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Satisfying Saturdays
Eating Well In Sydney

By Chuck Hayward with foreword and post script by Charles Olken

Editors Note: Not long after yesterday’s blog was posted, I received an email from my “down-under” guru. Chuck Hayward is widely acknowledged as one of the West Coast’s most knowledgeable purveyors of wines from and information about wines from Australia and New Zealand. For years, he held court at the misnamed Jug Shop in San Francisco, and lately he has been enlisted as the Wine Educator and Australian and New Zealand wine buyer for the very active online merchant, J. J. Buckley.

Chuck had read the blog and offered to add to my list of chosen restaurants that was promised for this space. And since Chuck has spent even more time and more recent time in Sydney than I have, I upped the ante and suggested that he guest-edit today’s blog with its focus on good eating in Sydney. His recommendations for Rockpool and Bathers Pavilion could have come right out of my personal playbook, and needless to say, I agree with them. Aqua and Quay are new to me, and go straight to the top of my “next time” list. I have added a couple of special spots at the end of Chuck’s recommendations.

Chuck Hayward writes

When it comes to the eating out in Australia, Sydney's dining establishments reflect the city's role as a center of business and its place as the country's center of power even if the capital is an hour's flight south. Where eating out in rival city Melbourne is usually a more intimate experience, Sydney's restaurants are as equally concerned about making the "grand statement" while at the same time affording diners dramatic views of the hills surrounding the beautiful waters of Sydney Harbour. This is not to say that the food isn't good. There is some fantastic food being prepared in the neighborhoods of this energetic metropolis, the problem is keeping abreast of the constant changes. Sydney's dominant paper, the Sydney Morning Herald, publishes the well respected Good Food Guide each year and is always a handy guide for visitors. But nothing can beat the feet on the ground and here are a few favorites from my many visits.

Each of these restaurants is on the pricier end of things, boast impeccable service and winelists that are comprehensive explorations of Australia's regions and styles. Interestingly, Sydney's dining scene also has very liberal BYO approach which is perfect when showing off that Dry Creek Zinfandel to your friends and the waiter.

Aqua Dining: For sheer drama thanks to a beautiful view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, take a quick ferry from Circular Quay to Maslin Point. Disembarking near the retro Luna Park amusement park, you'll walk past an Olympic sized public pool to a elegantly styled dining room with large windows giving everyone jaw dropping views of the bridge above and the Opera House in the background. With an emphasis on Mod-Oz cuisine highlighting local fish and meat, the flavors are precise and clean and not in the slightest way overbearing. Top-notch wines and efficient service round out a perfect lunch experience.

Bather's Pavilion: Although this is a half hour hike from Sydney's CBD, the trip is worth it as the food and view combine to create a dining experience that is quite relaxed compared to the energy saturated dining rooms of the city proper. For ten years, Serge Dansereau has reigned over this low slung building which once housed changing rooms for swimmers that looks out on a small beach and a view east towards Hunters Bay and the ocean. The dining room is simple and brightly lit during the day which focuses the attention to the table where Serge's strong French cooking techniques are combined with locally sourced ingredients. There is also a strong vegetarian menu option that works perfectly with Sally Harper's well selected wine list.

Golden Century: If you want to enjoy classical Chinese seafood, there is no better place than Golden Century in the Chinatown district. Dishes range from ten bucks to the hundreds of dollars as all manner of fish encased in skin and shell swim in tanks awaiting their destiny. Populated by everyone from starving students, celebrating families, and slick-haired gangster types, you take escalators up to the main dining room to see cabinets holding multiple vintages of Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace. As much a wild dining experience that approaches theater, waitresses bring your flopping fish to the table for inspection in a brightly lit cavernous room that sees continuous service til 4am.

Icebergs: In a city where restaraunt views are plenty, sitting atop a small cliff overlooking the ocean and the crescent shape of Bondi Beach has to take the cake. Eating top-notch Italian food with an Aussie temperament in a sleekly designed space that allows the diner to see and be seen is the cream on the cake. With relaxed yet professional service, chef Robert Marchetti takes advantage of local ingredients and adds Tuscan cooking techniques to create food that pays respect to the culinary traditions of both countires. The presentations are clean and elegant and are worthy views in themselves if you could ever stop staring at the ocean.

Quay: The Sydney Opera House remains Australia's architectural icon and directly across the Circular Quay lies the Quay Restaurant which has quickly placed itself as one of the city's iconic dining experiences. In less than ten years, it has become Sydney's leading restaurant with forward culinary thinking expressed on each plate. Not as avant garde as what you might expect in Chicago or Spain, Quay, under the direction of chef Peter Gilmore, nevertheless pushes his food towards a modern statement on the plate without losing sight of the fact that the flavor of each dish's ingredients comes first. In this case, Quay's focus on seafood keeps things light while you look out at yet another stunning view of water, bridge and the Opera House as the ferries and water taxis pass by. Expensive but the well priced lunch menu shows the kitchen's talents perfectly.

Rockpool Bar + Grill: Neil Perry is one of Australia's most popular chefs and Rockpool is where it all started. While Neil has completely remodeled his first home base on the Rocks, his latest venture is the new Rockpool Bar + Grill in the Business District and it has rewritten all the superlatives that can be hurled at a dining establishment. Expensive for sure but the quality and presentation of the best meat that Australia can raise is beyond reproach. But what sets Perry's new effort apart from Sydney's compatriots is a spare-no-prisoners approach to wine. With a wine list that easily covers the best from Australia, head sommelier Sophie Otton steals sommeliers from across the globe (including one from San Fransico’s Gary Danko just recently) as she expands on a wine list that also includes the best from Europe and California. The 3500 bottle list, started when Perry's partner sent the bulk of his $9 million cellar to Sydney, shows wines from Europe and California and is more extensive than anything this city has seen before. One could quibble that Rockpool resembles an upscale American restaurant in Aussie clothing—but that list!!

Charles Olken writes

I am not sure what Chuck means by “resembles an American restaurant”. Great restaurants in great cities all have a buzz to them. In fact, it seems to me that, like it or not, the great countryside restaurants in France and this country are a lot more relaxed than the big city places. But, whatever he means, I like Rockpool. It is simply a great restaurant.

Also at the very top end is Tetsuya’s. For years, this palace of gastronomy has ranked with the best in the world. It has been at the top of the list in Sydney for at least twenty years, and although it is this year surpassed by the likes of Quay and a couple of others in the annual Sydney Restaurant Guide, it has lost none of its luster and still operates in the culinary stratosphere. There is one menu covering eleven courses paced over several hours and priced so high that if you have to ask, you should not go. It reminds me of nothing so much as the Napa Valley’s French Laundry. Be forewarned. Like the great restaurants everywhere, one should make reservations months in advance.

Guillaume at the Bennelong occupies one of the buildings on the platform of the Sydney Opera House. We like to go there for lunch and watch the activity on the harbor.

And I would add Sailor’s Thai to the list. Owner David Thompson’s food is so good that he was invited by the Thai government to go to Thailand and work with chefs there. His building in The Rocks has a canteen where you sit at long tables elbow to cheek with other folks from around the world eating some of the most delicious dishes you can imagine. The building also has white table cloth room with fancier preparations, longer meals and higher prices. Last time in Sydney, the Olkens ate at both.

Chuck made reference to Melbourne, Australia’s second city, and its eating scene. He prefers that city. I prefer Sydney for eating preferences and quality. Both are lovely places. And Melbourne, which has a much more calm pace, and is smaller, plays Boston to New York or San Francisco to Los Angeles. More on Melbourne in a later installment of the blog.


Best Pizza Pub In The World
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:11/20/2010 1:05:13 PM

The Australia Hotel, located at the top of The Rocks District--an easy walk, especially if you are wandering over to Observatory Hill and directly past the Harbour Bridge, features fifteen kinds of pizza with a distinctly Aussie slant (crocodile, emu and roo) and loads of beer on tap. Its wine shop, immediately next door sponsors tastings and has a great range of interesting offerings as well as some of the rare Aussie bottled beers.

The place is also a B & B, but offers shared bathrooms. The rooming price is right for those who do not mind the style, but the pizza and suds are the main attractions. We have stopped there on every trip to Sydney.

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