For many Sydneysiders, Darling Harbour is foreign territory. It's tourist town populated by tacky bars, over-priced restaurants and tourist attractions. Cockle Bay and King Street Wharf have done well for themselves but my encounters with the harbour on the other side of the Pyrmont Bridge have been limited to Sega World circa 1999, an occasional jaunt to a World Cup screening and a brief phase of Saturday nights at Wallaby Bar as an 18-year-old. Curious as to whether there is anywhere worth visiting for drinks on the Exhibition Centre side of the harbour, Barhop went in search of cocktails in the sun and food worthy of luring locals to the tourist trap.
BLUE FISH IS THE DESTINATION - a seafood restaurant and bar that claims to have the best fish and chips in Australia and a list of every Martini you can imagine. It's closest to the Maritime Museum at the end of a long stretch of restaurant/bars that always seems busy but I'm never quite sure who goes there. We sit outdoors on a rare sunny day among the business lunchers, tourists and school holiday families. I must say, I feel a bit like I'm on holidays, too, and the view is ace.
THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE is the tourist prices. Seafood paella is $36.50, surf 'n' turf is $42.50 and a snack-sized bucket of king prawns with a beer is $25. The food, however, is good. Crab and prawn tortellini with smoked chipotle butter sauce and caviar ($35.50) is fresh and perfectly light. The clam chowder ($16.50) and fish and chips ($19.90) are better priced. While not the best I've ever had - as Lifestyle Food Channel claimed in its I Love Food awards - the fish is not too heavily crumbed and comes on a bed of crispy chips.
THE BAR IS WELL STOCKED and the Martini list is long. There are 39 of them - cucumber and mint, salt and pepper, nectarine and honey, chocolate, kiwi and basil, blood orange, ginger, aniseed, espresso, butterscotch. There's even a Chilli Oyster Martini if you can stomach that. They're full of flavour and fun to try. Pity there was no nectarine on the day we visited but the marmalade impressed me, as did the pomegranate. Owner Glenn Boyland says the wine list is an eclectic mix of wines he likes. It's almost all Australian, combining big wineries such as Tempus Two and De Bortoli with some smaller, more interesting choices thrown in. Boyland is also in the process of re-doing a space to the side of the bar to be a ''wine-themed room'' with a display of 800 bottles on the wall and plenty of leather chesterfields to sink into while sipping on one. A word of wisdom: go straight to the bar and ask for a wine or Martini recommendation because the staff can be a bit clueless.
WHILE POLITE AND WELL-INTENTIONED the waiters that serve us are a tad inattentive and unaware. Water has to be asked for, our damper comes before any drinks and not all seem familiar with the menu. This could be more of an issue at busy times but during lunch hour, it's less hectic and perfectly enjoyable in the sun, with a Martini and the new-found knowledge that not all is lost in Darling Harbour.
Address 287/10 Darling Drive, Darling Harbour, 9211 0315
Open Mon-Sun, 8am-11pm
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF you're ready to give Darling Harbour a go.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF you want a night out on the cheap.
GO FOR fresh prawns, fish & chips, flavoured Martinis.
IT'LL COST YOU Martinis $14, wine by the glass $7-$11.50, main dishes $19.90-$42.50.
- 02 9211 0315
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sun, 8am-11pm
- Author - Rachel Olding