I find myself at Bayside Lounge and for once, I’m here in a fairly calm and lucid state – not sleep-deprived, not delirious from excessive consumption of sugar, and not wide-eyed and supercharged with adrenalin. From my description, you’d be forgiven in thinking that I’m talking about a seedy Saturday night out in The Cross, but no, the very respectable Bayside Lounge hugs the external fringe of the enormous Darling Harbour complex that is the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre (SCEC).
Over the years, I’ve attended many a conference at the SCEC and the last few have seen me trade in my usual passive participant role for a far more active organising one. Inevitably, I can be found stressed and running around trying to herd speakers and fix crises. To fuel the madness I end up eating self-loathing inducing amounts of the ubiquitous free trade stall sugary junk and collecting far too much gimmicky plastic branded junk that I’ll never use. Once, I drank so many fruit smoothies from our own trade stand that I gave myself a blinding fructose-migraine. I hadn’t even realised that was possible until it happened.
Bayside Lounge was the reliable time out place for me when conferences became all too much – a blessed quiet escape bathed in natural light and serving more than lollies and ashen swill passing as conference coffee. The lounge has sweeping panoramic views of Darling Harbour, a perfect vantage point for zoning out and watching the crowds of mainly tourists idly strolling by. From the clientele present it’s a clear favourite not just tourists but with other conference attendees too, tucking into their meals, their lanyards still hanging around their necks.
For a refreshing change, I’ve come on a hot sunny spring day to experience dining here leisurely and have more than a coffee and small snack. I’ve opted for the tea-smoked lamb as my own attempts at tea smoking duck at home wasn’t what you’d call a culinary feat and since then I’ve found it difficult to resist ordering tea-smoked items from the menu – if just to sample what successful tea smoking tastes like and speculate what I did wrong. The lamb is served cold and subtly smoked, firm but not tough. It is accompanied with a typical French combo of creamy, crunchy celeriac rémoulade and lightly dressed mâche, a common French salad leaf slowly populating our markets here. The flavours are delicate and subtle with the side of char grilled sweet corn salad complementing with some robust punchy char flavours. For $24 it’s a tad on the small side – more an entree than a main size, but I was well warned before I ordered it (in my defence, please see the passage above about tea smoking obsessions).
The dessert is the main game I’m here for – specifically, the avocado panna cotta. I’m certainly no stranger to avocado based desserts and I’m particularly addicted to the delicious avocado shake favoured by the Vietnamese – an ice cold creamy concoction sweetened with condensed milk that is just pure bliss on a hot summery day. With it’s creamy texture and high monounsaturated fat content, it’s not surprising that avocado lends itself so well to creamy desserts, in fact its Chinese name literally translates to “butter fruit”. This avocado dessert special is only being served during the month of November to celebrate the current seasonal bumper crop of avocados and reportedly took Chef Claudine Balderstone weeks to develop the recipe so I was excited to see the result and just snuck in before the end of the November to sample it.
It’s an unctuously rich and creamy panna cotta, the smooth texture contrasted with ground nuts and crunchy toffee pebbles. It’s finished with a light and airy avocado gelato and a sweet pink tangle of Persian fairy floss.
I find the accompanying marshmallow intriguing – a cube of cloud soft sweetness presented in a violent swirl of vivid colour that commanded my attention. The sweetness of the avocado flavour plays second fiddle to the chilli, a mild heat that slowly intensifies but easily doused with a spoonful of the creamy panna cotta.
It’s the first time I’ve had more than a coffee at Bayside Lounge and enjoying a calm, unhurried and civilised meal was a very welcome change. The lanyard toting clientele around me quickly up-end their coffees and gather their belongings to rush back to an afternoon of conference sessions as I prepared to step out into the sunshine for a leisurely stroll and somehow that made the experience all that more enjoyable.
Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre
Darling Drive, Darling Harbour, Sydney
Tel: +612 9282 5000by