Sydney – Reuben Hills | Marque | Bourke St Bakery

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I went to Sydney for a 5-day conference in February. The weekend before it started became a kind of foodie escapade for Fakegf and myself. We even shared a hotel room. Oh dear, at the rate we are going, we might as well consummate things and start making babies…

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But first, we had coffees at Cafe Vue in Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. They use 5 senses beans. But… *koff*… let’s just say that you don’t have to come here for the coffees.

Reuben Hills

61 Albion St
Surry Hills, NSW 2010
02 9211 5556
Reuben Hills on Urbanspoon

Sydney Reuben Hills 01

We stayed in Surry Hills, near all the eateries. My brunch wishlist in Melbourne is probably a hundred-strong. However in Sydney, my mind drew a blank! But I’d read that Reuben Hills may have good coffees, and the space looked interesting from the photos in food blogs.

Sydney Reuben Hills 03Piccolo $5 (Colombia – Finca buenavista, Carlos Imbachi – Huila San Augustin)
Baleada – wheat flour tortilla, folded in half, filled w free range eggs, queso fresco, black beans $9

This place is actually a café and roastery, so I assume what we had was the Reuben Hills houseblend. Fakegf’s piccolo tasted okay, but she somehow wished it was creamier. For brunch, she had a tortilla-like baleada with black beans (something I’d never order), she liked it.

Sydney Reuben Hills 02Magic $5 | Soft baked eggs w shaved Jamon, steamed spinach, Ranchero sauce & Schiacciata $14

Our confident and lovely waitress hadn’t heard of ‘magic’ as a coffee drink, which is a Melbourne construct that originated in Seven Seeds two years ago. (Wankily named, if I may add) But she was willing to ask the barista to see if they can have a crack at it. I described its mechanics (double ristretto, three-quarter flat white) and they went and made me one. It tasked okay, but not quite what a good magic should taste like. I could not sense the sweetness and richness of the double ristretto and the drink overall tasted on the thin side. To be fair, good magics are hard to find in Melbourne as well, I’d say only about a handful of Melbourne cafés does this drink justice.

On the bright side, my baked eggs was a lovely brunch dish. The Jamon was incredibly flavoursome, the eggs weren’t overcooked, and my dish had a great spicy kick!

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It’s nice to have experienced a teensy touch of brunch culture in Sydney. Reuben Hills has the vibe of a gutted-out warehouse that’s then decorated edgily. They played boomy, thumpy grunge music that’s a few notches too loud for me. Food’s good and the coffees were okay, but the good-looking, fashionable crowd and the loud music was something that did not resonate that well with me personally. I prefer quieter places with a more laid back crowd.

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We spent the rest of Saturday afternoon exploring Sydney city on foot. Quite a strenuous activity, if I may add, because Sydney is so very hilly! 

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I loved how different the buildings and plants here looked and felt. Because the weather is warmer, some of Sydney’s foliage was reminiscent of Singapore. Coconut trees, big leafy tropical ferns, flame of the forests… Some of the buildings in Sydney also looked half-Colonial and half-Victorian to me, if that’s possible… like Singaporean shophouses but with Victorian latticework adorning its frontage. We also wandered around Potts Point, where there were many gorgeous looking art deco-styled apartments.

Marque Restaurant

4/5 355 Crown St
Surry Hills, NSW 2010
02 9332 2225
Marque on Urbanspoon

Marque Restaurant Sydney 01Bonito with Foie Gras, Potato & Olive
Truffle Almond Jelly with Blue Swimmer Crab, Almond Gazpacho, Sweet Corn & Avruga

Part of our naughty foodie weekend included a 9-course degustation dinner at Marque. Marque is currently ranked number 70 in the San Pellegrino’s World’s 100 Best Restaurants Awards. Quay in Sydney is ranked at number 26, while Attica in Melbourne is ranked number 53. The 2012 awards will soon be out at the end of April, that would be an interesting space to watch.

Marque Restaurant Sydney 02Scampi with Tomato & Tomato Leaf
Blackmore Grain Fed Wagyu with Dill Cucumber, Mustard, Garlic & Pickle Water
Dutch Cream Potato with Bone Marrow, Sea Urchin & Coffee
Murray Cod with Brown Butter, Finger lime, Spinach & Lardo

We dined here with fellow food blogger, Penny and her Mister. It was nice catching up with Penny, she is an ex-Melbournian who has recently relocated to Sydney. I got a glimpse of how different life can be like in Sydney as compared to Melbourne. I also found it funny how she has been (and still is) searching for good coffee in Sydney. None of the cafes here seem to make it like her favourite local café in Melbourne, The Premises.

While the degustation menu was priced at $150, Mister and I chose to add matching wines $85 so that we could taste the pairings. Fakegf told me she’d help me out with the wines, but her idea of helping out involved taking a tiny sip and then “the rest’s yours!”. Needless to say, by the 3rd course, I became quite an exuberant and bursty individual. I think Fakegf had to do some damage control on my behalf during the course of this meal. Oh dear…

Marque Restaurant Sydney 03Smoked Duck Egg with Charred Cherry, Pepper & Leek Ash
Duck Liver with Sea Blight & Quinoa

As for how we liked this meal, I have to confess that Fakegf and I did not find it memorable. Please note that what I’m going to say next are just my personal thoughts and not an expert’s opinion:

Some of the savoury dishes were nice, but there were others where I could not understand what they were trying to do. And in some cases, I thought it reached a point where they were trying too hard. Presentation of the dishes also did not evoke a sense of wonderment. In fact, they looked quite ‘old fashioned’. I basically could not really sense the language, syntax and ‘soul’ behind the dishes that were put in front of us. At this price point, I expected a better overall experience.

Marque Restaurant Sydney 04Beetberries with Liquorice, Quark & Blurberries
Chocolate with Malt, Banana, Coffee & Parsley
Sauternes Custard

All that said, the dessert dishes were quite stunning, especially that unusual rock-ball of ice, chocolate, malt and banana. Service was formal, fast-paced and a little snooty, it didn’t make me feel all that at ease. Previous degustation meals I’ve had in Melbourne (Loam, Cutler & Co, Attica, Vue de Monde, also The Brix & Estelle) were a lot more relaxed by comparison.

Next time I’m in Sydney, I’ll probably want to check out Quay, Momofuku or Tetsuya’s, if my fiscal situation will allow it.

Bourke St Bakery

633 Bourke St
Surry Hills
02 9699 1011
Bourke Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Sydney Bourke St Bakery 01Piccolo $3.00
Lemon curd tart $4.40, Ginger pistachio tart $4.80

On Sunday morning, Fakegf and I made it a point to visit another Sydney institution. This was one spot where Fakef was very very keen about visiting. I just happily tagged along as photographer, food chronicler (and bottomless stomach). You see, I’m a little less excited about bakeries, pastries, sweets and Western cakes in general.

Fakegf joined the long queue and I let her decide what to get while I got us a table and started snapping away. Sitting there, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly how I felt about this place: a bakery that seemed to define “Life in Sydney” so lucidly… etched into the zeitgeist of this suburb. I felt slightly surreal being there. There were chords of sounds… conversations, clinks and visuals around me that spoke of familiarity, and yet there were things around me that also struck me as different. I wouldn’t call it the most comfortable of places to hang around and sit and brunch on a Sunday, but it was still pleasant in its own way.

We coped with mediocre coffees, but really enjoyed the ginger pistachio tart, especially its nicely caramelised brûlée top and the gentle sweetness of the filling inside. The lemon curd was less popular with us because the custard tasted quite metallic.

Sydney Bourke St Bakery 02Pork & fennel sausage roll $4.50

I have to admit this sausage roll was incredibly yummy. It boasted a smooth, buttery pastry and the sausage was delectably juicy. And look! Even firemen stop by the bakery for a break, adding to the consistently long, snaking queue outside….

Sydney Bourke St Bakery 03Ham & cheese croissant $5

We got greedy and also got a croissant to share. Fakegf tells me it’s a really good tasting one, but for me, I struggled with the high salt levels that came with adding ham and cheese into the equation. Also, I wish it did not come flattened by the heating up process, I wanted to peel and discover the flaky layers in their fluffed-up glory. I’m such a patisserie noob, but do ham & cheese croissants always have to get flattened when warmed up?

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Fakegf and I parted ways after that while I remained in Sydney to attend the conference. I stayed with an ex-colleague who had a spare room to accommodate me during that week. How lucky!

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I spent five days attending lectures at Sydney University, cramming in information that I had long forgotten till it spilled out of my ears. I also consumed colourless conference food and drank woefully watery dispenser coffees.

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Getting to Sydney University involved a 1-hour bus commute to and from the beachside suburb where my ex-colleague lived. I always sat right at the back, and slowly got to know the scratched-on graffiti against the windows.

Each morning, I was quite desperate to find good coffees before starting the lectures. I eventually discovered Mecca Espresso at 646 Harris St, Ultimo. They knew what a magic was and made a decent version of it. And their piccolos also came out satisfying enough. I was reasonably happy with the coffees at Mecca Espresso in Ultimo.

Mecca Espresso - Ultimo on Urbanspoon

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Also, please remind me never to go on a conference on my own again. It was quite a lonesome affair. On Valentine’s Day, a friend whom I was supposed to catch up with cancelled on me at the last minute. I ended up eating dinner (Gumshara Ramen) by myself in a Chinatown food court before taking the long bus ride back home in the dark.

Sydney 08Lontong, Ayam Bakar, Pepes Tofu, Sayur Asam

I ate out at a few more establishments with my ex-colleague, sometimes at very unfamiliar suburbs. Places covered included Chat Thai in the CBD (which oddly did not impress me). But the one meal that I really liked was at Ayam Goreng 99 in Kingsford. To me, that was a beautiful and very authentic tasting Indonesian meal. I would gladly come back here. That was also where I learnt that Indonesian-style ayam bakar (charcoal grilled marinated chicken) has a sweet marinating sauce. Next time, I’ll try the deep fried version.

Ayam Goreng 99 on Urbanspoon

Sydney Bourke St Bakery 3687Pan au Chocolate $3.50

On my last day, I had coffees and chocolate croissants with my ex-colleague at a Bourke St Bakery branch that’s near the airport. They were delicious! It was a good way to end an otherwise disjointed week in Sydney. Overall, I felt quite isolated in this unfamiliar city. Next time, I’ll make the trip up with more company and do a bit more research. I’ll also hope to discover more of those little places that actually makes a city feel like a home.