Category Archives: restaurants

Sydney Expat Interview Series Part 14: Favorite Sydney Restaurant

food, restaurants, Sydney Expat Interviews

Food, glorious food! Discovering new cuisine is one of the most entertaining and enlightening things about exploring a new place. Sydney hosts the whole world in terms of culinary adventures; so, I was curious about what places the expats have discovered to dine. I asked them to tell us about their favorite restaurant in Sydney.

This is the 14th in an 18 part interview series with expats living in Sydney. Please make sure to visit the fantastic websites of the participants linked below, and join me on Facebook for much more on expat life in Sydney.

Sydney Expats Share Their Favorite Sydney Restaurant

Name: Julia
Country of origin: UK
Lived in Sydney: 7 years

Sake in the rocks – modern Japanese, fantastic location. You can go for pre-drinks at the Argyle beforehand, as its next door, and the food in there is just amazing. Cant wait to go back! photo 1 (2)

Name: Debbie
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 10 years

Well, I can’t exactly claim it’s a favourite as I’ve only eaten there the once, but I’m Angus at Cockle Bay Wharf served by far the best steak I’ve had in this country (if not ever), I’d love to go back again sometime. photo 2 (2)

Name: “Bushranger”
Country of Origin: Serbia
Lived in Sydney: 6.5 Years

Toshiya – Japanese restaurant on Military Rd. in Cremorne. Somehow the chef, who came from Tokyo, really knows how to deliver tasty dishes and also cater to the local palette. photo 5 (2)


Name: Shane
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year
Shane blogs at Sea Salt Secrets

The Grounds of Alexandria in Alexandria.

See some of Shane’s photos from Easter at the Grounds … like this one! The Grounds

Name: Kirstie
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: Since September 2013
Kirstie blogs at Venga Vale Vamos

The Potting Shed in Alexandria (next to The Grounds, which is incredibly popular for brunch) is absolutely beautiful at night, with twinkling lights and lush plants from floor to ceiling, and offers delicious share plates. photo 3 (2)

Name: Melissa
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year
Melissa blogs at Leche Love

So far, Mad Pizza E Bar in Newtown. Both pizza and service are really good. photo 4 (2)

Name: Victoria
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 6 years
Victoria blogs at The Freedom Travellers

It would have to be Sokyo at The Star in Pyrmont. The most amazing modern Japanese food and cocktails! The service is fantastic and the food ticks all the boxes. We usually just ask the staff to recommend dishes and they always get it right. photo 1

Name: Dido
Country of origin: India
Lived in Sydney: 2.5 years

Nilgiri’s at St. Leonards – Dosa’s are to die for and go for a nice Sunday brunch with family and friends to enjoy the buffet @$25 per head. (Nilgiri’s is moving to a new location in Cremorne, as of August 2016).
photo 1 (3)

Name: Rachel
Country of Origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 4 Years

It’s not so much the restaurant, but a regular social get-together with friends represents my favourite restaurant, and not only because of the food. When I lived in Manly, for the best part of just over a year each Monday night would be spent catching up with friends over dinner at The Steyne pub on Manly’s Corso.

For the cuisine, I would recommend Provence by Antoine in Concord. Having been there just recently with my boyfriend – the food was incredible. It’s a small French cuisine restaurant with a great menu of authentic sourced food and wine and friendly staff, offering a real personal touch in their service. photo 2

photo 3

Name: Erin
Country of origin: Texas, USA
Lived in Sydney: 7 1/2 years
Erin blogs at TexErin-in-Sydneyland

The Oxford Tavern in Petersham for their BBQ pit on Saturday afternoons OR Chophouse on Bligh Street in the CBD for fantastic steaks.

photo 4 (3)

photo 4


Name: Caitlin
Country of origin: England

Lived in Sydney: 1.5 year
Caitlin blogs at Where’s Wallis

I love Toko in Surry Hills. The best sushi I’ve had in Sydney and fantastic décor and atmosphere. Tip: try to get one of the tables by the bar! photo 5

Name: Ashley
Country of origin: United States

Lived in Sydney: 2 years (in Newcastle)
Visit Ashley on Instagram

Because we have kids, we don’t tend to pop into real restaurants while in town. We have been to Smash Sausage Kitchen in Newtown which was so delicious. They had veggie sausages which kept me and the kids happy! The Bucket List in Bondi. It’s a buzzing atmosphere on the beach and full of model-type people. Everyone’s beautiful there!

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Drooling, yet? Do tell us your favorite Sydney restaurant in the comments!

Read Part 1: Expectations vs Reality
Read Part 2: The Most Memorable Sydney Day
Read Part 3: Your First Day in Sydney
Read Part 4: Drinking Like an Aussie
Read Part 5: The Birds of Sydney
Read Part 6: Australian Christmas
Read Part 7: Off the Beaten Path
Read Part 8: Questions About Your Home
Read Part 9: What People at Home Think of Australia
Read Part 10: Advice for Moving to Sydney
Read Part 11: A Sydney Weekend
Read Part 12: Australian TV
Read Part 13: Something I Miss From Home

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Sydney’s New Hello Kitty Diner: Or, Lessons In Dining With a 2-Year Old

Little Aussie, restaurants

“I don’t know,” I thought to myself as I strolled the aisles at KMart. “We need to eat lunch. We’re here, anyway. I could just go ahead and MAKE MY KID’S DAY!”

With that, I decided that I’d get the polish ready for my Mother of the Year badge, the one I was about the receive for taking my toddler to the new Hello Kitty Diner in Chatswood.

All the mummy bloggers in town have been, so I’m sure you know all about it. Basically, it’s a burger restaurant. Covered in Hello Kitty.

So, I dragged her, toddling along, from the Chatswood Chase end of Victoria Avenue. I did not manage to sneak past the library without a stop in. I forgot that she asked me for water somewhere around NAB, and felt like a first class jerk when she started crying about it just before Gloria Jeans.

“Do you want to have a special treat?! You’ll get plenty of water when we get to the restaurant, OK? It’s going to be a special, special treat!” She was dubious. And thirsty.

We took the lift up to The District dining area, which is home to some really delicious restaurants, and followed the scent of cuteness. photo (26)

On first glance, the whole thing wasn’t just overwhelmingly impressive to me. It was basically a small Johnny Rockets with a couple of pink bows and a cat (who is not really a cat, whatever) out front. But, things don’t always have to impress me to rock off all of my kids’ socks. Exhibit A: The Wiggles. Exhibit B: Some guy in a construction hat on his lunch break we passed on the way. So, I proceeded to tell her how great this place was and how much she was going to love her hamburger and milk shake for her special treat. Milk shake. On a Tuesday. COME. ON.

She said she didn’t want a burger, but as it was the only thing on the kid’s menu, and I’m not made of dollars, kid, I decided she’d love it when she saw it and plowed ahead.

For myself, I ordered the Gee Gee burger (“Jee Jee,” apparently – I tried pronouncing it both ways, and that elicited less of a smirk from the counter girl. “Cat.” Whatever.) and sweet potato fries. And “smoked lemonade,” which I’d read about and was the secondary driving factor for our Hello Kitty adventure.

We got our number and took a seat. The counter was full. The booths were full. So, we sat at a table with high top chairs. Best choice for a 2 year old, natch.
Nothing happened. This is not foreshadowing.

The drinks came first, and I will say that we were both impressed. She with her pancake flavored milkshake and I with the smoked lemonade. Then, she remembered that she wanted water, and the milkshake fell entirely out of favor until I finished it for dessert some time 2 (5)

My burger came out next. I thought eating before her food came would be a display of poor, poor manners to show a child from whom I spend considerable hours of the day chasing up “pleases” and “thank yous.” So, we sat in semi-silence, with occasional attempts made by this mother to elicit enthusiasm for the cute napkins … pictures on the wall … umm … that’s mostly it. At one point, she expressed an appreciation for a possible door covered in wallpaper and asked if we could open it, but that was the height of her engagement with the decor, which I feel fairly certain did not come together without many hours of committee meetings and international teleconferences on the part of high level executives at the Sanrio 3 (19)

Finally, her burger came. She liked the bow toothpick enough that she tried to use it as a fork. I suggested she try a real fork, then didn’t wait for her to consider a response before turning to my lunch.

So, listen. I wasn’t expecting much. I told myself that people probably don’t eat at Hello Kitty diner for the food – particularly considering that there’s a Michelin-starred dumpling place two doors down. But – nice surprise – my Gee Gee was good. It’s Karaage chicken with Korean BBQ sauce, some slaw and kimchee pickles. The sweet potato fries were also pretty good, mostly thanks to the aoli dipping sauce. photo 4 (12)

After a couple of bites, I looked over, and my dining companion had peeled the cheese off of half her burger and poked it a couple of times. “I done.” she declared.

“You don’t want your burger?”
“No thanks.” (See, manners ...)
“Your fries? Mmm! Fries!”
“No thank you.”
“Would you like to finish your milkshake?”
“No. I done.”

Bloody hell. Toddlers, you know?

I asked one of the adult professionals who work there (you can spot them by their cat-ear headbands) for a takeaway box for the $10 pincushion sitting on my kid’s plate, and was told that they “don’t do takeaway.”

You know what, Hello Kitty – you may have just gotten $38 from me, which would have bought a lot of Michelin-approved pork buns over at Tim Ho Wan, but stop trying to pretend like you’re better than takeaway. You have a giant plastic cat outside your restaurant. Kids are going to eat in your establishment. Kids are jerks. Sometimes they just poke holes in their burgers with the sharp end of a paper bow stick, and their parents – who just wanted to “make their kid’s day,” are going to save that all-beef patty for that moment –  after they’ve fallen asleep on the bus, after they’ve refused a healthy dinner, and after they’ve had a bath that they announce, “I’m hungry.” Sometimes, just sometimes, kids don’t eat their burgers when we want them to. Sometimes they devour the entire thing at 8p.m. when the malaise from the milkshake wanes and hunger has finally overtaken them. So, for the love of all things sacred in this cartoon world, give a mother a takeaway box.

I know I’m not the only one who felt this way because two tables over, I heard another frustrated toddler entourage asking (nay, pleading) for the same thing. You just don’t get us, Hello Kitty.

That’s OK, though. I’m a bright girl. I dumped out my KMart shopping into my backpack, wrapped that burger into two adorable cocktail napkins, stashed it in the plastic bag, and marched out past the watchful eyes of the Cat-Guard. And, you know what, my kid downed that burger one hour 1 (21)

So, all in all, I’d say that I made her day.

The Most Perfect Burger in Sydney


There are two Holy Grails forever being pursued by the American in Australia expat community – Mexican Food and burgers. Mexican food, served just the way I want it, remains enigmatic, but today, I’m am able to report a victory for Team Burger.

First, let me define my terms. A burger, in American parlance, should be a thick patty of fatty, fatty meat, topped with ketchup, mustard, and sweet pickle relish or a dill pickle chip. Maybe mayo, if you’re wild. Tomato and a piece of lettuce make it healthy. And, melty orange cheese and possibly crispy bacon make it glorious.

Here are things that Australians like to do to their burgers that make Americans cry inside:

  • Use lean meat
  • Top it with beetroot
  • Top it with pineapple
  • Top it with egg
  • Top it with non-crispy Australian bacon
  • Slather it in barbecue sauce

I mean, the Aussie burger is fine if you’re into that kind of thing, but if what you’re after is an American style burger, it’s sort of like ordering sushi and getting lasagna.

A couple of months ago, I bragged on the burger at The Grounds of Alexandria as being the best I’ve tasted in Sydney. I stand by that as a damn fine burger. However, last week, I discovered the World Series Apple Pie Bald Eagle of Down Under burgers.

Five Points Burgers in North Sydney has only been open a few months, but has already become one of the most popular lunch spots in the area. I’d actually attempted to go once before, but even at 1p.m., the lunch rush was still raging on, and the line to order was to the wall, with a mob outside waiting for their burgers. Apparently, it’s like that every single day.

We gave it another try post-rush around 2:30p.m., and that was the lucky time. We ordered two Bronx burgers and a side of fries to share between the three of us (Hushpuppy, who had been declaring her excitement for burgers the whole way, ate about three fries and was done with the whole thing, but she’s two, so I wouldn’t go by her review). I also added a vanilla shake (chocolate and salted caramel also available). Our whole order was around $35.

What can I tell you? The burger was perfection. Tasty, juicy, cheesy, bacony, just everything I want in a burger. Look at this masterpiece:

… I know, right?

I’m not actually sure how you go back to work for the rest of the afternoon after this…

The fries were good – big, crispy, beer battered steak fry style – but honestly, entirely unnecessary. And, I’d probably skip the shake next time. It was thin, not what they call in Australia a “thick shake,” which is what we Americans would think of as a burger joint shake. Though, the salted caramel is tempting.


I was fat ‘n’ happy after our lunch, and so full I skipped dinner. It’s definitely a once in a blue moon sort of decadence, but one that this Yank is so excited to have in the neighborhood.



A few things:
Five Points Burgers
124 Walker Street, North Sydney
Open weekdays only. 11:30a.m. to 5p.m.
Not child-friendly (no high chairs or kid’s menu, primarily high stool seating). Grab takeaway and go to the park!
On Instagram

On The 257: A Car Free, Family Friendly Day on the Lower North Shore

little things, restaurants, Sydney

a day on the 257

Hushpuppy and I are enthusiastic bus riders. I’m not a keen driver, and we’re lucky to have three lines near our home. We get along just fine thanks to Sydney’s most capable chariots. Opal Card in hand, we’re going to take you on a tour of a family-friendly day courtesy of the Chatswood to Mosman 257 bus line.



The 257 commences in Chatswood (accessible from the train station). There is plenty for families to do in Chatswood, including shopping, the library, a run around the lawn at the Councourse, and movies, but we’re hopping right on the bus and heading about 10 minutes south to Willoughby and the Bicentennial Reserve (Small Street and Willoughby Road stop).

The Incinerator is certainly your first port for takeaway coffee. The historic building, designed by Walter Burley Griffin, was once the city’s incinerator, and is now a family-welcoming cafe. They source their coffee from The Grounds of Alexandria, and the owner is a father, himself, so very congenial towards his littlest customers. incinerator

Then, just a few steps away is the earthy and wonderful Hallstrom Park playground. I feel like the equipment has just grown up from the ground like seedlings, and Hushpuppy gets such joy from climbing all the rocks and playing the “instruments” with sticks. reserve5reserve4

Tuck around the corner and find the welcoming animal sculptures, who will greet you with a recorded growl, alerted by a hidden away motion sensor. reserve2Then, take a walk down the shared walking and bike paths, which will soon turn bushland enough that you forget you’re just steps from the main road. Don’t forget to commune with the tucked away cave where poet Henry Lawson used to reprieve and write after a big night out.reserve6reserve3reserve1


We spend a lot of time in the Bicentennial Reserve, and I adore it for the way it sparks my tiny explorer’s creativity and interest in nature. We’ve wiled away many hours adventuring here.

Eventually, explorers need lunch, so find your way onto the next 257, and ride it two stops, getting off in Naremburn, right in front of Sprout Wholefood Cafe and Grocer.

I am forever coercing people into meeting me for lunch dates at Sprout for two reasons: the scrumptious, healthy food, and the fenced-in yard with a cubby house where children are welcome to play. I don’t have to rush through lunch because my toddler is bored or worry that her antics will bother other diners. I never have to resort to the iPad, either (not that I’m above that!). sprout1

My recommendation for lunch is the smoked trout bowl, which goes perfectly with either a fresh whole coconut or another cup of coffee. They’re also happy to “brew” up a soy babyccino for my dairy intolerant little hooligan, which is much appreciated. photo 3 (10)sprout2IMG_4139

After lunch, catch the next 257 for our final destination of the day. There are any number of places we might choose on the way through Crows Nest, North Sydney and Neutral Bay, but we’re taking the bus all the way to the end of the line to beautiful Balmoral Beach.

Balmoral, with its strolling promenade and shallow water is an ideal Sydney beach for families. The parking is famously expensive, so the bus is actually a great option for getting there. balmoral

There are plenty of cafes and restaurants along the walk and a lot of grassy spots for picnics. There’s also a nice playground next to the beach, making Balmoral an option even in Winter. It used to be a favorite spot for my Mother’s group – we loved to set up a few picnic blankets and enjoy our babies in the easygoing sunshine. IMG_3425IMG_3420


It’s tempting for a family to wile away a few hours at Balmoral, and we have done so many times. The 257 leaves every 30 minutes, so plan your exit accordingly, keeping in mind timing for the beach babies who may be disinclined to bid this lovely spot adieu. But, after such a massive day of exploring and being outdoors, they’re nearly guaranteed to find the bus lulling them into a nap, offering you a quiet ride home. Leave the driving to Sydney’s finest.

An Inner West Excursion: Haberfield and Callan Park

restaurants, Sydney

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI realize it’s rather parochial for someone who moved half way across the world to live here, but lately, it takes something special to coax me out of my comfortable Lower North Shore nest. Oh, I’ll hop the Metro bus to the city, but beyond that, it’s going to have to be a good friend’s birthday, Costco , or an out of this world baked good to get me over the bridge (unlike most of the rest of Sydney who won’t go north of the bridge!). It was the dream of cheesecake that led us to take a drive to Sydney’s Inner West last month, and check off two more items from my Undiscovered (By Me) Sydney list.

When my friend Mimi (former-expat and forever-foodie) lived in Sydney, she took a day trip with a friend to the Italian neighborhood, Haberfield. She came back with food for a feast, to which we were invited, and it was the baked ricotta cheesecake she served for dessert that left the biggest impression on me. Years later, I still remembered it fondly, so when she suggested I add Haberfield to my list of places to discover, she didn’t have to tell me twice.

Haberfield, as I said, is an Italian neighborhood. It was set up in the early 1900s as a “garden suburb,” one of several built after an outbreak of bubonic plague left people longing for parks and fresh air. The entire suburb is now heritage listed. Most of the houses are Federation style and are restricted in terms of building additions, and they all must retain a color scheme in Federation style. (Or so Wikipedia tells me).

We headed straight for the downtown strip which turned out to be about a two block row of delis, gelato shops, bakeries, and Italian groceries. The street seemed quiet,  as we had no trouble parking – a rarity in Sydney. But, it didn’t take long to hear the sounds of energetic conversations in Italian wafting from inside shops and from people walking down the street.


We promptly found our bakery, Pasticceria Papa. Given that I’m the only one in the household for whom the baked ricotta cheesecake held a great appeal, I was excited to see that they had little mini versions (Partner-in-Crime, the lucky devil, doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth and Hushpuppy, who has an insatiable sweet tooth, can’t have dairy).  We each chose a treat, added some extra bread to our order, and walked over to a little park on the strip to enjoy.




These cannolis were very hard to resist.


The cheesecake was every bit as delicious as I remembered it.

On a sugar high, we wandered a little more around the shops, including a cute Italian grocery and then into a deli that I was pretty sure was the one Mimi had also recommended.



I bought a smoked salami, made in-house, to share with my kiddo, who loves salami so much that her uncle and aunt gave her one for Christmas. Another member of the household was very happy to find homemade cevapcici. Now, I’m no cevapcici expert, being only Eastern European by marriage, but we went home and cooked those suckers up for dinner, served with our bread from the bakery, and I didn’t hear any complaints. I can tell you that they were far better than the ones they have at Coles, on par with the difference between eating a Twinkie and one of those cannolis pictured above.


Finished with shopping, we took a drive down one of the residential streets off the main road so that I could see some of the heritage listed Federation houses (can I just mention that I saw in the news the other day that a 5 bedroom house in this suburb just sold for $4 million!). Here are a few examples:




After Haberfield, we drove just a few minutes to the nearby suburb of Lilyfield to visit Callan Park, which a friend who lived nearby recommended. Once on the grounds, I realized that I’d been there before at a theatre writing conference at the NSW Writers Centre, which has its home there. It’s memorable because the whole compound resides on the property that was once a mental institution, and most of the buildings still stand. 

It sounds delightfully creepy, but beyond the smattering of buildings is a beautiful park that overlooks Iron Cove. There were children’s soccer teams practicing on the grounds, picnicking families, and meandering bicyclists. As we walked the grounds, I took a brave peek into one of the buildings, hoping to see some rusted, spider-web covered Victorian medical equipment, but to my disappointment, the room housed a bunch of fit balls and yoga mats, home to Tuesday night pilates, rather than ghosts of the criminally insane.

We did happen upon some rock carvings, which had a sign next to them declaring them historical, but no mention as to why. They were easy to walk right past, as they were quite faded, and in fact I had to call P-i-C and Hushpuppy back for a look at them, as I was lagging a little behind and they’d walked right past.

They got me curious, as they clearly weren’t traditional Aboriginal carvings, based on the subject and dates (I don’t know if you can tell, but the one in the photograph is a nautical anchor), so who did them and why did they have historical significance? At last, I had a mystery!

Google, of course, had my answer, and it’s actually pretty interesting. The carvings, of which there are more than I saw, are believed to have been the work of Maori twins who were incarcerated at the asylum from 1879. According to this article, they are a at the center of a debate about who owns the rights to protect and restore them, the local Council or descendants who claim “hereditary rights.” I can understand the concerns of the descendants, as the carvings we saw were very much worn away, unprotected aside from a hardly noticeable sign, and easily trampled upon. It seems an interesting story significant to the ground’s history, so I hope they will be better preserved.

We quite enjoyed our wander around the lovely and evocative grounds of Callan Park. We would have stayed longer, but for the Haberfield meat purchases in the car. For those of you who make it to the Inner West more often than I do, bring a picnic and enjoy this lovely park. I’d go back with a little baked ricotta cheesecake any day!


The Grounds of Alexandria

restaurants, Sydney

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGather ’round, hipsters. I am going to tell you of paradise.

  • It’s in a reclaimed factory in a warehouse district
  • It’s super hard to park there
  • You can eat outside …
  • …next to farm animals
  • They decorate with mason jars and faux rusty garden tools. And chalkboards.
  • Weathered wood. It’s everywhere.
  • There’s an artisan bakery and a flower shop
  • They have a coffee research institute onsite
  • The name has a cute double meaning

Hipster heaven, thy name is The Grounds of Alexandria, and I loved it.

Last month, my little family picked a beautiful afternoon on a whim and drove out to The Grounds to check off another item on my Undiscovered (by me) Sydney list. Now, the first thing I’d tell you about The Grounds is that, while I had never been there before, it’s most decidedly not “undiscovered.” We drove past two full parking lots before finally getting to park in a third lot that was a good block away. I’d heard that they get busy on the weekends, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so swamped on a Monday afternoon. Lesson learned.

Once we got in, though, all was grand. The hostess at the restaurant explained that we could either eat inside in the restaurant or order “grill” food and eat it al fresco on the patio. A friend had mentioned that the burger inside the restaurant was a must-have, so we asked about the wait, and were pleased to find that they were able to seat us right away.

The service was great, except for one little drink snafu that I’m not even going to go into because they ended up going above and beyond to make amends. I already knew that I wanted to eat the burger, so my biggest choice was what kind of coffee to have. As The Grounds is known for their coffee, I thought something special was required. I decided on the “deconstructed iced coffee.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OK, so what this is … besides amazingness on a tray … is a cup of coffee ice cubes, a shot of espresso, a glass of milk, and a dropper of sugar water.  100% Yes to this.


You’re totally right. I could have taken that sippy cup out of the shot.

Now, let’s talk about that burger I’d heard so much about. The rumors were true. As you know, I’m American. And, we Americans know from burgers. This burger. This is the closest I’ve come to an American burger in Australia. I ate every crumb of this burger.

Hushpuppy seemed to like her eggs on toast a lot, and Partner-in-Crime made some noises to suggest that he was in favor of the duck thing that he ordered. I’m not completely sure. I was pretty busy in burger land. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After we devoured our lunch (and $70 later), we went out to find the farm animals and explore the grounds (The Grounds’ grounds).

I thought Hushpuppy was really going to be taken with these animals… OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…and she did like them, but she made a new friend in this animal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe whole place, by the way and should you be interested, is excellent for families. There’s plenty of room on the patio for kids to run around, plus there are the animals, and tucked away in a corner is a “secret garden” that’s perfect for children. The only downside was that I couldn’t find a change table.

I got a take away coffee, and we spent some time just walking around, exploring, and taking photos. There’s a lot to see, and it’s all visually pleasing. It would be the perfect place for a long lunch with friends. I’d be hesitant to brave it on the weekend unless we got there very early, but it’s definitely worth tackling the parking on a weekday afternoon.


A Perfect Day

annual events, restaurants, Sydney, yoga

Yesterday was one to put in a glass bottle and place on the shelf for safe keeping.

I started early when my alarm went off at 5a.m. The sky was blazing pink at that hour, possibly made more dramatic due to the smoke haze in the air from a controlled burn off in a park many miles away. I was out the door by 6:30 to meet two girlfriends who were participating with me in Yoga Aid. The Sydney event was the kickoff for a worldwide “relay” of yoga to raise funds for charity that would traverse the globe and end in L.A. This was my second year participating. My little team – the Yoga Yanks – were among over 700 other Sydney yogis in the Domain. The weather was gorgeous. I started in yoga pants and long sleeves, but as it got later in the morning, I eventually stripped down to shorts and a tank top, getting plenty of sun (I didn’t even forget the sunscreen!). Our practice was nearly three hours long, but  flew by because everyone was in such high spirits. The day opened and closed with MC Yogi, a hip-hop artist/yogi – I know, this sounds like a combination that could go painfully wrong – but he was delightful. He led one of the sessions, and he had us jumping up and down, waving peace signs in the air, and “Downward Snoop Dog”-ing. One of my fellow Yoga Yanks thought he had a bit of the Justin Timberlake in him, and I have to agree. Here’s a bit of his work:

And here’s a great video someone posted from the event, if you want to see just how joyous the morning was.:(If you watch, you can see the Downward Snoop Dog and also note the crazy-cute kid at 3:32. He was sitting in front of us, and we sort of wanted to snatch him up and take him home with us … you know, in the most non-kidnappery sort of way).
Feeling euphoric and Namaste, we Yanks wrapped up the morning with breakfast and coffee at the nearby Museum of Sydney cafe. I had a bagel with salmon, ricotta, capers, tomatoes and rocket (arugula), and if that sounds delicious to you, then I can report that it was as good as it sounds, especially on a famished stomach. 
At that point, I saw no choice but to opt for taking the ferry home. I would normally take the bus or train because it means a shorter, less uphill walk on the other side of the bridge, but all I wanted in this wide world was to be on the Harbour. I found a seat outside and basked in every sparkly blue moment of my 12-minute ride. Once cast off the boat, I stretched my yoga mat back out in the park next to the wharf and read in the sun for another hour before making my way home to meet Partner-in-Crime.
P-i-C was wrapping up his morning obligations as I got home, and I could not even be bothered to change out of my sweaty yoga clothes before dragging him back outside. We went to our favorite park in North Sydney and camped ourselves in this view for the next couple of hours. The park was full of people so happy to finally be unleashed to some weekend sunshine. A curly haired little girl ran around flying a kite, and I suspected that shewas having the best day of her whole life.

Around the time the sun started going down, we packed up and set off to find some dinner. Up the street from our park is an adorable Spanish restaurant/deli where we once had brunch with friends. Lucky for us, they were open for dinner, and we sat down for a luxurious two-hour tapas meal. We even scored a free sangria for checking in on Four Square. I declared that this was the sort of day that required dessert, so we capped off the evening with a warm, gooey apple empanada.

By the time we left the restaurant, it was dark and had started to get a little chilly. Going home, I was in heaven with a long, hot shower (finally finding my way out of those yoga clothes I put on at 5a.m.), pajamas, a couple episodes of The Daily Show, and an early bedtime. I was worn out from the exercise, the sun and the food, and was in a sound sleep within minutes. 
All of the stars of beauty, happiness and convenience aligned for me yesterday. There was just no choice but to bask in the karmic glory of a day perfectly lived.

A Report From the Bleak Mid-Winter

expat issues, restaurants, Sydney, theatre

Of late, I have been in one of those repetitious go-to-work-make-dinner-quiet-weekend-at-home phases which makes it hard to summon blog writing. But, a look over the past couple of months warrants at least a brief catch up, if for no other reason than to say, “We’re still here. All is well. This is what life is like.”

We started July on a sad note, saying goodbye to our closest friends, Mimi and Joe who moved back to the States. Such is expat life, I am learning, as we’ve now said goodbye in two years to two couples who we had become close to. Mimi and I arrived at about the same time and we had an instantaneous bond on our first Bridge date. We and our husbands came to be like family to each other in that way that friends do when you are so far away from home. We celebrated Thanksgivings, Christmases, New Years, so many random Sunday night dinners, mid-week shopping dates, and spontaneous mani/pedis. It is priceless to have a friend who you can call on at any time for any silly or large thing, and I dare say that settling into life in Australia would have been boundlessly more difficult without such treasured friends. Mimi’s generosity and take-charge personality is already a loss for our little group of friends, as we are all trying to fill the void of organising, creating events, and putting things in their rightful place. I miss them terribly.

Ah, but my years working in regional theatre taught me that the most meaningful of friendships always last, even if their physical presence is fleeting. We hang onto the people we must.
And, life carries on. And, so, July ticked on. After our trip to the Sunshine Coast, I was enamored with my new Kindle, and spent a lot of time curled up in my bathrobe under many blankets (because it is stupid cold here) lost in a Hemingway and Fitzgerald Lost Generation rabbit hole. I think something about the expat life of another era was calling to me, even if that 1920s hard partying Parisian life looks nothing even remotely like my existence.
I came out from under the covers long enough to celebrate my birthday. I started the day with  strawberry pancakes at Pancakes on the Rocks, which is sort of a slightly upscale version of IHOP (and one of the only places in Sydney open 24 hours). After a long wander around the Rocks markets, I treated myself to a mani/pedi date. Then, a friend was so kind as to host a small party at her place where a handful of us gorged on delicious food and the beautiful cake that Partner-in-Crime bought for me. The theme of the day was sugar-overload, and happily so.
The original birthday plan was to gather a group to see The Dark Night Rises, as I am a shameless Batman fan, and thought it was a personal gift to me that it opened on my birthday weekend. But, a tricky ticket situation meant that we saw it the next weekend. As it was a belated birthday celebration, we treated ourselves to Gold Class, which is a wonder of movie-watching. Each person gets to sit in a giant puffy recliner and a waiter brings you drinks and food (this night, P-i-C and I had nachos and sweet potato fries). Afterwards, you can have a few post-film drinks in the private lounge. It’s like watching a movie in your own living room, if you happened to live in, like, George Clooney’s house. It’s insanely expensive for a movie, so Gold Class is a treat best reserved for birthdays, celebrations, and people who stole George Clooney’s wallet when visiting his house.
I did not watch the Olympics, mostly because we don’t have a TV and I forgot. But, I was charmed to pieces by that silly video of the U.S. swimmers lip sychings to “Call Me Maybe.” Though it was kind of ridiculous, and the song is not even American, there was something about the spirit of it that was so American. Only Americans would display that unabashed giddiness and wide open humor. At its core, it showed something about my favorite part of America. It’s nice that we won a lot of medals, but to me, even nicer that we are that kind of people.

Last weekend, I took myself on a personal date to see A Chorus Line at the Capitol Theatre. As a wretched theatre snob, I rarely have a taste for big touring musicals, but A Chorus Line holds a special place in my heart. My grandmother gifted me a video of the movie (on Betamax, no less), and I had a rather long obsession with it. It was my first love affair with the theatre, and though I did not exactly understand all of the content, I loved it so, and practiced my kickline, and even sang “Nothing” for drama class in high school. As an adult, learning about the show’s origins at The Public Theatre, and how the monologues came from long interview sessions with real dancers, I came to respect the show even more. So, though this was, in my estimation, a pretty poor production of it, I was still so happy to be sitting in that dark theatre with “At the Ballet,” “What I Did For Love,” “One.” and all those splashy gold costumes and jutting top hats parading in front of me.
The winter weather remains a constant curiosity, and speculation piece, especially since I put in a good hour of walking to and from work. After a long stretch of cold, we had a couple of stunning days last week, which many of us were far too bold in proclaiming harbingers of Spring. This weekend, it turned horrible, with record high wind gusts for most of the weekend and bitter cold. Today was rather warm, but not sunny, and I will not make any predictions about what they may or may not mean for the season ahead. I have secret wishes, but would not be so bold as to make them public, let you all curse my name when the space heaters remain on for weeks ahead.
And, so you have it … this is what it looks like when I have nothing to say. 
Reporting from Sydney, the 7th most livable city in the world: For now, I’m over and out. 
Certainly, there will be nothing more to say again before long.

Easter, Saving Lives, and Lucinda Williams & I Spiritually Intersect

day zero project, holidays, restaurants

An Easter 4-day weekend is nearly upon us, and it felt almost like Christmas break in the office today, with visitors being asked about their holiday plans, people thrusting aluminum wrapped chocolate morsels upon you, and our bookeeper jovially dashing off “happy holiday” greetings to all she left for her break early this afternoon.

Partner-in-Crime and I are not going to fight the holiday travel rush, and have opted for staying home over this long weekend. We’ll likely find a few interesting things around town to occupy ourselves. If the powers that be are merciful, the weather will stay exactly as it has been for the past week. Our summer was a wash, and I do mean that in two senses of the word – both a loss and a complete rain out. But this sunny, mild autumn is looking like our reward.

Last weekend, we took advantage of the weather with another trip out to the bar at Cockatoo Island. Being at a bar on an island in the middle of the harbour with good friends is my definition of ascension to a higher plain. After a few hours of drinks, we took the ferry back into town and reconvened at Pancakes on the Rocks, or as someone in the group called it, “Denny’s.” Pancakes on the Rocks is as close as I’ve seen to an American style diner, and it is also one of the only restaurants here that is open 24 hours. Because we had just had a time change the night before, it was dark much earlier than usual, and the combination of that and the afternoon drinking did make it feel like I was back in my 20s, eating a Lumberjack Slam after the club at 2a.m.

I had another big day out yesterday. Mimi and I had booked ourselves a Groupon to do a First Aid training course, which turned out to be a whole day of insanity (the other students were nuts and our teacher seemed to have personal stories for every tragic eventuality we covered. She was almost as bad as Angela Lansbury’s character in Murder She Wrote for being a kindly seeming lady you don’t want to stand next to). At one point, the teacher launched into yet another story (dog bites husband, I believe), and I almost choked on my latte. Maybe my favorite moment was when she asked us, if encountering an emergency, who we were going to call. “Ghost busters,” Mimi whispered under her breath. Again with the latte. Ah, but the good news is that we are both now First Aid and CPR certified, though with the amount that our attention wandered, I’m not entirely sure we should really try to save lives.

After class and a couple of celebratory drinks, I met up with Partner-in-Crime for a pasta extravaganza at the very lovely and accessible Jamie Oliver restaurant, which we’ve been meaning to try for a couple months. And then, we headed off to see one of my very favorite singers, Lucinda Williams at the jewelbox State Theatre.

When I was 14, I fell into a mad obsession with the singer Mary Chapin Carpenter. It was a weird obsession for a 14 year old, maybe, but I loved her lyrics and I loved the type of self-assured woman she seemed to be. Her most famous song at the time, and one I listened to on what must have been a maddening repeat for my family, was “Passionate Kisses.” Now, knowing that “Passionate Kisses” was written by a singer/songwriter called Lucinda Williams (and, incidentally, that MCC had fallen in love with the song while they were on tour together, with Rosanne Cash, in Australia), I bought a Lucinda Williams CD. There was one song that I loved, but other than that, I did not know what to make of this woman with a gravely voice and sparse lyrics. In fact, upon reflection, I really did not like her very much at all, and gave up on the CD after a listen or two. Thank goodness that sometime in my early 20s, I had the presence to drag that CD out again and give it another listen. At that age, with a little bit of heartbreak, self-possession, and just plain drinkin’ in bars behind me, I came to an instant and abiding appreciation for Lucinda Williams that has only grown over the years.

And so last night, there she was in front of me recounting the tale of how Mary Chapin Carpenter fell in love with “Passionate Kisses” in this very country just over two decades ago, an event that I don’t believe it is hyperbole to say would change both her life and mine. I don’t know if the shape of my personal relationship to that story is exactly a circle, but it all felt round and appropriate, somehow.

Here’s Lucinda Williams doing the very sexy, grown lady song “Essence,” a song I (thankfully) could not have appreciated on any level when I was 14.


giant roadside attractions, hikes, national parks, restaurants, tasmania

Though it has been a couple of months, and our trip to Tasmania is now a memory with a soft-focus filter washed over it, I still want to share some of my impressions. It was one of the most relaxing and visually enthralling trips I have taken.

Tasmania is an island in the Southernmost part of Australia, and often the source of jokes by mainlanders about it not really being part of Australia or that things are a bit slooooow there. But, enough people had said to me that it was geographically reminiscent of Montana to make me desperate to go. Those are the magic words.

We had five days, which is hardly enough time to scratch the surface, but we squeezed in as much as we could, mostly on the East coast.  To maximize our travel time, we flew into Launceston, rented a car, and made our way steadily south to Hobart, where we departed from.

Our day in Launceston was a bit of a wash, as we started at a local park, which we’d heard was amazing. It was scenic enough, with some nice trails and a gorge, but because we had our hearts set on World Class Amazement, we came away blase. We then went off to try some wineries. It was late in the day, and we only hit about four before the cellar doors were closing up shop. At our final winery, the excellent and quaint Moore’s Hill, we chatted up the owner who suggested we drive on to the nearby Narawntapu National Park, where we’d see some nice scenery. We found the beach and got our feet wet, and then did a short hike for some lovely views.

With a little daylight left, we drove on to our hotel further west in the pretty little mountain town of Deloraine, where we’d stay for two nights. It positioned us to be closer to our next stop, Lake St Clair National Park, and the oft-photographed Cradle Mountain. 
Navigation around Tasmania proved to be a trick: our GPS developed a fondness for long dirt roads and never-built thoroughfares. We experienced our first confusion on the way to Lake St Clair, and turned around lost on a dead-end dirt road an hour out of our way, and without any cell phone reception. Thankfully, we ran into fellow tourists in a camper van who had just come from there, and they set us aright again. Later in the day than we’d intended, we arrived at Cradle Mountain, where we started on a two-hour hike around the lake. In reality, it took us more like three hours because I kept stopping for photos. 

For people who hike on a semi-regular basis, Partner-in-Crime and I have been lucky to have experienced essentially no injuries. In fact, I received the worst injury of my hiking life on this walk. Coming down a hill, I grabbed onto a tree to steady myself, and when I pulled my hand away, I had extreme pain and a huge ant clinging to my ring finger. I later discovered that the ant was a Jack Jumper Ant, native to Tasmania, who stings its victims with one of the most powerful venoms in insectdome. Of course, this being Australia, it could not just be a normal ant, but a life-endangering one. I got into an increasing panic until I was able to somehow coax my wedding ring off my swelling finger, which eventually doubled in size. No lie, two months later my finger is still swollen enough that I can’t get my ring back on (and I’m not just saying that so that I can go to singles bars!). 
Done with the hike, my husband, my giant finger, and I explored Lake St Clair a bit longer. We took a couple of short hikes, the best of which was the Enchanted walk, a moss filled forest with waterfalls and a stream, which lived up to its name.   

We ran into this little guy on the walk, a pademelon, which we learned is a marsupial.

I’d gleaned that Lake St Clair was in wombat-country, and given my little obsession with wombats (I had a wombat figurine in my wedding bouquet, for heavens sake), I was determined not to leave without seeing one in the wild. I am not ashamed to tell you that I spent a good hour stalking all the fields I could find that had – ehem – telltale signs of wombat presence. Dejected, I finally had to abandon my hunt for poor P-i-C’s sanity, and probably my own, as well. Cruising out of the park, we saw a couple people on the side of the road, and oh my, they were looking at a wombat! I almost cried. We watched that wombat graze for a long time, until we noticed that there was another wombat across the street. And then, that wombat had a friend. All totaled, we saw five wombats feeding that evening. I was bursting with wombat joy.

As the cherry on top of an already overwhelming day, I added not one but two giant roadside attractions to my “collection…”
Mikey, the Giant Tasmanian Devil
The Giant Coffee Kettle, Deloraine

The next day, back in Deloraine, we woke up to the most incredible foggy mountain scene outside the window of our hotel. By this point, I loved Tasmania, and could not wait to see what more lay ahead.

We were off to another National Park – Freycinet – which is where Wineglass Bay (another one of the famous Tassie landmarks) is.

Freycinet was overrun with wallabies who were highly adjusted to humans, and boldly begged for goodies in the car park. We did not feed them, but we could not resist having just a small play.

The hike to Wineglass Bay was a challenging three-hour round trip. It is the only way to get to the beach. If I’m completely honest, I didn’t find the payoff to be worth the difficulty of the walk, but in retrospect, I’m always happy to have accomplished a tough hike, so I’m glad that we went.

We had our picnic lunch on the beach in the company of a handful of other hikers, and some terribly friendly marsupial friends looking to share.

We had plenty of time left, and took a further wander around Freycinet, where we found some particularly stunning scenery in the way of dramatic ocean cliffs and colorful coastline. These were some of our favorite views of the entire trip.

That night, we stayed in a pretty little town called Bicheno. We treated ourselves to an incredible meal at a highly recommended French restaurant, Cyrano. The decor was nothing fancy, but the food was divine. The owner personally cooked all the meals herself in an exposed kitchen. I had easily the best lamb shanks of my life. 
We were really rolling in the wonderful in Tasmania.
The next day, we headed out early to spend our last couple of days in Hobart and, as this has turned into quite the missive, I’ll finish the adventure tomorrow.

(Click here for part two)