The cafe at the Museum of Contemporary Art has one of the best views in Sydney – and an excellent menu and wine list to match. But amid the noise and excitement of new openings, people often forget that it exists.
“It’s a bit of a hidden gem,” says the Fresh Collective catering’s executive chef Keith Higginson, who oversees the venue. “There’s minimal signage so people don’t always think to go. It’s a pity.”
Like any good eatery its menu is seasonal, but the MCA Cafe takes things a step further, shifting its menu to suit the exhibitions at the museum. So even though the cafe has been operating for six years, overseen by Higginson for much of that time, guests can always expect something new.
Sometimes Higginson devises the menu independently, and sometimes the cafe collaborates with another eatery. At the moment Australian artist Janet Laurence’s immersive After Nature exhibition is complemented by a menu developed in collaboration with Cornersmith. Laurence and Cornersmith are well matched: while the artist’s work draws attention to the fragility of nature, the cafe has a top-to-tail approach to food, with an emphasis on sustainability and protecting the natural world.
“Normally we change the full menu,” says Higginson, “[but] in this case we’ve done a separate Cornersmith menu because we wanted to keep it vegetarian and thought it would be too much for our customers if everything was vegetarian.”
Cornersmith’s signature preserves and zero-waste ethos feature heavily on the menu. A bibimbap comes with pickles, kimchi, poached egg and greens served on brown rice. The pineapple and coconut loaf is served with a drizzle of pineapple-skin syrup. Beetroots are served with beetroot-leaf salad and a salsa verde made from vegetable stalks.
Higginson recommends the kimchi and cheddar toastie. “The reason why that dish works so well is that the acid and heat of the kimchi cuts through the creaminess of the cheddar. It’s a fantastic combination,” he says.
There are three ideal times to come to the cafe. The first is on a sunny but cool day when you can sit on the veranda and enjoy views of the Opera House across the harbour. The second is on Wednesday nights, when the cafe is open late for cocktails and a reduced menu. The third is during Vivid Sydney.
“All my friends go to the MCA for Vivid now,” says Higginson. “It can be a bit much downstairs, but we do a pop-up bar [that] gets you away from the madness. The view is beautiful.”
With so many good reasons to go, it’s a mystery that the cafe goes relatively unnoticed. Higginson thinks it might be to do with perception. “Sometimes people assume a place is expensive because of where it is or how it looks, but price-wise we’re pretty reasonable.”
Nothing on the Cornersmith menu will set customers back more than $16, while the regular MCA menu mains peak at $24.
The lack of profile might also be down to the touristy vibe of the area, says Higginson. “There are a lot of cities with a very touristy area [that has] a lot of dodgy restaurants, like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. But often, if you look in amongst the average places, you can find great spots to eat.”
Level 4, 140 George Street, The Rocks
02 9245 2400
Mon & Tue, Thu to Sun 10am–5pm