Darlinghurst’s Stanley Street was once lined with cafes and restaurants catering to Sydney’s Italian community. Its terrace shopfronts are more varied these days, with cocktail bars (Stanley’s, The Big Easy, The Long Goodbye); a dumpling den (Beer and Dumplings); an Indian diner (Brick Lane); and a tapas joint (Bar Tapa), among others. Now it’s also home to Mrs Palmer Sandwich, a sandwich shop and Margarita bar.
The space was once an Italian eatery called Arch Cafe. “It was an Italian institution,” Anthony Macfarlane, who co-owns Mrs Palmer with Alfredo Perez, tells Broadsheet. “Old Italian fellas used to gamble in there, and we’ve kept one of the old arches it got its name from.”
MacFarlane and Perez also own Wings and Tins, which is above Mrs Palmer Sandwich (access is via the back laneway). When the Stanley Street-facing ground-floor space became available, they jumped at the chance to take over the lease. At the time, MacFarlane had an Instagram account called @MrsPalmerSandwich where he documented the sandwiches he ate: a grilled cheese in Whistler, Canada; a French-dip beef sanga at the 110-year-old LA institution Philippe’s; and closer to home, the many-layered muffuletta at A1 Canteen. He used his research to inform the menu at Mrs Palmer, which opened in early February. (The Instagram account now belongs to the new business and is used to post daily specials.)
The name is “inspired” by two things: Palmer Street in Darlinghurst (just around the corner), which is named after one of the first white landowners in the area, and the Aussie euphemism for, well, you know. (See the neon sign above the sandwich counter.)
There are five sandwiches on the menu: chicken, beef, pork, falafel and The Cure (a three-meat beast of smoked Wagyu pastrami, mortadella and hot salami). You can get salad versions of the sandwiches too (instead of the ingredients being between two slices of bread, it’s in salad form), and cold-brew coffee.
“We needed to be a sandwich joint that office workers could come to every day, not serving decadent, insane sandwiches with heaps of melted cheese and meat,” says MacFarlane. “Those are the sandwiches I love, but people don’t want to eat them all the time. We just want to get those basics right, and be a place people can get a good, fresh sandwich.”
That said, the night-time menu is more decadent (more on that later), and MacFarlane plans to recruit top Sydney chefs to create weekly “celebrity” specials that might lean more in that direction. It’s a little down the track, but names he’s floated include Dan Hong (Ms G’s, Mr Wong, Queen Chow) and Tetsuya’s executive chef Josh Raine.
The daytime sandwich shop is tiny – just a counter, with a couple of benches and stools on the terrace’s front veranda, and a couple more low tables with milk crates for seats on the footpath. The bulk of the space is taken up by the Margarita bar out the back, which you enter via a door to the left of the counter, beneath a cartoon of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
The bar is a low-lit mishmash of design influences put together by MacFarlane and Perez. “We’ve been travelling to deceased estates and garage sales, and getting inspired on Pinterest,” says MacFarlane. “It’s the opposite of ‘design’. We still decorate every day when we find things we like.”
They’ve put up a New York City backdrop from a stage play, paintings of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as hipsters, and pieces from Double Bay bar Pelicano, which closed at the end of last year.
MacFarlane says the decision to open a Margarita bar was influenced by Perez’s Mexican origins – “he’s the best Margarita-maker in town”. The Margs are $15, and there are 12 to choose from, including classic, spicy jalapeno, tamarind, chamomile, and one made with mezcal. A rotating list of tab beers, craft tinnies, wines and “other shit” will satisfy the non-cocktail drinkers.
In the evening, the bar’s sandwich menu is on the indulgent end of the spectrum. There’s a Philly cheesesteak on a soft white roll; an eight-hour beef brisket number; a stack of fried chicken between toasted white bread; and a vegan falafel option. MacFarlane says that diners and drinkers will be able to take their Margs and sandwiches out onto the street.
“Stanley Street is having a resurgence, a changing of the guard. We want be part of that.”
Mrs Palmer Sandwich
81 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst
Daytime sandwich bar
Mon to Sat 11.30am–3pm
Margarita Bar and night-time menu
Tues to Sun 5pm–11pm