I am a huge fan of the Fratelli Fresh group. If I was pressed to name my favourite restaurant in Sydney… I might even say Cafe Sopra. I love the Italian gourmet grocer + wine bar concept. It’s where I had my first date with banoffee pie. The meatballs are the best I’ve ever eaten and the caprese salad is without equal. From the bottle of chilli oil on each table to the $3.50 house white on the wine menu, there are so many things that I love about it.
So when I heard that the Fratelli Fresh team was branching out into French food with new venture Cafe Nice, I couldn’t wait to try it. Especially because it’s only one block away from my office – we all know how excited I get about convenience!
But after I read some bad reviews (interior styled like a McDonalds or a cafeteria, food no-where near as consistent or high-quality as Sopra), it quickly moved down my list until I had almost forgotten it existed. I was only reminded when I was looking for a nice place to eat dinner during a Sydney CBD “staycation” my husband and I organised. We had a room booked at the Sofitel Wentworth and wanted to eat somewhere that didn’t defeat the purpose of being able to walk home from the office.
Cafe Nice was the perfect choice. If our relationship had a “food theme” it would be French cuisine. Our first fine dining experience was at the Manu Fieldel headed Bilson’s, our honeymoon started in gay Paree and over the years, in the same way we have grown to know and love each other, we have also grown to know and love cheese, butter, wine, truffles, crusty baguettes, charcuterie, foie gras, rillettes and cornichons.
Unlike Sopra, Cafe Nice (“Neece”) takes bookings, which I really appreciate. Even if it’s midweek and you’re confident that you’ll get a table, the ability to make a booking just makes you feel so much more at ease.
The entrance is marked by a striped awning and a bright pink neon sign – which could be perceived as a bit daggy, but to me it says “Hi, we’re a French restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
The inside is light, friendly and simple. I kind of get the “McDonalds” comment, with the cushioned diner stools and tiled floor – but I dug it. Like Cafe Sopra, it strikes a nice balance between casual dining and being just a little bit posh.
The windows face towards Circular Quay station and the Harbour Bridge – but the view is entirely obscured by massive pot plants. Because we wouldn’t want a view of Sydney harbour the ruin the illusion of dining in a Parisian cafe!
(Apologies for the crappy iPhone photos – lighting was not ideal)
Our wines came in glass with “Cafe Nice” printed on the glass in Curlz MT. So classy.
We took a look at the menu and told the waitress, “Just give us the three frenchiest, fattiest, most buttery things on here!”
(Okay, not actually true, but we could have – looking at what we ended up ordering, the results would have been the same)
We started with, of course, the pâté. How could we not?
A massive slab of creamy pâté de foie gras (or de canard… can’t remember) with toasted bread and cornichons. You might be thinking “That is a crapload of pate”. Yes it is. But we cleaned it up. With the assistance of a toasted bread re-fill. YOLO self control.
All the mains on the menu here comes with a “w Truffle” option at an additional $15 per dish. We didn’t feel like splurging so we ordered w/o Truffle, but the option is there for all you high-rollers.
I chose the Duck Confit (with cabbage, chestnuts and quince – $29) which, as classic as it is, I’ve never tried before. It was cooked beautifully, unbelievably rich in a way that only French food can be and falling off the bone.
Matt ordered the pan fried whole rainbow trout with toasted almonds ($26).
It comes swimming in a pool of herby butter soup. The French sure know how to cook a fish – I took one bite of the perfect pink flesh, with some crispy skin and toasty almond and kindly asked Matt if we could swap mains.
Killed it. Wait, what’s that fourth bowl? Oh yeah, we ordered a side of pommes frites! Just to balance out the meal, you know?
After that healthy dose of salt and butter, we needed a sugar hit. Actually ‘need’ is the wrong word – what we really needed was to get our arses to the gym and put ourselves on a low-fat low-sodium low-carb vegan diet for at least a month to let our bodies recover from this meal. But what we wanted was a lemon donut with passionfruit caramel and vanilla ice cream.
M: “Can we get something a bit… refreshing and not too sweet for dessert?”
H: “What about this?”
M: “Uh, that’s a donut.”
H: “Yes, but it’s a lemon donut.”
See my logic? Anyway, it was delicious.
At Cafe Sopra, you can get away with sharing a pizza, a salad and a cheap wine and leaving with a split bill of less than $20 each. This won’t happen at Cafe Nice – with mains ranging from $26-$39 (excl. truffle), but this is still pretty reasonable when you consider the other French offerings in the CBD. I was quite fond of Tony Bilson’s now defunct Number One Wine Bar at Circular Quay, so this is a very welcome addition to the uptown CBD food scene. Need to try the roast chicken for two next time – maybe I’ll even splash out and add truffle!