The party is over. The syndrome has dropped and I haven’t even left for the airport yet. Ten days, seven munchkins seen, two minibreaks done (one north, one south), one wedding, plenty of time with family, friends and a whole lot of coffee and lunches squeezed in.

While I try and balance in the cocktail of looming homesickness the sourness of leaving my birth place, and the sweet excitement of returning to an Olympic City; here’s some reflection on what’s come before.

The ten best things I ate in Sydney (this time, part 1)

Rabbit and pork belly terrine, at The Marina Cafe, Bayview

If there’s a better cure for the fog of commuting for 27 hours than sitting by shimmering water, nursing a glass of crisp pinot grigio at lunch in the sun with your mother and stepfather, I don’t know it. The Marina Bay Cafe is a new find to me. It’s north of Sydney, up at Bayview. It’s a place of boats and rubber soled shoes, where the air smells of diesel fuel and salt. Some people may feel that this modern airy cafe suffers a little from the immediate outlook being over the carpark of the marina. But there’s a trick- you can ask to have your seats set up at the picnic tables, right next to the water.

The food here is shining and well worth the trip; some main courses come with a deft Asian touch, but the real thing not to miss are the house pressed terrines. Rabbit and pork belly is verdant with herbs and gentle with prunes. Add three slices of charred sourdough, some leaves and some sun on your back and you can be sure it’s the best transition from London to Sydney imaginable.

The Marina Cafe
Bayview, Sydney
http://themarinacafe.com.au

Lamb, chickpea and yogurt salad, The Grounds of Alexandria

‘Have you been to The Grounds?’ ‘You really must go to The Grounds’. I’d only been in Sydney for two days and I’d heard that refrain three times. It might have something to do with how it’s helping to transform a once barren, lite industrial area that was once our home. It might have something to do with their laser focus on how their coffee is made. And it might have something to do with the chickens that are running around in a coup in the attached garden. At 12 pm on a Monday, the restaurant was already rammed. I scored the last seat (for myself and this rather brilliant friend). The menu plays in the same key as Bourke Street Bakery and Allpress; great sandwiches, hearty salads and good coffee. The bonus here is that you can also get a glass of wine ( I see a theme developing here. But if you’re not having a sly glass of wine with lunch, how do you know you’re on holiday?).

The slow cooked shredded lamb salad is a sunny day in a Sydney winter, in a dish. Warming but light, with bright notes of herb flecked yogurt and the satisfying squish of pumpkin. The toasted bread on the side is probably extraneous, but will help steel your stomach after you go back for your third coffee of the day.

 The Grounds of Alexandria
Huntley Street  Alexandria NSW 2015
www.groundsroasters.com/

Spinach, feta, mint sausage roll, Berry Sourdough

Berry Sourdough is one of the focal points of this delightful town on the south coast of NSW. The bread is terrific. If you go to the cafe  on Prince Alfred Street, it’s hard to go past the pizza, or one of their salads made with nuggets of  beetroot or pickled pear. But on a cold morning, when you’re about to take a little one to the farmers market and you want something to eat with one hand, it’s very hard to go past a take away coffee from their take away outpost Milkwood Bakery on the main street and grab a spinach, feta and mint sausage roll.

The pastry is flakier than a gap year student in a temp job, but it’s the mint that makes it sing. A little bit of freshness in a glorious muddle of green and cheese. I warn you now, one may not be enough. And if you’re sharing it nicely with your sister, then safe to say, you must really, really love her.

Berry Sourdough- Milkwood Bakery
109 Queen Street
Berry NSW 2535
www.berrysourdoughcafe.com.au

Pork tasting plate, Wilbur’s Place

I arrived in Sydney in the midst of serious changes in the dining scene. Some of the golden champions of restaurants had folded; including one of my long term favourites, Becasse. The scene feels different. Smaller places with more casual food are thriving, small plates still about. Luckily at most places you can still get a glass of wine in a proper glass (London, I’m looking at you). Big shiny palaces seem emptier. There are shopfronts boarded up. But places that can double as lunch, dinner, drop in, where you can get a coffee, or a glass of wine, or a serious plate of food, all at the same time, seem full.

One of those places is ‘Wilbur’s Place’. Set in one of the pedestrian only streets of Kings Cross/ Potts Point it’s casually classy, with white tiles and bench seats.  You can’t book. There’s artisan beers and a local white and red by the glass. And  their pork tasting plate is a thing of beauty. Threads of soft pork meat, cuddling up against a piquant raw slaw, beans with just enough bite and floppy lengths of house made pickles. There are ice cream sandwiches on brioche for dessert and excellent coffee to be drunk. But the sweetest bit for me is picking at the pieces of sourdough that form the ballast of the dish, which once you’ve made it through the rest are drenched in a chaotic mess of sweet, spice and zip.

Wilbur’s Place
36 Llankelly Place, Potts Point
Tuesday to Saturday Lunch 11am-3pm & Dinner 5pm-9:30pm
& Saturday All Day Breakfast 8am-3pm
Closed Sunday and Monday
www.wilbursplace.com/

Raw vegan felafel roll, Kindness Cafe, Maleny

This is technically not Sydney and some people might question how delicious it is as well. I made my way up to the Queensland hinterland for a wedding of two beautiful souls. Maleny is a 45 minute drive up into the hills behind the continuous lines of blue and gold which make up the Sunshine Coast (yes, that really is its name).

Maleny is a beautifully laid back town, brimming with natural health bookshops, teenagers busking on harmonicas, one of Queensland’s only co-op restaurants and a Kind Living Cafe. It was there that I popped in before the wedding to eat something, read the paper, eat something healthy and catch my breath after a mad week of running around Sydney eating a barnyard of animal products.

I haven’t had much experience with exclusively vegan food before. If this is anything to go by, when it’s good, then it’s good. The felafel had a surprising amount of spice and kick, the salad made soft by generous amounts of avocado and a roughly textured hummous.

I sat, listened to Cat Stephens, read the newspaper and tried to digest all that had come before.

Safe to say, it’s  been spectacular to be ‘home’.

Kind Living Cafe
23 Maple Street  Maleny QLD 4552