Dinner and a show….

Art may be food for the soul- but sometimes it’s easier to digest a hearty does of culture on a full stomach.

Arts Council worker by day, food writer by night. Through four years of theatre subscriptions The Hungry One has paid good money to endure hours in the dark with shrieking women, simulated sex crimes, stilted Shakespeare and interpretive dance. He’s been dragged up on stage for more than his fair share of audience participation.
He’s nobly coped through all.

He just asks if ‘date night’ comes as a package deal that blindly punts on the quality of a performance, that the standard of his dinner be a sure bet.

So, here you have it: The Hungry One and my picks for the best places to grab a bite before, or after a show in Sydney.

This week we’ll start with the Sydney Theatre Company, whose shows hop, skip and jump between The Wharf, The Sydney Theatre and the Drama Theatre at the Opera House. We’ve learned from the mistakes of others to send a calendar appointment in Outlook to each other when we get all of our tickets- and to include the location. Finding out you’re at the wrong theatre seven minutes before it starts does not a pleasant date night make.

Sydney Theatre Company:

The Wharf

Next year if you’re heading to The Wharf you’ll be saddling up for The Removalists, Elling, The Wonderful World of Dissocia, the wonderful Tommy Murphy’s Saturn’s Return, or something which is currently sans title from Stephen Soderbergh.

When you reach the end of the long, stiletto gobbling corridor of The Wharf Theatre you’ve got two immediate dining options.

One is to eat at The Wharf itself. A one hat restaurant, owned by Aaron Ross and Tim Pak Poy (ex Claudes) it’s an elegant space which looks out onto the maniacal grin of Luna Park and the industrial backlots of the other wharves. You’re looking at around $20 an entree, $26- $38 for a main course. Entrees take a bit of a tour around the world, from a trussed up turn on salt and pepper squid to smoked trout with pickled beetroot and nori. If you’re moving onto mains it’s a little more classic with hunks of quality protein and a rainbow of earnest vegetable accompaniments. This has the price tag of real ‘date night’ material- it’s food which deserves to be enjoyed with a calming glass of wine, not hurriedly washed down while the electric bell tolls and you wonder if you’ve still got time for a quick wee before the show starts. Book in for 6.30pm for an 8pm show.

The Wharf bar

The other option is from the bar, right beside the restaurant. Much more informal, much friendlier on the wallet but cheekily trespassing on the same view and benefiting from some cross-over of cuisine. The restaurant’s entree of chicken liver pate with caper berry and balsamic dressing is one option that’s just as good here, but cheaper. If you get an extra bread roll, some cutlery, a glass of Riesling, and a perch on the balcony outside, you’re set. You might pick from the whiteboard scrawls the bar plate ($12), which can have some mounds of cooked vegetables, some bread and cold meat and isn’t unlike a posh pile of left overs, or if it’s more your mood; there’s a bloody good pie on offer.

Other options in the neighbourhood:

Restaurant Arras

Just across the road from the entrance to Pier 4 and The Wharf. Another serious ‘date night’ destination, at this one hat contender you’re looking at $21- $28 entrees and up to $44 for a “Meuniere” of Bass Groper, new season sea greens and Hawkesbury calamari. The room is cosy, the food inventive and bristling with a ‘cool britannia’ twist; whether ‘English Garden Salad, yoghurt mousse’ for entree, or a play on licorice allsorts for dessert. You wouldn’t want to rush this one either.

Ottoman Cuisine

A $5 million fit out of pier 2 that gives one of the Queens of Canberra dining a Sydney home. The food is ‘modern turkish’- think plates to share, with entrees like etli borek- crisp home made filo rolls filled with slow braised veal shank, currants & pine-nuts, and a pomegranate & yoghurt sauce for $21 and modern imaginings of classic dishes like lamb kofte- char-grilled with white bean, red onion & rocket salad for $29. Don’t miss the Turkish delight.

Word to the wise. If you choose to eat off site from the Wharf; don’t underestimate just how long it takes to walk to the end to where the theatre actually is. That’s one long corridor. Give yourself a good seven minutes. This isn’t Hoyts. Plays tend to start on time. Another lesson learned: quickest way to ruin date night is to be locked out.

The Sydney Theatre

Next year at the bigger, newer Sydney Theatre, across Hickson road from The Wharf you might find yourself tootling about, needing some sustenance before Poor Boy or A Streetcar Named Desire. Shows in the Sydney Theatre tend to be big events, with proper intervals and important people in them.

There are three options which work pretty well when it comes to the food part of the evening.

Facing the water, a mere 150 meters from the Sydney Theatre; Firefly is a matchbox sized little wine bar with tapas style food that can get busy,and can get busy, fast. You can squeeze in dinner before-hand in forty five minutes, but keep in mind- everyone else is probably trying to do the same thing. When you’re pressed for time things that may not be strictly Spanish, but can be swiftly served; like their plump peking duck pancakes ( $17.50 for four) are best. But, if a late supper, post-theatre is more your style one of the wines by the glass, a plate of Mediterranean dips and ciabatta, a hearty serve of roast baby beetroot,fetta, walnut salad, and some zucchini fritters with a splodge of agrodolce ($10.90) can help you recover from most things- including Barry Kosky’s Women of Troy. Actually- there were two glasses of wine needed for that one.

If pizza, glass of red wine and view of the water before being stuck in the dark work for you then you’ll get along with Ventuno just fine. If you walk 200 meters from the Sydney Theatre towards the water, heading away from Circular Quay you’ll stumble on a modern open space with long communal tables outside under umbrellas- perfect for balmy summer nights, and smaller tables inside built for more intimate dates for two. From $19 for a classic pizza margherita topped with tomato & fior di latte mozzarella, to more elaborate variations like the Golosa($23) gussied up with tomato, mozzarella, ham, mixed porcini mushrooms, grana and truffle oil, this place can get busy. It’s wise to book and unless you’re really keen on proteins and carbohydrates encrusted then deep fried you can skip the antipasto platters – and $12 does seem a little rich for a simple mixed green salad. But- they’ve got you by the boards. The pizza is good, the outlook pleasant, service relatively swift and it’s a good mid-point in what can be a pricey area. A good location if there’s a group of you heading in- just make sure you leave enough time- we’d say an hour minimum.

Hickson Road Bistro
Nestled beneath the Sydney Theatre the Culinary Edge owned Hickson Road Bistro does a swift line in user friendly, comfort style food. Whether it’s a wild mushroom risotto with parmesan wafers and a puddle of truffle oil ($27) or a roasted eye fillet of beef with eschallot rings, a crumple of spinach and madeira jus ($33) it’s efficiently delivered, with clear flavours in a clean, contemporary environment. Cosy in winter, in summer they open the windows and welcome in the air from the street. Portion sizes can be on the smaller size, so a side order of fluffy chips ($8) doesn’t go astray. Those in the know pre-order desserts and coffees for interval. While everyone else is fumbling around for a glass of chardonnay on the upstairs balcony and queuing for the toilet you can pat yourself on the back for your foresight and whisk downstairs to find a flat white and a steamed banana and butterscotch pudding ($12) cued, waiting for you. If they served this at half time instead of orange quarters, I’d have played a lot more sport.

Sydney Opera House

Next year among other things the Drama Theatre is playing host to Tom Stoppard’s Travesties , Jeremy Sims in God of Carnage and Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling. Whether it’s any of those; or a night at the opera or ballet, there’s something about a trip to the big white sails which elbows you and says “this is a big night out.” But then maybe that’s just the cost of parking. You have two options. You can embrace that and have a Big. Night. Out. You can have some of the best food in Sydney with a view to die for. Guilluame at Bennelong can often squeeze you in at the bar for a main and a glass of wine. Similarly Aria does a pre- theatre menu from 5.30pm – 7pm which has two courses for $68, before wine. But if you don’t want to drop a cool $100 each on dinner, on top of $27 for parking and the costs of the tickets and perhaps a babysitter, yet you still want to have something that hasn’t spent the last four hours in a bain marie- you can be in trouble.

Worth noting; Opera Bar is great for a glass of wine. The sweet potato chips are fine, but generally you’re not going there for the food. Paying $45 for a meek tasting plate for two to share can be a disappointing experience, as can paying upwards of $30 for a steak and minor accompaniments.

Eating off the Opera House concourse may require a bit of additional time planning, but can be a more satisfying experience- and let you walk off a little bit of dinner before sitting down for two hours. Here’s the best mid priced option we’ve found.

Young Alfred

Under Customs House, just opposite Circular Quay train station you can sit inside or out, play with crisp based pizzas, rib sticking pastas, or just have a glass of Torbreck’s Woodcutters Shiraz for $9 and an antipasto platter. Equally as hospitable for a table of eight as a cutsey romantic meal for two; here on the corner of Young and Alfred street is where the famous upside down Arthur’s pizza of Paddington has put down new roots. The ingredients are daisy fresh, the pizza bases have a biscuit crunch and slight sweetness and for those who just can’t make up their mind between the classic Martha ($24)with fresh tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella, or Bill Cosby with mushrooms, double smoked ham and tapenade can find refuge in the ‘surprise’- which really is a surprise. You’ll know what’s on it when it turns up on your table. A mixed leaf salad ($7) is helpful cut through and it’s a neat nine minute walk to the Drama Theatre. If you’re heading in for an 8pm session, leave at 7.40pm and you’ll have time to feel superior to everyone else who hasn’t eaten as well as you walk past.

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