Sydney’s hottest eat street
Oysters at The Morrison. Photo: James Brickwood
It was unimaginable a decade ago. Unlikely five years ago. Yet here we are today with George Street (and its surrounds) as Sydney's hottest, most happening eat street. The CBD spinal cord stretching from Haymarket to Circular Quay has more than twenty 2014 Good Food Guide listed restaurants tucked along and around it. New establishments seem to be sprouting weekly. Best hit the street to investigate exactly where the action is at then.
In 2012 when the uber-swank hoteliers QT revamped the former Gowings retail behemoth into a 200-room playground, it gifted Sydney a corker of a restaurant with Gowings Bar and Grill. At breakfast time the place is confettied with accents from all corners of the globe, the owners of which slapdash layers of Jersey butter over their croissants and chatter with optimism for what the day might hold. DO order the double smoked ham baked in hay; an inch-thick slab of fork-tender pig oinking with smoky barnyard flavours and topped with woodfired tomatoes. DO NOT fill up too much lest the elevator music (which adapts itself to how many people are in the lift) embarrassingly cranks out Macca's Two of Us instead of Me, Myself and I on the solo mission back to the lobby. The bloody mary here is a zesty little lip-smacker.
Dining out: China Lane offers a casual yet atmospheric restaurant experience. Photo: James Brickwood
Gowings Bar and Grill, corner of George and Market streets
The blackboards at the Vietnamese tuckshop inform me time-poor office workers can now place their orders in advance using a smartphone app. Imagine what Captain Cook would say if he were alive today.
Crispy eggplant from Mr. Wong. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Misschu Vietnamese Tuckshop, 501 George Street
Sports Bar, City of Sydney RSL, midday
The first nags of the day are jumping and TAB professionals have started to file into the Level 4 Sports Bar with form guide and Reschs at the hilt (schooner of Reschs $4.50, FYI). There's a plethora of Sky-tuned telly screens on the walls and doctor's-waiting-room chairs crowding the joint. The club usually dozes contentedly throughout the day, only stirring slightly in the evening when You Am I fans are keen for cheap pre-loading before a show at the Metro. A labyrinth of pokies exists a couple of floors below. In the lift on the way down a digger exclaims, ''You know, in 25 years I don't think I've ever set foot on that level.'' ''No'', replies his mate, ''why would you?'' Why indeed.
City of Sydney RSL, 565 George Street
La Rosa, The Strand Arcade, 1.25pm
Arguably a lesser sibling of the QVB (please note use of term ''arguably''), there's some swell eating to be found within the Classical Revival stylings of The Strand. On level 2, directly above the G-Street entrance and magical cigar shop, is Pendolino, a fine dining, olive-oil-proud Italian ristorante. It's perhaps a bit too much for lunch (a better target for dinner). However, echoed more casually at The Strand's opposite end is La Rosa, a bar and pizza oasis come-hitherly hidden by a black-stocking-sheer veil. Pumping out Coltrane, Negronis and a cheesy baked conchiglioni pasta, plump with pumpkin and mustard fruit, it's a fine place to escape to after sass and biding your time around the high-end Australian designers on the rest of the level. Salsicce ''Mignon'' di Cinghiale, aka wild boar and black pepper sausages, are full of meaty, forest-floor goodness, but too much for this lone hunter and I have to request a take-home bag (the cured meats and olives here are not to be wasted).
La Rosa Bar and Pizza, Shop 133 The Strand Arcade, 193 Pitt Street
The Fortune of War, 3pm
Nestled not very quietly among the opal retailers and merino merchants of The Rocks, The Fortune is largely untouched by the chrome refurbishment wars of the last decade. Many articles have been written (and most of them framed on these here walls) about whether this or The Lord Nelson can claim the title of Australia's oldest pub. This, however, isn't one of those articles and for the record I couldn't care less. Once inside the door I can't help but feel like I'm in the centre of Australia and everything else in the nation big-banged outward from the Reschs dregs covering the bar (schooner of Reschs $6.90, FYI). No other pub in Sydney has such a mixing pot of clientele. Frock-wearing opera patrons thirsty after a matinee, bum-bagged tourists and pub-crawling motocross fans. They're all here, good or bad. In the front corner Dan Sharkey performs the material of Messrs Lennon, Cash and Young and has done for the last 20 years. A rendition of Advance Australia Fair sung to the tune of Walk The Line meets with rapturous ballyhooing. It's a shoebox-sized place and finding elbow room, let alone a seat, can be a challenge, but the experience is totally worth it.
Fortune of War, 137 George Street
The Morrison, 6.05pm
No longer the drunk pen of old, New York-lofty interiors and a notch-above menu from chef Sean Connolly has seen The Morrison become one of the busiest watering holes in the area. They don't have an Oyster Bar but an Oyster ''Library'', with 40 of the shuckers on the reading list. Only a handful are available at any time and this selection rotates based on what's best and freshest. The Angassi are the wagyu of oysters with big, buttery flavours. If you're lucky enough to be here when these pearlers make a cameo best order a dozen, grab a stout and get stuck in. Today it's elegant Tassie Pacifics and S. Pellegrino instead (drinking in moderation and all that, you see).
The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room, 225 George Street
Palmer and Co, 7.10pm
The basement-dwelling Palmer and Co is the pick of the Ivy bunch in my book. The Prohibition-themed basement means top hats and taxidermy aplenty. At times it comes close to being a sort of Gangster Land from Warner Brothers Movie World, but thankfully stops short of this with bang-on choices in lighting, mosaics and chopped liver. And the cocktails. Ee gads. A Greenpoint (Hudson rye, Green Chartreuse and Antica Formula) from Matt Fitzgerald flips a heavy-hitting bird to any Temperance Union members who might be lurking in the shadows of the Batcave arches. A live jazz band complete with double bass starts swinging round eight o'clock and triggers the Spring Carnival crowd to instantly turn ties into headbands.
Palmer and Co, Abercrombie Lane
Mr. Wong, 8.15pm
Upstairs there's more Gotham-ness on display in the brickwork and alleyway entry of Mr. Wong. Chefs Dan Hong and Eric Koh (Koh plucked from London's famed Hakkasan) conjure up dim sum platters throughout the day (steamed cod dumpling with shrimp roe, say, or abalone chicken shumai), while night-time better suits one of the whole roasted ducks hanging patiently by the kitchen or crunchy salt and pepper lamb cutlets with wallops of fennel and cumin. The pinot noir selection here is excellent but again in the interests of moderation I decline a drop for this visit. Wong's is clearly striving to be one of the big-night-out spots in Sydney and it delivers on each of its expansive levels. I love the mix of colonial and classical Chinese design, tuxedoed waiters and fans permanently set to Hemingway speed.
Mr. Wong, 3 Bridge Lane
China Lane, 9.20pm
Around the corner and down a bit is China Lane; a more casual affair than Mr. Wong but with food just as cracking. Modernist Madmen interiors mean diners can get their Joan Holloway on with a Plum Pisco Sour (plum Pisco, lemon, lime and sugar syrup) while chowing down on chef Ben Haywood's nouveau-Asian menu. Soft and chubby steamed buns with pulled pork and sriracha mayo are relentlessly scoffable and designed with the Dutch-couraged gent in mind.
China Lane, 2 Angel Place
Bulletin Place, 10.35pm
What I wouldn't give to have been here in the '70s when wine legend Len Evans tipped a bowl of pasta over the head of a very shickered Barry Humphries. Len used to operate a plonk and pasta shop out of Bulletin Place but these days the hooch education is provided by the whiz-kids that run this hidden cocktail attic - handsome with its cracked concrete walls and fruiterer scales of granny smiths. This is currently my favourite bar in Sydney, with the guys rotating five house-made cocktails a day and using ingredients from the markets that morning as inspiration. There's an alchemist's collection of booze bottles behind the bar and the owners are happy to talk me through the subtitles (and extremities) of a choice few. Black Strap Rum, where have you been all my life? This is also home to a smashing Vieux Carre. Moderation be damned!
Bulletin Place, First Floor, 10-14 Bulletin Place
Just as hidden as Bulletin Place, but exponentially more popular, is Grasshopper. Too popular these days as we can't get a seat. Please don't let this deter you from trying your luck, though.
Grasshopper, 1 Temperance Lane
There is a bloke in the dunnies using the hand dryer to dry his clothes. Pants off, shoes and socks still on.
The late night bar menu at Ananas … sacre bloody bleu! Bone marrow! Snails! Lambs' brains! Quail! Spoilt for choice, six escargot with herbed butter seems like the intelligent choice for someone who has been more or less ''on it'' since 10am. They're gloriously garlicky but also quite small - a Cape Grim beef and foie gras burger is perhaps a better option for this hour.
Ananas Bar and Brasserie, 18 Argyle Street
Kebab store next to Scruffy Murphy's, 3.20am
At 3am, eating is definitely not cheating and in this instance it's also kinda amazing. Some of my prize falls on the ground and a quick survey of a pavement peppered in soy sauce fish that have swum downstream from Oxford Street tells me the three-second rule might be void. I figure it's time to remove myself and remaining kebab from George Street for the day. It's been a brilliant 18 hours.