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.