Writing an end/beginning of year blog post seems to be either required, or derided as an easy post. Given its been so long since I’ve written a blog post, I don’t think the charge of ‘too easy’ should stand here, and furthermore its been my first full calendar year in Sydney, and that seems like a good waypoint to reflect on my new life, and tell you Sydneysiders a few of my observations.
I am, however, going to shamelessly use the lazy blogger’s approach: a list. Here’s 10 Sydney observations, and a few notes about places I want to go to eat, drink and otherwise be merry in 2013.
Before I moved out to Australia I didn’t drink coffee. At all. Now the prospect of spending a few days in the US and within a general dearth of good coffee has lead me to run out to the Little Marionette, buy a couple of bags of freshly roasted single origin beans, and pack an aeropress in my suitcase. I’m well and truly hooked. And quite frankly, that’s very easy in Sydney. I’m still in awe of a great barista’s ability to extract a syrupy, sweet espresso, and as much as I hate to admit it, the cafe culture is one of the things that makes Sydney home for me. Great coffee, made by people who really care, and accompanied with great food (oh, the Wedge pulled pork sandwich is good, see point 4 below), has been a revelation for this previously small town Brit. I officially can’t live with out it. Please keep it up, Sydney baristas!
2. Beer, Wine and Cocktails
Thinking about drinking coffee brings me straight on to my other love. Now, good sources of great drinks unlike coffee are not new to me, and Sydney still definitely has some deficiencies – the good old English pub is really not that well represented (hint: serve desserts, and don’t judge people who just wander in for a drink and something custard-based. I miss the Kingston Arms). But the explosion of small bars I’ve been lucky enough to see, that certainly continues in the inner west (I’m looking forward to forthcoming Newtown bars from Sydney small bar veterans, though the trusty Little Guy in Glebe will be hard to beat), has been great. I’ve learned I have a love of the hard booze – the Smoking Gun from Button comes to mind – and shows just how much care goes into the barrel ageing/house made bitters/general artisan bent of cocktails in Sydney. From what I’ve read, I think this is now taking off back home, but for me it’s a Sydney thing.
Moreover, the passion for great cocktails easily extends to the passion for wine – Love, Tilly Devine and Fix St James continually surprise and delight me with their suggestions, and I’m always grateful for their patience. Beyond developing a dependence on a good macchiato, my love for beer has also grown strongly (mostly with the thought that if I can’t beat them, I should join them – and wow, the craft beer scene here is good. The Tap House is a stand out, but I do aim to spend more time at the Union in Newtown, and new favourite Frankie’s Pizza in 2013.
Now to an observation I’m less enthusiastic about. It seems impossible to move for Mexican food in Sydney. People book ahead, queue for, and rave about all of the tacos. I don’t really get it. Most of it doesn’t seem very good. Perhaps I was spoiled back in the UK, but the average burrito here just seems quite poor. I’m yet to try District Dining’s successor, Mexico Food and Liquor, so perhaps that will convince me, but I really do struggle to trust the rave reviews.
Nevermind the year of the Dragon, for me 2012 has definitely been the year of the Pig. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so excited, or seen so many other people excited, by the mention of pork belly. From Xanthi’s
pork belly baklava, Bar H’s pork buns and Momofuku’s barbecued pork ‘petit four’ to my new favourite, the amazing pulled pork and fennel sausage roll at Hamish Ingham’s new pad, Grain Bar, I’ve been well and truly hooked (and that’s before I even get to my new friend the Banh Mi). On top of all of that, I managed to get to a Pork Masterclass at Restaurant Atelier (I can now make amazing crackling), and a bacon making class run by Urban Food Market, which has been quite transformative. I’m kind of hoping that rumours that lamb neck might be the new pork belly are true, but as long as that doesn’t reduce my pork bun consumption!
5. Fine Dining
One of the benefits of going from being a one income household to a two income household (bye bye, PhD) has been increased access to Fine Dining. Sydney is definitely a good place for this to happen. I’ve not, however, been convinced by the frequently repeated received wisdom of the Good Food Guide Hat system (is Ms G’s really worth a hat? really?). It seems there are a whole host of generally underrated restaurants turning out some exceptional, exciting food with great service. My two standout meals of 2012 were Sixpenny (my most read blog post, mainly because I was, by complete chance, first) and the beautiful textures of Oscillate Wildly. Both were truly memorable meals and I look forward to inventing occasions for return visits. Another restaurant worthy of a special mention is Atelier in Glebe, which I’ve visited at least four times proper, and more for masterclasses and pigs-on-spits (yes, pork again). All I have to say is that it’s nice to have a ‘local’ fine diner, and if you’ve not been, please go. You won’t regret it.
6. The Speakeasy
It’s difficult to think about the food trends I’ve experienced in Sydney without mentioning the hidden, speakeasy-style bar or restaurant that always gives that bit of excitement about an evening out. The success of the hidden lane way bars is so great that even the chains are replicating them, with recent additions Palmer and Co from Merivale and The Rook from the Keystone Group. I know it’s a gimmick, but I can’t help but be excited to venture down unmarked lane ways, wander into office buildings and take the lift to the top floor and emerge into a space you never imagined could exist. That a number of these places nicely coincide with those serving drinks with serious levels of passion probably helps.
On the speakeasy theme, I was also lucky enough to get to a preview night of fellow blogger SarahKate’s Mi Casa Su Casa supper club preview night. The food was delicious, the company good, and I’m pretty sure will be a trailblazer for the supper club concept – I can’t imagine Sydneysiders not going wild for it. Book in if you get the chance!
Early in the year, I set up this blog. I’m still not quite sure why. I don’t harbour dreams of translating it into my day job (even if I wanted to, my visa wouldn’t let me), and I certainly haven’t seen
a return in freebies and event invitations (which is as things should be – this is of course a vanity project). Despite all of this, I couldn’t be more glad I took the plunge. Even if no one else reads anything I write, this blog has introduced me to so many people, none of whom are economists, and this is absolutely a good thing. Thank you so much to the incredibly warm Sydney food blogger community for being so welcoming, especially to a Pom who’s not sure what SEO means, and doesn’t know her ISO from her aperture!
8. Restaurants opening/closing
It’s difficult to talk about eating out in Sydney in 2012 without saying something about the large number of high profile restaurant closures. Becasse, Montpellier Public House, Bird Cow Fish and Cotton Duck are all restaurants that closed before I managed to visit. Against a backdrop of struggling restaurants, some of the hand-wringing and despair is perhaps understandable. Looking in from the outside, however, it’s difficult not to notice the phenomenal amount of restaurant openings that have also occurred, many with huge acclaim and long queues or waiting lists. There’s clearly demand for food in Sydney, and it seems like the best restaurants manage to adapt to this and make a go of things – being a great chef is not enough. One related point that I have been outraged by, however, is the prevalence of people making restaurant bookings and then not showing up – this is the height of rudeness, and I hope everyone is making a new year’s resolution to just never even consider doing this.
And another criticism. Australia, I can’t tell you how distressed I was when I found out that I couldn’t trust the words ‘free range’ on a box of eggs. Coming from a country where you would go down in the estimation of many people if they heard you weren’t buying proper free range eggs, my first few months in the country are something of an embarrassment. This sort of feeds into another Sydney food trend I’ve noticed – an increasing desire to know more about where food has come from, and how well any animals involved might have been treated. From my perspective, this goes without saying, and at a personal level we now make a much bigger effort to source eggs and meat properly – more than anything, it does just taste better. One great example of this was the enormous pork belly acquired via Detective Chow, where we even had a photo of the boar in question. It made amazing triple hopped bacon.
10. What I missed out on
The biggest thing I’ve realised from eating and drinking my way around Sydney in 2012 is that there’s just far too much to do to ever get to everything I’d like to. I’ve already mentioned a desire to drink more craft beer in 2013, but there are so many other things I need to do. I haven’t eaten nearly enough Yum Cha, and I’ve not ventured to nearly enough of Sydney’s famous food suburbs. Moreover, any list I make just keeps on growing – I really want to try the cocktails at Bulletin Place, eat Melbourne’s finest tapas at Movida, and am really looking forward to trying all of the new bars set to hit Newtown. There’s one thing for sure, I’m looking forward to 2013 in Sydney, and hope the blog posts may continue!