Posh nosh: 5 Sydney cafes that are more than a little bit fancy
Sydney’s CBD is home to hundreds of food outlets, but if you’re the type of traveller who prefers to sip from a fine bone china tea cup rather than slurp from a plastic tumbler, here’s a quick guide to some cafes and places you’ll love.
1. Where to breakfast with the big boys
Nestled in Sydney’s historic St James Building, next to the Sheraton on the Park and directly opposite Hyde Park, is the Bambini Trust restaurant and café. Affairs of both state and the heart play out in this brooding, intimate space. You can join a well-suited clientele and enjoy an indulgent breakfast served on embossed crockery and white linen table cloths. The café’s European charm extends to its Italian-style coffee and formal wait staff attire. You can skim the morning newspaper headlines while discretely sneaking a sideways peek at the other diners in this mirrored parlour. I spotted some wheeler-dealers in one corner, overheard a coifed lady’s conversation about her late husband, and caught the low whispers of a secretive couple nestled in a booth at the back. Ooh-la-la.
2. Ahh… civilisation
Connoisseurs of tea know that there are mugs, cups, and then there are tea cups. The Palace Tea Room, located in the iconic Queen Victoria Building, creates a setting for tea which draws inspiration from the elegance of the Victorian era. One must put pinkie fingers firmly in air here.
Tea lovers will like that you cannot find a tea bag here: the multi-page menu boasts an array of leaves from around the world. This is a place for discerning tea fans who enjoy the ritual of tea drinking. I choose to try the Dragon Pearls tea – a Chinese green leaf tea with Jasmine hints that’s sourced from the Fujian Province and hand-picked at dusk (I did not make this up). It was served in an elegant tea pot with traditional brown and white sugar cubes on the side. This is the place for people who want to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and retreat somewhere quiet to discuss news and views with anyone else who enjoys the finer things in life.
3. Authentic Italian fare and flair
Italians know how to charm, and the romance of Italy is absolutely alive and well at The Restaurant Pendolino. Pendolino (an Italian word that describes the way olive branches swing back and forth in the breeze. Sigh.) offers elegance that complements its historic setting on level 2 of the Strand Arcade. There is the formal restaurant, but the café near the balcony is my pick for dining among a well-heeled crowd.
Be prepared: it’s very small and cozy. When I last visited, a Hong Kong based venture capitalist loudly discussed his next sales call at my left elbow, while at my right a retail sales manager played mentor to a junior staff member, sharing all her tricks of the trade. With personal space so absent it’s impossible not to eavesdrop, making this a great place to dine solo, as well as a great venue for meeting an associate, friend or lover (so long as you’re happy to be spotted and talked about).
Call me a creature of habit, but I always choose the Tuscan bean and vegetable soup served with lumaconi pasta, crusty bread, and topped with shaved reggiano cheese, all for under $15. Bargain. Once you’re done, extend the cultural experience by taking the archaic timber-doored Otis lift to the ground floor – it’s like a time machine to the ‘real world’.
4. Posh nosh
This next venue is the perfect place for an afternoon drink, and if I had to sum it up in a word it’d be location, location, location. Take a visitor and saunter into the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar at East Circular Quay to sit beneath an umbrella on a glorious day, right on the edge of the beautiful harbour. They’ll be wowed by views of the Sydney Opera House and the splashes of ferries as they moor.
Dark sunglasses are de rigueur for an afternoon of Sydney oysters, bubbles, or beer. Who needs more of an excuse to laze away the afternoon topping up on vitamin D from the sun and zinc from the shellfish?
5. Sydney’s newest, hottest hotel and bar venue
Self-proclaimed meeting place of Sydney’s elite party crowd, QT Sydney isn’t necessarily posh, but it screams decadence and a see-and-be-seen crowd. Inside there is no trace of the former Gowings store (although the sign still dresses the exterior of the building), but the decor takes inspiration from the building’s heritage. Head to the Gilt Lounge for the chance to shimmy in a melting pot of bright young things, or retreat to the foyer for a bar/lounge experience that puts you close to the throbbing heart of the action, but far enough away to people-watch with ease. The Gilt Lounge has embraced its location above the State Theatre with a “Hey, big spender” approach to bar staff uniforms. Think long legs, short black dresses, and fire-engine-red lipstick at your beck and call. Just being able to find this venue puts you in a well-informed minority crowd, and I suspect that’s part of its appeal.
Do you get posh in Sydney? Share your tips in the comments!