Eating out in Sydney: Pendolino, Golden Harbour, Café Sydney & Nhat Tan

Yes, I do eat out from time to time, and nowhere near as often as I would like. It is an excellent way to investigate flavours and dishes, refine presentation, and garner dinner party ideas 🙂

My recent trip to Sydney afforded me the opportunity to dine at several fine establishments. I have to say, Nhat Tan was a surprise packet and Pendolino was definitely the highlight.

The following snippets are morsels rather than reviews.

I can not rave enough about Pendolino.

Venue: Golden Harbour Restaurant – 31-33 Dixon Street, Haymarket
Food: Chinese
Date: 8 February 2009
Cost of meal: ~$30 per person
Wine: Limited selection
Ambiance: Busy, pleasantly noisy [we sat on a streetfront table]
Service: Excellent

I mentioned Golden Harbour in my post of 7 March. Local friends had told me to go to Golden Century, however a few patrons leaving the Golden Harbour gave a drunkenly effusive recommendation for the Peking duck as we walked past and I couldn’t resist.

I was dining with my mum, dad and a friend of mine from Perth. Aside from the excellent Peking duck [layered in pancakes, then chopped finely into sang choy bow. So yummy], we ordered several vegetarian dishes [my parents are total vegetarian]. The noodles had a just-made texture to them and, even in the tofu and mushroom dish, the flavours were intense. I was really happy with my meal, and it was great value – we spent ~$140 on the meal between the four of us, which included a bottle of white.


Venue: Café Sydney – 5th Floor Customs House, 31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay
Food: Modern mediterranean
Date: 10 February 2009
Cost of meal: ~$110 per person
Wine: Reasonable selection
Ambiance: Busy yet private, dimly-lit, modern decor [we sat at a table where we all had a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge]
Service: Very good

Café Sydney gave amazing views of Sydney Harbour Bridge from nearly every table, and ours was no exception. I was there with new friends E and F, from Brisbane and Melbourne respectively. It was from my Brisbanian friend that I learned to ask for menus and quiz the waitstaff on dish components, a habit I have brought back to Perth with me.

My meal: an entree of wagyu carpaccio, main of venison, side of pear/roquefort/radicchio salad, and a 75% fat dessert of La Buche D’Affinois.

lamb confit

I had never before tried wagyu beef and my introduction was sublime. The crepe-like slithers of wagyu were a creamy contrast to the sharpness of the accompaniments (rocket, pecorino, lemon and horseradish). Now I could understand why these cows were massaged, and fed sake and grains. The love and care given to the animal was palpable in the final product. I was smitten.

I just love blue cheese in a salad

As for the wagyu, the venison melted in my mouth, but with a far richer flavour. It was superbly complemented by the recommended wine – a glass of Castagna Sauvage 2003. F was impressed with the vinegared silverbeet concoction under the venison (we ordered the same main); I was not overly taken by it. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the fig & chutney sides. I would not have thought to match fig with venison. Then again, I haven’t eaten much venison in my time.

The pear chutney that was paired with the super-soft and deliciously gooey fat that passed as cheese had me stumped. I could pick most of the flavours, but one in particular eluded me. E was the same – and ordinarily she could take a bite of any dish and name each ingredient within a few moments of tasting.


I was impressed with the meal overall and the outlook was amazing. You have to realise that, in a place like this, you are paying for the view as much as the meal.

In conversation with others the following day, we discovered that Café Sydney’s strength is in its desserts. I immediately wished for the pannacotta I had bypassed the previous night. I knew there was a reason it stood out on the menu. Next time. And I know there will be a next time.


Venue: Pendolino – Shop 100, Level 2, The Strand Arcade, 412-414 George Street, Sydney
Food: Italian
Date: 11 February 2009
Cost of meal: ~$70 per person
Wine: Reasonable selection
Ambiance: Busy, noisy to the point of potential involvement in the next table’s conversation, dimly-lit, view into the kitchen through the wrought iron lattice in the restaurant
Service: Exquisite

Pendolino was on another level entirely. Oh my goodness. This would have to be up there with the most excellent gastronomic experiences of my life.

To reach the restaurant, I had to bypass Alex Perry, Alannah Hill and countless other designer boutiques without venturing in. That was tough.

E, my Brisbanian friend, knew the head chef so we had a table awaiting us even though the restaurant was fully booked. I have to admit to feeling like a bit of a star. Our waiter, Paul, was professional and friendly, taking patient time to explain menu items and the composition of our meals.

Glancing over at another table that had just received their entrees, I was sorely tempted to order the kingfish carpaccio, with its geometric lattice of radicchio sprouts. But I didn’t. And I was so glad I resisted.

My entree was a pure slice of heaven. Shredded lamb shank reincarnated as opaque pasta parcels, topped simply with olive oil, jus and parmesan. E ordered the grigliata de gamberi e calamarettini (warm grilled prawn and baby calamari salad). Divine.

lamb shank ravioli

In between entree and main, E and I were given a tour of the olive oil room (L’Olioteca). That’s right. Pendolino has a cosy space dedicated to local and imported oils, vinegars and recipe books. I felt like a kid in a candy store and barely managed to stop myself from purchasing a bottle of truffled oil. E, on the other hand, walked away with a new recipe book, over which we salivated as we waited for our mains to arrive.

I ordered the tramezzini di funghi con pomodoro ripieno as my main. The delicately-flavoured mushrooms layered between crisp pastry wafers produced a delightful variation in texture – that is, it went ‘crunch’ when I bit into it :p Ah, the memory of it still makes me smile. E ate the trota salmonata al dragoncello con mostarda (smoked ocean trout).

It was a perfect meal, matched splendidly with the Strada del Bacco Sangiovese 2005.



Venue: Nhat Tan – 310 Illawarra Road, Marrickville
Food: Chinese, Vietnamese
Date: 13 February 2009
Cost of meal: $20 per person
Wine: BYO
Ambiance: Cosy, budget decor
Service: Very good

On my last night in Sydney, I visited Nhat Tan with the food club of two local friends. This place is the very definition of cheap and cheerful: at $20 for a tasty meal (all dishes were shared; there were 7 of us), it represented fantastic value.

I didn’t do my usual trick and take notes with my meal — and I so wish I had — but I still recall the stand-out dish: it was a bowl of vegetarian noodle soup. My first-ever pho, as it turns out. Our waiter (and, I presumed, owner) informed us that the spicy vegetable stock for this clear soup was made on premises by his wife, and I was talked out of asking for the recipe by my friends. Now I wish that I had.



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