REVIEW: The best value meal in Australia costs just $25 at Cafe Nice in Sydney

Roast Thirlmere chicken for two with fresh corn polenta at Cafe Nice. Photo: Simon Thomsen

In a bite

Where else in the world could you sit at the bar in a major city, have two seriously good courses of French bistro food with a glass of wine, and pay just $A25? It’s an amazing deal.

Setting the table

In Sydney, $25 buys you an hour’s parking, two beers or a return fast ferry ticket to Manly with enough left over for an ice cream on The Corso.

That’s what makes the bar menu at Cafe Nice so remarkable in a city that often redefines expensive. For $24.95, you can enjoy two courses and a glass of house wine at a smart, sunshine-drenched French bistro peeking at the sparkling Circular Quay.

Cafe Nice brings out the latent Francophile in Barry McDonald, of Fratelli Fresh and Cafe Sopra fame. The provedore and restaurateur is normally a defacto Italian, so Nice is a good compromise, since it was always top of the list for Italian nationalists wanting to reunite the old country.

Sitting up at the bar is fun. You get to watch the action and get a slightly better view across the train line under the Cahill expressway to the water.

It also means that if you do run out of wine, help is soon at hand. Business Insider confesses we may have, on occasion, spent a little more on booze after getting into a discussion with the sommelier about the French wines on the list.

The good thing about the bar is it’s fast too, so if you’re off to a show or need a quick lunch, it works like a dream.

Cafe Nice has a new chef, the preciously talented Josh Niland, who was running the restaurant side of (sadly, now closed) Fish Face in Double Bay. He cooks with class and already the menu’s better for it, especially when he cuts loose with the desserts.

What to eat

There’s an a la carte menu of entrees that range from $6 to $24, mains from $24 to $39 for beef fillet with chips and a choice of four sauces including bearnaise or roast bone marrow, but the best value deal in town is the bar menu with its prix fixe (to use the French) $24.95 deal or you can lash out and have the $34.95 three courses, also with a glass of wine.

The spectacular roast eggplant gratin.

Want proof: try the excellent roast chicken for two with polenta made using kernels of sweet, fresh corn, with refreshingly bitter witlof leaves and rosemary. It’s $58 if you’re sitting down at the tables. At the bar, you can share it with a friend, also have an entree and wine and walk out the door only $50 lighter.

Most of the bar options are drawn from the a la carte menu and have an Italo-Franco vibe: think fried calamari and aioli, a petite pissaladiere (caramelised onion tart laced with anchovies), a green pea salad with goat’s cheese and mint and the absolutely spectacular roast eggplant gratin stuffed with braised pig’s head and herbs that’s really a meal in itself. Most of those dishes are priced in the mid-teens on the a la carte menu.

For mains it’s pasta, a cheese omelette, octopus risotto and an ever-reliable minute steak with chips and either parsley butter, roast garlic creme fraiche or bearnaise sauce. It works every time, but yes, you’ll fork out another $10 for vegies, but it can be as cool as a roasted dandelion salad with apple and bacon.

If you’re going to go the extra $10 on desserts, expect affogato, a plum and hazelnut chocolate tart or a burnt vanilla meringue with watermelon caramel cream. The desserts are always changing and at this point, it’s worth going off piste and checking out what’s on the a la carte options.

What to drink

The Australian house wines are included, but a glass of vintage champagne for under $20. Heidsieck & Co. 2007, $18? Don’t mind if I do. Or you could rough it with Pommery NV, $18.

The house wines in the meal deal are no two-buck chuck. They’re from Ross Hill in Orange, in central-western NSW: three whites, a rosé and three reds, including a pinot noir, and just $45 a bottle. Nearly all of the 50-odd mostly French wines on the list are available by the glass, so let Sebastian or whoever’s behind the bar take you on a journey through the Loire, Alsace, Rhone and Bordeaux, since most are priced in the low teens by the glass and well below $100 by the bottle.

The exceptions are a couple of aged, heavy hitting Italian reds, topping out with the 2005 Paolo Scanvino Bric del Fiasc nebbiolo for $280. There are a couple of smart Burgundies too, but mostly it’s about enjoyable, accessible drinking.

Conclusion

What are you waiting for? Whether it’s lunch, a pre-show meal, or simply spoiling yourself with lunch for one. You’ll find it becoming a cost-effective addiction.

Need to know

Cafe Nice
Level 3, 2 Phillip Street, Sydney. (02) 8248 9600
Style: French
Lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm; dinner Mon-Sat 5-10pm; bar menu all day.
Bar menu: $24.95 2 courses + glass of wine; $34.95 3 courses + glass of wine

* Editor’s note: This restaurant has now closed.

[Restaurants are rated out of 5 knives and forks. Cafe Nice scores 4]

Sitting at the bar has a great vibe

Photo: Cafe Nice/Facebook.

Eggplant gratin stuffed with pig's head.

This is such a lush, decadent dish and a meal in itself, with just enough acidity to cut the richness of the pork. It's also something I'd order again and again.

Pissaladiere, a traditional dish of Nice.

You get this wonderful combination of the sweet caramelised onions with the richness of the pastry and the contrasting saltiness of the anchovies.

Roasted peppers with anchovies and Reggiano

Simple, clean, yet gutsy: the sweetness of the roasted red capsicum is offset by the saltiness of the parmesan cheese and the anchovies.

Roast Thirlmere chicken for two.

Delicious chicken, made even better by corn-laced polenta offset by the bitterness of witlof leaves.

Plum and hazelnut tart with double cream.

Here's why you should have three courses - Niland has really taken desserts up a notch.

Figs and granita

The sort of dish that makes you long for the start of Autumn - so fresh, lively and beautiful.

Cafe Nice's main dining room

The bright sunshiny feel makes every day seem better.

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