Having worked at Walsh Bay finger wharves almost a decade ago, the pubs in the Rocks were our local hangouts, not necessarily by choice, but proximity. They didnt provide fine dining, service or inspiration, though a few notables over the years have carved out their niche. It’s been years since we last sashayed into the Harbour View Hotel… and now we feel bad, dinner tonight was so spectacular in more ways than the view.
Downstairs is still a much loved regular boozer. If you didn’t know better you might not hit the stairmaster challenge to the upper levels. Wow! What a transformation. Positioned underneath the Harbour Bridge you can almost touch history. With the city sparkling before us sometimes we forget just how beautiful Sydney is and HVH is a beauty. The rooftop has been completely renovated, new white high tables in the open bar area spill out onto a wide balcony. It is buzzing with people. The mirrored louvre roof means come hail or shine you can touch up your lippy, stay warm, dry and stylish.
Distraction over, we head into the main restaurant which has been transformed into an English Country home with hibiscus wallpaper, timber trims, oversize basket hanging lights and lots of fernery. Tables are white with luxurious dark navy blue velvet bucket chairs. We can’t wait to sink in. The fire at the end of the room is roaring.
We are greeted by Kevin, who becomes the star of the evening. He asks if I am cold? Like a fairy godmother within minutes he has positioned an oil heater by our table which has stunning views out to the city. We start chatting and learn Kevin’s story. Formerly from Korea, he completed compusory military service (so he knows about real cold!), but his passion for hospitality sent him on a career which would eventually lead him to Australia and his home for the last 6 yrs at Harbour View Hotel. He radiates hospitality and an old world charm. As we work through the drinks menu he invites over the bar manager, Nelson (ex Maybe Sammy). For the next 15 minutes we are chatting away like old shipmates, discussing cooking techniques, whiskies and everything in between. We are having so much fun we haven’t even looked at the menu. There is a special vibe going on here and we love it.
The menu is an exciting romp around the Australia and NZ with a share section of mega portions – Great Southern Pinnacle Tomahawk Ribeye, a whole NZ snapper or lamb shoulder. We start with a delicious plate of mushroom arancini. Golden brown, creamy and showered in parmesan fluff. The glistening King Prawns are the star, when they say they are big, they should be in a ‘Go big’ Tourism Australia ad! Served with char grill bread it’s a hands on affair- rip off heads, dunk the body in chilli and lime butter and devour. The scallops are a work of art, resembling a raked Japanese zen garden of celeriac puree with four seared orbs dotted with roasted hazelnuts. The zesty yuzu cuts through the richness. It’s elegant, indulgent and refined.
Executive Chef Nico Liglet, alongside his head chef Jessica Harris, steps out of pub classics and has delivers a more product and seasonal menu. It’s not predictable, though there are flavour combinations which are much loved and are there for good reason with unique Nico tweaks.
A good example of this is the gnocchi – but not as we know it, in fact not a potato in sight. chef Nico uses a choux methodology to create light fluffy cylinders of happiness. It is elevated by house churned burnt sage butter, which brings a lovely umaminess paired with sweet roasted pumpkin, spinach & ricotta. Beef Tajima MB4 has been slow cooked for many hours and the red wine jus gives some acidity. It’s silky smooth and cuts like butter. A schmear of butternut pumpkin, decorated with halves of baby turnip & matchsticks of bacon say it all. Infinity blue Barramundi is a skyrise tower of flavour with a hazelnut, almond & sesame seed crust sitting on top of a jerusalem artichoke with chicken jus, its a one fork wonder as crispy skin gives way to sweet delicate flesh and the savoury notes of its underlings.
Wines by the glass are poured at your table, allowing you to taste each wine, something that many fine dining restaurants fail to do these days. Kevin is passionate about making the dining experience memorable and the Forest Hill Chardonnay and John Duval Shiraz do just that.
We say our goodbyes and head outside. Antoine Jaja, one of the security guards asks how our dinner was. Before we know it we are deep in conversation with him and discover he is the author of Jack the Super Prawn his second children’s book teaching about sustainability. The rest of the team come downstairs and a taxi is hailed.
It’s been a remarkable evening on many fronts. There are so many great restaurants in Sydney but this team is a team! It operates like a family and as such, sitting around a dining table is so much more than simply the food, but the feeling it leaves you with…and it’s one of loving hospitality and jolly good fun. So book your table in the sky soon.