Sydney – Markets, Microbreweries, and Kangaroos

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The one where I discover a fantastic pub, spy a platypus at Taronga Park Zoo, walk across the Harbour Bridge, eat noodles in Hyde Park, eat crocodile meat, and visit a market underneath the Harbour Bridge.

I’m a relative newcomer to Sydney life, having only moved here in March of this year. But in my nine or so months here I’ve come to think of myself as a Sydneysider. I ride across the Harbour Bridge on my way to work everyday, I’ve stumbled into Wynyard McDonalds drunk off of my head on several occasions, and I’ve come to have my favourite cafes and drinking haunts.

I think we’re all guilty of sometimes overlooking the sights and sounds of the city we call home. It’s sometimes a welcome change to see your city through new eyes, and I’ve been lucky enough to have that opportunity these past few days while Fallon’s friend Adam visits from the United States.

It’s been a hectic first 48 hours of exploration and we’re nowhere near done. But we’ve managed to experience a lot of the more touristy sights in Australia’s greatest city already. With a twilight Harbour Bridge climb, a day long surfing workshop on Manly beach, and a day trip to the Blue Mountains ahead – we’re showing no signs of stopping either.

Night Noodle Market

The first stop on Adam’s tour of the city, aside from our house, was Hyde Park for the Crave Sydney Food Festival Night Noodle Market. When people think of Australia they might first thing of buxon blonde beauties and bronzed Adonises, but in truth it’s a fantastically multicultural country with a rich international community that means we’re all able to experience a wide variety of foods growing up.

The Night Noodle Market transforms Sydney’s island of serenity, Hyde Park, into the kind of lantern lit bazaar that you don’t expect to find amidst the skyscrapers and traffic choked streets of the CBD. People from Sydney’s large Asian community take over the park for just under two weeks each year and converts it into one large, open restaurant. People from all over the city take out picnic blankets and take along a bottle of wine or a six pack of beers to have dinner under the stars.

After hearing glowing reviews from my mate Tony over at It’s Good Overseas, I arrived with an empty stomach and big ambitions to fill it. You’ll imagine my shock then when my nostrils were not assaulted with the rich spicy scents of Indian food mingling with the sweetness of Thai and the more exotic scents of Malaysia and Nepal, but with the not at all appetizing of dynamic lifter.

Yes, in their planning foresight, the Sydney City Council had decided to fertilize the Hyde Park gardens to coincide with a major food festival. Wonderful work.

Delicious Malaysian food

 

Still, an empty stomach will win out over a sensitive nose, so the three of us soon settled down onto a patch of grass to eat our fill. Some bland Indian from Madras wasn’t an ideal start, and might possible have been the worst butter chicken and naan I’d ever had. Thank God that Lee’s Malaysian salvaged things with a delicious satay prawn and chicken noodle dish and a prawn skewer.

I’d have liked to spend more time exploring the fifteen or twenty food stalls at the markets. There was a pretty good selection of different Asian foods, with Indian and Thai looking to be the most common. Sydney has some great Thai restaurants in general, actually. I didn’t see any Korean though, which was a shame. I’d have murdered some gimbap (similar to a sushi roll, although rarely made with fish).

Sydney by Twilight

Sydney comes alive as the sun goes down, especially on a Friday night. Rather than cut through the CBD en route to our next destination, we instead meandered slowly along the harbour via the botanical gardens. Spring has finally hit Sydney in the last few weeks, and so despite it being almost seven, the sky still held light and the air was pleasantly warm.

There’s something enchanting about the way Sydney blends its modern image with its roots as a penal colony of the British Commonwealth. The contrast of old sandstone churches and hospitals with the glittering skyscrapers that dominate the skyline only highlights the beauty of the older buildings. And with the Sydney Statue Project in full swing, the bright colours and odd outfits drew our attention to the many statues that line the walk from Hyde Park to the Botanical Gardens.

Our planned walk through the aforementioned gardens was cut short by a text from a friend who was meeting us for drinks, so we cut quickly through and headed towards The Rocks via the Sydney Opera House.

It gets a lot of play, but the icon of Sydney really does deserve all of the hype it draws. It’s a beautiful building rain, hail, or shine – and I certainly don’t tire of the sight of its sails over the azure water of the harbour despite seeing it every single day.

Seeing it against the darkening sky was no different, and the twinkling lights of Sydney’s north shore behind it only added to its charm. There was a real festival atmosphere as we walked along the foreshore too, with people lapping up the warm nights and the many sights and smells of the quay area.

Hart’s Pub

Our destination, Hart’s Pub, lay within the historic Rocks district of Sydney. While there are a great many heritage style buildings scattered throughout the heart of Sydney, you’ll find no greater concentration than in The Rocks. Quaint cafes, a handful of pubs claiming the mantle of being Sydney’s oldest, and various tourist traps line its cobblestone paved streets. By day its paths are dappled green by the trees that line them, and by night its twisting alleys are well lit so that tourists can still walk in the footsteps of the nurses, prisoners, and settlers who once called the region home.

Slight side note, but if you do pay a visit to The Rocks (and if you’re in Sydney, you must) – don’t forget to pay a visit to the Susannah Place Museum to see how Sydney’s original settlers lived and buy some old school candy. The gregarious staff are worth the visit alone.

But our destination was Hart’s Pub. Located within what used to be three terrace houses, the pub is not your run of the mill Sydney hotspot. Inside you won’t find a dancefloor and you certainly won’t be hit with the reek of vomit in the bathroom.

What you will find is gentle lighting, comfortable couches, walls decorated with various quotes about the fine art of drinking, delicious food, and a selection of some of Sydney’s finest micro brews. A beer garden offers patrons a chance to drink under the stars and eat freshly BBQed meat, but we instead went inside to explore the interior.

As you’d expect from a building that used to be houses, there are a lot of smaller sections to the pub – but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic or sectioned off. Archways separate the rooms, so there’s a nice open feel to it while still maintaining a more manageable social setting. We were lucky enough to secure our own little room right by the bar, and while there was a flat screen TV hanging overhead and speakers playing relatively recent music in the roof, neither of them detracted from the old world charm of the place.

So many choices!

Not sure what beer we wanted to try, we each got a four beer sampler for $10. Offering up your choice of any of the bar’s 12 micro-brews, it’s pretty good value given the size of the sampler glasses. I tried the Prickly Moses, Pipsqueak Cider, Gold Digger, and fourth beer whose name escapes me. It can’t have been that good. But the whole bar serves only Australian beers, and with so few microbreweries getting the play they deserve, it’s a refreshing change.

I particularly enjoyed the Gold Digger, which Fallon (of Fallon’s Healthy Life) insists is made better by a wedge of lemon. I also quite liked the Three Sheets from The Lord Nelson Brewery, although I’ve had it before.

Beer is best when it’s washing something down, so it stood to reason that we’d also sample some of the food on the menu. Twin buckets of fries (served with a tomato cider chutney that none of us liked) and some Cajun crocodile strips soon adorned our table.

With the exception of the aforementioned chutney, the food far exceeded my standards for pub fare. The battered fries were particularly good dipped in the spicy fry sauce that had come with the equally appetizing crocodile strips. Who’d have thought such a potentially dangerous animal could taste so good?

Crocodile. Surprisingly delicious.

We stayed well into the night knocking back beers, with the Three Sheets and the Gold Digger vying for my adoration. I heard glowing reviews of the red and the pale ale. With none of us being porter lovers, I can’t speak for the quality of their darker ales.

But it was a thoroughly enjoyable place to have a few beers and a bite. While beers are a tad pricey at $9.50, they’re served up in pint glasses and are of a much higher quality than the Tooheys News and XXXX Golds you’ll find in most bars, and the extra cost of beer is worth actually being able to hear your companions when they speak. Too many Australian bars substitute loud music for ambiance.

Go to Hart’s Pub. I am not going to say it in an artful or pretty way. If you like good beer, you will like this pub.

Sunny Sydney

Our Saturday dawned bright and sunny, defying the weatherman’s ‘chance of rain’ prediction with flawless blue skies and a sun that threatened to burn anybody foolish enough not to lather on some sunscreen before going out.

With the famous Taronga Zoo on the day’s itinerary, we hopped a train as far as Milson’s Point before opting to walk across the Harbour Bridge. It’s a route I’ve walked and run on many occasions, but it’s always nice to be out over that almost Mediterranean green water and look out over the city. With good weather comes the boats, and the harbour was criss-crossed by ferries, yachts, and speed boats full of people out enjoying the sun.

We paid a quick visit to the Kiribilli Markets on our way as well. Nestled mostly in the shadows underneath the Cahill Expressway as it crosses the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the markets were a welcome reprieve from the sweltering sun. As markets go, it wasn’t anything exceptional, and most men won’t find it at all interesting. Fallon certainly seemed to appreciate the selection of clothes, crafts, and jewelry on display. The food market looked to have a pretty broad selection, and some live jazz certainly added to the atmosphere.

With our ferry across to the zoo not due until 2pm, we decided to grab a bite to eat at City Extra on the waterfront. While Circular Quay might not boast the views and atmosphere of the more diner friendly Darling Harbour, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food offered at the 24 hour restaurant.

With menus printed out on faux newspapers and options like the Journo Burger, you can guess the theme of the place. The staff were friendly and beer came at a relatively affordable $5-$7.50 price range. The meals erred towards the pricey though, which wasn’t so bad given the serving size. We tried their panini as well as a Thai Caesar salad. The panini was good but unremarkable, and from the looks of the way Adam inhaled his salad, it can’t have been too bad.

It was an acceptable enough dining option, but probably not a place I’d eat at again based on the first experience. I generally like to give places the benefit of the doubt though, so I just might go back to try some of its pasta dishes and maybe one of its desserts.

Taronga Park Zoo

The weather turned inexplicably foul as we boarded the ferry across to the zoo, but I guess the weatherman had predicted it, so we couldn’t really complain as the sky turned dark and lightning began to carve a path through the sky.

Much like temples in Korea, it’s often the case that ‘if you’ve seen one zoo, you’ve seen them all’. With the possible exception of Dubbo’s Western Plains Zoo and Australia Zoo in Queensland, there’s only so many ways you can arrange animals before oohing and aahing at them gets a bit old. Taronga seems to be seen as the be all and end all of Australian zoos, but I found the place pretty disappointing.

Now, in fairness this opinion wasn’t helped by the fact the place was a mess due to recent construction. Torrential rain certainly didn’t help matters much either, although it did mean that it was nowhere near as crowded as it might otherwise have been.

We weren’t there for me though, and the Americans certainly appreciated a chance to see some of Australia’s iconic animals up close and personal. I do recommend their Walkabout Walk if you’re eager to see an emu, wallaby, or kangaroo up close. You don’t get to pet and feed them like we did in Queensland, but they’ll still come pretty close to visitors.

The nocturnal animals enclosure and reptile house aren’t too bad to visit, and it was certainly a treat to see the Tasmanian Devils and Platypus up close and personal. It’s definitely a zoo keyed more towards tourists wanting to see Australian animals than people wanting to see tigers, lions, zebras, and elephants.

In fact, we couldn’t find any of the above – although the signs said they were there to be found. The layout of the park is just confusing.

If you’re looking to see Australian animals up close and personal, you’re going to enjoy your visit to Taronga Park. If you’re like me and grew up in a world where kangaroos are traffic hazards and kookaburras are the annoying birds that wake you up at 6am then you’re probably not going to have a great time.

Next?

As I said in the opening of today’s entry, we’ve got plenty ahead of us. We’re taking a tour of the Opera House tomorrow, as well as visiting Paddy’s Markets so Adam can find some cheap souveniers. Then it’s off to the Australia vs. Papua New Guinea Four Nations opening to close out our weekend. Monday is the Harbour Bridge Climb; next Saturday is our surf camp; and Sunday sees us out in the Blue Mountains as we explore a little more of our own backyard.

And with my time here rapidly coming towards an end, I’m definitely enjoying seeing Sydney through new eyes again.

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