Sydney is a city with a rich tapestry of culinary experiences to be explored. From the sweet treasures of Adriano Zumbo that No Place Like Oz loves so much to the traditional Aussie meat pie. From fragrant Thai on the North Shore to a $4 Vietnamese pork roll in Marrickville that will make your toes curl.
You can finish a drunken night out with a greasy kebab or start your evening with Japanese-Australian fusion at trendy Cafe Ish in Surry Hills. There are innumerable Chinese restaurants and Korean BBQ joints clustered around Haymarket, sushi abounds across the city, and there’s the obligatory Indian and Italian restaurants on virtually every street in every suburb.
It’s safe to say that Sydneysiders are spoiled for choice when it comes to eating out.
But there are a few cultures whose food doesn’t get the same amount of press that they should. Below, I highlight three different foods with a shared cultural background – all of them offering delicious comida and a unique cultural experience.
A Taste of Cuba at La Bodeguita del Mideo
Less than one hundred meters from the regal charm of Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, dozens of us are packed into the smoky confines of La Bodegutio del Mideo.
“Four mojitos!” Mario informs the bartender with the confident Latin swagger I’ll never quite be able to muster. Moments later, the four of us are sipping the best (and cheapest) mojitos I’ve ever sampled in Sydney.
It’s hard to hear one another talk over the live band in attendance. The dance floor is a sea of sensual salsa movements from girls who look to have been poured into their dresses. It’s a feast for the eyes that is only complimented by the ice cold Dos Equis I’ve just ordered. Despite the winter cold outside, I feel as if I’ve been transported to humid Cuba.
Out on the deck, men in suits smoke cigars away from the rhythmic pulse of the dance floor. We sit out under the night sky and talk shop while the girls inside do their thing.
La Bodeguita del Mideo on York Street in the heart of the city offers Sydneysiders access to one of the more mysterious of the Central American countries. The name Cuba might conjure up images of Fidel Castro or boat people risking rough sees to reach Florida, but La Bodeguita might just change the way you see Cuba.
The cocktail menu alone is worth a look. You’ll not find a $10 mojito in many other places in the city, and the other cocktails are similarly affordable. A great selection of rums, wines, and beers offer up plenty of variety for those looking to imbibe.
The food menu? Let’s just say I came somewhere close to heaven when I was served up my embutidos – a savory feast of cured meats, salsa, bread, and pickles. Mario assures me that I haven’t lived until I’ve tried the ceviche del dia.
It’s more than just food and drink though. Live Cuban music every night sets the tone for a wild evening, and the dancefloor is packed almost all night as couples and friends show off their salsa dancing skills. Of course, they’re all put to shame when the professionals step up to give a demonstration of Cuban dancing.
A night out at La Bodeguita is an affordable and entertaining alternative to more traditional fare. With affordable drinks and meals starting at $15, a night in Cuba isn’t quite as pricey as Flight Center might have you believe….
La Bodeguita del Medio is located at 125 York Street in Sydney’s CBD.
A Mexican Fiesta at Cafe Pacifico
Unlike the United States, where Mexican restaurants are as common as burger joints – Australians seem to only recently have discovered the wonders of a Mexican meal. The blank stares you get when you mention pico de gallo or chimichangas are indicative of just how far behind Australia is when it comes to Mexican food.
While chains like Mad Mex and Guzman y Gomez are gradually winning people to the fold, I’ve found that a real Mexican dining experience isn’t so easy to come by. With the exception of Amigos in Wollongong, I’d not had much joy finding good Mexican restaurants on Australian shores.
Enter Cafe Pacifico. While it doesn’t profess to offer up traditional Mexican fare (it dubs itself as Californian Mexican) – it’s still a nice change of pace from kebabs and Sushi Train.
Heading out for a work function, I had the luxury of bottomless sangria and a pre-set menu featuring tostadas, fajitas, and a dessert that defies description. The atmosphere, while a little more sedate than that at La Bodeguita (above) was still friendly and lively. The servers, perhaps aware that we were on company money, weren’t shy about offering us more sangria before the jug positioned between my mate Alastair and I was empty.
Friends have told me tales of the place devolving into raucous table dancing by night’s end, but my own night at Cafe Pacifico was a little more sedate. I spent the first half of my night explaining various condiments and foods to my co-workers and the second half racing Alastair to the bottom of a jug of sangria before the tab dried up.
I will make special mention of just how good the fajitas were. Piping hot tortillas, plenty of condiments on the side, and some of the most flavorful chicken I’ve ever sunk my teeth into forced me to eat four of the bad boys. Mouthgasms were had.
I feel like I need to go back to Cafe Pacifico again to really do it justice, but my first impression was definitely good. There’s a healthy looking tequila menu for those chasing the worm and a whole menu that needs exploring. I daresay I’ll be back there before too long.
Prices at Cafe Pacifico are generally based around their banquet menu, which start at $42 per head and climb up from there. Groups of seven or more are locked into the banquet.
Cafe Pacifico is located at 95 Riley Street in Darlinghurst. A short walk from Hyde Park.
A Spanish Feast at El Bulli
The table in front of us is littered with food. Across from me, Tim wolfs down a seafood paella that seems to be more seafood than rice. Two fat prawns the size of my fist lie alongside juicy crab meat and freshly shelled mussels.
In the centre of the table lies the bowl that once housed our own selection of mussels. All that remains now is shells and what little salsa we didn’t lovingly dollop onto our food. The courses that have gone before included delicious savory meatballs, a quiche like dish that was all too small, and thick chunks of bread served with a divine garlic butter.
All four of us are sweating despite it still being winter in Sydney. We later learn that is because management had accidentally turned the heater directly above us on. We are compensated for our discomfort with a free jug of the sweetest sangria I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling. The empty jug soon joins the growing museum of Estrella bottles that we’ve built up.
There are maybe twenty of us in Paula’s birthday party. Together we dominate a single long wooden table and an extra smaller one on the end. Candle light and roses paint a more romantic atmosphere than our raucous groups perhaps warrants, but I can see how El Bulli could be very romantic.
In addition to the free flowing wine, the atmosphere, and the many different tapas options to be enjoyed – there’s a live salsa band playing in the background and in the flickering candlelight it’s not hard to imagine locking eyes with the pretty girl you’re out with and feeling a few sparks fly.
While it’s a tad pricey (but aren’t tapas always that way?), El Bulli is likely to make an appearance on a future CWB date.
Ladies, contain yourselves!
Prices at El Bulli range from around $7.50 for starters and up to $32.50. There are also set menus available for large groups. I’d recommended these. We thoroughly enjoyed ours.
El Bulli has two locations on Elizabeth Street in Surry Hills.
And don’t forget, I’ve previously reviewed the fantastic Latin club and restaurant, Vivaz. Vivaz is located in The Rocks.
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