Category Archives: Sydney CBD

Hola, we’re off to meh-he-co!

Just when you thought good-ol’ Sydney town couldn’t take another taco… hola, Mejico! Swinging open its doors, right next to Jamie’s Italian on Pitt Street, Mejico has set itself apart from its fellow quesadilla-loving counterparts in various arenas.

Firstly, the name. It’s not pronounced Mexico, it’s “meh-he-co” – the way you say it in North America. I’m usually not one for silly restaurant names but just saying “meh-he-co” gets me all excited. I almost want to break into a Mexican hat dance and twirl my brightly coloured skirt. Almost.

It's a far cry from your usual Mexican restaurant

It’s a far cry from your usual Mexican restaurant

Secondly, the fitout. You may want to leave your feathered headdress at home because Mejico is no ordinary cantina. Owner Dr Sam Prince, of Zambrero Fresh Mex Grill, has spent over $4 million on a design that features fluro pink stools, leather lounges, an open bar and bold hand-painted striped walls. This vibrant aesthetic, together with a team of staff that strut around in fluro pink-and-white striped t-shirts mean that energy levels at Mejico are high.

 

Hiramasa kingfish ceviche with watermelon, radish and pepita on house-baked tostadas

Hiramasa kingfish ceviche with watermelon, radish and pepita on house-baked tostadas

Thirdly, Mejico does not serve Mexican street food. Chef Daniel Schai (imported from Singapore) has created an upmarket menu with dishes such as Achiote chicken and 24 hour smoked pork belly tacos. But the key component in all dishes is freshness. And this isn’t the standard claim-to-fresh-produce statement. It’s; “You want guac to start?”. Smack, bang – the wait staff mash it up right in front of you. “Need a corn fix?” Out comes the grill. Plantain chips are made by hand and the tostadas are baked in-house.

Chargrilled Black Angus sirloin with quinoa, black bean, pumpkin and green chimichurri

Chargrilled Black Angus sirloin with quinoa, black bean, pumpkin and green chimichurri

And lastly, there’s more than margaritas on the drinks list. In fact, Mejico has the longest tequila list in Sydney. If you don’t want to eat, guests can perch themselves at the open bar and enjoy a cocktail or two.

Restaurants love to make a claim but most are just that; statements that aren’t followed though. At Mejico, they practise what they preach.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Mejico here

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Just Pure Bistro at Swissotel Sydney

There is a tingly feeling that comes with dining in a luxury hotel. The place seems to exist on its own frequency, which gives even the jaded local the delicious feeling of rendezvousing in one’s own town. This is especially true of Sydney’s Swissotel, with its practically-hidden entrance on Market Street, across the road from the high-octane glitz of Topshop and the State Theatre.

Meredith goat cheese croquettes

Meredith goat cheese croquettes

The Swissotel’s new signature restaurant, Just Pure Bistro, also thrives on unexpected appearances. The mirrored elevators and marble tiles of the hotel sharply contrast with the styling of the restaurant’s entrance, which is piled with bales of hay strewn with pumpkins and wheels of cheese. Executive Chef Stephan Tseng is breaking into territory so far untouched by Sydney’s high-end hotels; the reasonably-priced bistro. JPB has all the makings of a budget-blowing restaurant – the Stolzle Lausitz glasses, plush furnishings and ambient lighting – but the menu has been thoughtfully constructed with comfortingly familiar dishes at equally comforting prices.

Grilled swordfish with organic soba noodles, smoky eggplant and stuffed zucchini flowers

Grilled swordfish with organic soba noodles, smoky eggplant and stuffed zucchini flowers

We are seated in one of the glass atriums that line the outside wall of the restaurant, the sinewy cables of Sydney Tower rise directly before us and the magic of the city skyline looms beyond. The hospitality of the staff is at once professional and homely. The delivery of the menus is accompanied by an insight into JPB’s focus on sustainable, ethical dining and a well-informed explanation of the farms that supply the kitchen with its produce. There is a complimentary serving of house-baked spelt with olives and a side of deliciously fruity olive oil from a small producer in Megalong in regional NSW.

Frozen nougat with fresh berry salad and green tea ice cream

Frozen nougat with fresh berry salad and green tea ice cream

What follows is a theatre of country-style flavours executed with five-star technique. The Hunter Valley organic chicken is served with a crispy, golden skin on a generous pile of green beans, mushrooms and puy lentils. The lamb rack, plate after plate of which seemed to be coming out of the kitchen for every occupied table in the restaurant, was juicy and flavorsome. The mille-feuille was a ballerina of a dessert, all wafer-thin layers of crisp pastry constructed with delicate slivers of pear and light vanilla custard.

Sydneysiders are notoriously image-conscious. Long-trapped between the desire to be seen in a dining room with class but wary of spending a small fortune on a weekday meal, JPB breaches the gap nicely.

Elizabeth Fenech

Read more about Just Pure Bistro here

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Not much wrong with Mr Wong

Every man and his blog has “checked in” at Mr Wong. Foodies, socialites and cashed up executives flock here to experience sexy Cantonese fare and a killer drinks menu that features everything from sake to cider.

 

Mr Wong is swank central. Spread over two levels, the restaurant is littered with timeless colonial furnishings –  quirky lampshades, antique Chinese cupboards and quaint pieces of china – but rather than feeling stale and stuffy, Mr Wong exudes a sultry, ‘I’m-on-the-set of-Sex-in-the City’ vibe. Yes, there are token ‘Chinese restaurant’ touches, like a couple of waving cats, but design king Michael McCann has ensured the end result is all glamour and style.

 

Mr Wong is cleverly geared for group dining

Mr Wong is cleverly geared for group dining

Mr Wong is cleverly geared for group dining – bookings can only be made for six or more and the restaurant is furnished with mostly round and rectangular tables. The menu, too, is best approached with a horde of hungry friends to ensure you get a taste of at least a few of the 80 dishes on offer.

 

Mr Wong embodies all the assets of a truly great restaurant. From the moment we walked in the doors, we were met with efficiency and courtesy. We soon forgot about the fact that we had to wait for an hour to get a table, thanks to the two ‘complimentary cocktail’ vouchers we received to use at their sister venue, Palmer and Co, just around the corner.  The food refuses to play second fiddle to the restaurant design, with classic dishes such a Chinese roasted duck and soy braised chicken with ginger scallion sauce taking centre stage. Steamed, poached, pan-fried and baked dim sum make up the lunch menu while dinner dishes are graced by roasted meats and live seafood from the tank. We recommend the XO twice-cooked green beans with pork mince and the stir fried chilli king prawns. Both are outstanding.

There are over 80 dishes on offer

There are over 80 dishes that make up the Cantonese menu

The food doesn’t come cheap but when you consider that Justin Hemmes put in a casual $4 million to give life to Mr Wong’s, the bill isn’t quite as outrageous. The service is smooth enough, perhaps a few more men in tuxedos would help, but the “people-watching” is unparalleled – especially if you nab a table on the top floor with views of the entire restaurant.

 

The no-bookings policy has meant a visit to Mr Wong has, in hindsight, been regrettably long overdue.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Mr Wong here

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Filed under Circular Quay, Mr Wong, Reviews, Sydney CBD

Sydney’s latest American-themed dive bar, Frankie’s

“Would you like another drink, sir?” “Can I fill your pretty ceramic bowl with more activated almonds?” “Can I direct you to the bathrooms?” Sometimes (and I mean only occasionally) you don’t want to be mollycoddled like you’re the Queen.

Frankie's cheesy Italian restaurant

Frankie’s cheesy Italian restaurant serves pizza by the slice (how NYC of them!)

Enter Sydney’s latest American-themed dive bar. The neon-lit “Frankie’s” sign, complete with a picture of a pizza slice, sets the scene. I’m not going to sugar coat it, Frankie’s won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s grungy and dirty-looking, with retro-inspired décor and drinks that are served in plastic cups. So what’s the appeal, I hear you ask? I guess that question can be directed more broadly – what’s the appeal of any dive bar? For me, places like this provide a refuge after a mind-numbing day in the office. You don’t want to be pampered, you just want to escape and given that Frankie’s is open until 4am, you can do just that, well into the wee hours of the morning. And you don’t just come here to drink. Have a game of pinball, wander into the cheesy pizza parlour and order a $5 slice or simply slink into a plush leather booth and nurse a bottle of craft beer (Frankie’s has one of the most impressive lists of craft beer in town).

The team behind Frankie’s Pizza are like bar royalty, they’re the creators of Shady Pines Saloon and Baxter Inn and while Hunter Street may not have a reputation as a drinking destination, the addition of Frankie’s is set to shake things up.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Frankie’s here

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It’s all about DIY at the David Jones Wine Bar

‘You have to do it yourself?’ I hear a smartly-dressed lady ask her equally well-dressed friend. It seems like a very “un-David Jones” thing to do but yes, at their new wine bar – the novelty is Do It Yourself.

Tucked away in a discreet corner of its sprawling basement gourmet food court is the David Jones Wine Bar. There are a handful of stools that line the bar for solo dining and a few large tables are perfect for groups of up to six. One wall is lined with emerald green floral Tea2 teapots, cups and saucers, adding a touch of frivolity to the otherwise serious bar-like surrounds.

Tea2 teapots, cups and saucers line the bar's back wall

Tea2 teapots, cups and saucers line the bar’s back wall

The idea is simple: put some credit on a plastic card and then walk over to the glass wine cabinets that run the length of the wall and touch the button above your wine selection. Not a wine connoisseur? Never fear! The David Jones philosophy of selling “the best and most exclusive goods” still applies to its high-class vending machines and there isn’t a glass on their wine lists that isn’t worth drinking.

The DIY nature of the wine bar may not be for everyone, but it’s a novelty that’s worth a visit – even if you just wind up with a bagful of chocolate-coated-strawberries from the main food court on your way out.

Anna Lisle

Read more about David Jones Wine Bar here

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Surrender to the warm Italian arms of Fratelli Fresh

Slip down the sandstone stairs and fall into the warm Italian arms of Fratelli Fresh. Fratelli, meaning brother in Italian, has established a unique retail/restaurant concept in Sydney’s dining scene – with outlets in Walsh Bay, Waterloo, Potts Point and lastly, Bridge Street.

Wander the aisles of Fratelli Fresh for some gourmet food shopping therapy

Wander the aisles of Fratelli Fresh for some gourmet food shopping therapy

Hidden in the depths of an old sandstone building in the heart of Sydney’s bustling CBD, Fratelli on Bridge Streets exudes a romantic and old world charm. There are several little nooks that make up the surprisingly large underground space – with two private dining spaces called Cuvee Louise dining room and Campari Bar.

Tuna crudo with walnut pesto

Tuna crudo with walnut pesto

There’s a mozzarella bar for a quick post-work glass of pinot and an antipasto platter and a retail area where you can purchase some gourmet delights for your next dinner party. Got time to spare? Take a seat at Café Sopra and settle in for the evening. We recommend sharing a selection of dishes such as tomato and mozzarella salad, meatball orechiette and arancini. The staff, while helpful and energetic, are a little bit inexperienced so try drag along a wine snob friend for advice in the beverage department.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Cafe Sopra Fratelli Fresh Bridge Street here

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Jamie Oliver. Need I say more?

When you’re Jamie Oliver, you don’t have to try very hard to get the crowds queuing at your restaurant door and Oliver’s first Australian restaurant has managed to sustain its hype amongst foodies, nearly eighteen months after it opened.

Jamie’s Italian, on Pitt Street, takes bookings for dinner at 6.00pm or 8.30pm, but only for groups of 6 or more. For couples and smaller groups, there is a now-accepted expectation that if you want to dine at J.O’s, then you’ve got to work for it – with waiting times fluctuating from anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours. But Jamie’s devotees are not easily deterred, especially when great food and great times are guaranteed to land on your table.

Chilli and mussel linguine

Chilli and mussel linguine

Oliver has built his restaurants with the understanding that there is more to a dining experience than just food. Spread over two levels, his Pitt Street hangout boasts a warehouse chic vibe with exposed metal and concrete walls. It’s dimly lit, yet not so dark that you can’t see your food. There is a constant hum of excitement in the air, especially as it’s absolutely packed, night after night. When you arrive at a place where everybody’s pumped, even on a Monday night, the food becomes an afterthought.

This isn’t to say that the Naked Chef lets his famous antipasti platters or home-made pasta dishes fall by the wayside. It’s just that diners are having such a great time that the impressive menu becomes a bonus. His “fish in the bag” is a must for seafood-lovers, with the cracked wheat-based dish overflowing with mussels, fish and clams.  Again, the seaside risotto offers an abundance of aqua-inspired delights, while the wild rabbit tagliolini is a rich and indulgent homage to the land of the boot. The crisp polenta chips with rosemary and parmesan is a must-order, as is the fennel and apple salad. Daily specials keep the regulars interested and a diverse selection of Italian drops and beers work perfectly with Oliver’s rustic Italian fare.

Sure, there are plenty of Sydney restaurants that offer delicious food and great service. But Jamie’s Italian guarantees an element that they don’t award Chef Hats for – and that’s damn good fun.

Anna Lisle

Read more about Jamie’s Italian here

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