Our Saturdays are now a routine ritual. I wake up at 5:50am when the yet-to-be-identified bird that has taken up residence directly outside my bedroom window screeches it’s incredibly infuriatingly loud alarm-like bird song for 10 minutes. Calling all ornithologists or those with a keen ear for bird calls! What is it and short of sending all the neighbourhood cats up the tree, how do I persuade it to nest somewhere else?
After the bird’s delightful wake up call, we curse, rant and attempt to go back to bed, planes start roaring over at 6am, powerful lasers of sunlight find their way through the blinds and hit me in the eye then by about 7am, and after a bleary eyed coffee, we’re out the door and battling the house inspection crowds, racing back and forth across Sydney’s inner west and wondering when Sydney turned into Zimbabwe and why my money isn’t worth as much as I once thought it was in the Sydney housing market. It’s a level of self inflicted punishment that would in other circumstances reduce me to a foetal position and commit me to intensive sessions on a couch.
On one Saturday a few weeks ago though, we had an unusual event in our schedule – a treat from the monotony of our Saturdays. We’re not heading to Nonno’s to prune his already manicured hedges, mow his immaculate lawns and scowl at errant leaves that dare stray across his garden. We instead head into Aquarium Wharf for lunch at Helm Bar. And it was the first day of Spring that we’d really felt warmth in the air and the imminent arrival of summer. The Co-pilot excitedly boasted that it was the first day that he’d felt it was warm enough to put on a pair of thongs – a true measure of warmth in his books. For me, if the shorts and t-shirts can emerge from the closet – it’s surely summer weather.
It was sunny, the air warm, balmy and almost tropical and we’re seated upstairs on the open air covered deck at Helm Bar, with a perfect vantage point over the bay and the tourists milling about on the boardwalk below. We muse to each other that we never consider this part of town for lunch. It’s a black hole in my lunchtime map of Sydney cafes and eateries as I’ve always assumed the fare is catered for unsuspecting tourists. Certainly in my mind it wasn’t a place for locals and foodies who seek that new, undiscovered hole in the wall cafe. Have I mentioned my Foodie Proximity Theory? I have an acute case of it.
The bistro menu here is fairly simple and just the thing for those who might have had a big Friday night. Accordingly, we opt for the wagyu burger with a side of fries. The burger is not like one of those gourmet rich brioche burgers popping up all around town but a good hamburger with a decent, unsweetened toasted bun and a tender quality wagyu beef pattie. And tasty cheese – not just the generic, plain swiss cheeses you often get on burgers. It’s a good burger and we’re both appreciative. The fries are crisp and the garlic aioli moreish. I have no self control when it comes to fries, if they’re in front of me, one by one they will be devoured.
Prior to the lunch, I’d harboured a craving for mussels for month so I couldn’t go past the Sydney black mussels with the Thai style sauce. The mussels are small – a seasonal feature rather than a nod to the quality, but very tender and flavourful nonetheless. I note that the bistro offers all you can eat mussels on Wednesday and Thursday nights too, much like some of the other eateries along the Wharf and muse that the mussel deals have now become so popular that you could have all-you-can-eat mussels every night of the week if it took your fancy! And of course there were more accompanying fries. These were demolished too.
The highlight though was the blackboard special: a “prawntastic special” – a kilo of prawns for a mere $25! Served au naturel with a side of seafood sauce, the prawns were deliciously fresh and crunchy, incredibly sweet and moreish and the Co-pilot and I dug in with gusto. Although the cooked prawns didn’t “showcase” the restaurant’s cooking prowess per se, there was something so very Australian and gloriously summery about peeling prawns on a warm open air deck and pairing it with a glass of cold white wine.
And my glass of chilled Six Foot Six pinot gris complimented the seafood dishes, particularly the Asian flavours in the mussels, and the balmy weather very nicely indeed.
Speaking to the bar manager, Daniel, he tells us that on weekdays the bistro caters for the corporate crowd where the lunch hour is short but intense. Weekends are all about long drawn out lunches and the crowd ranges from locals, tourists or families out seeing the harbourside attractions. Certainly in my mind I’d discounted the area for lunch because of the perceived touristy factor and the difficulty in finding available parking nearby at a decent rate. But we were surprised to find that there was plenty of street parking nearby and that most of the people seated around us didn’t sport a foreign accent.
We both really enjoyed Helm Bar as the food was simple but good and very reasonably priced – particularly for the location! Heading there for lunch re-introduced the area as a potential weekend lunch option and the big drawcard for us were those prawns. It screamed of summer and we’d be more than happy to spend another lazy weekend lunch with friends, peeling prawns, downing cold beverages, soaking up the warmth and drinking in the glorious Sydney views.
The Gourmet Forager dined as a guest of Helm Bar.
Aquarium Wharf, Wheat Road, Darling Harbour.
Tel: (+612)9290 1571
View Helm Bar in a larger map