The Grounds of the City would have been expensive. Turning a few concrete walls of an inner-city mall into something radically different is inevitably going to cost a few bob, but this is something else entirely. The owners (as well as design team Acme & Co.) have gone all out; every part of the new cafe-restaurant is immaculately detailed to make the whole scene look like the Orient Express.
The intricate timber joinery is accompanied by antiques (crockery, knick-knacks, books, furniture), plush illustrated menus, cast-enamel doors, custom-built stained-glass windows, copper bar equipment, tea delivered by trolley, mobile shoe-shiners, old-fashioned staff uniforms (and service, there’s even a permanent “coffee sommelier” in Paul Cabezas-Heathwood) and a 1920s jazz soundtrack. Rather like Hubert, an old-world, continental-themed restaurant in a CBD basement, this is an entirely transportative experience. Unlike Hubert, though, executive chef Paul McGrath’s food is distinctly modern and very much in keeping with the Grounds’ brand.
Just like the original in Alexandria, the most astonishing thing about this Grounds venue is how many different things this all-day venue does. On one visit you could try a coffee-tasting platter and some of the house cakes (mostly English and French classics with a few modern twists). On another a cocktail and a plate of dashi oysters. Or you could do something completely different and sidle up to the bar for a burger, steak or half a roast chicken with a side of parmesan fries and cauliflower mac’n’cheese.
Usually when restaurants go down the “something for everyone” route the victims are the character and courage of the menu. But in this case the Grounds team has managed to retain intrigue with dishes such as the snapper ceviche with buttermilk, hazelnut, apple and shreds of wakame. And the poke-like chirashi salad with brown rice, crisp cos, lime, cucumber, copious amounts of avocado and your choice of protein.
Those last two dishes, as well as the grill and seafood sections, are part of the lunch and night menu. Of course, the menu is likely to change in coming months, but one certain: the lines will not. If day one had a queue out the door, expect every passing day to be even busier.
The Grounds of the City
The Galeries, 500 George Street, Sydney
(02) 9699 2235
Mon to Wed 7am–6pm
Fri 7am–6pm Sat-Sun 8am-6pm