24 February 2012

Places I love around Sydney

I've been to Sydney several times in the past, but generally as a fairly penniless traveller. But having just returned from a trip to visit my brother, I've had a bit of an insider's view of the nice places to eat and drink in and around Sydney and I thought I would share them with you. Remember, Sydney is not a cheap place to play in, but many restaurants do BYO which can help balance the budget! Although it can be pricey, the quality is generally excellent, and you get lots of variety of cuisine and genuinely fresh ingredients.

The Opera Bar
With two of Sydney's most iconic landmarks in view, The Opera Bar couldn't be better located. Described as "the world's best beer garden", you can sit outside and admire the coat hanger and the Opera House, or if it rains (take it from me, it often does in Sydney) you can sit inside too. The big pull is the stunning view, but they have a lovely selection of food and wines, and for Sydney, it's not too frighteningly priced. I'd recommend the sharing plate which is a beautiful tray of little tasting bites- a bit like a high end tapas dish- and is perfect to share. Ideal if you want a break from shopping at the rocks, or for pre opera snack while marvelling the Sydney skyline.
Woolwich Pier Hotel
Sydney is built on a large port and there is a great network of ferries that offers a fun and convenient way to navigate the best spots. One of the ports is Woolwich and it's worth stopping off here to go to this hotel - or pub as we would call it in the UK. Built overlooking the Woolwhich peninsula, the wrap around veranda offers a great aspect from which to watch the boats go in and out while enjoying the bistro style dining. I had an amazing salad of Baby Beetroots, Yarra Valley Goats Cheese,Torn Croutons, Cherry Tomatoes, Watercress and Red Onion with merlot vinaigrette washed down with a lovely glass of cold crisp Sauvignon Blanc. The ordering system is a bit strange where you have to pay for the food downstairs, you're given a device which buzzes at you when your food is ready and then you have to go collect it. A bit of a fiddle for such a classy place, but maybe you burn a few more calories.

Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island is the largest island in Sydney harbour and a former imperial prison and Naval base. Although the Jamaican style Island Bar is a little ramshackle as it is made from recycled shipping containers, the wood fired Pizzeria looked pretty good and they do a wide selection of cocktails. The location gives you a beautiful view of the Sydney Harbour and the Harbour Bridge, and the Island has some interesting art work and historical nods to the colonial past of Sydney. A fun place to get a bit tipsy on a sunny day !!
Sydney Fish Market
This might not sound like the most classy of places to go when in Sydney, but worth it for the experience alone. When you walk into the market, you find yourself in the company of what seems like thousands of other people from every imaginable country. In group formation you walk round the market, very, very slowly, past trays and trays of the strangest looking fish. Cat fish, dory, place, prawns, lobsters, flatheads, scallops, squids, rays, the list is endless. You can obviously purchase all the fresh fish, but you can also choose from a wide range of cooked platters. It's really reasonably priced and since you pay per platter, you see people walking out with trays piled high with fish. We controlled ourselves and enjoyed some calamari rings and battered flathead. And, you can buy wine by the bottle which you then drink on the harbourside, watched by hungry sea birds. Free wifi too which is an absolute rarity in Australia.

Bavarian Bier Cafe, Manly Wharf
If you go to Sydney, you've got to take a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. You get to sail past the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge and up past the coast with the stunning city skyline in the background. Manly has some great surf shops, a wide and touristy beach and waves perfect for any surfing fan. Before you leave, I think it's the law that you have a litre of mango beer at the Bavarian Bier Cafe on the wharf. Of course there are other beers to enjoy and you don't have to have mango juice in yours, but for me, it is the perfect refreshing drink after a hot day on the beach. There's a good pizzeria next door too. 
The Riverview Hotel
Described as a local landmark in the heart of Balmain, imagine my surprise when I walked in and saw a painting on the wall of "Southampton Docks". The nearest large town to where I live in the UK. So The Riverview Hotel gets a mention for that reason really! We ate in the bar, but you can also eat in the dining room and the hotel has recently been awarded 'Gastronomic Hotel of The Year' at the prestigious AHA Awards for Excellence (apparently). Not a cheap eatery, but pretty good quality food and a wide selection of wines and beers. They have an interesting tapas style tasting menu as well as gourmet pizzas and daily specials which are more substantial. I had the tasting plate which was three dishes for $25. 

And if none of that suits, why not do things the traditional Australian way and have a Barbie? With a lovely glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir or an old fashioned stubby- I'm a fan of a Coopers or a Little Creatures!!