to overconfidently fake the fact you really don’t know what the majority of the menu actually is.
And, unlike many places, when you tap in an order for a glass of water, it actually turns up. (Miracle!)
If you want to amp up the social-bonding factor, you can also book in a room with karaoke facilities. Sadly, you can’t touch-screen-delete any unflattering song choices or note-busting faux pas. If only.
Wagaya, Level 1, 78-86 Harbour St, Haymarket, NSW (02) 9212 6068; SMS reservations can be made on 0416 200 223
It isn’t really my thing, I have to say. Like Wagaya, Takeru strays into this weird culinary zone – think pasta, pizza and bakes on an Eastern menu. It’s not so much fusion as Japanese cover versions of Western food. And like really unadvisable karaoke, I don’t think it works.
It’s strange as I don’t think your average Western restaurant even serves such daggy traditional fare as vegetable gratin anymore (except for truck stops or bainmarie joints??), so it’s weird to see it on an Oriental menu. And it tastes sort of the same, except with some addition of soy sauce, perhaps. I’m not entirely sure what the point of it is.
There are straight Japanese dishes on the menu, but really, I prefer the comfort zone of Ramen Kan – where the oddball menu-mash-ups are minimal.
Takeru Japanese Cuisine, Shop 10, 339 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW (02) 9283 3522
I think there’s a rule somewhere (probably spelt out in sugar and cream and praline) that you can’t run a Sydney food blog without covering Adriano Zumbo, the much-mentioned patisserie in Balmain. One of the on-show creations is even named after a well-loved food blogger.
Everything on display at Adriano Zumbo looks like a haute couture piece – embroidered with lavish touches that look more at home in a luxury goods store than a box ready to be assaulted with a spoon.
The one problem I find with Adriano Zumbo is that you need to forensically gaze over each millimetre of the display case to even manage a longlist of what you want. It’s such a popular, narrow space that such investigative work is impossible (and nuisance-causing), so instead you just have to join the line and gamble that you’ve figured it out by the time you’re rushed to the front.
To make the indecision worse, there’s a twin store dedicated to chocolate very close by. You’ll just have to undergo your research one artisan-pastry-bite at a time.
Adriano Zumbo, 296 Darling St, Balmain, Sydney, NSW (02) 9810 7318, www.adrianozumbo.com
Part 2 (end of stocktake sale) coming soon….