48 Hours in Sydney

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After spending a week in Perth, Australia for the Eat Drink Blog conference, I knew I’d be connecting back through Sydney and everyone in my life told me I’d be crazy not to spend some time there. As it happened, I had recently signed up for an American Express Starwood card that came with 25,000 points—or I’d earned them or something—and I could use those points to stay at the Westin in the Central Business District for three nights. So, in other words, I could stay in Sydney for three nights totally for free or just go straight back to America. Duh: I chose to see Sydney.

The very first thing I did upon arrival was that dinner I wrote about where I ate bugs with my friend Ameer at Billy Kwong. As stated, that was one of the best meals I’ve had all year.

The next morning, I woke up to find it pouring down buckets of rain.

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I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and thought I might try to walk to the Surrey Hills neighborhood to have breakfast at Bill’s. Almost immediately, my shoes were soaked and I’d barely left the block my hotel was on. So I hopped a cab and took it straight there.

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There were seats at the communal table, but I decided to wait for my own table. I’m glad I did because after trudging through that rain, this was a comforting moment (flat white, paper).

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Here’s my view:

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As you can see, Bill’s evokes the warmth and ease of someone’s home. Only it’s run more like a factory (it reminded me, in its way, of Balthazar in New York: not in the style of the place or the food, but how it runs like a well-oiled machine). You’re supposed to order the ricotta pancakes or the corn fritters, but I wasn’t in the mood for anything so sweet (I knew I’d be going to a bakery afterwards) so I went for the full Australian breakfast.

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It’s a lot like a full English breakfast, except they make the sausage in-house and you can tell. It was extra gamey, in a good way. And the eggs were the fluffiest scrambled eggs I’ve ever experienced.

The tone of the place, though, was a bit sour. Later on, I came back because I thought I’d left my credit card there (I was wrong) and the staff wasn’t too nice about it. I don’t blame them, though, because the crowd at Bill’s—and I’m so happy I get to use this phrase—appeared to be a bunch of cashed-up bogans. (How many points do I get for that, Australia?)

Onward and upward, the rain had settled down a bit and I strolled around the lovely Surrey Hills neighborhood. It reminded me a lot of the West Village. And speaking of New York, I saw this book at several places and haven’t seen it in America–it’s pretty cool:

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After checking out an Australian supermarket, I made my way–on my friend Ameer’s recommendation–to the Bourke Street Bakery.

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Everything in the window looked pretty incredible:

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I decided to go with an almond praline croissant:

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This was one of those things that was so good it was TOO good: like a cake and a doughnut and a croissant all at once. I could only eat a few bites (which shouldn’t be that shocking if you think about all that meat I ate for breakfast).

It was nice to eat this, though, while walking up the rain-drenched streets of Surrey Hills.

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Eventually, I made my way north towards Oxford Street which leads to the gay neighborhood. This is a gay bar, in case you couldn’t tell.

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I planted myself at a coffee shop on a corner and watched all the life passing around me. I may have mentioned this in my last Perth post, but this is my favorite thing to do when traveling: just to sit in a fun, funky neighborhood, drinking coffee and watching the people go by.

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(I realize there aren’t any people in that shot, but there was an open window behind me with lots of crowds milling past.)

After that, I hopped in a cab back to the hotel and remembered something The Smiling Foodie told me in Perth: that I should get some souvenir pajamas at a store called Peter Alexander to bring back to Craig.

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This was excellent advice: flash forward a few days, and here’s Craig modeling the pair I bought him.

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Now back to Sydney.

That night, I went on a blind date with a friend of my friend Chris: Cheryl Akle, host of The Book Circle. We met up at a trendy tapas restaurant back in Surrey Hills called Movida.

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Here’s Cheryl and me behind the counter:

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I’ll confess that when tapas were proposed, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Oh…tapas.”

But the food at Movida was staggeringly delicious. I won’t walk you through the whole menu, but almost everything was a highlight. Like this Artisan Cantabrian Anchovy with Smoked Tomato Sorbet:

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Or the Cigarillo de Queso (Goat’s Curd and Quince Cigar):

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Or the Salchichon de Gamba (Housemade Tiger Prawn Salami served with Jerusalem Artichoke Puree):

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Or the Pastel de Codorniz (Quail & Morcilla in House Made Puff Pastry with an Agridulce Sauce):

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But the absolute best-of-the-best, which the server eagerly recommended, was the Cecina: Air-Cured Wagyu Beef with Truffle Foam and a Poached Egg.

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It sounds strange but when you slice that all up together and eat it, it tastes like the most elegant, earthy, elevated mixture of flavors you can imagine. Oh and even though we were full, I also ordered Patatas Bravas:

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That was a knock-out meal and our blind date was so successful, Cheryl offered to drive me over the bridge. Well, not over it but across it. Here’s the view from the other side:

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And here’s a quick picture I took of Luna Park:

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Thanks so much, Cheryl, for being such a fantastic date. Hope we get to meet again soon!

Now here’s the funny thing about that first day in Sydney. As much as I enjoyed myself, and I really did, I didn’t necessarily feel like I was in a unique, unfamiliar place. It reminded me a lot of New York and London. I wasn’t really experiencing the Sydneyness of Sydney.

All of that changed the next day with the weather. Skys were bright blue and I headed north so I could finally take in the harbor and the opera house. Cue the angelic choir:

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As cliche as it is, this is what makes Sydney Sydney. The breathtaking harbor, the otherworldly opera house and that stunning bridge. It’s overwhelming to get to experience it in person and it’s what makes Sydney so incredibly unique. The cool breeze off that water and then those awe-inspiring man-made structures. But first, breakfast.

After polling Twitter, a nice person named Daniel Mui suggested I check out The Fine Food Store which is near the Quay (pronounced “key”) where I’d be taking a ferry to the zoo. It was a good tip.

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That was one of the last flat whites of my trip. As for what I ate, I ordered a smoked salmon sandwich on sourdough and was totally surprised by what came out:

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It was an open-faced sandwich covered with tzaziki (that yogurt/garlic/cucumber spread) and it made an absolute mess as I ate it, but it was a wonderful thing to eat. Almost embarrassingly so. I hope no one was watching.

Ok, off to the zoo we go!

Why the zoo? Because you have to take the ferry there and the ferry offers gorgeous views of both the opera house and the bridge which is how I took that sexy picture you see above. I also took this picture:

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The zoo itself offers up its own brand of adventure.

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When you get there, you ride a cable car up to the top.

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That also offers up great views. Wheeeee!

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I’ll confess: I found the zoo a bit overwhelming. There were hordes of school children on class trips and they were the most terrifying thing in the Reptile House. I decided to focus on finding animals you can only see in Australia. Hence my jaunt over to the kangaroo area where a kangaroo flashed us his package (warning: NSFW).

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These giraffes were less obscene, but you can see giraffes in American zoos.

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My favorite was the Pelican:

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Ok, zoo-ed out, I took the ferry back and decided to check out the Opera House up close. That’s easy to do from the Quay, it’s just a quick walk over.

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It’s really a gorgeous structure, maybe the most beautiful building I’ve ever admired. I’m not much for buildings or architecture, but this one just has an undeniable majesty. Like something from another world.

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No, I didn’t take the tour (sorry, dad) but I did take everyone’s advice and headed over to the Opera Bar.

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I ordered myself a glass of champagne and toasted my trip to Australia.

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Then, after a quick re-charge at my hotel (for me and my phone), I decided to do one more walk back in the other direction–towards Surrey Hills, etc.–to check out a neighborhood I missed, Darlinghurst. It was there that I experienced Gelato Messina.

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I love how they present the gelato here, giant mounds emerging from their canisters.

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My pick? Coconut and mango. A good decision.

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Now I recalled seeing a calendar I really admired at one of the book stores I visited on Day One, so here in my last hours in Sydney, I went back to buy it. Isn’t it neat?

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Only at the register did I think to ask, “Is this made in Australia?” Get ready for the punchline: it’s made in… FLORIDA. Haha. But I still bought it.

That night, my 48 hours in Sydney came to an end with Ameer and a friend of his at a restaurant called Spice Temple.

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What’s that image? It’s a projection of a door on the actual door. Uh oh.

Ya, the place was a bit of a scene. As you can see here:

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But the food was most excellent. I loved my drink, The Rooster, which featured Passionfruit, Aperol and Limoncello:

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At the table, we ordered Banquet #2. The first course featured vegetables and lighter fare:

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Then came the pippies–a type of clam you find in Australia–with XO sauce:

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I don’t remember what this was, but it looks like it was tasty:

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My favorite dish of the night was the Nanjing braised pork hock with black vinegar tea:

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Though the beef was excellent too:

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And that, my friends, brings us to the end of my time in Sydney. It’s pretty amazing to think that I packed all of those experiences into just 48 hours; imagine if I’d decided to just fly straight back from Perth, how much I would have missed?

But, for me, this was just a tiny taste of a dynamic, deeply fascinating city that I plan to return to again in my lifetime, along with a trip to Melbourne (I know, I know: how could I miss Melbourne?) with Craig in tow so he can pick out his own pajamas. As it was, my 48 hours in Sydney were a total blast.

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