The last weekend in September in Western Australia was our Queen’s birthday long weekend. I spent it in Sydney.
The last time I took a long weekend trip over east, it was to Melbourne, and in my blog post I mentioned my preference for red-eye flights going east because it means I’ll arrive with a whole day ahead of me. The only catch with this strategy is that I pretty much skip a night’s sleep in the process. This time, I deliberately avoided the in-flight entertainment in an attempt to get some sleep on the plane. But two screaming children in the cabin put an end to my best intentions. I arrived in Sydney just after 6am having squeezed in an hour’s disrupted sleep at most.
I had left behind sunny 30°C days in Perth – I caught the airport train to Wynyard station and stepped out into 13°C, heavy rain and slippery streets. I was wearing my rain jacket but to spare my suitcase and camera bag from a drenching, inched my way towards my hotel, taking cover whenever I could.
This time around I had booked a room at the Shangri-La Sydney, a short walk to Circular Quay, a ferry ride away to my friends Craig and Caroline’s apartment. As I’d expected, my room wouldn’t be ready until closer to 3pm; but it was no problem to leave my suitcase with the hotel for safe-keeping while I began my eating adventures.
It had been over three years since I’d been in Sydney and I had one thing on my mind for breakfast: a curry Tiger pie at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. I would’ve walked to Haymarket to Harry’s on George Street but decided the wider awnings at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels in Woolloomooloo would offer better shelter from the rain. I grabbed a cab to Woolloomooloo.
‘Tiger’ was the nickname of Harry Edwards, the bloke who established the original Harry’s pie cart back in 1938, selling ‘pie and peas’ and crumbed sausages near the front gates of the naval dockyard at Woolloomooloo. The Tiger is a pie topped with mashed potato, mushy peas and brown gravy. You can tiger up a regular old beef pie, chicken and mushroom pie, vegetable and cheese, cheese and bacon, beef curry or curry chicken pie. This time, I chose a chicken curry tiger. The chicken curry was spicy but not fiery, with chunks of chicken. Tiger pies are messy to eat – once you break through with your first bite, the flow of gravy is hard to stop. Thankfully, there are tissues on the counter next to the sauces (Worcestershire, sweet chilli and HP), white vinegar and salt and pepper.
After my pie and a walk around town, I went to Burger Project for a lunch date with my friend Craig (remember my friends Craig and Caroline who joined me on a photography safari on King Island?). Ever since Burger Project opened for business in World Square, I’ve been obsessively drooling over its Instagram feed. Burger Project is the burger joint of celebrity chef Neil Perry, famous for his Rockpool and Spice Temple restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne, Rockpool Bar & Grill Perth, and for creating menus for Qantas First and Business class.
Craig had the Bacon Project (beef, “loads of Bar Fridge smoked bacon”, cheese, pickles and secret sauce – AU$13.90). I chose the Cheese and Bacon (beef, bacon, cheese, onion, pickles, tomato, lettuce and secret sauce – AU$10.90) and fries (small, AU$2.90). The burgers are made with Cape Grim grass-fed beef. Add other top quality ingredients, crunchy tangy pickles, secret recipe sauce, and a chewy, squishy burger-strength bun, and wow – you’ve got yourself an exceptional burger.
Craig got a salted caramel shake (AU$6.50) and I had a strawberry house soda (AU$4.50). I’ve heard Burger Project gets extremely busy, especially on weekends – we got there shortly after opening (11am), well before the weekday lunch crowd arrived.
Perth readers, if flying to Sydney’s not an option, you can get a taste of Neil Perry’s burger creations from the Burger Bar at Rockpool Bar & Grill Perth.
After lunch, Craig headed back to work while I made my way to Regent Place on George Street on another mission – to taste the signature sea salt soft serve at Aqua S, something else I’ve been admiring from afar on social media. Sea salt’s the permanent flavour on Aqua S’ menu, with two other flavours that change every second Thursday. On this day, they were guava and honey creme. You can have one flavour or sea salt swirled with a second flavour, either piped into a cup or on a dark chocolate cone that’s more looks than taste. And if that’s not enough, there are toppings, of which you can have one, multiple, or all: popping candy, caramel popcorn, grilled marshmallows and fairy floss.
I got my sea salt soft serve on a cone with fairy floss, an outrageously bouffant creation that was difficult to photograph and a challenge to eat as I valiantly worked my way inward and around to reach the soft serve before it began to melt and drip down the cone onto my jeans. By the time I was done, my face and hands were sticky and I felt like I’d just completed a surreal eating obstacle course. The sea salt soft serve was very creamy, slightly salty, almost buttery. Would I have it again? You betcha! But next time I’ll choose a topping that’s easier to manage, like caramel popcorn.
Regent Place has really come a long way since the last time I checked it out (2011) – it’s grown into a bustling food precinct. Sadly, the wonderful and cosy little Azuma Cafe is gone – their specialty was chiffon cakes (though you can still order some of the old favourites online from the patisserie and pick up from Azuma Restaurant in Chifley Plaza).
I returned to my hotel and crashed out in my room for a couple of hours. It’s a good thing I set my alarm, as I’d have slept right through to the morning and missed dinner.
I’ve been a big fan of chef Kylie Kwong ever since her first book, Recipes and Stories and her first TV series, Heart and Soul. I failed to get to her restaurant at its original site on Crown Street in Surry Hills and was determined to get to it this time, at its new location in Potts Point. I’d made a reservation several weeks ahead for the three of us (Craig, Caroline and me) at Billy Kwong for Friday night.
The restaurant was busy and we were packed in pretty tightly, but the food was fantastic and I think I’ll be back the next time I’m in Sydney. The restaurant has an award-winning wine list, but I was most impressed with my refreshing lilly pilly mocktail. We spotted Kylie Kwong’s mum (recognisable as she’s been on Kylie’s TV shows) and then Kylie herself talking to guests at an adjacent table. For most of the evening, Kylie was in full flight in the kitchen and at the pass, bluetooth earpiece in one ear. Next time I think I’ll try for a seat at the bar so I can get a better view of the open kitchen. Bookings for the restaurant are essential, but the bar is kept free for walk-ins.
I slept well that night but woke up bright and early to meet Craig and Caroline at Circular Quay. We caught the ferry to Balmain East, had a quick look at the shops in Balmain and jumped on a bus to get us to Orange Grove Market, on Saturday mornings at Orange Grove Public School in Lilyfield.
My friend Jackie M has a Malaysian food stall at Orange Grove Market, and I simply followed my nose, smelling the hot smoky wok in action well before I saw it. I’d told Jackie I was coming to Sydney but we hadn’t made plans to meet up – so she was pretty surprised when I rocked up with Craig and Caroline at her stall at the market. Jackie’s curry puffs and chicken char kway teow made a brilliant breakfast.
The gingerbread was for later; for now, I got stuck into Flour and Stone’s famous panna cotta lamington, which comes in its own box. I have friends who don’t like lamingtons because they find the cake too dry. This is the answer: a lamington cake that has holes poked through it before a panna cotta mix is poured over and allowed to soak in. The result is a super moist lamington. A similar technique is used in making tres leches cake. The panna cotta lamington is halved and filled with raspberry jam, coated in chocolate and covered with a mixture of desiccated and flaked coconut. It’s a big call to make, but I proclaim this the best lamington I’ve ever eaten.
We drove to Zeus Street Greek in Drummoyne for a very late lunch. All that eating at the market had put our meal times out of whack and I had dinner plans to keep in mind – so Caroline and I shared a Papou Niko (AU$10.50) – slow cooked pork, Aegean slaw, caramelised onion, preserved lemon mayo and parsley wrapped in a house-made pillowy pita. Craig managed one on his own. We all shared a serving of feta and oregano chips (AU$8.50). I can see why so many Sydney food bloggers raved on about Zeus – it’s terrific! On a future visit, I’d like to try their signature slow cooked lamb, perhaps ‘nude’ (the lamb, not ME!) rather than in a pita, served with tzatziki and lemon, and I’ll plan it better so I’ll have room for some loukoumades (Greek hot doughnuts soaked in honey syrup and covered in cinnamon sugar). See, this is why it’s so glorious and impossible every time I visit Sydney – I have old favourites I want to revisit, discoveries from the previous visit I want to go back to, but always, a long list of new places I want to check out – and not enough meals or stomach to do it all…
My second eldest sister and her hubby have recently returned to Sydney after many months of world travels. My younger sister Juji and her hubby Jay were in Sydney for the long weekend too – though we didn’t follow exactly the same itinerary. We all met up on Saturday night and went to Bar H in Surry Hills for a late dinner.
Bar H is dark and noisy, and reminded me of MoVida Melbourne somehow, although the food is entirely different. My Sydney sis told me the menu was previously Chinese-inspired but is now definitely Japanese-style. I liked it and would happily eat there again. As is the style of now – the menu’s designed to be shared.
Craig and Caroline picked me up from the hotel on Sunday morning for a road trip to the Hunter Valley. We stopped for breakfast on the way at Cafe F3 on the M1 (previously known as F3 – which is where the cafe gets its name). We had roast pork sandwiches (AU$7.95) with butter and gravy on soft white bread, each with a piece of crackling.
Lunch was at the Lovedale Smokehouse Cafe in Lovedale. It was quiet, practically empty. We shared a dish with sausages (smoked chorizo sausage, smoked chicken and forest mushroom sausage, smoked Austrian pork and cheese kransky), roasted potatoes, mixed leaf salad, mustard and chutney (AU$27) and one of the platters for two (The Talga, $47.50 – with thin slices of smoked chicken breast, mild ham sausage salami (Sunkarica), smoked pepperoni with black pepper and garlic, grapevine-smoked ham loin, house baked ciabatta rolls (served warm), smoked local Green Verdale olives, mixed leaf salad with balsamic vinaigrette, smoked local cheddar and tomato, apple and date chutney. Craig and I ordered a couple of old-fashioned spiders (ginger beer for Craig and lime for me).
We went to Sabor in the Hunter, a dessert bar located at Lambloch Estate, a 20-acre vineyard in Pokolbin. There are over 50 desserts on the menu here, which can be enjoyed with coffee, tea, or matching dessert wines. The desserts are individual creations – nothing is served by the slice. The dessert bar at Pokolbin is the second, bigger Sabor location in Hunter Valley – the original is only 5 minutes away in Lovedale. It was difficult choosing what to have – there were at least ten things I’d have happily tried.
On Sunday night, I met up with Juji and Jay for dinner at Yebisu Izakaya in Regent Place. We didn’t have a booking and had to line up, but were seated within around 15 minutes.
You order via a tablet menu, which is very convenient, but it was positioned at a fixed, upright angle that we found uncomfortable to use after a while. This wasn’t the most amazing Japanese food I’ve eaten but I enjoyed my dinner – especially the spicy edamame and garlicky fried rice, which I couldn’t stop eating.
I skipped a breakfast excursion on my final morning in favour of a more leisurely start to the day. I slept in and had breakfast buffet at Cafe Mix, one of the restaurants at my hotel. It’s pretty standard buffet fare. There was a very simple congee station (rice porridge, pickled vegetables, fried shallots, soy sauce), cold meats and fish, cheeses, fruits, breads and pastries and a range of hot dishes. I had two cups of coffee, fruit juice, assembled my own fry-up and ordered an omelette with ham and tomato (the breakfast buffet includes eggs cooked to order, to your liking).
My final meal in Sydney was lunch at Devon on Danks in Waterloo with Jackie M (with her son Noah) and Twitter/Instagram friend Karen, who picked me up from the Shangri-La. I couldn’t believe it – after all the rain, the sun came out blazing on my last day. Love the menu with Asian twists at this cafe. Devon on Danks is the sister cafe to the original Devon (another Sydney bloggers’ darling) on Devonshire Street in Surry Hills.
We laughed and told stories over lunch and I wished I could stay for another round – but I had to get to the airport and Jackie gave me a lift. I had a pleasant flight home, mostly thanks to an upgrade to Business Class using my Qantas Frequent Flyer points. Dinner was smoked salmon, wasabi mayo and pickled onions (starter); beef massaman curry with rice (main course); and Maggie Beer Burnt Fig, Honeycomb & Caramel ice cream (dessert).
I had fun catching up with my friends and family, and the eating was as great as ever. Sydney really is one of my favourite cities away from home. I’m determined not to take another three years to get back there – hopefully my next visit will be within the next year or so.
Mentioned in this post
I stayed at the Shangri-La Sydney
176 Cumberland Street, The Rocks, Sydney NSW 2000
I had breakfast (buffet) at Cafe Mix at the Shangri-La on my last morning.
Harry’s Cafe de Wheels
I went to the Woolloomooloo Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, on the corner of Cowper Wharf Roadway and Brougham Road. I’ve also been to Harry’s in Newcastle and Haymarket, and at Sydney Airport (since closed down). See more Harry’s Cafe de Wheels locations.
Cafe Fuerza Bruta
Kent Street laneway, Regent Place
1/28 Macleay Street, Potts Point NSW 2011
Zeus Street Greek
187-189 Lyons Road, Drummoyne NSW 2047
Zeus Street Greek is opening soon in Cronulla, Dulwich Hill and Rosebery.
They opened recently in South Bank, Brisbane QLD.
80 Campbell St Surry Hills 2010
Regent Place, 501 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Devon on Danks
2 Danks Street, Waterloo NSW 2017
Hunter Valley day trip
Cafe F3 is on the M1 (used to be the F3, hence the cafe name) on the way to the Hunter Valley. It’s next to a McDonald’s. If I ever find myself down that road again, you can bet I’ll stop for another roast pork sandwich.
Lovedale Smokehouse Cafe
64 Majors Lane, Lovedale NSW 2320