I’m from Sydney. Born and raised but for a short ‘blip’ in Perth whilst I was about 5. I’ve lived in a bunch of areas from Newtown to Eastwood, Chatswood to Turramurra, my folks now live in St Ives and I’ve fond memories of all. Six years ago I left to travel South and Central America for six months, then lived in Amsterdam for a little over a year and have now been living in Manchester for nearly four-and-a-half years, during which time I’ve only been back to Sydney on a single occasion. In six years I’ve only seen my sister once, my grand-parents once, aunties, uncles, cousins and friends, once and that was about four years ago. I’ve caught up with my parents a couple of times, travelling to Scotland, Egypt and New York with them over the years which has been awesome, but not seeing good friends for years, my sister (she’s had two more kids in the meantime whom I’d never even met other than over Skype!), my grand-parents and other relatives…. You have your fun and live your life, make some sacrifices and try to stay connected, but this recent trip really hit home how ‘sucky’ being so far away from the people you care about is. Nevertheless, life goes on, food goes in one end and out the other and without getting too ‘mushy’ I should remember that this site was birthed as a food blog and not a personal diary. So to all my friends and relatives, I love you dearly but coming a close second is food, food, food and Sydney’s got some of the best of it.
I arrived back in Oz the day before my birthday and mum ‘n’ dad had already organised a birthday gathering for the following day. Not a huge affair or anything, just a few relatives to catch up with over beer and burgers at Abby’s Beer ‘n’ Burgers in St Ives. We were a little worried as they don’t take reservations at Abby’s, but luckily when we arrived the place was not quite empty but far from full. Gourmet burgers is the name of the game and I picked up a double beef burger whilst Jill decided quite fittingly to go with the Oz – aptly named due to the beetroot slices. My friends in Manchester sometimes ask me what food is typically Australian and my answer has never included ‘beetroot on a burger’, but I s’pose I’ve never seen it anywhere else… The Double Beef burger was big and sloppy but good – one of those burgers that if you put down it’ll fall apart so you just have to inhale it. I really enjoyed it and couldn’t fault the place. Good burgers, decent chips, beer on tap – I’d happily go back. The only thing that brought it down a notch was the owner. For some reason this guy felt the need to walk around the room, chatting to each of the tables whilst parading his beef patties! I guess business wasn’t so good at the time and he was trying to highlight the difference between his top-grade burger meat vs the shite you find elsewhere – but for fuck’s sake I don’t need some blow-in preaching his beef scripture at me whilst I’m just trying to enjoy my meal. Ok, fine, show me the meat, yeah looks good, now piss-off – but instead we get a lecture in ‘beefonomics’ and for this single reason I’d hesitate to go back. Good food is one thing but comfort is another. This bloke needs to check himself and look at another way of drumming up custom because with the ‘box-o-beef patty’ parade he’s officially pissed me off. Still, decent burgers.
I remember Sydney being good for food but since I last visited the place has exploded. There are so many bars and little restaurants opening up and there always seems to be a strong focus on food. Actually, I’d say that people from Sydney are quite cultured when it comes to food, especially in comparison to Manchester. Alright, to all those ‘Mancs’ reading this just chill-out a sec, don’t get all puffed up and start shouting incoherent drivvle. Here’s a perfect example: Jill and I were sitting in the middle of Pitt Street Mall in Sydney just having a rest from walking around town all day. Nearby was a group of construction-worker, labourer type guys eating Thai food in a little box with chopsticks (probably from a place called Thai-in-a-Box which is awesome by the way). Jill and I both remarked on how such a simple thing like the use of chopsticks highlighted the divide of food sophistication from Manchester to Sydney. I know it’s a rather weak and general comparison, but Jill herself told me she’d never had Chinese food until she moved out and started going to Uni – wtf? One of the most shocking things I’ve ever heard was someone from work telling me that they don’t really like food, eating was just one of those things they had to do to live. For them it was on parr with taking a shit – you have to do it but if you didn’t you’d be spending that time doing other stuff – this person was actually telling me that eating was an annoying, compulsory use of their time… So sitting there looking at these guys plough into their Thai, and considering what the same scenario might look like in Manchester, I quickly realised that Sydney absolutely loves their food – myself included. Not all Mancs are the same. Jill loves her food, Hotch (my brother’s g’friend), as well as some other friends so don’t get me wrong I’m not saying it’s true for all of you, but until I moved to Manchester I’d never met anyone who “didn’t really like food.”
If you find yourself around Town Hall in the centre of Sydney and fancy some awesomeness, get yourself to Ichi Ban Boshi, a Japanese Noodle joint just opposite the book shop Kinokuniya. I’ve been going to this place for years and it was so good to find it still pumping out my much-loved Katsu Ju. I honestly think it was this place that really turned me on to japanese food opening the door to sushi down the line. It’s normally busy so you need to take a number. You can elect to have your own table or that you’re happy to share – which generally means you’ll be seated quicker. I’m pretty sure the price hasn’t changed at all since I left which was incredible as Sydney’s pricing has definitely sky-rocketed making it a big, fat MUST DO on my recommendations list (which doesn’t really exist at the moment but isn’t a bad idea). Like I said, I asked for a Katsu Ju which is lightly breaded deep-fried chicken or pork fillet, cooked in egg and served on rice, and Jill landed on the Salmon-don which was a bowl of rice topped with salmon sashimi, cucumber, seaweed and ginger which was also excellent. Jill liked it so much that for the next two weeks she kept asking if we could go back – we never got the chance.
There’s a few more gems to speak of which are also old favourites. The Portuguese chicken burger joint on Liverpool Street called Ogalo has been a favourite for myself Niall for years – great chips and awesome burgers – get the Long Ogalo meal and shove it in your face. Una’s on Darlinhurst Road, not far from the big Coke sign in King’s Cross, serves up massive schnitzel meals in their German/Austrian styled eatery – there’s no other option but the Jager Schnitzel and make sure you’re hungry. If you’ve still got room after Una’s you can walk across the road and get some of the best ice-cream I’ve ever eaten at Messina’s – this stuff is amazing! They had a fucken concierge outside taking you through the menu. I’ve confessed on a number of occasions that my favourite food is ice-cream – that’s right! Out of everything I feel pretty strongly that I love ice-cream the most – I fucken love that shit! It doesn’t mean I could eat it all the time or anything – you couldn’t do that, not even with your favourite food – but it does mean that I kinda know what I’m talking about when it comes to ice-cream as I’ve eaten so much of it and Messina’s is definitely some of the best – try it, go there, eat it, lick it, YUM! If you haven’t heard of Harry’s Cafe de Wheels and you live in Sydney then there’s something seriously wrong. Harry’s has been dishing out late-night pies and hot dogs for years boasting an impressive array of celebrity visits including a favourite of mine, Anthony Bourdain. Harry’s is famous for The Tiger which is a pie topped with mashed potato, mushy peas and a valley of gravy sitting in the mushiness on top – so good!
Two new places we got to were The Carrington in Surry Hills which is a bar that serves tapas – really fucken good tapas. How good is it that you can go for a pulled pint and get quality tapas at a reasonable price? We also went to Miss Chu’s at Bondi which was packed to the rafters shifting dim sum to what seemed like half of Bondi – also worth checking out.
Now, I’ve saved the best ’til last, Chinta Ria.
Acclaimed for years as my favourite restaurant of all time, it had been ages since my last visit. I can’t count how many times I’ve been but I can easily say that I’ve never been disappointed and no one I’ve taken has ever turned their nose up. I wouldn’t say my knowledge of Malaysian food is very good but I feel confident that this is some of the best Malaysian around – there’s a place called Ning’s in Manchester which also has a great reputation but I didn’t find it anywhere near as good. You’ll find Chinta Ria upstairs at Cockle Bay Wharf opposite Darling Harbour and again you can’t make a reservation. If there’s a line outside, join it, if there isn’t, step up through the huge double doors, if the double doors are closed, bang on them until they agree to put some Sambal Spinach and Sachmo Squid in front of you. Sachmo Squid is potentially some of the best stuff I’ve ever eaten – it’s incredible! I was so excited when they put this stuff in front of me that I completely forgot to even take a photo for the blog – oh well, go and try it for yourself – GUARANTEED!
Next episode, Tonga…