500 George St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Mon-Wed and Fri 7am-6pm; Thu 7am-9pm; Sat-Sun 8am-6pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access, Licensed, Business lunch|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9699 2235|
There's no Kevin Bacon at the Grounds of the City. The famous piggy is safely ensconced back at the Grounds of Alexandria petting farm, along with Russell Crow the rooster.
But there's everything else you could ever want, wrangled together by co-founders Ramzey Choker and coffee maestro Jack Hanna, head stylist Therese Moussa and design team Acme & Co. How do these people sleep at night? Where do they go in their dreams?
At a guess, I'd say London's the Wolseley, New York's Balthazar, and Vienna's great coffeehouses – anywhere there are marbled tables, trolleys, trays, twin-sets and braces, shelves of vintage books, wood panelling, cocktail shakers, upholstered stools lining golden-hued, cocktail bars, barista bars, snug booths for four, elbow-to-elbow bistro tables and rods for newspapers (newspapers!).
Then there's the food, overseen by talented group executive chef Paul McGrath and his brigade, beavering away in the large open kitchen. Let me walk you through the day – you'll need the exercise.
Breakfast could be house-made crumpets, bircher muesli or a brekkie roll ($17) slathered with spicy green sauce and stuffed with bacon, pork sausage, avocado and fried egg. Like so many things here, it's way too much, in a good way.
Lunch – or dinner, currently only Thursday – could be freshly opened oysters, charred Yamba prawns, a grain-fed beef burger, or strozzapretti with peas and parmesan.
A steak sandwich ($24) is a crowd-pleaser, stacked with fat slices of medium-rare Oakey Reserve grain-fed flank, radish salad, battered onion rings, melted cheddar and roast tomato relish.
A chirashi-style raw tuna and rice salad ($23) is bright and lively, although the jam-packed brekkie bowl of quinoa, spelt, egg, avocado, greens and more ($19) is way too much sensory overload for morning people, and comes in an ugly stainless steel prep bowl.
Coffee brings another dimension, with dedicated coffee sommelier Linda Mascic to help you choose between a beautifully balanced caffe latte, espresso, V60 pour-over, batch brew, cold brew or an espresso martini.
You want cake with that? Meet the tea lady, who will wheel her bespoke trolley to your table, lined with dozens of light, delicate and Instagrammable tartlets, pastries and fluffy, cream-filled sponge cakes. It's the CBD equivalent of the petting farm – you just want to reach out to pat that little salted caramel and chocolate tartlet and give it a good home.
Cocktail service isn't strong yet, but there's a fairly priced, easy-to-like wine list, including a 2016 Rockford alicante bouchet ($12/$55), a ripe, off-dry, gutsy rosé that would go with just about everything – even cake.
A spectacular seafood platter is enough for three or four to share, with plenty of crab legs, half lobster, prawns, tuna tartare and ceviche ($150), but ultimately it raises more questions than it answers. Why Alaskan crab and not a local variety? Why Canadian Maine lobster, and not the superior Aussie rock lobster? There's so much here that is done well, they don't actually need to go this fancy, or do things just for show.
Not so much a cafe, restaurant or bar, as a series of daily occurring curated events run by a seemingly unstoppable bunch of bright, happy, young people, the Grounds of the City is a destination in itself. It could even, quite possibly, be a cult.
Best bit: Coffee, cake, food, wine, booths, the whole darn thing.
Worst bit: Loos are miles away, either one level up or down.
Go-to dish: Oakey Reserve flank steak sandwich, $24.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.