Sydney City Guide

Where to start? Well first of all I should probably start with a BIG thank you to the wonderful people of Sydney for making my trip so incredibly special and to my host for his  hospitality. I started out needing a break but what I got was an experience that changed my life forever, and which gave me the strength I needed to start over and make the changes I’ve been needing to make for a long time. For the first time in as long as I can remember I suddenly felt like I could breath. So, before I get carried away on a personal journey through healing and self-discovery, I should get right down to the nitty gritty and tell you about all the wonderful places I discovered on my journey – just in case you ever happen to be there. I do this whenever I travel, I make a list before I go, I try to get through it while I’m there although mostly get a quarter of the way through, and then I make a list after. Weird, I know, but somehow beneficial to me; it also serves to keep me entertained on flights and ensures I’m busy wherever I go.

So let’s start with a little bit of the good stuff – FOOD! Breakfast spots in Sydney are in abundance; there’s the infamous Bill’s; brain child of chef Bill Granger and home to his world-famous breakfasts. This place is ALWAYS packed so I suggest booking in advance. Bill’s flagship store is located on Crown Street in Surrey Hills and there are plenty of awesome little eateries nearby if you don’t get a table – try Fifi Foveaux’s which is a little further down, opposite the Crown Street Grocer; The breakfast we had here was definitely worth going back for, and the coffee was superb. Heading in the opposite direction towards Oxford street you will find Kawa, another local hot spot, and although I only grabbed a juice and snack I must note that it was really delicious, the menu here looks interesting and people seem to love it, so much so that there was a 14 person waiting line outside when we left. Four Ate Five is another Crown Street favourite and TimeOut magazine rate it pretty highly too. If you are willing to travel a little further then The Pantry in Manly does a mean Eggs Benedict, has the best view of any restaurant in Sydney, and their lunch menu is to die for.

Then there is the question of coffee; something you may be aware I am very particular about. I had several recommendations and a whole list of my own to try so we started with the basics. Campo’s coffee is well known in Sydney and they have been roasting here for a long time; it’s never just about a good roast though, baristas make up 50% of a good cup and Campo’s flagship store in Newtown have some great staff who can knock out a pretty special coffee. It was good. It was really, really good. Big thumbs up! Another notable one is the coffee at Max Brenner the chocolate specialists, especially their Oxford Street store in Paddington. My favourite coffee came from Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville – this tiny store has the best baristas East of Italy and their own blends are roasted right there on the premises. The mind simply boggles. I drank in silence and watched them in awe.

While in Marrickville we also happened to stop in at the Yeeros Shop; this place has been around for decades and the namesake traditional Greek dish is served up to local patrons by the younger generations of the Greek family who have owned the store since they first landed in Australia – talk about authenticity. Nothing has changed apparently, and although this is simple street food, it’s damn good. Other must-see, must-eat lunch spots include Doyles (either Watsons Bay or The Fish Market) for serious seafood, Sea Bay on Pitt street and Yoshii for sushi (or Sushi Train). Darling Harbour has great restaurants, as does Bondi – be careful with your choices though as a lot of it is the same. There are some great little gems in Sydney, you just have to look for them. For instance The Grounds in Alexandria is absolutely fabulous, you just have to find it!

Evenings in Sydney are always magical, especially if you are there in summer (although I don’t know why you would go during their winter). If you are on a budget and want very good but simple Seafood there is Nick’s Seafood in Darling Harbour; if you want simple but well cooked, melt-in-the-mouth ribs try Hurricanes in Bondi (or Darling Harbour) – I would suggest sticking with the ribs and chicken here as the steak is not that good. Food in Sydney is pricey for anyone holidaying here, no matter where in the world you are from; if you have the budget though, there are some really top notch restaurants in Sydney and a few of them are still on my to-do list for my next visit. For French fair and reasonable prices try L’Etoile in Paddington. If it’s more of a fine-dining experience you’re searching for then my suggestions are Quay which has an incredible view over The Rocks, Momofuku Seiobo at The Star, Rockpool Bar and Grill in the city and Porteno in Surrey Hills. Make bookings before you head out, a lot of these places get really busy. If you don’t know where to go, try heading out into Paddington, Surrey Hills or Newtown; filled with great restaurants and hidden gems, these places come alive at night and can make for a great spontaneous evening out.

If you’re after an evening tipple and fancy something underground and a little more interesting than the loud bright city bars, there a few quiet corners of Sydney where wine and cocktails can be found served to the beat of some rather interesting music. A host of bars have opened in recent times, paying to the speak-easy / underground bar scene which is currently so popular. My first suggestion for cocktails would be The Baxter Inn on Clarence street in the city (or their sister bar The Shady Pines Saloon in Darlinghurst). Next up on the list is wine; The Wine Library on Oxford Street is pretty cosy and has a fairly substantial and well chosen selection which is followed closely by William, a wine bar on William street in Paddington. Nights in Sydney can be a whole lot of fun if you know where to look.

Sydney seems to be the kind of place you go to relax, eat, drink and wander around in the sunshine among the scantily clad, perfectly toned locals. Its a tourist hot-spot and a rich kids playground all at once; I am particularly fond of the old architecture and terraced housing, it has a sort of New York meets Cape Town feel to it and yet still maintains a uniquely Australian vibrancy. I only managed to get through a quarter of the things I wanted to do during my time here and I hope to get back to Sydney very soon.

#SlammingBodyChallenge

It was through twitter chatter that I first heard about the #SlammingBodyChallenge, direct from @LadySlam69, the twitter representative of the 69 Slam brand in South Africa. 69 Slam is probably best described as being my all-time-favourite swimwear / underwear company; partly due to the loud and colourful designs, and partly due to the wonderful array of extreme sports they support and sponsor. In case you haven’t noticed, I am an extreme sports fanatic, therefore anything to do with extreme sports will get a vote from me. Back to the challenge though; occasionally the team at 69 Slam  come up with a diet or exercise challenge to inspire their followers to get that Slamming Bikini Body, and to create a bit of a brand buzz. This particular challenge consisted of a simple task, no carbohydrates for 6 days. I kept a food diary, which you will find below, just to make sure everyone can see how it all went and check the results, which by the way, were pretty good – 2.8kg’s lighter at the end of the week. #Slamming! At the end of each day I noted the daily exercise too, since getting results is always a combination of diet and exercise I figured this would be fairly relevant. So here it is; try it some time if you can, although I don’t recommend following the diet below, it’s a bit of a mixed bag and I clearly do not always have the healthiest eating patterns.

Day 1:
1.5 x Green Smoothies, 1 x Latte
1 x Omelette (1/2 Courgette, 3 Mushrooms, 5 Slices Ham, handful of Spinach and 2 Eggs)
1 x Endamame + Broad Bean Salad with Soy sauce
1 x Italian Salad (3 Bocconcini, 2 Artichoke Hearts, Sun Dried Tomatoes)
RAN 5.6km + 1 Hour Yoga
Day 2:
2 x Green Smoothies, 1 x Latte, 1/2 x Banana, 1/2 x Powerade
1/2 Rack of Ribs and 1/2 Chicken with Veg (saved eating most of the day to get this in – thanks to Hurricanes Grill in Sydney)
RAN 10km
Day 3:
2 x Green Smoothies, 1 x Yogurt with 1/2 Mango and 10 Raspberries
3 x Scrambled Eggs, 1/2 Avo, Endamame Beans, Sun Dried Tomatoes, 3 x Bocconcini
1 x handful salted Cashews, 2 x boiled eggs
1 x Gatorade
1 x Protein Shake
RAN 5.6km + 1 Hour Yoga 

Day 4:
2 x Green Smoothies, 1 x Vanilla Latte (sugar free)
2 x Scrambled Egg w. 4 x Bocconcini, 5 x Baby Tomatoes, 1/2 Avo
1 x Protein Shake
1 x salmon terriyaki, 1 x salmon sashimi, 1 x seaweed salad 1 x California roll, 1 x beef carpaccio
RAN 9km
Day 5
2 x Eggs
2 x latte
1 x seafood platter (lobster, crab, pawn, oyster, mussels, calamari, fish, 1/2 avo) – again, I skipped lunch since I knew this would be pretty epic, and it was. Thanks to Nicks Seafood in Sydney, your fish is truly spectacular.
Day 6
2 x Green Smoothie, 1 x piccolo latte, 1 x fruit salad – large, 1 x yogurt
1/2 x gatorade and 2 x lattes
2 x poached eggs, 1 tomato, avo, spinach, mushrooms, bacon
RAN 5.6KM + 1 Hour Yoga 

All in all it was pretty good; I don’t usually eat simple carbohydrates anyway but cutting out certain high carbohydrate fruit and vegetables was a little more difficult than I expected. Not everyone realises how high in sugars and carbohydrates certain foods can be, so it’s best to check before trying a low-carb diet. Also try to at least have some type of carbohydrate in fruit or vegetable form if you are exercising as you will need the energy. I fully intend to go back to eating bananas, mangos, dates, kiwis, pineapple and carrots as none of these are bad for you and my daily Green Smoothie just doesn’t taste as good without my favourite tropical fruits. I would like to thank 69 Slam for setting the challenge, it was quite enjoyable and I’m happy to say I managed it, just.

Taking Control

Over the last year my exercise and diet has fluctuated and at times come to a complete standstill, or something resembling an atomic bomb; so after a year of procrastination and failed attempts I decided that it was time to take back control of my life and start fresh, with new goals and new inspiration. I have, in addition to this, decided that I will begin posting a fair amount online to add some motivation and to put it out there so that everyone else can see my high’s and low’s, of which I am sure there will be plenty. This is as much for you as it is for me; I hope it inspires, or at least makes people laugh.

Step 1: ENHANCE DIETARY HEALTH:

1.1. Food diary – this is a good way to start monitoring food intake – just be honest because let’s face it, at the end of the day you’re the only one reading it and the only person you are lying to therefore, is yourself.

1.2. A daily Green Smoothie to help boost the immune system and get all the minerals and vitamins you might otherwise be missing out on. I tend to use whatever is in the fridge for these – as much variety of greens as possible, a few teaspoons of Green Powder for added value, some of my favourite fruits and a cup of liquid (50% juice 50% water), the juice can be any variety you prefer. Occasionally I add Greek Yogurt to enhance the creaminess, but I’m sure any good yogurt will do and some naturally sweetened or natural fruit varieties might be nice.

1.3. Throw out all the bad foods – start with anything refined like white flour, bread, sugar, sweets, biscuits – all the usual baddies lying around the house, and fridge.

1.4. Grocery shopping! Retail therapy always helps me feel a whole lot better (especially if it’s food shopping). Go grocery shopping for healthy alternatives to your favourite things, and start reading more healthy cook books for inspiration on what to buy.

1.5. Cook more – eat out less. That way you know whats in each meal because you have prepared it yourself and there won’t be any hidden fats or sugars.

Step 2: ENHANCE FITNESS:

2.1. Start building a training schedule – I like running so I use MYASICS.CO.UK and create new running schedule with a small goal (at this point a 10 km run before Christmas should be small enough to tackle).

2.2. Do something good for the body when you wake up. Get up earlier and practice yoga or find a running club or group training session; try to do this at least 3 mornings a week.

2.3. Find nearest gym / fitness centre and make a promise to yourself to go at least 3 times a week. Do something fun if you can – group sessions can often be a lot more motivating and stimulating. I love CrossFit and MMA fighting, both of which I plan to start again as soon as I return to London as they are great fun and incredibly good for the fitness levels. For now though, running and morning yoga is my plan to begin with since I’m in a foreign country.

Step 3: DOCUMENT + MONITOR

1.1.This is the important part and it’s the best way to stay on track – keep the food diary going for the first month, it will help motivate you to keep going when you read over it. Don’t be too hard on yourself, everyone has bad days. Allow yourself one or even two days a week where you can eat one good meal and not restrict yourself too much.

1.2. An exercise diary has the same effect. Try to do at least 30 minutes of exercise for 5 out of every 7 days of the week and write about each session. Keep notes for when you don’t exercise and write the reason why. You may notice excuses creeping in, just remember – YOU CAN HAVE EXCUSES, OR YOU CAN HAVE RESULTS – YOU CAN’T HAVE BOTH!!!

1.3. Write about your goals at the outset, start with lots of small incremental goals which lead to bigger goals in the future, this makes it more manageable and you will feel like you have achieved something more often as you reach each of the smaller stepping stones on your journey. Write about each time you improve on something – this will show how far you’ve come and encourage you to keep going.

1.4. Read lots of health and fitness magazines, blogs and web pages to keep you motivated. Here are some favourites of mine;

Livestrong | Roni’s Weigh | Daily Cup of Yoga | Fit Bottomed Girls | Nom Nom Paleo | Eat, Live, Run | Choosing Raw | Simply Scratch

If you prefer photographs, check out tumblr for some great photo blogs for fitness motivation.

L’Etoile

In the interest expanding my foodie horizons as much as possible during my time in Sydney, I have been diligently scouring the web and reading countless restaurant reviews in order to narrow down my selection of places to visit, while still making an effort to include as many different cuisines as possible. I’m fascinated by the diversity of cultures in Sydney and since they are predominantly Asian, Greek, Lebanese or Australian, the cultural influence of cuisine is equally diverse. In my searches I happened to stumble across a lovely looking French eatery called L’Etoile; I am a big advocate of French cooking, although it is often poorly represented and very rarely has any authenticity, which is probably the reason I was so pleasantly surprised by the food at L’Etoile.

I had chosen to dine at L’Etoile purely through viewing the sample menu online, perhaps because it looks so very French; despite the somewhat mixed reviews you might find online, the restaurant definitely lives up to its name (L’etoile is French for Star). The food was, it has to be said, quite wonderful and far more French than I ever expected; the menu was simple and yet fairly robust, carefully constructed, obviously seasonal and quite enchanting. The painful pleasure came when deciding what to have, not that the menu was complex in any way, it was more due to the fact that every one of the dishes on it seemed to jump off the page at me, making the whole process increasingly confusing the more I looked at it. This, I should explain, is a problem I seem to encounter more regularly than I might let on. I seem to have a passionate love – hate relationship with good food, especially when it is presented on a well-constructed menu; a problem which is only heightened when I’m in one of my particularly indecisive moods.

To start I had the Leek Tart served with a salad of fresh goat’s curd; the dish managed to encompass both delicate and rich flavouring combined with wonderfully contrasting textures, my only complaint would be that the portion size was somewhat ambitious, particularly since this is the sort of restaurant at which one might expect to eat three, or even four courses. The decision was a tough one since other starters on the menu included a Pig’s Head Terrine and a Roasted Bone Marrow dish, both of which are the sort of thing I might otherwise have leapt at had I not been having a meat dish for my next course. For mains I had opted for the Veal Cutlet based on the recommendation of our waiter, a dish which was delightfully tender, melt-in-the-mouth creamy and packed full of meaty flavour; served with a light red wine jus and roasted vegetables. Thankfully it came in a more moderate portion size, much to my delight; a simple and well prepared meal and one I would struggle to find fault with.

To finish I went with a French classic, Vanilla Crème Brulee. I have eaten many a brulee over the years, in many different restaurants across the world and not many have blown me away or even impressed me.  This was something quite unique; served in a traditionally shallow dish, although still quite substantial in size, this particular crème did not disappoint. A heavenly creamy consistency with just the right quantities of vanilla and sugar, topped with an inexplicably well measured sugar crust and served at the perfect temperature. This surprisingly delicious dish made it straight into my top 3 Crème Brulee’s of all time, a tall order for a small French restaurant in the heart of the oh-so-trendy Sydney suburb of Paddington. So despite what might have otherwise been a simply above-average French meal, the dessert had managed to lift the entire experience into a sort of French cuisine stratosphere. The service was good although perhaps inconsistent, the recommendations were spot on, however, and the wine pairing quite sublime.

If you are in Sydney and happen to be in the mood for authentic French bistro cuisine then this is certainly the place to be. The interior throws back to a bygone era of French movie glamour, the staff are predominantly French which only adds to the charm, as are the chefs, and the atmosphere is calm and inviting while the food is well rounded and inexpensive (at least for Sydney). Well worth a visit.

L’Etoile | 211 Glenmore Road, Paddington, NSW 2021 | Tel: 02 9332 1577 |  www.letoilerestaurant.com.au

The Grounds for Good Coffee… and other things

Over the weekend we had a bit of inspired dining over lunch on Sunday. It was one of those spur of the moment type lunches where we decided to head out for something a bit different – at this point I should note that everything I have at the moment is different since I’m experiencing Sydney for the first time. This one was however, for want of a better description, something really quite special. The Grounds in Alexandria is a Coffee Roasters first and foremost, but beyond the garden courtyard filled with masses of people milling about with take away plates and coffees (not to mention, on this particular day, a kids party and a small farmyard of baby animals) is a restaurant with a difference. There is of course, as you might well have guessed, a rather exceptional roasting facility and a long coffee bar serving deliciously made-with-love coffee as well numerous eats and treats which you might find in a gourmet coffee shop or bakery.

Since we arrived at 1:00pm on a Saturday, in the middle of ‘rush hour,’ there was a 45 minute wait for a table; this explained why most people had chosen to grab a take away from the counter which they could eat in the garden. Not being in any rush, and having spotted the man outside selling fresh strawberries, we decided that we could wait. We bought two bags of the aforementioned strawberries to keep us going until lunch, walked around the garden and made friends with farmyard animals, found a lovely Italian warehouse-come-deli nearby (which I made a note of coming back to after lunch), checked out the Red Bull Head Office next door and returned just in time to be seated.

The wait, I must say, was absolutely worth it, although not just for the food, which was fabulous, but for experience, the stunning interior design and the buzzing atmosphere. The food here is fresh, organic, and a fair amount is grown right in their own garden. The chefs use only season ingredients and everything is made from scratch, I don’t need to see the kitchen to tell you this, you can taste it in every mouthful (although they do have a rather lovely open kitchen). They have put a huge amount of thought and effort into each element of this place; every detail of the interior, the immaculate kitchen, the plates and servings, the separate areas and partitions and the awesome looking ‘research facility’ where they test roasting techniques and blends of coffee (which I am told is also seasonal, due to different seasonal beans).

The Grounds is a dedicated haven of luxurious food at more-than-reasonable prices, the food is home-style cooking of the highest order and the coffee is simply out of this world. The interior design is something to marvel, as are the gardens, and the staff here are ready to help at any moment. A wonderful combination of elements brought together in effortless style to create a very memorable experience and a really lovely day out was had by all.

The Grounds, Alexandria | Building 7A, No 2 Huntley St, Alexandria NSW 2015 | http://groundsroasters.com | +61 (2) 9699 2225