Like moths to the light we humans also sometimes have unstoppable magnetic attractions to things that aren't necessarily good for us. Perhaps more a matter of having rubber arms or bad habits than magnetism - you know it's bad but you just can't help it. Or you don't want to help it because even though it might be construed as bad, it's still good in a fun, hedonistic, devil-may-care way.
Without getting into too much detail, it's a cruisey late weekday lunch that finally finds me at the city's Small Bar - the first Sydney bar under new liquor licensing laws that I've been meaning to go to forever. Well, since December last year anyway. The shopfront is much like its neighbouring stores and could be easily mistaken for a cafe if not for the bottles of wine on the wall shelves.
The narrow walkway between the bar and seating is to be navigated carefully if seated heads aren't to be knocked, especially if one has an oversized tote bag in tow. We're told the upstairs has been booked for a private function so we squeeze out onto the tiny balcony for a look around. I think there was a couple squished into the balcony area but we spy the laneway below and an empty table beckoning us.
Descend down a perilously narrow creaky wooden staircase to get to the lower level that's all dark and moody, candles dotted about the plush lounges and a defunct fireplace trying to contribute to a grungy Melbourne bar feel. There's a smattering of tables and chairs in the grey pedestrian laneway outside where there are marginally more nosy business types (with "Why are you sitting drinking wine in this lane?" expressions plastered all over their faces) than traffic noise.
We relax into our seats only to be told by staff that we'd have to order and pay upstairs. I trudge back up the grandmother's house stairs to order from the very reasonably priced menu. Food consists of 'smalls' and 'meals', the latter of which is an eclectic gathering of pub bistro style dishes peaking at $18.
I order a glass of a Victorian pinot grigio, a juice for the 'non-drinking' companion and an item from the 'smalls', and am then confronted with the daunting task of walking back down aforementioned dark, perilous, narrow staircase with two glasses, purse and table number. A warning for the high-heeled: stay upstairs, especially after a few drinks.
Luckily our antipasto plate is brought to the table - I'm not sure I could manage the stairs with this plate. It almost seems as though the antipasto has been inspired by the Aussie barbeque with its two rows of thinly sliced cooked meats.
I start on the small bowl of warmed olives - an uninteresting mix of tri-coloured savoury olives in oil. The fetta is a little more exciting, not too crumbly nor salty but quietly creamy. The pile of roasted marinated strips of eggplant, capsicum and tomato makes me wonder if there's a vegetable ration about but the thinly sliced, chewy sourdough bread on the side makes me smile.
And so onto the meats. I've never really had a steak as part of an antipasto plate before - bresaola, yes, but not a thin tataki-style slices cooked to a pink-centred medium. Nonetheless the meat is warm, tender and very tasty though I keep having to stop myself from looking for the ponzu sauce. The warm, thin slices of chicken breast or tenderloin are coated in Cajun-style spices and are a distinct departure from traditional antipasti. The salami draws me back momentarily, however its greasiness is off-putting.
Settling back into my director's chair we ruminate on the Small Bar concept and mismatch of rustic wooden furniture to our very Sydney laneway. It's nothing like a Melbourne bar and doesn't offer refuge in a quiet corner or alley. Rather it's a point of difference, as if its purpose and being is just to contrast the existence of Sydney's, sometimes very well done, larger venues. There's also a further us-versus-them vibe as at this time we lucky patrons watch working business types trudge to and fro.
It isn't long till the novelty wears although I'm much looking forward to an evening visit to Small Bar sometime soon, particularly to custom their enticing wine menu. Instead we seek other lounge-worthy moments nearby and hotfoot it over the road to the Central Baking Depot to marvel at their window filled with baked delights. It's time for dessert as we enter, um-and-ah over the sweet, sweet choices then settle into their unique bakery-styled seating.
I end up falling for a tart (typical) though I make a few promises to the chocolate cake, orange and chocolate brownie and lemon pillow that I'll see them soon.
Going for the relatively healthier option with pear, the tart is mild in sweetness with a soft, flaky pastry casing. The dark chocolate filling is subdued in richness, probably by the almond meal, and the pear is a scrummy baked addition.
And not regularly having coffee anymore has really made the palate fonder of the roasted bean - a beautifully strong creamy cappuccino to wash down the tart.
Such a lovely afternoon spent eating and drinking in our lovely summer city. It's almost a pity to revert to moth-like behaviour later in the night and inevitably drink my way into the usual lights of city pubs and 'larger venues'. I blame hedonism, my rubber arms and Justin Hemmes.