Friday, November 29, 2013

Café Nice: A slice of the French Riviera

The French Riviera can be found in Sydney’s CBD – believe it. It may look out onto our iconic Harbour Bridge, but Café Nice is a slice of the Côte d'Azur hidden in a dated building in Circular Quay.

Café Nice, Phillip Street, Sydney
(Image courtesy of Maria Farmer PR)
Part of the Fratelli Fresh empire and the group's first foray out of Italy and into France, Café Nice (as in the southern French city) can be likened to a French take on Café Sopra: a casual venue where freshness and lightness come first, supplemented with a friendly wine list and sometimes raucous atmosphere.

Café Nice's upstairs entry is actually on Albert Street, near the corner of Phillip Street. Ignore the dull building it's housed in because the fitout inside is stunning.

Café Nice interiors
(Image courtesy of Maria Farmer PR)
Mosaic floor tiles lead to the U-shaped bar where champagne flows and diners can eat at the bar. The smell of fresh flowers entices diners further into the bright restaurant where the dining space is split into three areas with varying views of the Harbour Bridge and quay (if a monstrous cruise boat isn't in Circular Quay).

The view (sometimes)

Dining room
With more effort in the fitout than Café Sopras generally, Café Nice has a slightly less casual feel and perhaps a little less of the Café Sopra mayhem, although there’s a similar air of casual-ness to the table settings.

Pommery Brut Royal NV Champagne
No doubt, the room becomes loud with a cacophony of diner conversations bouncing off all the hard surfaces, but pleasingly, the Thursday night noise had a convivial, away-from-home feel to it (if you ignore the very Sydney City Rail trains that pass by, eye-level, every several minutes).

The $10 tulip glasses of Pommery champagne, as also available at Café Sopra, help.

Omelette de crabe with foie gras butter
I struggled a little with the French-lilting menu – not for my limited French but because I wanted something from every section of the appetisers, entrées, pastas, seafood, meat and poultry, and sides.

We settled on the luxurious-sounding entrée of crab omelette with foie gras butter. The soft and pillowy omelette, served quite wet, was topped with plenty of crab flesh and a rich brown emulsion of butter and foie gras, though it could have done with a touch more seasoning.

Salade Niçoise
A surprising winner of an entrée was the Niçoise salad; appropriately, a salad in the style of Nice. I'm sure we've all endured some form of Niçoise but this was hands-down one of the best salads I've had in a restaurant.

Tuna in the Salade Niçoise
Served generously in a glass bowl and ideal for sharing, it comprised julienned yellow and red capsicums, sliced green beans, cored tomatoes, black olives, perfectly salty anchovies and a googy-centred boiled egg, all arranged over two chunky pieces of cooked tuna with a vinaigrette dressing.

The harmony of flavours and the salad ingredients was delicious and the tuna was utterly impeccable as it broke apart with the salad servers, while both the olives and anchovies added just the right amounts of saltiness to the overall salad.

Casarecce with calamari, tomatoes and basil
I found it hard to go past a pasta offering so we shared one as a course between entrée and main. One of my favourite pasta varieties, casarecce, arrived redolent with garlic in an olive oil-tossed combination with ridiculously sweet grape tomatoes and squid pieces.

With the pasta cooked just past al dente, tomatoes bursting with sweetness and wilted basil leaves among loads of diced garlic, I almost could have done without the firm squid, tentacles and all.

Sirloin grillé with pommes frites and roast garlic & crème fraiche
From the mains meat and poultry menu, the sirloin steak option was served medium-rare as requested with a scattering of potato fries and elected sauce of garlicky crème fraiche.

The petite and very tender cut of beef had great flavour from the grill while the crème fraiche tasted just like the sour cream and chive flavour typical in packaged potato crisps.

Mulloway filet with celeriac puree & tapenade
I was torn between all the seafood options but opted for the fillet of mulloway as something different from the Sydney standard of salmon (though the whole snapper for two was very tempting).

Pan fried for a crisp skin, the large, firm fillet of mulloway sitting on smooth celeriac puree had enough flavour  and moistness to not be overpowered by the black olive tapenade.

Asparagus with salsa verde
Vegetable sides are recommended as the mains can be a little sparse of greenery. The thick stalks of asparagus, peeled at the bottoms, were served with a chunky salsa verde herb sauce and more whole leaves, making it green on green on green.

Meringue with berries and crème anglaise
We finished with dessert as a matter of experience more than hunger, opting for the lightest-sounding option – but what a stunner it was.

The perfect rectangle of sweet meringue – marshmallowy soft and sticky within and topped with an impossibly thin crust layer – held afloat blueberries and ripe strawberry portions; all of it swimming in a citrus-scented crème anglaise. It was altogether heavenly and the perfect, floaty dessert on which to finish our meal.

Café Nice entrance and bar
For a slice of southern France in Sydney, Café Nice ticks most boxes. So the beach is a busy harbour instead and it's a bit loud and probably not ideal for romantic dinners, but the fresh, vibrant food leaves you wanting more; wines and champagne are reasonably priced; and the bright fitout and jovial atmosphere is sure to put a smile on your face – and that sure is nice.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Café Nice as a guest, with thanks to Maria Farmer PR.

Cafe Nice on Urbanspoon


gaby @ lateraleating said...

The crab omelette sounds yummy, and I'd love to try their salad Nicoise, to know what the real deal tastes like.

Anonymous said...

Have been here a few times and really loved it! Perfect for a pre-concert meal :)

Sherrie Huang said...

The pasta sounds really appetising! :)

Cindy (A Foodie's Joy) said...

I like the look of the crab omelette!

Chris @ MAB vs Food said...

Always wanted to try Cafe Nice. The crab omelette looks really good. And nothing beats the classic combo of tomato, basil and pasta, so delish :9

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Foie gras butter sounds amazing!

Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

Your photos really did remind me of being in Southern France! What a gorgeous place and beautiful looking food!

Gourmet Getaways said...

Oh who would have thought the French Riviera was so close. The omelet and the white wine looks beautiful!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

The salad nicoise reminds me of my brief but enjoyable time in Nice. I wonder if they'll do stockfish here? I can't say that I was particularly taken with it but it's a classic Nice dish :)

Mary @ beyondjelly said...

The space looks so light and airy in the daylight... will keep this one in mind next time I'm in the area. Thanks! :)

Vivian - vxdollface said...

What a gorgeous space! mm that omelette looks good, been meaning to pop in for a meal

Tina said...

Hi Gaby - Yes, it was amazing. A life-changing Nicoise ;)

Hi talkandspoon - I can see it becoming a CBD regular :)

Hi Sherrie - Much more of a French approach (although admittedly, I think I prefer Italian for pasta)

Hi Cindy - It's a pretty one, isn't it?

Hi Chris - Me too; glad I finally did - it's great!

Hi Helen - Isn't it just so luxe...?

Hi Tina - It's such a surprising fitout within the bleugh building. Hidden gem, for sure!

Hi Gourmet Getaways - Yep, no need for a long haul flight!

Hi Lorraine - I wish I had eaten out more in Nice; would have been nice to compare.

Hi Mary - It sure was! Even the passing trains are more novelty than annoyance!

Hi Vivian - Great space, great food - do it :)

squishies said...

That omelette and pasta dish really caught my eye... and that tiled floor hehe

Definitely a place to check out when I'm in the area!


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