Review: MCA Cafe and Sculpture Terrace

If you had asked me a few weeks ago where I would take interstate or overseas visitors for a reasonably-priced meal with a view of Sydney Harbour, I would have taken them to Opera Kitchen. There are downsides to this though – it’s not the best location when the weather is anything less cheerful than blue skies and sunshine, and unless you’re very into the drinking scene, it can be a bit ‘much’.

That’s all changed now though – I’ve found my new favourite ‘meal with a view’ restaurant on Sydney Harbour that won’t break the bank. The cafe on the fourth floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA Cafe and Sculpture Terrace) is a real hidden gem with amazing views over Circular Quay and Sydney Harbour.

We visited on a stormy weekend after doing a wet weather Sydney Bridge Climb with my 10-year-old nephew who was visiting us for a week and a half during his Hong Kong summer school holidays. It’s a little bit later than lunchtime, so we managed to  walk straight in and grab a table to sit down and peruse the menu. All ordering is done at the counter at the front of the cafe

House-made old fashioned lemonade, $6

House-made old fashioned lemonade, $6

K ordered the house-made old-fashioned lemonade, claiming extreme thirst and tiredness after our strenuous Bridge Climb. My nephew laughed when he saw it as he’s not used to the idea of having mint in cold drinks and thought that it was hilarious to have VEGETABLES in a DRINK, that’s CRAZY! Crazily delicious and refreshing, that’s what it was!

Butcher's steak with celeriac remoulade, $24

Butcher’s steak with celeriac remoulade, $24

My nephew was keen to think of himself as being an adult, and refuseed to order a kids meal. Instead, he chose the butcher’s steak as one of the options that he actually recognised but found it a bit too rare for his liking. He was confused by the celeriac as a flavour that he had never encountered before and I think he ended up wishing that he just ordered the kids cheeseburger.

Roasted salmon with classic tartare and rosemary kipfler, $22

Roasted salmon with classic tartare and rosemary kipfler, $22

K ordered the roasted salmon which comes out with a crackly sticky sweet skin. I couldn’t stop myself from stealing a few of his rosemary kipfler potatoes – the potato skins are deliciously crispy and more-ish.

Ceviche of Mulloway, red quinoa and tostada salad, $18

Ceviche of Mulloway, red quinoa and tostada salad, $18

My salad was surprisingly hearty. I only had one of the crisp tostadas (my nephew steole the others), but I chowed down hungrily on the tart Mulloway ceviche and crunchy quinoa grains. The salad as a whole was actually a bit too tart for complete enjoyment – almost as though they added extra salad dressing on top of the sour lemon ceviche dressing.

I’ll be back to MCA Cafe with visitors to Sydney – not for the food options which are similar to the options from every third “Modern Australian” cafe, but for the glorious views over Sydney Harbour.

MCA Cafe & Sculpture Terrace on Urbanspoon


Review: Ribs & Burgers, Rhodes

When I was nine years old, I used to continually ask my mother for a younger brother or sister. As an only child whose parents worked long hours in a take away shop, I was very lonely and wanted someone to spend my time with. Of course, I regretted ever asking for a younger sibling when my brother finally came along and I had to learn to share the attention of adults with a much younger and much cuter sibling who wasn’t going through the awkward teenage phase. For some reason, babies get more attention than ten year olds.

So when my eldest cousin in Hong Kong broached the subject of sending his ten-year-old son out to Australia in the Hong Kong summer school holidays, I agreed to have his son stay with me in Sydney for a week and a half, and with my father in Melbourne for three weeks. I knew that his son was going to find things difficult in the coming months with a new baby sister on the way, and a two year old younger brother at home. At least he could get some attention in Australia with his great uncle (my dad) and his aunt (me).

And so, for ten days in August, I had a ten year old boy sleeping on my couch. He slept late every day, did a spot of holiday homework when I was at work, and then I took him out every night after work for a fun activity like ice-skating or trampolining, or a nice meal out. He enjoyed the freedom, the focus on him rather than his younger brother, and the constant calendar of fun activities that I had planned!

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The first meal he had in Sydney was at Ribs and Burgers in Rhodes – a quick meal with my friends before we all went out for a night of karaoke. Squeezing six people into a booth meant for four made for a cozy meal!

Large chips, $9

Large chips, $9

I ordered some large chips for us to share, as both my nephew and I were only ordering burgers. Super crispy and crunchy, everyone couldn’t stop themselves from grabbing a few each to satiate their hunger while waiting for the main meals to come out.

Bacon & cheese burger, $14

Bacon & cheese burger, $14

I asked my nephew if he wanted to order the simple beef burger from the kids menu as the size would be much more manageable – however he was insistent that he wanted to have bacon and cheese on his burger. A full-sized burger it was! As much as he enjoyed it (you don’t get burgers as big and elaborate as this where he lives in Hong Kong!), he also complained that it was too big and that it hurt his mouth to open it that wide in order to take a bite. What a first world problem!

Best of both, $25

Best of both, $25

K and a few others opted for the Best of Both, an elaborate meal on a board of the two namesake dishes – Ribs and Burgers. I had a bite of the mini chicken slider, and I can vouch for it as being an excellently marinated and grilled piece of chicken. It definitely tempted me to consider ordering the chicken burger next time I’m there!

Pork ribs, $29 with a butchers salad (+ $2)

Pork ribs, $29 with a butchers salad (+ $2)

A friend who’s currently on a protein-heavy diet ordered a full rack of pork ribs with a salad on the side. It was truly finger-licking good, though the general consensus from those who ordered ribs was that it didn’t quite measure up to the likes of Hurricane’s Grill.

Lamb burger, $16

Lamb burger, $16

My lamb burger was deliciously infused with a mix of herbs and spices that really helped the burger to sing. The combination of Mediterranean flavours like hummous and tzatziki as the dressing with the cos lettuce made the burger taste quite fresh and clean on the palate as well. Luckily, the board that it was served on had a ridge all around as the lamb burger was so juicy that I dripped sweet juices from the burger with every bite that I took – it could have been a very messy meal! They also have a washbasin available right in the middle of the store so that patrons can wash up after digging in with gusto into their meals with their bare hands!

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Ribs and Burgers serves up a big, hearty, and messy meal for a reasonable price.  With locations all around Sydney and Melbourne (and one in Brisbane!), it’s a convenient alternative to my usual ribs joints such as Hurricane’s Grill and Ribs & Rumps. I’ll be back!

Ribs & Burgers on Urbanspoon


Lunch at 90 Mount Street, North Sydney

I recently had a short series of training sessions in the heart of North Sydney. Most people’s reactions to this compulsory training session was “Oh…do I really need to? I’m so busy at work, I don’t have time for training!” I sympathise. I really do. We’re all busy, we’re all under-resourced, and we’re all time-poor. But we’re also all in need of training that will help us do our jobs more efficiently using current best practices. It’s a small time sacrifice now, for time savings in the future.

To be fair though, I’m excited by the idea of being in North Sydney for a few days, as it means that I can try some new places for lunch! I find myself overwhelmed by the number of choices on the first day though – every second shopfront is a cafe or eatery, and I struggle to make a decision. I end up deciding to concentrate on the lunch spots in the building directly next door to the training venue – the plaza-like centre at 90 Mount Street.

Over three days, I try the three different eateries located on the lower level of the plaza.

Soul Synergy

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On the first day I stop in at Soul Synergy, a soup and salad bar that seems to specialise in the take-away trade. It’s family-run and the customers all seem to be trusted regulars. The customer before me was greeted by name and when she paid for her meal, she added 50 cents extra for the previous day when she had been a bit short of change.

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Spicy beef soup with bread roll, $6.30

At the prices quoted, I can see why they have such a steady regular customer base. At only $6.30 for a medium soup with a bread roll (either eat-in or take-away), you get a simple and hearty meal for a fantastic price. I had the spicy beef soup when I was there (Mexican chilli in style, it made me crave some guacamole and corn chips on the side!), but they also had minestrone, chicken and sweet corn, and pumpkin on that day.

I would definitely go back to Soul Synergy – perhaps to try their salads next time!

Doodles Noodles

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I had less luck with my lunch choice on the second day, when I visited Doodles Noodles next to Soul Synergy. While I was tempted by some of the bain-marie ready-made options, I ended up ordering one of my go-to options at quick Chinese take-away shops like this – a combination wonton noodle soup ($13.90) – with udon noodles.

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Combination wonton noodles, $13.90

While the noodles themselves were cooked well, the broth was overwhelmingly salty with what tasted like an overload of MSG. The “combination” on top had also been cooked separately in a wok and then spooned onto the noodles, resulting in a layer of thick salty wok sauce on the top of the soup that never fully integrated into the soup. The combination was also an overwhelming number of sub-standard beef and chicken pieces with barely any seafood pieces.

It was very disappointing, and I definitely won’t be back to Doodles Noodles.

Doodles Noodles on Urbanspoon

Sushi and Roll Mania

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My last lunch at 90 Mount Street was at Sushi & Roll Mania, a small Japanese restaurant on the Ground Floor that does a lot of trade in take-away sushi. Interestingly, they do Korean gimbap in addition to the standard sushi rolls that you might find on a standard Japanese menu which makes me suspect that the staff are actually Korean rather than Japanese.

There are some language difficulties here that may prove problematic if you have specific requirements – I went to this restaurant with a colleague who has Coeliac’s, and she had communication issues when she was asking about some of the teriyaki dishes on the menu to check if they were battered before cooking.

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Chef’s selection sashimi don, approx $13

I ordered a sashimi don which I found hearty and satisfying – there was a fantastic mix of sashimi including salmon, tuna and prawns, and it also included a healthy serving of salad greens and seaweed salad which I always find refreshing. It came with a side of spicy chilli sauce which I drizzled over the bowl with abandon…I should have checked the intensity of the chilli beforehand, as I found myself gulping down glasses of water to dull the chilli burn!

Next time I’m in North Sydney, I can see myself stopping by Sushi & Roll Mania for some takeaway sushi – it’s quick, cheap and reliable!

I can’t wait till I’m back in North Sydney for another training session…