Welcome to Vivid! Sydney is ablaze with the hundreds of installations that make up this enlightening festival every year. A feast of live music, theatre, street performers, incredible light displays and more are making this year’s festival positively glowing – but, in my hungry opinion, the true star of Vivid is the food.
Every year, well-known and brand new restaurants alike come out in full force to feed the masses. There are food trucks on every corner, and street vendors on every road. You can pretty much taste the world on a trip to Vivid – and this week we’re bringing you just a couple of the standout places to kick off your night of lights.
Saké Jr: Vivid Lights & Japanese Bites
For healthy, quick, guilt-free and delicious food, the only cuisine that really ticks all the boxes is Japanese. The explosion of sushi restaurants some ten years ago proved that there was a place in Sydney for this convenience-meets-health concept. However, with the Americanisation of many Japanese takeaway places, it seems that plenty of foodies have been tuning out in favour of more authentic, hearty, inspired meals that aren’t dripping in salt and aioli. Here’s where Saké Jr comes in.
The baby venture of the world-famous Saké Restaurant in The Rocks, Neil Perry’s Saké Jr has seen him turn this corner of Grosvenor Place into a make-your-own-poke-bowl experience (for the uninformed, a poke bowl is wildly different to a Poké Ball – something I had to tentatively explain to my boyfriend, as his eyes fell).
Stepping up to what looks like a fancy sandwich counter, we try a bowl with brown rice (you can also choose sushi rice), roasted brussel sprouts, miso pork, bamboo shoots and kimchi. It’s a melting pot of Japanese and Korean flavours, and the trick is to try it all at once and wash it down with a bullet of Sapporo.
There are seemingly endless combinations that we don’t have time to taste, including a protein selection including tuna poke, ocean trout, stir fried grass-fed beef and poached chicken. They’ve really aimed to nail the hearty/healthy combo, and for winter, there are enough warm, spicy options to keep you satiated.
The shining star of Saké Jr, and a favourite with the thousands of office workers nearby, is the build-your-own ramen. It’s a blessing on a winter’s night, and so the folks at Saké Jr are bringing their hot, steamy, meaty soup to Vivid in a bite-sized morsel. You’ll be able to find the folks from Saké Jr in Westfield Sydney or at The Rocks Markets selling cups of hot ramen.
Oh, a quick note on the fried chicken – or JFC, as it’s lovingly dubbed (I always thought that stood for Jesus Fucking Christ. Happy to be wrong). It’s spicy, crunchy and delicious, and pairs perfectly with the beer.
Saké Jr is a great place to start your evening at Vivid. It’s centrally located – super close to Circular Quay and Martin Place – and therefore it’s not a far walk to see some of the best lights of the night. Plus, Vivid is way more fun when you’re filled with ramen and beer. Take it from me.
El Camino Cantina: Say ‘Hola’ To Tex-Mex By The Best
Tacos. Tacos tacos tacos. I could fill this whole review with that word and you’d probably be like, “Yeah, alright, she makes some good points!” Tacos are the world’s most perfect food. But there’s more to delicious Mexican than tiny morsels of spicy goodness – loathe as I am to admit it.
El Camino Cantina is celebrating one year of Tex-Mex at The Rocks, cosily tucked in next to The Argyle. The idea that you can line your stomach with beans and booze before you take on a night of dancing is just so appealing, and for these guys, bigger is better: starting with a 24-ounce margarita in a glass so big it’s a two-handed event. Lathered in a sugary syrup that makes everything that touches it a sticky fiasco, it’s not the best margarita I’ve ever had, but it does the job. It’s quite strong, so fighting your way through one is a battle in itself. But the flavours are fun. We try a jalapeño and lychee version, plus a strawberry, a mango, and a classic.
We are brought out a bowl of corn chips with two different salsas, which are definitely moreish but only really serve to stave off the hunger as the first plate of real food takes its sweet time to reach our table. By the time the deep fried zucchini flowers arrive, we are ravenous, but they prove delicious. Filled with jalapeño and stuffed with cheese, they’re a heart attack waiting to happen, but are paired quite nicely with a chipotle dipping sauce.
My personal favourite of the taco spread is the tuna ceviche tacos on a hard shell, which offer a delightful burst of freshness in the mouth that wonderfully undercut the spice of the whole meal. The other options range from grilled free range chicken to black bean hummus, pulled barbecue lamb, slow roasted pork, grilled steak and roasted barramundi. It’s a great selection, all with fantastic complementary toppings that stop them all melding into one ‘generic taco’ taste in my mouth.
By the end of it, my brave comrade and I are decidedly pleased with ourselves. The music is a mixtape/love letter to the ’80s and ’90s, with Blur’s ‘Song 2’ following ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’.
The vibe is incredibly laid-back, with groups of tourists mingling across from 19-year-olds prepping for a big night. But it’s loud. Surprisingly so, actually, as the dining room itself is cavernous. The Texan cowboys and Indians theme errs on the side of tacky, but helps give a family-friendly feel to the whole place.
If you’re looking for authentic Mexican food, this may not be your flavour, but for a huge, boozy feed before a night out at Vivid, El Camino is the way to go.