Sunday, April 25, 2010

Madame Fling Flong

Level 1, 169 King Street, Newtown

New here? This here explains what we’re doing with this blog. This here explains what we’re doing with our lives.

Note: there is no head-minding service here.

We love Newtown. We love the people, the restaurants, the shopping, but we especially love the pubs. That probably only comes as a surprise to the dust behind the TV in the rec-room on the moon, but there you go. There are very few other areas in Sydney where you can you find such comfortable venues to sit, have a drink and just relax. You don’t have to worry whether or not you’re wearing the right clothes or if you fit in with the clientele, because lets face it, everyone fits in here. If we walked into The Courthouse and saw a navy seal talking to a bride, I don’t think we’d bat an eyelid. Unless they were between us and the bar. Shoo.
It ain't half fancy n'that.

It’s one thing to have great pubs, but, Lorin being a local and hence having awesome super-human inside info on the topic, we have to admit it’s only in the last year or so that Newtown has decided to fix up its act in the bar department. That is, of course, with the exception of a few lasting venues, one being Madame Fling Flong. This velveteen little gem has been around for a while now, but still remains largely unknown. Well, until our readers get wind of it, that is! Let’s just hope that you don’t both decide to go there on the same night. It’ll be anarchy.

It's like someone shook a bunch of awesome loungerooms up in a bag.

ANTIQUE-ALICIOUS Located above Soni’s tapas restaurant, Madame Fling Flong is a stylish art deco delight. Yeah, that’s right. Delight. Mismatched lounges, sonorous wooden floorboards, a variety of lamps, retro mirrors and wallpaper, dirty jazz music so apt and authentic you can almost hear needle-scratch on vinyl, this bar is much like the suburb: eclectic. It looks beautiful but best of all, it’s just casual. And by casual I mean relaxed, not to be confused with slack service or an establishment that just doesn’t give a fuck. It’s simply laid back and as you come. There is no table service, but really, how hard is it to walk three meters to the bar and make an order? This is not a cavernous and extensive space by any means. And while you are at the bar, you may as well help yourself to the large jar of self-service wasabi peas that are there for your pleasure. Yes, that’s right, WASABI PEAS. Forget peanuts, they’re for the unwashed masses. Wasabi peas are the future, and we like it. What better way to enjoy your beverage than chasing it down with a form of extreme eating?

Lorin had to go for a pea.

The menu offers a list of classics as well as the Madame’s signature selections. The signatures price at around $12, and I’m sorry, I don’t care who you are, that’s blatant value for money. The most expensive item on the menu was $18, so you’re not going to break the bank by patronising this bar. Maybe just a couple of New Year’s resolutions or a blood vessel at worst. If peckish you can order from the tapas menu and the kitchen downstairs will sort you out. Quality food and affordable. Tick.

THE WASHED MASSES Apparently weekends are busy here, and the Tuesday night movie deal (a cheesy movie, a drink and a mezze plate for twenty bucks) is booked out regularly, but tonight, at ten to nine on a Thursday, there are only two other tables occupied. Clientele are typically Newtown – one table of Sapphic sisters and one of what looks like walking, slender mounds of facial hair. As a result, we get to scope the place properly and endear ourselves to the barman.

Barman, consider yourself endeared.

While we only dealt with one barman, Cameron, we’d like to say that if he represents the standard of employees of this establishment, they've done well. Chatty, friendly, hilarious, and more than willing to indulge our whims, including sitting on tiny, tiny chairs right in front of the bar. Yes, people, the hilarity is like a freight train – IT NEVER STOPS.

When Lorin saw that Cameron was wearing an old gold Casio digital watch with a blank screen, the following exchange took place:

Lorin (pointing at Cameron’s watch): “Does that work, or is it just awesome?”

Cameron: “Nah. It’s just awesome”.

Genius. Cameron took our money and then told us to have a seat, and that he would bring our cocktails to us. Ten points for making the customer feel comfortable. Alas, we couldn’t really return the favour by making Cameron feel comfortable:

Lorin: “Do you get lonely up here?”

Jo: “That’s... that’s kind of a Cathy Bates question, Lorin”

Cameron: “...”

OUT OF THE WATER CLOSET We do enjoy a bathroom that’s decor-consistent. This little number had a compact brown lounge (not a euphemism), Art Deco mirror, and fantastically busy wallpaper. We would have been thoroughly enchanted had it not been for the toilet-visitor before us, who was clearly suffering from some kind of unfortunate gastric malady. Alas, also not a euphemism.

Important discovery: hot air dissolves patterns. True.

DRINKY DRINKY: LORIN Vodka dry. Not only did it look the part, it tasted pretty on the money. Not the best I’ve had, but whatevs, it’ll do pig. Our lovely bar tender Cameron also asked if I would like lime, he’s so thoughtful like that. The glasses they serve their spirits in look like they could have come from my kitchen, so I wasn’t too impressed with those, but really, I’ve always been told it’s what’s inside that counts so I’m going to let that slide.

Lorin thinks the word 'coochie' is HILARIOUS.

Cocktail: When I asked what Cameron’s specialty was, without missing a beat he said it was a Manhattan. I liked the kid’s confidence so I ordered just that. Now, not being new to this thing called drinking, I probably should have asked a bit more about the drink before I jumped in. I know that a Manhattan is bourbon based, but I didn’t realise how heavy on the bourbon we were talking. To me it was just sweet, pink, bourbon, but I think that’s what a Manhattan is. I’m told by my esteemed colleague that it was actually nicer than some she has tried at other reputable bars, so I’m thinking it’s a gold star for Cameron.

Plus, there's totally a cherry in it.

DRINKY DRINKY: JO I’m a lady of very few unreasonable prejudices (particularly if you discount my feelings regarding Bindi Irwin), however I have a pet hate of tall, narrow glassware. I dunno, I just prefer the feel of a squat, heavy tumbler in my hand. And a man’s stubble on my ch... right. Focus. The gin and tonic inside my tall, narrow glass was reasonable if overly tonicky, with a single piece of lime and house gin. The blokes we were out with were drinking Portuguese Cintra beer, and I think they might have been dancing the superior drink cha-cha at this point.
Important discovery: Tonic makes Jo's shins look HUGE.

As I currently have a weekly ticket on the martini train (and a lifetime pass on the excessive-use-of-metaphor roller coaster, it would seem), I ordered one my way – gin martini with an olive, obscenely dirty. It was grand, with the only drawback being the pre-pitted olives – again just personal taste, as I like to roll the olive pit around in my mouth before deftly removing it with two fingers and placing the dented, disgusting pellet on my coaster. Nonetheless, it was hauntingly cloudy and, quite soon afterwards, completely gone.

Cloudy, with a chance of drunk.

Ultimately, the drinks may not have been the best that we’ve tried, but they definitely weren’t bad. The atmosphere of the place, the service, the value for money (and let’s not forget the wasabi peas) all ensure that we will come back to this little piece of gold. Madame Fling Flong is proof that environment, geniality and wasabi can make up for merely above-middling drinks.

Also, Lorin’s shirt sort of had the word ‘rack’ on it. Night made.
Your president, My-Rack O-Bra-Ma.

We give Madame Fling Flong 3 wasabi peas out of 5.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cafe Sydney

5th Floor, Customs House, Alfred St Circular Quay

Perched atop Customs House in Circular Quay, a lot of people have heard a lot about Café Sydney, and one of your increasingly endearing reviewers (Lorin) had never been there before, so we were expecting a lot. Gratification came before we’d even entered the lift. There is (and believe us, upper-case is warranted) A MINIATURE MODEL OF SYDNEY UNDER THE PERSPEX FLOOR IN THE FOYER. Anyone who has met Lorin knows that she’s not the tallest of creatures, so anything that’s both itty and bitty really pleases her. I’m huge, Jerry! Huge!

Thousands of tiny people can see her bottom.

A ROOM WITH OR WITHOUT A VIEW Right. Clearing throat noise. Back to the bar. The lift doors opened, and we were greeted by hosts in a dimly lit, chatty, buzzy bar. Escorted to our organically swirly seats, we were disappointed that there was no room on the balcony in front of the oft-lauded view, but we were there to drink in cocktails, not vistas. Now, opening the dustiest areas of our brains’ language centre, we’re afraid we’ll have to describe the bar décor as ‘groovy’. And we’re really sorry about that, but it is. Blue carpet, black and white curved, low seating and tiny illuminated tables, one could feel completely comfortable telling a cat that they dug something here. For extra laughs, do as we did and bring a ridiculously tall companion – obviously, the hilarity of watching 6’6” people drink in short chairs with their knees at shoulder height never gets old. That cat was the go, man, the finger-snappin’ go.

The bar is brilliant-looking; long, dark and sturdy, just how we like our... um, bars. Music was utterly perfect for the surroundings – cool, jazzy and thirst-inducing. Opposite the bar is an open kitchen which helps add to the atmosphere, but out on the deck - generally reserved for the restaurant’s patrons - is where you want to be. Oh, sweet nappy-wearing baby Jesus, THE VIEW. If you ever have to impress people from out of town, bring them here and your job is done. Luckily, due to massive dropped hints and some accomplished wheedling, we were able to get an upgrade and move out onto the deck, and can we just say, there is seriously nothing more relaxing than sitting down to a nice view with a drink. Every now and again you can be reminded that Sydney Harbour is actually breathtaking, and not just something that belongs in a snow-dome.

Yeah. If you want proper non-blurry photographs of Sydney, you're probably on the wrong website.

THE BOTTOMS OF THE HARBOUR Sticking with the dark-wood-and-white-walls theme, the bathrooms, if one has the arm-strength to gain access through the heavy doors, are simple and classic with stumblingly-appreciated touches. Black and white photos adorn the walls, and the trough-style sink, although odd, is old school enough to work. Little details like Aesop moisturiser, neatly placed and ordered hand towels and a flower box in the window all complete the experience. A-one water closet, people. A-one.

THE BIG BOOK OF AWESOME We were handed menus, or what Lorin referred to as Folders of Fabulousness, and left to make our decision. When the waiter noticed that we were taking notes from the menu, he came over, deftly tore the menu pages from their hard cover and handed them to us. Customer service educators worldwide take note: if you intentionally destroy part of your establishment’s property in order to make a patron’s life easier, you have won. Also, this menu was unbelievable. It’s extensive with an almost ridiculous amount of variety, and cocktails are classified under headings like ‘Long Lasting’, ‘Classic Collection’, ‘CS Creations’ ‘After Thoughts; and ‘Non-Alcoholic’. Frankly, that last one confused us a little.

It's squiggly, so you know it's good.

NOMMAGE Although it’s often claimed in the available literature that eating is, in fact, cheating, we couldn’t resist ordering a few plates of nibbles to sustain ourselves. Eyes soak up harbour views, bread and seafood soak up alcohol. Our doctor told us that. After a light snack of shaved Serrano prosciutto with olives and rye bread, Naan with spiced eggplant dip, salt-and-pepper prawns with chilli aioli and a few natural Sydney rock oysters, we were ready to get liquid. Is it obvious that we took a menu home? Naaaah.

DRINKY DRINKY: LORIN When ordering my standard, I was asked if there was a particular vodka I would like. Tick. When our drinks were presented, coasters were laid out and they were all served in different tumblers, a nice little touch I think. Not only did it look the part, it tasted the way it should. The dry ginger ale to vodka ratio was spot on.

Not pictured: angels singing, etc.

The first cocktail I had was A Hurricane, which is Barcardi 8 Year Old and Bacardi Superior blended with passionfruit, pineapple, orange and lime juice with a dash of Licor 43 (we took a menu home! Woo!). My favourite cocktail in recent times has come from a large multi-venue on George Street (which we won’t be reviewing as it’s not in the deck), and this is the closest I have found to it. Probably a little too similar to my favourite cocktail, but could I really complain for having found awesomeness elsewhere? And when it comes down to it, who had the cocktail first? Anyways, it’s smooth, fruity, but not too sweet. The presentation was amazing, a floating little dish of passionfruit to top it all off... it’s the details that matter.

Yes, mother. I'm eating my fruit and vegetables.

Having found a place that inspires you to relax and drink, it would have been rude not to have more cocktails... so we did. Next on the agenda was a Dabel Mule, which was Grey Goose Le Citron, sake and Dabel Absinthe infused with ginger, coriander and lime juice, topped off with ginger beer. THIS IS AMAZING. Seriously, I think I have now found my new favourite cocktail. It’s like it has taken my standard drink, amplified it and given it new boobs. It’s everything I’ve wanted in a drink but didn’t know until I tried it. Phenomenal.

DRINKY DRINKY: JO Hot damn, this place gives good drink. My standard, a gin and tonic (with Tanqueray, thank you for asking), was served with a blood orange garnish, which added a subtle infused dollop of special. I wouldn’t drink my G&Ts that way all the time, but that tiny smudge of something different made me sit up, meerkat-style, and pay attention. Gorgeous.

Jo demonstrating the Two-Handed-Concentrating sipping technique.

My (first) cocktail was a Janie Hendrix – Hendrick’s Gin with sake, muddled cucumber and rose water – and it was a party in my mouth to which only a handful of sophisticated and elegant guests were invited. The cucumber and rose petal garnish paddled just beneath my nostrils every time I took a sip, which was utterly sublime. Yes, I said that. I said ‘utterly sublime’. I know, I’m coming to terms with it too.

You're welcome, nostrils.

Also, because it seems to be my current flammable obsession, I ordered a martini. It was close to perfect, save for the fact that one of my companions stole one of my olives. I think it was Shakespeare who once famously said “Do not mess with a bitch’s olives”, but I’m not totally sure. I might have just seen it on the A-Team.

This was seriously an enjoyable experience. Although on the higher end of expense, it is totally worth a visit if you’re in the area and thirsty. Blag your way out to the balcony, take a photo of yourself, cocktail-in-hand, in front of the view and send it to someone that you don’t like who lives somewhere crappy. It’s really the least you could do.

We’re giving Café Sydney 4 miniature models of Sydney out of 5.

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's about to get thrown out by security.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Argyle

We have to preface our review of the third card out of the pack with this fact: we are both complete dribbling suckers for sandstone buildings and cobblestone streets. With this in mind, The Argyle was off to a great start. We also came to a very telling conclusion by the end of our visit, clues to which are scattered throughout this review like hot blokes in our bedrooms. Cough.

Everything's big at The Argyle. Except Lorin.

BRICKS AND MORTAR Walking through the entrance into the (massive) courtyard, we were greeted by the largest red lamps in the existence of man*, and travelling a little further, we entered the (massive) bar. Imagine a two-level barn purpose-built for really big cows and tractors. Now add some leather booths, quirky lighting, raw wood, incongruous plasma screens (even livestock need to know what’s happening on Fashion TV) and a long, chunky bar. Better take the cows and tractors out, though, because it’s getting a bit confusing. And maybe suspend a perspex DJ booth over the whole lot – perhaps just above where the chickens were in the original imaginary barn, and you’re pretty much there. Big, is what we’re saying. Big and sandstoney and cobble-stoney – made sense, as we were in The Rocks, home to the oldest bricks in Australia. CLUE ONE: The Rocks.

You can see the DJ's box quite clearly from this angle.

ALL THE YOUNG DUDES We visited on a relatively quiet Thursday night, but the friendly bar staff insisted that on Friday and Saturday nights, the place is jammed. CLUE TWO: Staff think clientele prefer to drink with hundreds and hundreds of other people. We checked out the tens of people who were there at the time, and one thing stood out – every different person had a different accent. For example, I think the glassie who told Lorin she couldn’t stand on the table to take a photo was Scottish. CLUE THREE: It’s a small world after all.

VAL-DERIE, VAL-DERA Then it clicked. Backpackers. The Argyle may be one of the fanciest backpacker bars on the planet, but it would be difficult to argue that it isn’t one. To be honest, once we’d pigeon-holed the place, we felt better about it. Lorin even stopped feeling like she was at schoolies week. Every crowd needs a bar that caters to them (backpackers deserve that privilege too, no matter how fungal their toenails are), and The Argyle caters bloody well. Music was loungey and non-offensive, treading gently on trebly disco’s toes later in the evening. The soles of the DJ’s shoes were impeccably clean, too. Thank you for asking.

THAT SINKING FEELING There are two phrases we very rarely use in life, yet both of them apply to The Argyle. The first is “That’s just too big”. The second is “Dude. You totally have to check out the toilets”. Just like the rest of the bar, the communal loos are gigantic. These aren’t toilets. This is a lavatorium. There are four Things Of Note in these toilets:

1. The communal hand-washing area. A long illuminated basin hovers under water pipes that drop, stalactite-like, from the ceiling. A single drawback: bugger me if we could work the thing. MAKE THE WATER COME OUT, UNIVERSE!**

Lorin's so drunk she think's she's on a train.

2. The cubicles. There’s something thrilling about only having a sheet of frosted glass between you and the other punters. Individual cubicles marked ‘W’ or ‘M’ ring the room, and you could see vague shapes moving behind the occupied ones. If you were looking. Which we… weren’t.

3. The alien-egg urinals. Extreme privacy is not as high a priority as awesome novelty at The Argyle. At the end of the communal area, what first appear to be back-lit alien cocoons turn out to be urinals upon closer inspection.***

For demonstration purposes only.

4. This vending machine sells shoes to walk home in. I know, right?

There should be another one for hats.

DRINKY DRINKY: LORIN When I asked for my vodka dry, I was not asked what kind of vodka I would like, but I’ll let that slide. Their average customer probably wouldn’t give a shit, so why should I? I couldn’t tell what vodka was used as it was under the bar, but it tasted standard. The tumblers were nice, a fair amount of ice and a squeezed lime, all was looking good. Except the colour. Once again I am faced with what looks like bad drinking water, so I’m a little hesitant, and what do you know? It tasted like overpriced crap. Come on people, how hard is it to add a decent amount of mixer?

Her whole body hangs off those cheekbones.

The cocktail: Now bartenders, when someone asks you what your specialty is, say something, anything, make it up, I don’t care, but don’t say you don’t have one. What kind of confidence is that going to instil in your customers? Sell yourself! So I ended up with a strawberry and lemon martini concoction with Galliano and vodka. The bartender tested it with a straw first and seemed happy with it, and I thought that maybe she was being modest when she didn’t sell herself and she had the great ability to fly by the seat of her pants... I was wrong. After cleaning her utensils before giving me my cocktail (wtf?) I was a little unhappy. It looked great, but it was just overly sweet for my liking, and tasted a little like the medicine you’re given as a child. Once again, I felt like I had been transported back to schoolies and was drinking lolly water, or as Jo put it “it’s the drink you have right before losing your virginity... in Queensland”.
The bartender must have seen my face back at the table and came over and asked if I would like it put into a chilled glass, and went and did so. Big points for trying to please the customers, but I’ll have to take some of those back as it did nothing to improve the taste.

DRINKY DRINKY: JO Punctual service swiftly delivered me a fine gin & tonic. It was fine. Amount of gin – fine. Amount of ice – fine. Flavour – fine. I loved the tumbler it was in, though – it’s just like one I happen to have at home now. Let’s move on.

I'm so classy even my ideas have lampshades.

For my cocktail, I told the bartender I liked things dry, and asked her to suggest something. “Dry Martini?” she asked, not sure if I was playing a word association game or not. I ended up requesting a dry, dirty gin martini (I just wanted to use more words than she did), and I was pleasantly surprised. I’m suitably chastened in that I didn’t expect a thoroughly decent martini to come out of an upmarket tourist barn, made by a girl who stores her bottle-opener in a sweat-band on her wrist. Well chilled, seductively cloudy, with two fat, unpitted olives = Jo happy. It also worked perfectly in getting rid of the taste of Lorin’s cocktail when I had a sip. Double win.
Not pictured: tennis racquet.

Basically, The Argyle is a place that’s made to appeal to a hugely broad spectrum of people, and you’d be hard-pressed to find nothing appealing there. Varied, eclectic décor, attentive service, curious idiosyncrasies and major cobblestone action all get nods. By the same token, though, it stops short of impressive, perhaps because it lacks a bit of warmth, soul or direction. Except for the shoe vending machine and the big red lamps. That shit is obviously awesome.

We’re giving it two big red lamps out of five.

*We don’t really have anything to base this statement on, but we think it’s true.
**Mum, we washed our hands in another basin. Honest.
***Mum, nobody was using the urinals when we inspected them. Anyway, we apologised to him.